Difficult Intersections

On 3rd Feb. 2012 the Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research (LSBU) held a BSA Families and Relationship study group day conference ‘Intersecting Family Lives, Locales and Labours’. Plenary talks by Professor Diane Reay and Professor Michele Goodwin will soon be available on the Weeks Centre website.

In opening I told this story, difficult ‘intersections’…  A young lecturer – with a still frequent emphasis on the young – receives an email from her PhD student: its several pages long and a potential chapter in itself. She realises this could be serious and jumps down the paragraphs trying to find the urgency in her inbox (and there are many urgencies in her inbox). The message is this: the student is going to have a baby, she knows this is a shock, she hopes it won’t affect opinions of her or her commitment to work, she questions if this will be recognised, if her funding will continue, her deadline extended, her employability ended… She wonders if her potential is already been recast as a failure and the sense of being in the wrong time (too young to mother, too young to be a successful academic) is transmitted in these exchanges….

Work is done in reading between the lines of emails, policies and funding guidance which speak of equal opportunities, a commitment to diversity, an ‘investors in people’ status:  forms are completed, procedures are followed and pregnancy is declared at the appropriate time – being ‘pregnant enough’ (for recognition, extension, advice) is stated as 22 weeks, the official time when institutional recognition can begin. ‘You’re not the first person to have a baby’ is the relayed response to the students concerns and questions.

The phone rings – ESRC funding has been received and a research associate vacancy advertised.  The potential candidate is ringing to ask is she is still eligible to apply? She’s just found out that she is pregnant. The lecturer is thinking equal opps, she’s thinking HR. And she’s thinking ESRC deadlines. What would you be thinking? Her research associate gives birth, takes time out. She’s not entitled to institutional benefits having not served enough time.

Institutional benefits accrue to the young lecturer in the form of promotion, career and geographical mobility: she moves from there to here and seems to fit-in and take up her space.  Even this requires an explanation; surely this is too soon? Surely she must be too ambitions, too individualist, too removed from The Family or any cares, able instead to just invest in herself?  Does she have children? A partner? Does she have work-life balance or just work too hard? Even successes may be recast as failures in normative measures of fitting-in, moving, achieving and caring and as she considers this, the question of what it means to live out intersecting family lives, locales and labours – as coherence rather than collision – becomes a rather pressing issue.

Yvette Taylor, Head of the Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research.

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