Early-career academics' cross-border mobilities. Gender relationships within and beyond a transnational workplace

Auteur Martine SCHAER
Directeur /trice Prof. Janine Dahinden
Co-directeur(s) /trice(s)
Résumé de la thèse

This dissertation examines academic transnational mobility through the experiences of early-career academics moving across borders to take up academic positions at universities abroad. In many countries, early-career transnational mobility has become a normative imperative, a necessary prerequisite to pursue an academic career and secure stable academic employment. At the same time, academic labor markets have become increasingly transnationalized and the number of temporary (and part-time) positions has risen considerably, generating increased competition for permanent positions and contributing to the casualization of academic employment.

This dissertation adopts a gender-constructivist perspective, which maintains that, in their social practices and interactions, individuals (re)produce or transform gender representations that are structurally anchored in their wider social and institutional environment. This gender lens is implemented through a life-story approach and ego-centered social network analysis. This conceptual framework makes it possible to encompass the different domains of life and to investigate how these may interfere with academic transnational mobility. It also allows the ways in which academics’ decisions and practices are embedded in their social networks and wider social environments to be scrutinized.

The dissertation draws on biographical and qualitative egocentric network interviews conducted with early-career academics from various national backgrounds at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States. Research participants had obtained their PhD within the last ten years and were holding academic positions at various levels. For those in a relationship, semi-structured interviews were conducted with their partners. Drawing on and combining these different sets of qualitative data, several analyses were conducted, leading to four articles that constitute the core of the dissertation.

The results presented in this dissertation bring new insights that challenge or nuance a number of ideas often taken for granted. First, by showing that academics moving abroad with their partners perform a diversity of gender configurations, this dissertation supports the idea that there is no straightforward relationship between couples’ gender arrangements and academic transnational mobility. Transnational mobility does not unequivocally undermine gender-(un)equal relationships between partners, nor does it necessarily favor (un)equal relationships either. This result contributes to recent scholarly discussions that question the overemphasis of the work-family approach to explain why female academics tend to be less transnationally mobile than their male counterparts, which makes it difficult to see that gender relationships are, indeed, progressively shifting.

Second, by highlighting the negative effects that mobility may have on the people concerned, the results presented in this dissertation challenge the tendency in mobility studies to focus on the bright side of mobility and to indulge in a romanticized conception of mobility. Academics’ narratives reveal the many obstacles they face along their mobile trajectory, constraining them to complicated family arrangements involving sometimes the satellite mobility of people around them. The results emphasize that the price to pay as one pursues an academic career on the move may be perceived by the academics as overly expensive and with no guarantee of obtaining a stable academic position, contributing to a sense of mobility fatigue and precarity.

Third, this dissertation questions the often-taken-for-granted idea that mobility abroad equates to the building of academic transnational networks. The analysis of the academics’ social networks shows that highly mobile academics did not develop more transnational academic networks than less mobile academics. Furthermore, the analysis reveals that transnational academic ties can be developed through other means than the mobility of the early-career academics, namely thanks to the mobility of higher-ranked academics who themselves travel across borders to give talks, lectures, or for their sabbatical.

Finally, this dissertation shows that the transnational career moves of young scholars are processes embedded in social relationships in complex and sophisticated ways. In particular, the support that higher-ranked academics provide to early-career scholars varies along gender lines. These results help nuance the idea of academic meritocracy, which assumes that academic hires are based purely on the evaluation of individual merit and excellence.



Early-career academics – Transnational mobility – Gender – Academic careers – Social networks

Statut terminé
Délai administratif de soutenance de thèse Thèse soutenue le 16 avril 2021
URL http://www2.unine.ch/maps-chaire/martine_schaer
LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/martine-schaer