A symbolic violence approach to gender inequality in academia

Afua Owusu-Kwarteng*, Cynthia Forson, Olufunmilola (Lola) Dada, Sarah Jack

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Feminist scholars have long recognized the gender-based challenges that women in academia face relative to men. Although numerous strategies have been designed and implemented to tackle this problem, the attainment of gender equality in academia has proved futile globally. Integrating Acker's notion of the ideal worker with Bourdieu's concepts of symbolic violence and capital, we undertake a qualitative study of how women in African universities navigate the masculinized ideal academic norm, and how their efforts to break free from this symbolic image reproduces and legitimizes gender inequality. Drawing on the narratives of 36 women researchers in Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya, Botswana, and Zambia, our analysis reveals how the perpetual struggle for power, positions, and resources in academia influences women researchers within these contexts to enact three strategies for legitimacy―(1) ‘Engage the patriarchal order,’ (2) ‘Contest normative femininity,’ and (3) ‘Appropriate normative femininity.’ In contributing to the ongoing efforts to achieve sustainable development goals 5 and 8, we develop a theoretical framework that illuminates the subtle and sophisticated mechanisms that (re)produce, sustain, and legitimize the gendered structures and cultures in academia that serve to disadvantage women. The implications of these findings for theory and practice are outlined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalGender, Work and Organization
Early online date11 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jun 2024

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