Metaphors on Women in Academia: A Review of the Literature, 2004-2013

Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins, Fran Amery, H Savigny

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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We evaluate the use of metaphors in academic literature on women in academia. Utilizing the work of Liisa Husu (2001) and the concept of intersectionality, we explore the ways in which notions of structure and/or agency are reflected in metaphors and the consequences of this.

The research comprised an analysis of 113 articles on women in academia and a sub-analysis of 17 articles on women in Political Science published in academic journals between 2004 and 2013.

In the case of metaphors about academic institutions, the most popular metaphors are the glass ceiling, the leaky pipeline and the old boys’ network, and, in the case of metaphors about women academics, strangers/outsiders and mothers/housekeepers.

Usage of metaphors in the literature analyzed suggests that the literature often now works with a more nuanced conception of the structure/agency problematic than at the time Husu was writing: instead of focusing on either structures or agents in isolation, the literature has begun to look more critically at the interplay between them, although this may not be replicated at a disciplinary level.

We highlight the potential benefits of interdependent metaphors which are able to reflect more fully the structurally-situated nature of (female) agency. These metaphors, while recognizing the (multiple and intersecting) structural constraints that women may face both within and outwith the academy, are able to capture more fully the different forms female power and agency can take. Consequently, they contribute both to the politicization of problems that female academics may face and to the stimulation of collective responses for a fairer and better academy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Gender Research
Subtitle of host publication At the Center: Feminism, Social Science and Knowledge
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78560-079-1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2015

Bibliographical note

Series ISSN: 1529-2126


  • female agency
  • intersectionality
  • metaphors
  • women in academia
  • women in political science


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