Academia.edu: How to reproduce inequality in several easy steps

A study waiting to be done. Somebody? Here is the trigger:

academia1 academia2

So: how is academia.edu reproducing and reinforcing inequality?

  • By spatially positioning the male academic above;
  • By choosing an older male academic and a younger female;
  • By listing the male as “faculty member” and the female as “graduate student”, i.e. the female is subordinate in any academic hierarchy.
  • the male is US, the female is UK. Both belong to the traditional “ivory stronghold” (Harvard, Oxford);
  • By playing on the reader’s (un)conscious perception of elitism (see point above) and pandering to some readers’ desire to be accepted into such an elite club;
  • By giving the male a generic name (John Smith, could have also been John Doe) but the female a somewhat more distinct and unusual name. While the first names, John and Mary, are both in the top 5 of common names in both the US and the UK, they remain just that: “white” and “Anglo-Saxon” names. However, compare their surnames: I cannot find data about the prevalence of surnames but I bet (on my own, extremely rare, surname) that Smith is more prevalent than Peterson. Peterson, by the way, is also an ironic surname. The son of Peter. The male child of a male person.
  • Last but not least, and this bugs me most of all, though on its own it would be the least significant of all: the fictional female comes across as unprofessional. She has paid attention to her hair and necklace, but failed to notice the misspelt word “univeristy” on her profile listing.Which one would get the job? Well, that depends on whether you want someone interested in the history of Rome, or in the earth’s magnetic field. Or does it also depend on whether you want a man or a woman? An older or younger person? Someone who can spell or someone sufficiently unfocused (or rushed) to misspell one of the key words on their CV? In the context of otherwise totally rigid adherence to the gender stereotype, the “reversal” of disciplines of each fictional academics’ bookmarked articles is particularly noteworthy. But actually this isn’t even a real reversal. The scholarship on the history of Rome is definitely dominated by the voices of people who look like our John Smith. And there are plenty of doctoral students and postdocs in geology and magnetosphrerics who look like Mary Peterson. But their post-PhD and post-first-postdoc drop-out rate from academia (known as “the leaky pipeline”) is astounding – and very badly researched.

Perfect example of bias. So subtle it almost doesn’t matter. But every little adds up.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the “demonstrating your impact” thing. I’m fine with impact on its own. Impact is important. Well, positive impact is. Or disruption. Or preventing a negative impact. Generally, doing something worthwhile is important. But this…


Categories: Digital Sociology, Higher Education, Ill considered university advertising, Matters Mathematical, Outflanking Platitudes, Social Media for Academics, Sociology of Education, Visual Sociology

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