Following the uprisings for Black life in the spring of 2020, the movement quickly marched its way into the academy with the viral hashtag #BlackInTheIvory harvesting confessions of black scholars – or ‘blackademics’. This post presents the perspectives of six anonymous early-career blackademics from universities in Europe, Australia and North America, each pursuing careers in international law. Sharing their positive and negative experiences navigating this industry, this post aims to foster exchange and understanding about the relevance of identity when establishing an academic career in international law.
The impetus for this blog post was the excellent book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez. Among other things, the book highlights evidence for the existence of a gender gap in the frequency of citations: plainly, women are cited much less than men in academic works. I would argue that this gender gap is likely to be equally pervasive in the context of international legal scholarship, and particularly prejudicial to junior women practitioners and early career researchers (“ECRs”). With this phenomenon in mind, this piece proceeds in three parts. First, it reviews the more general evidence for the existence of a gender gap in academic citations and legal scholarship. Second, it provides a personal perspective by reviewing gender equality in my own citation practice. Finally, it concludes by recommending best practices to minimize the gender gap, with an emphasis on the role of ECRs.
The genuine character of our struggles and the originality of our claims are the tests that we must take to shed the accusation of imitation. The ridicule of Westernization has been best described by post-colonial feminists as ‘triple colonization’ which means that we are colonized first by the colonial power, followed by patriarchy and then by Western feminists. When accused of such a mis-step, there is a massive watering down of our concerns. In the words of Spivak: ‘Can the subaltern speak?’
In mid-2020 (as the world felt unmoored), I found myself thinking a lot about what gives a life its shape. I was reading two things that, at first, appeared unconnected – the 1970s diaries of Australian writer Helen Garner, and the testaments written about anthropologist and leftist David Graeber after his untimely death. But as I read these in tandem, I felt them each to be deeply relevant to the questions of how we live, how we create, how we attend, how we pay attention.
I’m privileged that my time as an early career researcher (ECR) has been a positive experience. I’ve worked with and been helped by brilliant lawyers and researchers in a collegial, welcoming environment. I’m indebted to them for their time, knowledge, and guidance. Yet, despite this, since I began my doctoral research, I have the unshakable sense that I simply do not belong among these people.
Some years ago, at a different institution, I reached a point where professional, workplace, and personal pressures intersected for a period and I was simply unable to function as normal. Depression is certainly a possible label, so is burnout. I sometimes think of it as an implosion. I was fortunate enough to get help, recover, move on, and I have not since relapsed. However, what one finds on the other side of such events is not a return to things as they were before. Indeed, returning to what went on before is quite likely to repeat the patterns which caused one to burn out in the first place. Hopefully, one finds instead a new, better normal.