Unpredictable feelings: academic women under research audit

This article, published by Barbara M. Grant and Vivienne Elizabeth, explores the effects of the Performance-Based Research Fund on academic women.


Academic research is subject to audit in many national settings. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, the government regulates the flow of publicly funded research income into tertiary institutions through the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF). This article enquires into the effects of the PBRF by exploring data collected from 16 academic women of varying rank in the arts, humanities and social sciences. References to the women’s emotions were extracted from the transcripts of semi-structured interviews, in which they were asked about experiences of being researchers and doing research in the early years of the PBRF. The analysis presented here undertakes a politicised reading of those emotions—as capacities subject to governmentality—to engage with two issues currently explored in the international higher education literature: (1) the gendered effects of audit, and (2) the notable absence of collective political resistance on the part of academics. We argue that, while the PBRF does produce emotions implicated in reshaping researcher practices, identities, and relationships with colleagues, those effects are fractured and far from predictably gendered. Moreover, the dominant flavour of the feelings described is unlikely to support collective political resistance and more likely to be implicated in increased individualism, pressure to perform and judgmentalism towards others. At the same time, some emotions prompted and sustained forms of active resistance towards research audit’s threat to academic imaginations and collegial culture.

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