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'I can't do with whinging women!' Feminism and the habitus of 'women in science' activists

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Alison PhippsORCiD


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This article explores the field of policy, activism, and educational activity around the issue of women's under-representation in science, engineering, and technology (or Women in SET) which has developed since the 1970s in Europe and North America. Critical, radical, and postmodern feminist ideas are marginal in this field, despite the existence of a body of feminist literature on the inter-relationships between gender and SET. Evidence is presented from in-depth interviews with Women in SET activists, most of whom were employed in scientific and technical professions, exploring their reluctance to claim an allegiance with feminism. Bourdieu's concept of habitus is used in an attempt to show how these dispositions are connected to the internal dynamics of the Women in SET field and the wider field of SET. It is argued that the activists' 'feel for the game' incorporates a disposition towards reformism and 'neutrality' that relies in part on a dis-identification with feminism. It is therefore concluded that in addition to other factors such as the wider shift in gender politics and the role of personal experience, the status of feminism within particular social fields may be connected to the structures of these spaces and the relative compatibility of resultant dispositions with a feminist identification. The 'reformist habitus' of Women in SET activists, which is directly connected to the constraints under which they work, is posited as a contributing factor to the lack of progress made on Women in SET issues since the 1970s. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Phipps A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Women's Studies International Forum

Year: 2006

Volume: 29

Issue: 2

Pages: 125-135

Print publication date: 01/03/2006

Online publication date: 11/05/2006

ISSN (print): 0277-5395

ISSN (electronic): 1879-243X

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


DOI: 10.1016/j.wsif.2006.03.010


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