M/Othering rhythms, tenure clocks, and methodological pauses: Knowledge-creation with/in an unfinished ethnodrama

By Mairi McDermott, Stephanie Tyler, Sheliza Ladhani

What would it mean to turn our lens upon our [scholars’] own labour processes, organizational governance and conditions of production? What would we find if, instead of studying others, we focused our gaze upon our own community, and took as our data not the polished publication or the beautifully crafted talk, but the unending flow of communications and practices in which we are all embedded and enmeshed […]? (Gill, 2009, p. 229)

We read these questions and feel pulled towards critically studying the university and “how we are hailed to enter the fantasy of relations, regularized into […] hierarchy” (Brand, 2020, p. 24). In this paper, as a m/othering method, we query the entrenched habits of knowledge production (Alexander & Mohanty, 2010; Mills & Berg, 2010; Munge et al., 2021; Pereira, 2017) that emphasize final products—that which is refined and publishable—over in-processness. We wish, instead, to share what possibilities are created before (by remaining in the process of) reaching the dual criteria of ethnodrama: aesthetics and methodological fidelity (Goldstein, 2008). In a decolonial m/othering methodological move that is at once vulnerable, hopeful, and expansive, we choose to share an unfinished ethnodrama to attend to some of the “hidden injuries of the neoliberal university” and its attendant surveillance and disciplining of knowledge creation (Gill, 2009; see also, Munge et al., 2021). We do this within the related disciplinary regimes structuring ideal and intensive mothering (Douglas and Michaels, 2004), which will be more subtly imbued through this work. We encourage you to notice when similarities in the ways we discuss research and knowledge production converge with contemporary patriarchal logics of motherhood (see, for example, French and Baker-Webster, 2013; Huopalien and Satatama, 2019; McDermott, 2020a; 2020/2021; O’Brien Hallstein and O’Reilly, 2012; Raddon, 2002; Rich, 1987/1995; Weiss, 2008). For example, similarities include the hermetically sealed singular linear trajectories of motherhood and knowledge creation that pre-determine ideal mothers and scholars coded through racial, cultural, gendered scripts of recognizability disciplining (and thus limiting) bodies (of knowledge) that are othered.

In the chapter quoted above, Gill (2009) turns her attention to the affects echoing through academic corridors, the whispers between trusted colleagues about our “exhaustion, stress, overload, insomnia, anxiety, shame, aggression, hurt, guilt and feelings of out-of-placeness, fraudulence and fear of exposure within the contemporary academy” (p. 229). In this paper, we pick up on some of these neoliberal e/affects named by Gill (2009; see also Munge et al., 2021), through our focus on gendered knowledge production in the form of publications. In other words, we respond to Gill’s (2009) call to have our works more accurately reflect the reality and beauty of always already being in process, never truly arriving. Before continuing, we must address our complicity with the very structures—the entrenched habits—we are challenging. In the first part of this paper, we sensed a possible pedagogical generativity with offering our “rationale” that “explains” our more vulnerable writing in the ethnodrama script. We discussed whether or not to include this meta-writing around the script at length as co-authors. Ultimately, we wanted to both lean into the unfinishedness of the ethnodrama, and simultaneously invite the reader into our thoughts on the potential disruptions afforded by our approach. Along with the critical interruptions from scholars who have animated how messy research truly is (see, for example, Koro-Ljungberg, 2016; Lather, 2007; Lather & St. Pierre, 2013; McDermott, 2020b), we offer our unfinished ethnodrama script as a “pedagogy of vulnerability” (Rodricks, 2018) to counter the “pedagogy of colony” (Brand, 2020, p. 20) of rigid, linear, and repeated expectations governing recognizable research. We recognize substantial pressure exists for those who undertake alternative methodologies to produce exceptionally high-quality work (Chang, 2008; Denzin & Giardina, 2008; Ellis, 2004; Ulmer, 2017), and honor the efforts of those before us in cultivating creative possibilities in our research. As such, we engage this writing with openness, humility, grace, and gratitude.

Yet, by pausing in the unfinishedness, rather than rushing to content and answers (the what), we animate how knowledge resides in process and in relation (the how, where, and with whom) (Wilson, 2008). Our desire is to ponder what openings, what horizons of possibility are revealing themselves in our sense-making in a study with m/otherscholars navigating tenure. Part of this work compels us to consider methods, pedagogies, and relations for doing things otherwise within the University (la paperson, 2017; Munge et al., 2021; Shahjahan, 2015). As Patel (2016) suggests: 

…perhaps the best move that educational researchers can do, in the interest of decolonization […] is to pause in order to reach beyond, well beyond the most familiar of tropes in education and educational research. I suggest that we entertain, quite pragmatically, what we need to stop and that without that stoppage it is actually impossible to imagine how to do differently. […] Perhaps one of the most explicit decolonial moves we can make, at this moment, is to sit still long enough to see clearly what we need to reach beyond. (p. 88) 

As part of our commitment to the aesthetic qualities inherent within ethnodrama (Goldstein, 2008; Saldaña, 2011), we embrace the pause and / in unfinishedness, allowing us to cogitate on the entrenched (gendered and racialized) habits of scholarly knowledge production. Taking this methodological pause provided us with renewed sense of what the m/otherscholars we interviewed shared with us: that a vital aspect contributing to our sense of unbelonging resides in the ways in which institutions are inhabited through scholarly disciplines of knowledge production. We believe that if we desire different knowledge to be created, knowledge that exceeds the boundaries of White supremacist patriarchal capitalism (hooks, 1995) woven into the fabric of the institutions of higher education and motherhood, we need to be willing to take the kinds of risks we pursue in this paper. 

Situating the study: M/otherscholars navigating tenure

In our research, we situate mothering as an analytic that helps make connections between how institutional practices structuring tenure and promotion are felt, embodied, absorbed, and refused. We interviewed five m/otherscholars with school-aged children who are navigating tenure; one participant was interviewed three times, three were interviewed twice, and one was interviewed once. In our process of sense-making we embraced the contradictions, uncertainties, and vulnerabilities both within each individual participants’ stories and across them. Our desire for the research was to interview each participant 3-4 times throughout an academic year to build relations as well as hear about the different elements that came to the fore across the ebbs and flows of the year. The interviews took place under heightened stress in the ongoing uncertainties of COVID-19, and as such, while each m/otherscholar initially expressed an interest in being in conversation multiple times, one participant wrote as we invited them to schedule a second interview that they simply could not take on anything in addition to their mothering and scholaring priorities. She graciously allowed us to work with her first interview but declined being contacted again. Two other participants simply never coordinated subsequent interviews and we, as a research team decided to give them space rather than push or demand meeting our pre-imagined desires woven into the research design. In other words, we sought to be responsive to the in situ needs of the m/otherscholars—spoken and tacit—as we try to do in our mothering. In our composite characters, we wove the m/otherscholar voices together (we describe this below) and before you witness the composite voices, we briefly share some of contexts from which the voices emerged. Of the five m/otherscholars: two were at research intensive institutions, two were at community colleges, and one was at a teacher-scholars undergraduate institution; two were in the Eastern United States, one was in Central-Eastern Canada, one was in Southern United States, and one in Western United States; three were partnered; two were unpartnered; three had one child; one had two children; and one had three children—all children were school-aged or pre-school; all children were conceived through cis-het relationships; and finally, one was Anglo-White; one was Franco-White; two were South East Asian; and one was Latinx.

It is important, at this juncture, to qualify our use of the mutual voice (“us”, “we”, “our”). Within our research team (Mairi, Stephanie, and Sheliza) the mutual voice speaks to our collective wherein each of our individual ideas slipped and leaked into and through porous borders of our collective affective sense-making (Ahmed, 2004). Taking up “our” refuses the individual competitive ownership of knowledge (Patel, 2016) and illustrates how ideas are shaped in relation with one another. This approach to our work together, also acts to second the rigid institutional hierarchies and division between people with different status (between students and faculty members in this instance). Furthermore, due to our insider-outsider (Collins, 2000) relations with the lived realities of our m/otherscholar participants (both in terms of our identities as m/otherscholars as well as our different racial backgrounds), the “our” also speaks to the composite voices being sutured in the ethnodrama. Inspired by Ahmed (2021) we “think of that ours as the promise of feminism, ours not as a possession but as an invitation, an opening, a combining of forces” (pp. 6-7, author’s emphases). We feel responsible to our participants and other m/otherscholars to share our stories. 

In the next section, we offer some aspects of the lived and emergent process crafting the unfinished ethnodrama script. We then present the script itself which, to date, has been performed as a table reading at two separate events, one in September 2021 at the International Association of Maternal Activism and Scholarship’s (IAMAS) annual conference and another in March 2022 during an International Women’s Day event at our university. The script readings were an important aspect of our commitment to ethnodrama (Goldstein, 2008; Goldstein et al., 2014; Saldaña, 2011) and our continued developing of the script. As you read you will notice minimal stage cues that guided our table readings. Finally, in a post-script, we share where we would like to go in further crafting this script to honor the affective and material complexities sensed in our interviews and subsequent transcripts. Our hope is for readers—particularly those who too feel out-of-place, fraudulent, or fearful that their uncertainties will be exposed (m/otherscholars, graduate students, racialized and Indigenous scholars, those with disabilities)—to bear witness to the vulnerability of unfinishedness and the horizon of possibilities and knowledges that reside in process.

Scripting Motherhood and Academia

In this section, we briefly acknowledge some of the intentions shaping the contours of our research. Our desire in the research included uncovering the ways in which Universities and Motherhood, as institutions, are configured through White supremacist capitalist patriarchal logics (hooks, 1995) to produce particular ways of knowing and being in the world at the expense of others. We were interested in amplifying the voices and experiences of those gendered and racialized “others” who have been “welcomed in” to the University as indication of institutional narratives of progress, diversity, and inclusion without any need to change its structures and logics (Ahmed, 2012, 2021; la paperson, 2017; Patel, 2016, 2021). This interest swelled from our own lived experiences and refusals to remain props for institutional marketing. As such, we imagined the interviewing process as a space for m/otherscholars (ourselves included) to feel and reflect on their / our experiences which, while particular, also speak to larger patterns and the need to turn attention to and responsibility for change from the individual to the institution (Tuck, 2009). 

To counter these histories of exclusion in the name of inclusion, in our interviews, we listened with a feminist ear “to hear who is not heard, how we are not heard” (Ahmed, 2021, p. 4, author’s emphasis). We are unsurprised that, while the majority of doctorates in Canada are earned by women, and more women are now entering the professorial ranks with 48% of Assistant Professors identifying as women, the number of women drops to 26.7% of Full Professors (Universities Canada, 2018). This illustrates that women, and our situated knowledges (Collins, 2000; Ruddick, 1989) have not yet been deemed valuable and necessary in the broader scheme of knowledge production in society. Furthermore, among those who identify as women, mothers are 29% less likely to enter the tenure-track than women who do not have children, while men with children are more likely to be promoted and achieve tenure (Mason & Goulden, 2002; McDermott, 2020a, 2020/2021). Finally, for women with children—the m/otherscholars who do make it onto the tenure track—are consistently faced with skepticism around the quality of and devotion to their / our work, being regarded as less reliable colleagues (Casteñeda & Isgro, 2013; McDermott, 2020a, 2020/2021) and thus their / our voices and full selves are silenced or positioned as better fit for teaching-only, contingent, or “mommy track” positions (Ennis, 2012; French & Baker-Webster, 2013; Wood, 2012).

Within this context, our decolonial feminist listening and reading practices shaped how we came into relation with our participants, their stories, and ourselves. We sensed, after each interview, that we were being graciously offered a variety of ways to refuse the White supremacist capitalist patriarchal (hooks, 1995) structures of competition and individualism, intensification of perfectionism and quantity infused into the unquestioned performances of both academic and maternal labor. We sensed ourselves being moved by the possibilities for being our whole selves in and across these worlds, rather than separating them. Importantly, it was in the process of crafting a script wherein we created characters separated by social identity categories of “mother” and “scholar” where we really sensed the impossibilities and undesirability of (continually) fragmenting ourselves. We recognized that the separation of these identities is promoted by mainstream masculinized perspectives, however, the extent of the impossibilities of / for separation became amplified in powerful ways for us through the writing. You may, for instance, sense some lines that you feel fit better in the scholaring or mothering voice than where we placed them, and that, too, was one of our struggles in crafting the script. By remaining in process instead of jumping too quickly to containing / bounding content (Patel, 2016; Wilson, 2008), we avoided thematic analysis and attuned ourselves to the wonder (MacLure, 2014) of when, where, and how these worlds—mothering and scholaring—leaked into one another. Allowing ourselves to wander, and even get lost (Lather, 2007): we searched for what was hidden in the crevices of what was said and what was left unsaid (perhaps unsayable); we followed the dilemmas (Gallagher, 2018) to see where they might take us; we embraced the tensions—the sensations of being pushed-pulled together and apart again—as an interpretive stance of intimate investments in the stories shared (Lewis, 2009). 

As we played with a mode of representing our research, our first attempt was to craft a script with three characters that relied on this masculinized Euro-Enlightenment inherited division of selves and institutions: Narratings, Motherings, and Scholarings. To capture some of the movement and relationality within the lived realities of our participants, we intentionally turned the characters’ names into verbs. The verb, instead of noun, suggests the doings of and in the institutions of motherhood and academia (the latter represented by the Narratings character). Our desire was to animate the voices and perspectives of our mother-subjectivities (where mother is a social category, more-so than a biological one [see, Rich, 1987; Ruddick, 1989; Weiss, 2008]) and our scholar-performances. This allowed for a break from the rigid boundaries of noun-based, object-oriented language that objectifies reality (Makokis et al., 2020; Simpson, 2017). In Wilson’s (2008) teachings, we wanted to embody, through our naming, that “reality is not an object but a process of relationships” (p. 73). In our process, we witnessed how our participants revealed relationships already present (Wilson, 2008), relationships between mother and scholar scripts that refuse White supremacist capitalist patriarchal logics producing division and difference through fragmented identity politics (hooks, 1995; see also, Smith, 1999; Patel, 2016; Perry, 2018). We became intimately attached to the ways in which m/otherscholars can, and are, rework(ing) the University and Motherhood machines, not only by our presence but by our coming together—suturing fragile selves and / as connectivities (Ahmed, 2017; Rhee, 2021, p. 36)—witnessing and supporting one another (la paperson, 2017). If we were never meant to be here, along with the many others who now make up the University who were not imagined as desired subjects of the University (those who identify as women, whose epidermal schema differ from Whiteness, whose bodies are disabled by ableist material and ideological structures, etc.), how can our presence propel change (Henry et al., 2017)? We do not have a singular answer for this, but our refusals to acquiesce and conform to conventions seeps into how we choose to engage in knowledge production and sharing (Stengers & Despret, 2014) that is firmly grounded in lived processes, relations, and vulnerabilities. We sense a response-ability (Barad, 2007; Haraway, 2008)—an ability to respond—to those outside of and coming into the university (our children, our communities), and thereby remain unfaithful. 

Methodological moves in crafting the script

When we set out to do this research our plan was clear. In addition to the one-on-one interviews over the span of an academic year, our original hope was to co-create a space for mothers-of-school-aged children on the tenure track to commune. This was difficult, but necessary for us to let go of in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With a total of ten interview transcripts (from interviews over 9 months lasting 45-70 minutes each), in addition to our lived experiences, we began imagining the possibilities of creating a script from this data (Denzin, 2018; Goldstein, 2008; Goldstein et al., 2014; Munge et al., 2021; Peterson, 2013; Saldaña, 2011; ZIN & Gannon, 2022) as another way to hold space for the women’s experiences to convene.

As we reflected more specifically on how to assemble the voices and stories, we decided to create a composite conversation (Cook & Bryan, 2021; Munge et al., 2021; Wilson, 2008). In the script, the conversation is composed by weaving direct quotes from all ten transcripts to animate the three characters (Motherings, Scholarings, and Narratings, mentioned above) and the various expressions present across the interviews: Narratings represents voices of the institutions—Higher Education and Motherhood (which differs from mothering, see Walker, 1983; Rich, 1987)—as the voice of institutions, it jarringly inserts quotes from scholarly publications and speaks in a more formal tone; Motherings represents inner mother voices; and Scholarings represents inner scholar voices. As we noted earlier, in the process of writing the script, we struggled to identify what comments from the transcripts would represent which inner voice because, as you may sense when you read, there were many comments that carried traces of each world. Considering our challenges in neatly classifying comments to represent one identity, our desire became less about separating mother-selves and scholar-selves, and each of those from the institution (as we know that the institution psychically seeps into our sense of self [Lewis, 2009]). Instead, we became more interested in the ambit of intimate relations and porous borders amid each as they come to constitute one another. This is where we hope to go in continued reworking of the script. For now, we realize that keeping the separate voices obfuscates the porosity, yet, this is part of the vulnerability of sharing the script as is, without smoothing that tension out because it was part of our learning process. While we wove voices of five m/otherscholars whose lives and social realities differ across race, class, marital status, and institutional affiliation (as outlined above), we do not intend to flatten the differences or particularities of the lifeworlds each of us is navigating. Rather, we feel this approach allows us to capture and magnify the inner tensions and contradictions that resonate across our various experiences, desires, and expectations (see also, Cook & Bryan, 2021). 

In the ethnodrama that follows, we staged an event that was experienced by each participant where Universities offered some form of extension to the tenure clock during COVID-19 (Oleschuk, 2020; see, also, McDermott, 2020/2021). In the script, we begin to share the composite stories and voices of tensions, hesitancies, confidence, joy, fear, frustration, and determination as mothers-of-school-aged-children recognize and enact new / alternative / counter rhythms of family and academic life generally, and responses to this offer of extension more specifically. We invite you to read the unfinishedness in the script as a signal that these experiences are not closed—the ridges are not smoothed. This act of agitation then, also calls on your responsibility in co-creating the meaning of the script as a reader (Weiss, 2008). As you are reading, we encourage you to attune to: What draws you in? What pushes you away? What do you sense of the worlds of the institutions, mothering, and scholaring in the narratives? What troubles you? What resonates with you? What is revealing itself that we haven’t yet thought to ask about?

Maternal rhythms and tenure clocks: An unfinished script

Narratings: [Email alert] The university is pleased to let you know that you have the opportunity to request a 1-year extension to your tenure clock due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Oleschuk, 2020). This gracious gift of time is offered to all faculty who currently hold tenure track appointments. Please report your decision to your HR representative 72 hours from this notification. 

Scholarings: I’ve been told that I’m fine, but there’s just still anxiety. And then I worry, I think… [if] I take the pause […] well then what? […] [L]ike what are you doing? […] You should just go up, right? [Tresa George]…And I know people have taken it, who aren’t parents, but they were just like, it’s such a, it was such a weird time, why wouldn’t we take it? But I think there’s something emerging for me about taking it um, and then having to justify to myself around caretaking…[Tresa George]. 

Motherings: I think I’m kind of scared […] because I tried so much in the past year to reclaim [my identity as a mother] […], and to be recognized … and […] respect […] all the difficulties I have [had] in the last year and I think I’m scared that I will be like, a target [laughs]…Because they told me that I, […] I need to find a balance between uh, taking care of my kids at the minimum and pursuing my research [Marie-Louise]. 

Narratings: “Women’s academic productivity seems primarily to be discussed in relation to a different kind of productivity—motherhood” (Clancy, 2020, p. 857)? Remember when you wanted to enroll in a course and you had to withdraw from it because your oldest got sick and when you wanted to enroll again, the prof asked you “If the problem [you had] still exists” [Gayatri]? [pause]  

“Scholarship on the experience of academic mothers reveals that motherhood is perceived as tarnishing one’s professional status. And the lack of support for Mother-Scholars and student-moms makes very difficult the integration of career and homelife without penalty or stigma” (Vera-Rosas, 2019, p. 69). 

Motherings: …like, the caretaking just was so much more intense, and left, like, very little room mentally and emotionally for other things. Um [pause] ya, so I, I don’t know … [Tresa George] […] And so when the pandemic hit, uh, I was the one who can do um, uh, work from home, because their father [is a frontline worker]. And so, it was me who stayed with them […] uh, during the week and that was really hard because I can just not do work [Marie-Louise]. I’m a single mom, I don’t have a partner who can pick up my kid from school for me, […] [this] meeting needs to be over by 4:30 […] because I have to pick up my kid [Penelope].  

Narratings: “One site of concern, for this research, includes the ways in which mothers are deemed unreliable academic colleagues (Casteñeda & Isgro, 2013; Raddon, 2002), and, now with COVID-19, pre-tenure mothers of school-aged children are feeling additional pressures and stresses as they take on education, entertainment, and fulltime childcare” (McDermott, 2020/2021, pp. 252).  

Scholarings: And […] I think there’s a lot of mothers in academia, but I think because, again, we’ve been socialized not to talk about it, it’s like we’re not allowed to talk about how that’s hard because then people will automatically assume that this means doing our job is hard and that means that we may not be able to do our job as well as the men who aren’t mothers do their jobs [Penelope].  

Motherings: But I, I do think there’s something about um, I, I could only, I mean, the way that I would justify to myself taking it is because being a parent and caretaking took up a lot of my time, or if it didn’t take up a lot of my time, in a certain way, it took up a lot of, a lot of energy and attention. Um [pause] and I think part of this pause is, like, the recognition of that, but I just have a hard time just, just, you know, without any doubt saying yes, I’ll do that [Tresa George]. 

Narratings: “Also, with the blanket extensions to tenure clocks, some wondered what the long-term implications might be, particularly when some faculty members were able to produce more during this time” (see McDermott, 2020a; Oleschuk, 2020)? 

Scholarings: I’m super worried about publications [Penelope]… [Maybe] it’s just me because I’m constantly judging myself when I’m like, well, you know, these people are publishing, you’re not publishing enough, or you’re not publishing good papers, you’re not doing [sigh]… [Gayatri]. [For my renewal, my chair] didn’t back me up on [the public history publications I had]. He kind of said that was great but I need to do more traditional stuff […] [and] they [said] you will need to publish more [Marie-Louise]. 

Motherings: I was already doing it so fast (the PhD) [laughs] that was just insane and my daughters, one of my daughters still talks to me about my ‘goddamn’ dissertation [Marie-Louise]…This was the year I really uh, worked like too much [Marie-Louise]…and I was not present uh, mentally with them. Like, I was there at home and I, I think I was there um, uh, as much as any time, but I was not there mentally [Marie-Louise]. You’re either telling them that you want to do something that you love or you’re going to have to put a hold on it and you know, give up everything, which we already do a lot [Gayatri]. I have to dig myself outta this, I’m not going to keep feeling like I’m not worth, you know, worth doing this [Marie-Louise].  

Scholarings: I know I did too much [in my first two years before the pandemic] [laughs], […] now that I look back.  And now you [the University] want me to do more, […] no, that’s [laughs], that’s not the way I see it [Marie-Louise]. 

Narratings: “For many people, producing research is not just a professional requirement, but also a form of expression, a passport into employment and financial security, an act of activism, or a space of autonomy” (Pereira, 2021, p. 504) 

Scholarings: I did a little bit of my research in February, […] I ha[d] like, one week where I could place some, some time to uh, to start […] a little bit [… of] archival work and it remind[ed] me how I like that. How it permits me to just be a little bit outside of the world […] and all the […] the uh, the tornados of the world, and that is okay, that I can just do my research and be like, uh, be um, calm and happy [Marie-Louise]. 

Narratings: [Computer alert from student] Hello. I got my grade on the last assignment. I worked really hard on it, and I feel like you graded me unfairly. So, I spoke to the chair of the department, and they told me I could request having someone else regrade it, but I had to follow departmental processes and email to you first. Regards, Karen’s Daughter.  

Scholarings: [sigh] here we go again.  

Motherings: God, some people’s children [shaking head

Narratings: “Another issue that was cited as a barrier to tenure was poor student evaluations. One professor explained that she had been teaching a unit on White privilege that was poorly received by some of the White students in the class. ‘They see me as a racialized professor who is pursing my own interests’. One student mobilized a whole group of students against her and the course evaluations were extremely polarized…” (Henry & Kobyashi, 2017, p. 140) 

Scholarings: […] both the schools I’ve been to are boutique schools in a way, […] the students are more pampered in a way, they expect a lot of hand holding[…]. So, the [teaching] reviews I got back um, were, were sort of new to me, like this was not what I had intended [Gayatri]. So, I had to tone it down [to be better received] and then I was talking to this colleague […] and she’s a black woman and she said, ‘[…] Don’t take it so personally, it’s probably not something you said, it’s just that they’re not accustomed to hearing that from you, from someone looking like you.’  [Gayatri] 

Narratings: Sara Ahmed (2007) observed: “Bodies remember such histories, even when we forget them. Such histories, we might say, surface on the body, or even shape how bodies surface. Race then does become a social as well as bodily given, or what we receive from others as an inheritance of this history” (p. 154).  

Motherings: I think when I look at my, my kids in the class, I think like a mother. Like my mom always used to tell me, ‘From loving your own kids you mature into a level where you start loving every kid as your own’ [Gayatri]. I definitely have much more empathy, ‘cause many of my students are also parents. […] I’m very invested in my work. I think that my, my perspective as a Latina, uh, first generation informs the way that I connect with my students, um, as a parent it informs the way that I connect with my students [Amaia]. 

Narratings: “One example of COVID-19 gender inequalities internal to academia is the tendency to attribute primarily to women the material and emotional labor of caring for students and colleagues during the pandemic. […] This unequal distribution of academic care and ‘academic housework’ (Heijstra et al., 2017; Macfarlane & Burg, 2019) on the basis of gender (and also race) is, of course, not pandemic-specific. It has for many years been identified as a crucial feature of academic workloads and hierarchies, and as a direct obstacle to equality in academia …” (Pereira, 2021, p. 503) 

Motherings: …I don’t know if it’s fair to him, my son, but I do think that I lost a big portion of real-estate in my brain the moment he was born. Um, like there is this spot that is constantly thinking about like, what is snack time, did he eat…bowel movements! Is he pooing regularly? Like, you know, um, how is he feeling emotionally. […] So, there’s just this portion of my brain that I cannot like, you know how like, as academics we’re always sort of have something on the back burner…like you’re working through an article or process, or something and so, there were more things than I could hold, and I can’t hold as many things. And, and I don’t have the space anymore to just sort of marinate in something [Amaia]. 

Scholarings: [exasperated and exhausted with too many pressures push-pulling in too many directions]…I need to stop mothering all of you. You guys have mothers somewhere out there in the world. So, I think I became much clearer about my boundaries […] because I didn’t have [anything] to give, I just did not. I had to come home and be on and be available to him and so, I was constantly overextending myself with students. […] I’ve really had to work very hard at finding ways to be available but also be much clearer in my boundaries. Um, because I’m a parent, and because my first priority is my son, you know. So, that has been very different, that, that was different from the moment he was born [Amaia]. 

Motherings: [Computer alert from Elementary School][ sigh, reads email shaking head] Hello student’s mom, Hope you are doing well! Your child is adjusting quite well to grade 2! They are mostly quiet yet raise their hand to answer questions when they feel confident. I just wanted to give you a heads up that they are refusing to do their work on our Thanksgiving play where the class voted they should have the honor of being cast as [exasperated] Pocahontas. 

Narratings: “I tie certain forms of motherwork to specific classed and racialized geographies” (Vera-Rosas, 2019, p. 60). 

Motherings: […] It happen[ed] two [other] times during the school years … that I intervene because there was some racist stuff that, I know the [teacher] didn’t think of… [Marie-Louise]… [It was] really subtle now, […] and I was like, okay now I’m here because I’m the mother [Marie-Louise]. I felt like I was preparing her to handle things, frankly, an eight-year-old should not have to handle, but I wasn’t going to be there to help her navigate those situations so I just tried to build as much potential for her to advocate for herself as I possibly could [Penelope]. 

Scholarings: I think as I develop my own identity, and this is partially maybe why I wanted to be an academic too, it’s, you know, like, I thought that theories about like race, and migration and these new political […] like, race as a political identity potentially, […] is really how I identify as a South Asian. […] I, I feel like my daughter, hopefully, it’s a struggle sometimes, but like, that her identity as a South Asian is more, kind of, rooted in, in that space than, um, others… [Tresa George]. And I [can] not just see that and do nothing, but I [am] really not comfortable [intervening] because um, because I know the [teacher] [does] the best they can, I know it’s a really tough uh, profession uh, often by women uh, at the same time I don’t want to embarrass my children, but that was kind of, the social intellectual was like, no you can not just let that [go] and say nothing [Marie-Louise]. 

Motherings: Um, one, one thing I wanna say about you know, the, the racial discrimination is when you see a lot of majority of the um, computer science fields or department you see a lot of Indians there, but you don’t see as many women. And I feel like if there has been a successful woman in engineering, or computer science, or whatever field, I feel like we’re all struggling with our own battles like, everybody’s reinventing the wheel. So one of the reasons um, I mean, I knew I was going to go into academia but, these [reasons] […] are supporting […] are proving that I should be doing this because to me, I don’t see anyone who represents like, my daughter. When she goes to school she’s not going to see anyone, maybe some schools […] But to me representation matters [Gayatri] 

Scholarings: [Computer Alert] This is a gentle reminder for those who are on the tenure track to confirm their decision with HR about the 1-year extension by 8:30 tomorrow morning. [Jeopardy theme music

Oh, shhh, I don’t know what to do…  

I didn’t realize how much it takes to be a mom and study, ‘cause you become isolated, you have this mental stress, you don’t know who to talk to because there’s nobody who understands your situation. Not one person. […] I was too scared to open up to anyone [Gayatri]. With the Vice Dean I really felt like […] he was thinking, but what is this woman doing as a professor? She [has] three kids alone, she’s not supposed to be there. But they didn’t say that, but it is what I felt, like […] we tolerate you to teach, but [laughs] […] don’t expect to be like, the big researcher, like, you’re a woman with three kids, this is not what university professor[s] are [Marie-Louise]. 

Narratings: Lorde (1984) has cautioned us, “you by virtue of your being here will be deluged by opportunities to misname yourselves, to forget who you are, to forget where your real interests lie. Make no mistake, you will be courted” (p.136).

Postscript: Our Continued Imaginings

Now that you have experienced and come into relation with our unfinished script, what do you sense, what pushed you away, what pulled you in? We admit that we are cautiously hopeful in requesting your response. As you may now be aware, we (m/otherscholars) experience the individual competition and “moments of gratuitous attack and cruelty” embedded in golden standard practices of anonymized peer review (Gill, 2009, p. 229; McDermott, in press) with increased sense of hesitation due to how we are positioned in academe. In sharing work that is in process, we may be putting ourselves at greater risk of feeling we do not belong, of being disciplined into more recognizable forms of knowledge production. Throughout writing this paper, we returned to our concerns, anxieties, and questions regarding the pressures to craft the “best” scholarship. Particularly within the methodological terrain wherein attempts to enact alternative approaches–research positioned as questionable or ‘less than’—we recognize the need for especially critical attention to aesthetics and methodological fidelity (Chang, 2008; Denzin & Giardina, 2008; Ellis, 2004; Goldstein, 2008; Ulmer, 2017), as mentioned earlier. Yet, in teaching and working with graduate students and pre-tenure colleagues, we do them (and ourselves) such a disservice when only final products are made accessible. So, while we plan to continue working on our character development, plot, setting, and stage cues (Saldaña, 2011; Goldstein, 2008; Goldstein et al., 2014), we also know that stopping and dwelling in the unfinishedness can be generative too (Patel, 2016; Shahjahan, 2015)—it has been for us in this project. 

We do, as noted in the introduction, further take response-ability (Barad, 2007; Haraway, 2008) for the potential risks in presenting an unpolished ethnodrama (Saldaña, 2011; Denzin, 2018; ZIN & Gannon, 2022) as part of what drives our pedagogy of vulnerability in sharing our in-processness. We realize that the script itself, ought to be crafted in such a way as to stand alone, that we want to avoid, in good ethnodrama form, the conventions of academia that insist on explicating the meaning of texts—of telling you what to think and how to interpret the meanings (Denzin, 2018; Peterson, 2013; Saldaña, 2011; ZIN & Gannon, 2022). We also recognize that regardless of all the attempts to ensure a direct relationship between what a writer intends and what a reader experiences, there are always spaces in between where the interpretive potential resides—particularly if the reader takes up the responsibility ensnared in their act of reading (Weiss, 2008; Ulmer, 2017). So, once again, while we have invested desires for where we want to go next in our relations with our interview data, we end with a curiosity about where you might go with what we have shared and a hope that this work continues the legacy of those who have gone before us for those that come after. 


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