Metaphors on women in academia: a review of the literature, 2004-2013

Fran Amery, Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins, Heather Savigny

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section

12 Citations (SciVal)


Purpose We evaluate the use of metaphors in academic literature on women in academia. Utilizing the work of Husu (2001) and the concept of intersectionality, we explore the ways in which notions of structure and/or agency are reflected in metaphors and the consequences of this.
Methodology/approach The research comprised an analysis of 113 articles on women in academia and a subanalysis of 17 articles on women in Political Science published in academic journals between 2004 and 2013.
Findings In the case of metaphors about academic institutions, the
most popular metaphors are the glass ceiling, the leaky pipeline, and the old boys’ network, and, in the case of metaphors about women academics, strangers/outsiders and mothers/housekeepers.
Usage of metaphors in the literature analyzed suggests that the literature often now works with a more nuanced conception of the structure/agency problematic than at the time Husu was writing: instead of focusing on
either structures or agents in isolation, the literature has begun to look more critically at the interplay between them, although this may not be replicated at a disciplinary level.
Originality/value We highlight the potential benefits of interdependent
metaphors which are able to reflect more fully the structurally situated
nature of (female) agency. These metaphors, while recognizing the
(multiple and intersecting) structural constraints that women may face both within and outwith the academy, are able to capture more fully the different forms female power and agency can take. Consequently, they contribute both to the politicization of problems that female academics may face and to the stimulation of collective responses for a fairer and
better academy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAt the Center
Subtitle of host publicationFeminism, Social Science and Knowledge
EditorsVasilikie Demos, Marcia Segal
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78560-078-4
ISBN (Print)9781785600791
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015

Publication series

NameAdvances in Gender Research


  • Female agency
  • intersectionality
  • metaphors
  • women in academia
  • women in political science


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