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International Development Planning Review 42.4 Featured Article

The editors of International Development Planning Review (IDPR) have selected ‘Childcare & Academia: an intervention’ as the Featured Article for IDPR 42.4, written by Jessica Hope, Charlotte Lemanski, Tanja Bastia, Nina Moeller, Paula Meth, and Glyn Williams. 

The paper will be free to access for a limited time on the IDPR journal webpage.

When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the authors stated the following in relation to revisiting their paper during the pandemic: 

We write this blog as discussions of racial, social and gender justice rightly dominate academia following Black Lives Matter and the de-colonial agenda. We write as a group of development scholars located in departments populated by those who have committed their professional careers to revealing and critiquing axes of injustice and expanding notions and practices of equality.

We are also writing this blog as the global coronavirus pandemic reworks our professional and personal lives, squeezing both under one roof and temporal zone. For some, this means family life and care commitments are constantly juggled with work deadlines – emailing during nap time, working late into the night once children are sleeping, or experiencing night-time insomnia caused by worrying about teenagers’ increased solo screen-time, and questioning the extent to which family life is being sacrificed for the university (shouldn’t it be the opposite?). For those of us living transnational lives, lockdown has erased the possibility of visiting parents living in another country, or meant we have grieved the deaths of loved ones from afar. The pandemic has moreover brought into stark relief questions on how we as a society, individually and collectively, prioritise care for the elderly, the young and ourselves.

In this new Covid19 world, we would be writing the same article but with a focus on the difficulties of NOT travelling to our usual fieldwork sites. Difficulties such as feeling the squeeze of time as schools and childcare providers closed, the private and often daily negotiations with our partners about whose turn it is to ‘work,’ trying to silence crying toddlers while recording material for online lectures, being unable to visit grandparents because they are shielding or because we are not able to travel, and the worry of the long-term effects on our careers of not having made sufficient progress with research and writing.

As development scholars, the pandemic has highlighted the centrality of care and caring responsibilities for our colleagues, including those in the UK who have precarious employment contracts or who work as support staff – cooking, cleaning and maintaining university estates. As the pandemic unfolded and governments in different countries started imposing lockdowns, we worried not only about family members living afar, but also about our friends, research assistants and participants in the places where we conduct fieldwork. Collaborators outside the UK can live in precarious settings where, as rates continued to grow, hospitals started collapsing and family members had to start burying their own dead, as cemeteries overflowed. What can we do in this context, as caring development scholars, and what new work and working practices could be opened up? Should we recognise the caring responsibilities of those who support us in the office and/or the field?

Lockdown has made our care commitments newly visible in our professional lives – online meetings interrupted by a tear-stained toddler or a teenager needing help – creating new divisions between colleagues with differing caring responsibilities and differing levels of understanding and willingness to adapt. Lockdown has made visible how central care commitments are to the lives of many of us and made it clearer that these need to be explicitly recognised and accommodated in institutional policy and practice (rather than being dependent on ‘understanding’ colleagues).

In our article, written in a pre-Covid world, we share highly personal accounts charting our experiences of negotiating academia as parents, particularly as scholars whose work involves significant travel for fieldwork. While there are clearly gendered-implications to the (in)visibility of care and parenting, and there is widespread evidence that mothers face greater barriers in academia than fathers, this is an issue of relevance for women and men. Creating institutional support for carers, via university policies and funding agency frameworks, will benefit all members of academia. Through these narratives, we identify some key gaps in support and provision for academic parents and carers. Specifically, we call on research institutions – universities, disciplinary bodies and funding bodies – to adhere to UKRI guidance and to develop policies and practices that actively support academic parents in combining these roles (e.g. funding for childcare in fieldwork, conferences).

The following five points are our starting point for this work:

  1. UKRI guidance on claiming for additional childcare costs is clear and supportive but individual funders and institutions currently follow this at their discretion, which means many researchers cannot do their work.
  2. Research institutions need to make their policies explicit (e.g. on websites, T&Cs must list childcare as a fundable item).
  3. Men need to be better included in care policies and encouraged, at the institutional scale, to share parental leave and flexible working.
  4. REF and promotion criteria need to clearly acknowledge how the pandemic and periods of lockdown have had a negative impact on those with caring responsibilities, and the fact that women continue to pick up a greater share of care-work, particularly childcare.
  5. Create more spaces for reflection on care and academia, to expand the conversation and recognise the multiple and diverse caring relationships embedded in development research, towards family members but also those who support us in our office and those involved in making development research possible: research partners, research assistants, participants and informants.

Our Viewpoint contributes to a wider momentum to tackle the failings and inequalities of how care is currently treated in academia. Dr Claire Hann and Dr Jennie Middleton, University of Oxford, held a one-day symposium on ‘The (in)visibility of caring responsibilities and working in Geography’ in January 2017. The Developing Areas Research Group and the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS with IBG) have developed a Gold Standard for care and travel funding in academia and have secured the support of the RGS-IBG, who this year announced that care costs will now be a recognised cost in all their research grants. We hope our Viewpoint, and this blog, prompts much needed changes in how care is done, recognised and supported in the multiple sites where we work.


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