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PhD Barbie Gets a Makeover! Aesthetic Labour in Academia

Part of the Dynamics of Virtual Work book series (DVW)

Abstract

In this chapter, I explore the role of aesthetic labour in academic research through an auto-ethnographic account of aesthetic labour when preparing for and conducting elite interviews. During my PhD, at the suggestion of my supervisor and my sponsor organisation, I worked with a presence coach or ‘image consultant’, who helped me prepare for interviewing elites. I had been recruited to conduct research that addressed the poor representation of women on corporate boards, but I was told that my appearance was ‘not professional enough’, and that to do the PhD I needed to ‘look good and sound right’ (Warhurst and Nickson 2001, p. 2). In this chapter I show how expectations about ‘acceptable’ professional appearance are embodied; how they went from being something ascribed onto my body to something my body had to do (Crossley 1995). As a young, female, feminist academic preparing for interviews in professional environments, my aesthetic labour also reflected social expectations about (acceptable) femininity, the female body, professionalism and what it means to be a good researcher. This highlights how the body can be a site where conflicting discourses play out, and how the boundary between aesthetics and the self can become blurred.

Keywords

  • Academia
  • Aesthetic labour
  • Research interviews
  • Professionalism
  • Stigma
  • Image consulting

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Brown, S. (2017). PhD Barbie Gets a Makeover! Aesthetic Labour in Academia. In: Elias, A., Gill, R., Scharff, C. (eds) Aesthetic Labour. Dynamics of Virtual Work. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-47765-1_8

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