TURNING RESEARCH KNOWLEDGE INTO PRACTICE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF RIJEKA: CREATING AN ONGOING LEARNING CYCLE
“Knowledge mobilisation” is a well-known concept that helps us think about what is required for research results to have a practical impact. While knowledge was originally considered to travel between its creators and its recipients in a linear fashion, knowledge mobilisation registers a more complex reality. The concept allows us to remain alive of the different forms knowledge may take, its disparate contexts and its interaction with practice. (Moss 2013, p. 238) In this blog post, we want to outline the forms of knowledge relevant to implementing the University of Rijeka's upcoming Gender Equality Plan (GEP), the contexts to which these are expected to "travel" and their (expected) interaction with practice.
In terms of gender equality, the most relevant knowledge to be mobilised in practice is gender knowledge. Students of gender mainstreaming have suggested a broad definition of this knowledge, one that corresponds to the approach the University of Rijeka has taken to devising its GEP. Specifically, gender knowledge may be identified with “explicit and implicit representations concerning the differences between the sexes and the relations between them, the origins and normative significance of these, the rationale and evidence underpinning them and their material form" (Cavaghan 2017, p 7). Taking this as a starting point helps in avoiding the merge of gender knowledge with "gender expertise" (Cavaghan 2017, p 7). Instead, one is required to be cognizant of and responsive to a plurality of "ways of thinking (or not) about gender and gender equality" (Cavaghan 2017, p 7). If one presupposes that knowledge is essentially a relationship between a knower and their reality (Zagzebski 2017), gender knowledge then involves mapping different interactions that occur with gender as a pervasive process. Some of these interactions may support gender equality, while others may serve as defences of gender blindness and gender bias. In any case, however, all those different forms of knowledge need to be addressed if the theory of gender equality is to be successfully shaped into practices relevant to University-wide contexts.
With this inclusive definition of gender knowledge in mind, the University of Rijeka’s team had approached the existing pool of gender knowledge from a quantitative and qualitative perspective. Qualitative research was particularly important as the two focus groups and a series of interviews opened for analysis of those elements that are the key to making an inventory of existing gender knowledge. These include opinions, attitudes, feelings, and similar factors. These were translated into quantifiable indicators and were explored through a University-wide survey that included academic staff, administrative staff, and decision-makers.
The research revealed a number of gender tensions present at the University. Firstly, there is a hesitancy when gender policies are concerned and a feminized workspace is brought into the picture, a tension particularly present among the male members of the administration. Secondly, there is a tension between reproductive and productive work, embodied in the need to balance between productive and reproductive roles, i.e., between the workplace and home. The tension particularly affected women, although differently depending on their position. Whereas women working at the decision-making level of the University have been able to hire outside help to alleviate the burdens of housekeeping, those employed as teaching staff have not necessarily had the same opportunity and have demonstrated the tendency to accept the burden of professional and private roles assigned to them. Their male counterparts have not demonstrated the same level of psychological and actual involvement. Finally, while women working in non-teaching positions have enjoyed greater flexibility in private life, their position does not allow substantive career development. This, in turn, results in reduced motivation. The pervasive tension between productive and reproductive work has been combined with gender fatigue, particularly noticeable in male employees. Changes to the existing state of affairs are not expected and there are worries that too fast and radical a change may be counterproductive. Processes of feminization are also present. These have seen a greater number of women present across the University, but they occupy positions of lesser prestige and visibility, particularly in the administrative staff. Indeed, gender tensions have generally had a particularly pervasive effect on non-teaching staff.
Once the pervasive content of gender knowledge is investigated in light of a critical approach that draws out existing gender bias and gender blindness, one needs to build structures and practices that will juxtapose alternatives marginalized by the existing perceptions of gender. As Cavaghan convincingly argues, the dynamics of this process may be better understood once gender knowledge is deployed as an analytical concept, in a three-pronged approach. To begin with, alternatives need to be made present materially, in some medium that allows its exchange. Secondly, one needs to take into account “the ways of seeing, or epistemic practices, upon which a piece of knowledge is premised”, which are “social and historically generated phenomena” and are constructed through “lengthy social processes involving exchange of information and competition”. Finally, new knowledge should build upon what already exists in a particular context, as this furthers its chances of becoming established itself (Cavaghan 2013, pp 410-411). While these three points are not intended as a guide to the practical implementation of gender mainstreaming, they do highlight what is materially needed to mobilise new forms of gender knowledge.
At the University of Rijeka, we may identify two main material forms of production and implementation of new gender knowledge. The first encompasses two structures. One is the already existing Centre for Women's Studies, currently attached to the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. This Centre will continue with its work on gender expertise, bringing together scholars from across the entire University and beyond it, stimulating new research and teaching initiatives, while informing the wider public on matters of gender equality. As a primarily scholarly unit, the Centre is intended to provide a theoretical backing for gender mainstreaming. In addition, the GEP will serve as the incentive for establishing a Gender Equality Laboratory associated with the University, which will carry out theoretical and empirical research on gender equality. In tandem with the already existing Centre, this structure will help inform the contents of University’s gender policy and its execution.
Drawing from normative guidelines set out in national and international law and building upon institutional and regulatory structures that exist at the University, the new GEP is the second structure for new gender knowledge. Reflecting an understanding of gender as a process that is not easily ossified into a fixed formal frame, the Plan establishes procedures that are meant for continuous generation of new gender knowledge. Thus, while drawing from existing (inter)national law and regulatory structures of the University itself, the Plan is far less about transposing existing normative bases for gender equality than it is about creating processes meant to shake up the existing gender status quo. It is not possible nor necessary to discuss in detail all the structures provided by the GEP. For the purposes of this post, they can be summarised in a number of broader categories.
Firstly, we have put in place procedures that are meant to enable a continuous process of gathering both quantitative and qualitative information on existing gender knowledge and any changes that may occur in this regard as the GEP is implemented. These include general, University-wide data gathering procedures, as well as more specific oversight mechanisms in more narrow contexts, such as employment and promotion. The information covered will include data on remuneration, job satisfaction, the degree to which women are active in research, and the extent of implementation of various specific measures.
Secondly, the GEP provides for a number of structures intended to scrutinise gender knowledge, such as the University Committee on gender equality and allows that existing University and faculty-based structures be continuously involved in the process. The Senate, for instance, is expected to deliberate on and adopt action plans based on the changes in the existing gender knowledge.
Thirdly, the GEP envisages procedural instruments that are meant to disseminate a more critical approach to existing gender knowledge. This, most heterogeneous group of measures, involves training for supervisors of administrative units at the University, development of new courses and related teaching content, encouragement of research initiatives in the field of gender, creating public profiles of successful career women at the University.
Finally, the GEP is expected to be integrated with the existing normative structures of the University. This means that language based on gender bias and gender blindness, which may exist in a variety of regulatory instruments across the University, will be phased out in favour of language that will enable a scrutinising process of existing understandings of gender.
Thus and based on the literature on gender knowledge and gender mainstreaming, a mobilisation of knowledge at the University of Rijeka involved two interconnected steps. The first involved avoiding an ideal standard of gender equality that would be imposed top-down in a single move, by merely codifying the matter normatively. The second step involved the multiplication of structural, procedural and normative measures and their decentralisation across the University. The end result is that gender knowledge will be tackled both at the level of the University as a whole and its individual constituents and that the process of ensuring gender equality will move beyond the teaching and research spheres into the work and lives of administrative staff. The ongoing reporting procedures and the multiplication of actors entrusted with different tasks related to gender mainstreaming are expected to both provide an effective division of the overall project and create a space for dialogue between the involved actors. In sum, by focusing on structures and procedures rather than concrete content, knowledge mobilisation at the University is intended to become a critical perspective supplementing the regular functioning of the University and an integral part of an ongoing learning cycle.
Cavaghan R (2013) Gender mainstreaming in the DGR as a knowledge process: epistemic barriers to eradicating gender bias, Critical Policy Studies, 7:4, pp 407-421.
Cavaghan R (2017) Making Gender Equality Happen. Knowledge, Change and Resistance in EU Gender Mainstreaming, Routledge, New York.
Moss G (2013) Research, policy and knowledge flows in education: what counts in knowledge mobilisation?, Contemporary Social Science 8:3, pp 237-248.
Zagzebski L (2017) What is Knowledge? In: Greco, J. & Sosa, E. (eds.) The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, pp 92-116.