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Academic Critique of One’s Discipline

Academic critique of one’s discipline encompasses the history of the discipline and all processes of knowledge production. The type of language used, whether formal or informal, plays a role. The specific learning and academic culture of your discipline is especially relevant to your teaching. You can address this by asking the following questions:

  • What is the dominant understanding of science/scholarship? What is the common image of your discipline? Is science/scholarship perceived as a career or a calling?
  • What are the field’s cultural customs and how do they relate to the observance or neglect of aspects of gender and diversity? How widespread is a culture of open, democratic discussion? How hierarchical is the discipline’s structure?
  • Are questions of epistemology and the discipline’s methodology debated? Are gender and diversity addressed as analytical categories for knowledge-production processes?
  • What paradigm shifts and academic debates have taken place? What content is in the foreground and what is at the margins of the discipline? What roles have women and members of disadvantaged social groups played in debates over content and academic approaches, and what role do they play now?
  • What roles have gender-based and other inequalities played in the discipline’s distribution of tasks, external perception, and interpersonal power distribution? Who represents which aspects? Who plays the part of expert – in what area?
  • How are gender-based and other inequalities perpetuated or broken down by the way the discipline is practiced?
  • Is the terminology and the communication employed between all the people involved in the academic department inclusive or exclusive? Are women and members of social groups that are underrepresented at the university made visible verbally, visually, and in other media? When this is done, are stereotypes avoided? What examples, questions, and wordings are chosen?
  • When drawing up curricula, what role is played by the work and biographies of women academics and members of social groups that are underrepresented at the university?
“The central aim is to embed life stories into their historical context and the associated exclusions and inclusions of women. In this seminar, our purpose is not to elevate these women as ‘exceptional cases.’ That would merely codify them in an ‘exotic’ status and perpetuate the notion that women could only be creators ‘by way of exception.’ This approach allows us to develop new perspectives on the traditional cultural history of disciplines.”
Gender Portal of the University of Duisburg-Essen

Some disciplines’ classification as a natural science versus a social science/humanity is contested. In some cases, the classification has shifted historically or led to the development of different subfields, as in geography or psychology. You can discuss the related associations and value assessments in your teaching.

In sociology, for instance, sociology of work frequently emphasizes payed work. A gender- and diversity-conscious perspective reveals that this disregard for unpaid reproductive work such as housework and care for family members simultaneously excludes from analysis an unequal distribution of labor based on gender, migration, globalization, etc.

You can find more concrete suggestions under Discipline-Specific Entry Points, for example, how to discuss the history of STEM disciplines with more nuance by focusing on the lives of lesser-known but important and influential scholars and theorists.