Disarming the Gatekeepers

Do you ever find yourself obsessing over what gatekeepers are going to think about your work?

Have you ever feared that you may not survive an academic evaluation?

Of course, hierarchical academic structures–reviews, tenure evaluations, etc.–create the conditions that foster these anxieties.

Disciplinary conventions rooted in white supremacy and racist/classist/heterosexist gatekeeping intensify these anxieties for scholars of color, especially those whose research relies on intersectional analytics.

To be sure, intersectional scholarship necessitates interdisciplinary scholarship. For example, if you are addressing how multiple axes of power intersect within a specific historical context, you are going to need to combine multiple methodologies and craft your own specific research methodologies relevant to the specific context of your research. Since intersectional scholarship demands taking seriously the specific ways the power struggles we study operate within the distinct historical and political context of our research, there is no one-size-fits-all methodology.

But disciplinary gatekeepers either don’t have the skill set for evaluating (unconventional/intersectional) interdisciplinary methodologies or they can feel threatened by it (i.e. perhaps they fear that legitimizing more and more intersectional/interdisciplinary scholarship calls their own research into question).

What can we do?

I use a strategy I call “disarming the gatekeepers.” 

It entails interpreting our theories/methodologies (depending on your fields) for your audience rather than allowing them to interpret the assumptions that drive your research.

Yet it is no easy task to spoon-feed how you get from point A (i.e. your research question/problem) to point B (i.e. your chosen theories/methodologies) with clarity to audiences that may be one-step removed from the kind of scholarship you do.

In order to interpret your theories/methodologies to your audience, you first need to name them (See my blog, “How to Name and Claim your Theoretical Approach)”

As Octavia Butler puts it in Parable of the Sower, “Sometimes naming a thing–giving it a name, or discovering its name–helps one begin to understand it.”

Second, stop allowing gatekeepers to determine whether your theories/methodologies are viable! 

Instead, develop the muscle of explaining (or rationalizing) why the theories/methodologies underlying your research are essential to answering your research question or conducting your analysis. I develop this muscle by answering these questions:

Why are these particular theories/methodologies/analytics the most viable for conducting my research or analysis? 

Why did I choose these theories/methodologies in order to conduct my specific study/analysis?

Stop giving your audiences the power to interpret your analytics!

Also see my blog, “How to Name and Claim your Theoretical Approach.”

For more information about my workshops, where I train scholars in healing from academic violence and naming and claiming our interventions, please contact me: info@nadinenaber.com

Nadine Naber

Nadine Naber is professor of gender and women’s studies and global Asian studies, and interim director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author and/or co-editor of five books, including Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism (NYU Press, 2012) and Color of Violence (Duke University Press, 2016). She is a TEDx speaker, board member of the Arab American Action Network, co-founder of Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity, founder of Liberate Your Research, founder of the Arab American Cultural Center, and co-founder of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program (University of Michigan). Nadine is a Public Voices fellow, columnist for the Chicago Reporter, recipient of the American Studies Association Carl Bode-Norman Holmes Pearson Lifetime Achievement Prize and the YWCA's Y-Women's Leadership Award.

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