Leveraging Athena SWAN to legitimize spaces of resistance in a performative university

Mark Gatto, Jamie Callahan, Amir Elmi Keshtiban, Kathryn Cassidy, Claire Nally

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


While (arguably) well intentioned, the Athena SWAN gender equality scheme has earned a significant amount of criticism for perceptions of creating ‘tick box’ exercises, hiding discrimination, reproducing inequalities, displacing accountability, and more. The implications of these issues are amplified within the context of performance accountability in higher education (HE) which seeks to use such schemes as conditions for award of funding and institutional rankings. In this paper we argue that whilst such critique is well-founded, the increasing institutional focus in HE on performative targets has not only opened, but legitimized, spaces of collaboration, learning, and resistance. To do this, we analyse how we have built active resistance to the performative pursuits of the organization by using the allure of external and public recognition as a means to legitimize efforts to pragmatically create equitable cultures. We explore, in effect, engaging Athena SWAN as détournement; essentially weaponizing institutional approaches to gender equality charters to drive forward a meaningful equity, diversity, and inclusion agenda. We suggest that by analysing Athena SWAN as it is practiced by groups and individuals across the institution, we can move beyond the limitations of the charter and the gaining of the awards themselves and develop an understanding of the wider outcomes that Athena SWAN facilitates.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2018
EventWomen, Work, and Activism Conference - Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Nov 201810 Nov 2018


ConferenceWomen, Work, and Activism Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityNewcastle upon Tyne
Internet address


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