April 17, 2017
As feminist gender scholars in higher education, each of us has found Joan Acker’s work on gendered organizations to be highly influential to our own work. Not only has it informed our thinking about the ways in which universities and the people within them operate, but we have each used her theory as an interpretive lens to inform our scholarship, either in isolation or in conjunction with other theories. In conversations over the years, we lamented about the limitations of Acker’s theory. Although it provides an analytical tool for deconstructing how gender operates within a college or university, it does not provide us with any set of tools about how to move forward with action. Despite this critique and others we identified in the course of writing the article, Acker’s work remains immensely influential in scholarship in a variety of disciplines, including higher education. We wanted to understand how other scholars have used her work. In our content analysis, we found that many scholars did not use Acker’s work in the spirit in which it was intended, typically only identifying one or two of the five ways in which organizations might be gendered to support their analysis. We discuss this and other concerns in our article. Our aim is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the ways in which Acker’s theory has been used in scholarship and offer some potential directions for future gender and organizational scholarship that incorporates and builds off of Acker’s foundational theory.
The purpose of this study is to understand the extent to which Acker’s (1990) concept of gendered organizations frames extant scholarship and to explore the implications of using this framework to address gender inequities in organizational life, and particularly in academe. Through a systematic analysis of articles, we found that while Acker’s work is highly cited, few studies use Acker’s theory as it was originally intended. We also identified limitations of Acker’s theory as well as in the ways in which scholars have applied it in their own work. We argue the need for scholars who are informed by Acker to engage with all aspects of her theory and push it in new directions. We also challenge scholars of gender and organizations to integrate multiple, and perhaps more complicated, frameworks in order to understand academe in more nuanced ways and to generate new ideas to enhance social justice.
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