The Centre for Gender & Science was established as a research department at the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences in the middle of 2016, after fifteen years of building its research, policy, and advocacy engagements at the EU and country levels. Its research profile focuses on 1) research careers from a gender perspective; 2) the impacts of neoliberal transformations in the public sector, especially in research, healthcare and social work; and 3) history and current multiplicity of medical practices.
The Centre for Gender & Science became an independent research department at the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, a non-university institution, in the middle of 2016, after fifteen years of building its research, policy, and advocacy engagements at the EU and country levels. While our research profile has expanded in recent years, we continue to focus on the various ways in which the research system and research careers are gendered, against the backdrop of changes in research governance and the organisation of research.
Science and Technology Studies was viewed with misunderstanding and perhaps even some disregard during our university studies in the late 1900s and 2000s, and although the number of scholars in this research area has slightly increased, we remain a small lot. Similarly, until recently the Centre was the only body concerned with gender in research and higher education. This means that we started off with an amazing opportunity to create something new in 2001, when Marcela—then not yet even enrolled in a doctoral programme—was assigned to lead the Centre. But it also presented the amazing challenge of having to work without direct intellectual guidance and leadership.
The Centre was established in 2001 in direct response to European actions aimed at advancing gender equality in research. The European Commission set up the Helsinki Group on Women and Science (later Gender and Science) in 1999 to receive advice from member states and associated countries, and in 2000 the Czech representatives at the Ministry of Education decided that they needed a support facility to tackle the issue. Grant funding for support and coordination actions from the Ministry has continued to be instrumental to the Centre’s existence over the years, as has important funding from successive European Framework Programme projects.
From the start the Centre profiled itself as a site of research, support, and advocacy, an infrastructure of sorts, before infrastructures became recognised and funded. Over the years, we have accomplished real changes. Soon after the Centre was established we recognised that the eligibility rules of the grant schemes for early-career researchers at the two major funding agencies in the country, the Czech Science Foundation and the Grant Agency of the Czech Academy of Sciences, were problematic, as applicants had to be under 35 years of age. The customary three-year parental leave on top of a 28-week maternity leave meant that this age limit prevented many women researchers from applying. There was not much resistance to replacing the age limit with maximum 4 years since PhD completion (and the four years did not include the time spent on maternity leave). Other issues, however, were more difficult to change, such as the possibility to interrupt a postdoctoral grant for maternity/parental leave if the grant has just a PI and no team. Because negotiations with the president of the Czech Science Foundation did not yield any results, we submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman in April 2012, who confirmed all our claims in his report published in January 2013 and raised additional ones. We have continued to work with the Czech Science Foundation and have negotiated other changes. Today, PIs returning from parental leave automatically regain their status as PI after having transferred it to another person for the duration of the leave.
We have cooperated on and negotiated with the Czech Ministry of Education on various issues, most notably on the collection and publication of statistics disaggregated by sex. In 2009, at our suggestion, the Ministry instituted a life-time achievement prize for women researchers, which comes with a financial award. The idea for the Milada Paulova Award arose after we reviewed the awards and prizes conferred in the Czech Republic and found there were no women laureates by the country’s most prestigious awards. The aim was to show that there are women in many disciplines who clearly bear scholarly comparison with their award-winning male peers. We recognize that this approach does not address the core problem of men continuing to receive prestigious prizes but it was one that the Ministry was willing to entertain as less controversial than practically all the other proposals we were making.
Apart from gender, science and research policies, we have also been engaged in providing expertise and doing policy-relevant research on other topics of social relevance. Since 2014, we have been the Czech partner in FRAnet, providing expertise on human rights issues to the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). In 2017 we started collaborating with two NGOs and a number of Czech municipalities with the aim of designing, testing, and gradually implementing an integrated system for providing quality housing for everyone and minimising homelessness, a growing problem in the country. We consider such activities to be an integral and refreshing part of academic work, especially for a non-university research institution that is always at risk of falling into the trap of having an isolated scholarly agenda.
Even some colleagues at our home institution, the Institute of Sociology, have received some of our actions as somewhat controversial. For example, when we filed the complaint with the Ombudsman against the Czech Science Foundation, some colleagues at the Institute were concerned that this would damage the Institute in the competition for grants. Needless to say, this did not happen. In 2016, we vocally opposed an exhibit of photographs of nude and semi-clad women, some with racialized undertones, in the Library of the Academy of Sciences during a Science and Technology Week, the country’s largest science festival aimed at the general public and especially children and teenagers (Cidlinská, 2015). This turned into a huge controversy that stayed in the media for two weeks (for more, see Nyklová and Fárová, 2018). Again, the unwanted attention and our engagement in a public debate on a controversial issue created tension and resistance among some colleagues. Despite this we have never been forbidden to engage publicly and the controversies have served to advance a debate at the Institute about the role of researchers and, specifically, social scientists in society. It is also important to note that we have managed to embed our activities in European policies and actions, and in an international context, which has helped to justify the work we do.
Undoing the European ‘lagging behind/catching-up’ script for comparative research
If the European policy for gender equality in research was behind our inception, success in getting EU funding from Framework Programmes has buttressed our efforts to build our position at the Institute and more broadly in the Czech research community. It has also been crucial for our scholarly maturation and project management expertise.
As early as 2004 Marina Blagojevic Hughson (Blagojevic, 2005; Blagojević, 2009) developed a critical framework for analysing the position of Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries on the semi-periphery and its implications for knowledge-making processes and the epistemic authority of CEE scholars. This critical approach was supported by the work of the Commission’s Enwise Expert Group, which worked between October 2002 and December 2003 and delivered its final report in January 2004 (Blagojevic et al., 2004). This group looked specifically into the position of women in research in Central and Eastern Europe and provided some counter-intuitive explanations to the dominant frames of women’s discrimination in academia. The most notable was the link between public funding for research and the share of women in research, which complicated the assumption common at that time that higher proportions of women in research are indicative of greater gender equality. The so-called honeypot indicator showed that women are disproportionately more represented in fields and disciplines with the lowest investments in research and that women tend to be well represented in countries with low investments in research.
Despite Blagojevic’s and other voices, the EU policy script is to date one of lagging behind/catching up where less experienced/advanced countries are to catch up with the more experienced/advanced ones through various support mechanisms such as mutual learning, training, and exchanges of good practices. Despite the shortcomings of this explanatory framework, it is the one we strategically adopted when applying in 2016 for a Horizon 2020 project to build a policy forum to foster gender equality in the European research area. In response to the call we had to explicitly adopt the less/more advanced framework, but we also wanted to challenge the assumption that ‘more advanced’ countries in the EU do not encounter resistances and obstacles in relation to gender equality policy. We therefore included actions where these countries can share their experiences of obstacles and resistances and their particular materialisations, and we will continue to focus on how both implementation and resistances get made, materially and discursively, in our partner countries. At a recent debate that was part of the conference ‘Gender and Neoliberalism in Academia’ organised by the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Milano, the panellists—Mieke Verloo, Marina Cacace and Marcela—discussed the need to develop a comprehensive comparative framework that would allow us to theorise the current situation, including the growing attacks on gender and feminist scholarship and scholars in EU countries. A linear narrative of progress clearly is not very useful.
KNOWING: building expertise and peer support for studying the gendered governance of science
On other occasions, we have focused our analytical attention on this framework of lagging behind/catching up. From 2006 to 2008 the Centre coordinated the FP6 project KNOWING (Knowledge, Institutions and Gender: An East-West Comparative Study). Here we could bring to fruition the evolving research questions and topics we had been working on since 2002. Thanks to KNOWING we could start to explore the timescapes and policyscapes of university and research reforms, interrogate some clichés, including the catching-up argument, and get nuanced insights into the myriad ways in which research work and careers are gendered. It also gave us vital intellectual sustenance and the foundation for our long-standing collaborations, especially with the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Vienna University and particularly with Ulrike Felt.
International collaboration and particularly the KNOWING project were thus unsurprisingly very important for our further development, as we had a highly supportive and collaborative consortium that included Ulrike Felt in Vienna, Anne Kerr, and Lisa Garforth (at the University of York at that time), Susan Molyneux-Hodgson (then at the University of Sheffield), and Helen Longino (from Stanford University). International engagements continue to be crucial for our scientific development and we were very excited to be invited to become a member of RINGS, the International Research Association of Institutions of Advanced Gender Studies.
The KNOWING project was essential in yet another way for steering the course of our research agenda. The research design involved an ethnographic study of two research sites in each of the participating countries, one in the biosciences and the other in the social sciences. The biosciences institute to which we managed to negotiate access was undergoing a transformation when we approached it. This was perfect timing for our study! Although a new law had entered into force shortly before that, which changed the status of institutes of the Academy of Sciences and necessitated changes in practices and procedures, this was completely overshadowed by the internal transformation that the institute had embarked upon with a vision of global excellence, both in terms of academic aspirations and collaboration with industry. This opportunity to study up close the process of transformation and its impacts, intended and unintended, allowed us to develop some of the theoretical framings we continued to explore later. One of these was the shift from a dynastic to a dynamic research organisation (Linková, 2014). Another was the modes of organising research and the gradual shift from science as knowledge-making to science as enterprising and their co-existence (Stöckelová, 2009; Stöckelová and Linková, 2006). However, we also always sought to look, with symmetrical lenses, at developments and transformation in the social sciences (Stöckelová 2012; 2014) that usually get much less attention in STS and are left to introspection.
Current research profile
Our research focus today is spread across three strands: First, we study research careers from a gender perspective with a focus on early-career researchers, academic mobility, dropping out of the academic research path, work-life balance and family policy, and sexual harassment in higher education. Second, we examine the impacts of neoliberal transformations in the public sector and the ways managerialism, quality control, assessments and marketization play out in research and innovation, healthcare and social work. Third, we study the history and current multiplicity of medical practices in their material, economic, embodied, and geo- and bio-political dimensions.
In our study of research careers, we employ both quantitative and qualitative approaches. In 2018 we are in the process of completing a large-scale study on working conditions and job satisfaction among researchers in different disciplines at public research institutions, the Czech Academy of Sciences, and universities. This includes the first representative survey of more than 2,000 researchers. Over the years we have examined the different professional and family trajectories of senior and junior women researchers and discovered that while parenting and family commitments are today a crucial bottleneck in career advancement, before 1989 the impact of motherhood was much smaller and was overshadowed by the impact of political developments (the invasion of Warsaw Pact armies in 1968, the subsequent political purges in the universities in 1971-1972) (Vohlídalová, 2018). We have studied international mobility and discovered that, contrary to the common assumption, international mobility existed before 1989, in periods of political thaws, and it was more common in the natural sciences. We have also studied academic couples in the context of linked lives and showed that Czech women researchers are often in the position of tied stayers and tied movers, which negatively impacts their careers (Vohlídalová, 2017). Another line of research looks into the reasons people abandon an academic career. The job precarity related to grant funding and a points-based research assessment system, which pushes researchers to do things for the sake of themselves, not to develop field knowledge, are the two most important reasons for this; even among women researchers, the obstacles to combining work and family is only the third most important reason cited for leaving academia (Cidlinská and Vohlídalová, 2015). Our research into sexual harassment in universities, which included a representative survey and qualitative interview-based study, revealed a 67% incidence of gender harassment and an extremely high degree of uncertainty among students in terms of what constitutes sexual harassment and what action they can take to protect themselves (Vohlídalová, 2011).
Our second strand of research examines processes of managerialism, quality control, and assessment in three public domains: research and, newly, healthcare and social services. Contrary to some findings abroad we have established that the introduction of managerialist principles and quality control have not been imposed top down by state administration, but, at least initially, were supported and endorsed by researchers themselves, in particular in the natural sciences (Linková and Stöckelová, 2012). We have also looked into the coping strategies that researchers develop to manage research assessment (Linkova, 2014) and explored the moral and geopolitical interconnections between predatory publishing and established publishers (Stöckelová and Vostal, 2017). Important for our considerations were the geopolitical and disciplinary aspects of publishing (Garforth and Stöckelová, 2012; Stöckelová, 2012). We also looked into the transformation of the research system (the gradual shift from dynastic to dynamic organising), the coexistence of different modes of organising, and the ways researchers deal with these changes and manage incoherences in the system (Linková, 2014). Related to our concern with research assessment is how excellence is defined (Linková, 2009). We discovered that researchers and research managers have highly gendered notions of excellence and what constitutes an excellent researcher (Linková, 2017). In their opinion, the two main exclusionary mechanisms are the parenting commitments of women and women’s lack of vision compared to men. A related research interest lies in the ways in which gender equality policies are enacted in Czech and European research. Using the concept of the ‘policy of inactivity’ (Veselý and Nekola, 2007), we looked into how research managers, policymakers, and politicians exempt themselves from any responsibility for addressing gender equality concerns (Tenglerová, 2014). Examining material and discursive practices, we charted the expansions and contractions in the making of gender equality in Europe and the strategies used to steer gender equality towards the business case (where gender equality is made to matter by paying off) and what consequences this has (Linková 2013; Linkova and Cervinkova, 2011; Linková, 2011). We recently compiled all our research interests into a single book with the goal of setting the local developments in the international context (Vohlídalová and Linková, 2017).
Our third and latest strand of research is concerned with medicine, healthcare, and related technologies of the self. More specifically, since 2015 we have investigated the interfaces between biomedicine and complementary and alternative medicine (or CAM) in the Czech Republic, most notably Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), homeopathy, and various bioresonance therapies. Using ethnographic and archive materials, we look into the ways in which these alternative notions and enactments of body, health, and disease have, since the 1960s, coexisted with biomedicine in diagnostic and therapeutic practices, everyday self-care routines, and in research, development, and innovation (e.g., of various CAM electrical devices). Contrary to usual media depictions, more interesting processes are taking place (around CAM) than simply conflicts, ignorance, or the one-directional subjugation of CAM to biomedicine. The reality of medical pluralism is much messier. We studied various translations and integrations of CAM into official conventional medicine – e.g. ‘medical acupuncture’ (Stöckelová and Klepal 2018a; Stöckelová and Klepal 2018b) – and also documented how the development of CAM after 1988 actually contributed actively to the biomedicalisation of post-communist healthcare (Klepal and Stöckelová, forthcoming). We are now working further on the blurry boundaries between biomedicine and CAM to show how CAM can and does actually re-shape conventional biomedicine.
 A workshop was organised recently on ‘Perilous Knowledge: Gender and Sexuality Scholars at Risk in Europe’ to address the threats. Also see Verloo (2018).