ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2023-24
ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2023-24
Dr Bethan Evans is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Liverpool. Bethan has previously worked as Lecturer in Human Geography and Medical Humanities at Durham University and Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University. Bethan’s research cuts across social, cultural and political geographies and is, broadly speaking, driven by a concern with the ways in which particular spaces and institutions produce and reinforce ideas about acceptable forms of embodiment, and how we might create more inclusive spaces and institutions. Bethan’s previous work has explored this in relation to fatness, including work on the (bio)politics of anti-obesity policies in schools, public health, urban planning, and geographic scholarship, and on the ways in which social, material and political economic factors interact in spaces of commercial air travel in ways that produce symbolic and material violence for fat passengers. Bethan’s research has also considered the role of friendship and curiosity in relation to place-based understandings of wellbeing, has explored the geographies of youth and engaging young people in political histories, has considered the embodied politics of anti-fatness research, and the potential for fat studies and fat activism to play a part in the development of the critical medical humanities. Most recently, Bethan has been working with ‘Chronic Illness Inclusion’ (CII) to look at gendered experiences of disbelief and disregardwithin health and social care for people in England living with Energy Limiting Chronic Illness (ELCI). Bethan’s ISRF Political Economy Fellowship will involve further collaboration with CII, in this case looking at the ways in which the experiences of academics with ELCI can offer insights into the operation of the neoliberal academic political economy in the UK as an ‘exhaustion economy’. In doing so, Bethan will bring insights from Crip Theory to work on the academic political economy, seeking ways to address the dual problems of burnout and ableism and to radically reimagine processes that exclude and/or debilitate.
This project will develop a ‘Crip’ Political Economy approach to understand the dual problems of burnout and ableism in the UK neoliberal academy. Responding to the crisis of chronic overwork, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the rise in long-term chronic illness due to Long Covid, this project’s central thesis is that academics living with Energy Limiting Chronic Illness (ELCI), conditions involving symptoms of debilitating fatigue, offer vital insights into the operation of neoliberal capitalism within UK academia as an ‘exhaustion economy’.
Methodologically, innovation will come from adapting qualitative methods for exhausted bodies, allowing asynchronous and remote participation. Focus groups and qualitative surveys with people with ELCI who work in, or have left, academia will feed into a narrative network analysis of the academic political economy. Autobiographical and energy-budget-based interviews will explore energy limitation at two temporal scales: career and everyday. Critical analysis of equality and diversity policy from key institutions (e.g. funders, publishers, research and teaching assessment bodies) within the UK academic political economy will be carried out.
Theoretical innovation will come from bringing Crip Theory into conversation with Political Economy scholarship on capitalist hyperproductivity and neoliberalisation, along with work on slow scholarship and failure. It will extend work on Crip Time in academia, largely focussed on the US, by attending to UK specific institutions and processes. It will also ask how attention to embodied energy, as a limited commodity, might add a new dimension to Crip Time.
Current policy approaches to disability focus on reasonable adjustments made by the employing university. The Crip Political Economy approach developed here asks how ableism and exhaustion might be addressed across the broader academic political economy. In diverging from current approaches, and seeking to reimagine processes that currently exclude and/or debilitate, this research will contribute to ISRF goals to diversify social science.