Marginalisation, Inclusion and Research: Academic Challenges?

By Dr Jennifer Sloan Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University

As a feminist academic, my work often imbues my teaching and research practices with a firm sense of responsibility. It could be argued that the role of the feminist academic is to give voice to marginalised groups – particularly marginalised women, in order to expose inequalities, exclusion and stereotypes  – ‘to make everything less simple’ as Mary Beard says. The feminist academic is often expected to challenge prevailing norms which impinge on the rights of ‘marginalised groups’.

Yet, the feminist label had been problematized of late, with many positioning ‘feminism’ alongside terms such as ‘radical’, ‘difficult’ and ‘out of date’ (apparently women are all equal and no longer suffer from discriminatory processes, a falsehood which Indeed, a YouGov poll undertaken in 2016 found that 32% of American women polled stated that they did not consider themselves to be feminists; with 47% of women stating that they were not feminists because ‘feminists are too extreme’. Similarly, in Britain, Netmums found that 28% of members thought traditional radical feminism to be ‘too aggressive’ towards men. As such, taking a feminist approach can, at times, be seen to be working against processes of inclusion.

Yet more modern notions of feminism are much less radical in their approach, and appear much more inclusive of marginalised groups more broadly. Indeed, one could argue that, due to their extension beyond ‘just women’, feminists today are more aligned with wider notions of social justice – a term which has become much more popular of late, yet in its approach shares many characteristics with feminist principles. Indeed, at Sheffield Hallam University, within the Whether ‘feminist’, or an advocate of ‘social justice’, the work of such academics involves looking directly at notions of marginalization and policies of inclusion.

There are a number of problems with researching these issues, however, and some key questions that are raised in the course of undertaking such work:

Which populations are ‘marginalised’?  There are many groups that can easily be seen to be marginalised due to certain intersecting personal characteristics; or within certain contexts and not others. This can be challenging to address sometimes, particularly when a group who causes the marginalisation of some, may actually be marginalised as a result of their punishment: men in prison are a prime example of this. My research into masculinities in prison, when placed alongside my other research into gender-based violence means that I am often placed into a position of internal conflict regarding notions of blame and punishment. Indeed, it can be difficult to reconcile one’s feminist beliefs with the need to address the problematic marginalisation of a highly stigmatised and discriminated group who may have caused severe harm to many women, and other men (see Rainbow, forthcoming).

How do academics promote policies of inclusion? Although academics strive to have impact upon the real world, it can be very difficult to do so in practice. Policy-makers tend not to pay much attention to the occasional academic article, and in many instances, the process of inclusion is well beyond the reach of the individual academic, not least because that academic is generally not included themselves within the spheres of power and influence within the settings they research.

However, all is not lost. There is scope for academics to give voice to those they study and to direct attention to those who are, or at least see themselves to be, marginalised. In addition, the need to develop and demonstrate research impact as part of the Research Excellence Framework process followed by academic institutions means that there is much more impetus for academics to promote real-world change through policy and practice which may lead to inclusion (or at least its consideration).

  • Rainbow, J. A. S. (Forthcoming) ‘Saying the Unsayable: Foregrounding Men in the Prison System’

Dr Jennifer Sloan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology. She has worked at Sheffield Hallam since August 2014, and since then has been awarded a University Inspirational Teaching Award (in 2015 and 2016) and was one of the six finalists of the Oxford University Press Law Teacher of the Year Award in 2016. Her research lies in the area of prisons, gender and sexual violence. She complete a LLB (Hons) in Law at Manchester University in 2006, a MA in International Criminology from the University of Sheffield in 2007, and her PhD in Criminology at the University of Sheffield (supervised by Dr Maggie Wykes and Professor Stephen Farrall) in 2011.

Dr Sloan will be speaking at our Citizenship and Engaging Marginalised Populations event on April 5th:

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