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Transnational mobility among early-career academics: gendered aspects of negotiations and arrangements within heterosexual couples

2016, Schaer, Martine, Dahinden, Janine, Toader, Alina

Today, transnational mobility is often presented as indispensable for a successful academic career. This institutionalisation of transnational mobility for young academics has important effects in (re)producing or transforming gender inequalities. Building on the results of a qualitative study conducted at three universities – Zurich (Switzerland), UCLA (USA), and Cambridge (UK) – this paper examines the mobility experiences of early-career academics and their partners and seeks to understand the mechanisms underlying mobility patterns, including the ways in which they are gendered. Drawing on three case studies, this paper focuses on the gendered negotiations and arrangements of mobile couples. Each case study represents a different ideal-typical pattern of how gender is entangled with mobility. We show how gender is ‘done’ and ‘undone’ by the academics and their partners throughout these mobility trajectories, and how these couples’ negotiations and practices are closely entangled with gender representations that are structurally anchored in labour markets and discursively expressed within the wider social environment. As such, this paper not only contributes to the academic literature by shedding light on a particular type of gendered highly skilled mobility, but also questions the dichotomy between economic men and social and cultural women sometimes reproduced in studies on highly skilled migration. Furthermore, the findings challenge earlier studies that suggest a causal link between mobility and the leaky pipeline by showing that important transformations with regard to gender relations are occurring and that mobility does not inevitably reinforce conventional gender practices.