Critical Academic Development: Negotiating Barriers and Boundaries in Our Time

Dina Zoe Belluigi*, Tom Parkinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Many countries on the Continent have seen more societal division, immiseration and flux than stability or flourishing. Such change has been framed through various discourses, including oppression, colonialism, crisis, conflict, post-conflict, reconstruction and development – and now ‘emerging economies’ within the global capitalist (dis)order. Perhaps most consistent across these changes has been the lack of relation of global influences and drivers of change to contextual needs, aspirations and heritages – pressure points where the critical role of intellectual leadership can show its value. In their daily life and within universities, East African women academics negotiate various levels of discrimination, exclusion and structural disadvantage related to gender inequalities, which intersect with layers of dis/advantage and exclusion related to ethnicity, class, language, knowledge systems, displacement, conflict and geopolitics. As the texts we draw upon in this chapter reveal, these conditions are not dissimilar to those experienced by many academics across the globe, particularly in other majority world contexts where layered injustices intersect with particular and group identities. Opportunities to challenge or overcome injustice have been enabled in some contexts when policy interventions, changes in demographic composition and leadership combine, creating the conditions for transitions of authority – including within higher education. Feminist praxis enables experiences of injustice, discrimination and disadvantage to be drawn upon as a resource (Ravera, Iniesta-Arandia, Martin-Lopez, Pascual & Bose 2016), since, relative to many girls and women within their communities, women academics carry the privileges of their educational capitals and knowledges, the capacity to lead change, and access to resources from inter/national networks. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 sets out a target of “full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” (SDG Target 5.5). In the work of universities, this and other idea(l)s of the Sustainable Development Goals, and various iterations of equality and the common good, may come to fruition in the hands of committed academics. Where women academics’ individual capacity and leadership stimulates collective agency, it can catalyse systemic change, both within the university and in its outward-facing functions. African feminist studies, and studies about women in Africa, have “deepened our knowledge about African women and the African society as a whole, emphasizing the agency of African women, active in the resistance to oppression and colonial impositions” (Idahosa 2019a: 9). These, and other critical traditions, have informed our vision for a Critical Academic Development – to cross the boundaries of narrow, standardised and institutionally-mediated norms which unfortunately characterise mainstream approaches to the development of academic practice and thought. For ‘academic development’ (AD) to have radical potential, particularly for academics working under adverse structural conditions, it must foreground its critical dimension. This chapter considers the possibilities and responsibilities of Critical Academic Development (CAD), and the ways in which it might support academics to lead and engender change both within the university and in how the university enacts its purposes of social formation and knowledge formation for the common good.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHERS-EA: Reimagining Women Leadership Through Inclusive Community Engagement
EditorsNaomi Lumutenga, Margaret Khaitsa
PublisherPeter Lang
Publication statusSubmitted - 30 Jun 2021


  • higher education
  • East Africa
  • academic development
  • conflict
  • women


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