Imposter syndrome as a public feeling
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Breeze M. (2018) 'Imposter syndrome as a public feeling', in Taylor Y. and Lahad K. (eds.) Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights and Failures. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 191-219.
What happens when we re-think ‘imposter syndrome’ in academic labor as a public feeling? What can imposter syndrome tell us about who gets to know what, about what, and how? In this chapter, I present a short piece of auto-ethnographic fiction, about the feelings associated with imposter syndrome in the particular context of feminist academia and early career academic work. Imposter syndrome—sensations of not belonging; feeling that one’s competence and success are fundamentally fraudulent and inauthentic; the conviction of having somehow ‘tricked’ students, colleagues, peer reviewers, and publishers; and the fear that it is only a matter of time before this is discovered—is popularly understood as an individual—private—problem of faulty self-esteem. However, this chapter draws on Cvetkovich (SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly, 106(3), 459–468, 2007; Cvetkovich, Depression: A public feeling. London: Duke University Press, 2012) to argue instead that imposter syndrome is a ‘public feeling’ in higher education (HE). Building upon precedents in feminist sociologies of emotion, and queer affect studies, re-thinking imposter syndrome as a public feeling has three elements: (1) situating the affective landscape of imposterism in socio-political context; how is feeling like an imposter marked by intersections of class, gender, ‘race’ and ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and factors including caring responsibilities, being of the first familial generation to enter HE? (2) analyzing feelings of imposterism as something like a ‘diagnostic of power’ (Abu-Lughod, 1990) and asking what such feelings can tell us about the structure and governance of increasingly neo-liberal, marketised HEIs, and about power relationships in knowledge production; (3) understanding imposter syndrome not as an individual problem to be overcome, but rather as a resource for political action and site of agency, as early career academics transition to employment in a sector increasingly characterized by casualization, precarity, and ‘entrepreneurial’ competition.