Academic Careers of Women Researchers During and After the Communist Regime in Czech(oslovak)ia

Marta Vohlídalová presented her work at the Universidad Autónoma de in Madrid in May 2016. The talks were attended by undergraduate students, postgraduates and senior researchers.

Work paths of women researchers and academics before 1989 and nowadays: The case of the Czech Republic

The paper focuses on changes in women’s careers in science comparing two generations: i) women who built their career under state socialism (before 1989) and ii) the contemporary young generation of women scientists. The intergenerational comparison enables us to track the role of individual, institutional and structural barriers in women’s careers in science. The role of such barriers is completely ignored in the present “neutrally” formulated definition of scientific excellence (Gonzalez Ramos et al. 2015). In other words, the current setting of scientific excellence and rules of scientific careers completely ignores the fact that a person’s work life strongly interferes with cultural and institutional conditions, as well as family and private life.

This interconnectedness is well captured by the life-course approach, which is based on the concept of interdependence of various aspects of life, such as professional and family life and institutional settings. It also focuses  on how individual life paths are influenced by historical context and the transformation of institutional frameworks (Elder 1994; Krüger 2009; Krüger, Lévy 2001; Macmillan, Copher, 2005). Attention is also paid to the way how lives of individuals influence each other (e.g. life partners or parents and grandparents) (Krüger, Lévy 2001; Moen, Sweet, 2002). People’s lives, their work and family paths are thus not seen as individual projects but as a result of many other factors. The life-course approach thus pays attention to all aspects that are made invisible by the contemporary conception of “research excellence”.

In my lecture, I focus on the career paths of women scientists prior to 1989, comparing them with how women’s careers in science and research unfold today. I concentrate on the interaction between scientific work paths, institutional and organizational conditions and family paths. I characterize the generational shift in the carrier paths with a metaphor of shifts in three main areas: I ask what constitutes milestones that structured the career paths of women now and in the past; how the dynamics of scientific career changed; and how the ways and conditions of the combination of working life and motherhood changed.  My analysis is based on in-depth interviews with women academics of various generations.

I argue, without downplaying the difficulties associated with building a scientific career under the era of state socialism (with the unquestionable prevalence of  gender inequalities and discrimination and political persecutions), the comparison of life stories of women scientists of the two generations shows that the increasing pressure on the competitiveness, efficiency, international mobility and competition for grant funding in science, makes women increasingly less able to fit their life biography into the model, which is built as the only possible and correct one and at first glance “gender neutral”.

Darina Martykánová

Darina Martykánová is historian, dealing mainly with Spain and the Ottoman Empire. She works at the Departament of Modern History of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Her research focuses on the history of professions and on transnational circulation of knowledge. Her second line of research concerns the redefinition of masculinites in interaction with the discourse of "progress of civilisation".

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