Feminist Pedagogy in the Neoliberal University: The Limits of Precarious Labour


  • Jacqueline Potvin University of Guelph
  • Kimberly Dority Western University


adjunctification, neoliberalism, pedagogy, precarity, relationality


In recent years, feminist pedagogy has been advanced as a strategy for disrupting the neoliberal corporatization of the university classroom. In this paper, we both recognize and trouble this disruptive potential, examining how the working conditions faced by adjunct instructors affect our ability to put our commitments to feminist pedagogy into practice. Based on our own experiences as sessional instructors, we argue that conditions such as heavy workloads, alongside limited access to institutional resources and community, contribute to faculty burn-out and hinder our ability to build and maintain feminist student-instructor relationships.  Drawing on existing scholarship on feminist pedagogy, and emerging work exploring the challenges of teaching within the neoliberal university, we argue for the need to extend and complicate dominant understandings of feminist pedagogy as a series of values and practices that individual instructors can implement, and to recognize how its enactment is limited by the adjunctification of higher education.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biographies

Jacqueline Potvin, University of Guelph

Jacqueline Potvin is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Guelph. Her research draws on theories of reproductive justice, biopolitics, and medicalization to examine critically how maternal and reproductive health is framed and addressed in international development policy and programming, including Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.

Kimberly Dority, Western University

Kimberly Dority holds a PhD in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies from Western University. Her work takes up feminist and critical phenomenology alongside dance to examine habitual perception and its role in racialization. She continues to explore arts-based research and her interest in feminist pedagogy.  


Ahmed, Sara. 2021. Complaint! Durham: Duke University Press.

Bauer, Dale M. 2002. “Academic Housework: Women’s Studies and Second Shifting”. in Women’s Studies on its Own, edited by Robyn Wiegman. Durham: Duke University Press.

Bondy, Renée, Jane Nicholas and Tracy Penny Light. 2015. “Introduction: Feminist Pedagogy in Higher Education.” In Feminist Pedagogy in Higher Education: Critical Theory and Practice, edited by Tracy Penny Light, Jane Nicholas and Renée Bondy, 1-9. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.

Briskin, Linda. 2015.“Activist Feminist Pedagogies: Privileging Agency in Troubled Times.” In Feminist Pedagogy in Higher Education: Critical Theory and Practice, edited by Tracy Penny Light, Jane Nicholas and Renee Bondy, 57-86. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.

Brown, Wendy. 2005. Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Brown, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zone Books.

Brownlee, Jamie. 2015. Academia Inc. How Corporatization is Transforming Canadian Universities. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.

Busse, Erika, Meghan Krausch and Wenjie Liao. 2021. “How the ‘Neutral’ University Makes Critical Feminist Pedagogy Impossible: Intersectional Analysis from Marginalized Faculty on Three Campuses.” Sociological Spectrum, 41(1): 29-52. doi:10.1080/02732173.2020.1850377.

Callinicos, Alex. 2006. Universities in a Neoliberal World. London: Bookmarks Publications.

Carrell, Scott and James West. 2010. “Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors.” Journal of Political Economy 118(3): 409-432. doi:10.1086/653808

Chávez, Kerry and Kirstina M.W. Mitchell. 2020. “Exploring Bias in Student Evaluations: Gender, Race and Ethnicity.” Politics Science and Politics, 53(2): 270-274. doi:10.1017/S1049096519001744

Crabtree, Robbin D., David Alan Sapp, and Adela C. Licona. 2009. “The Passion and the Praxis of Feminist Pedagogy.” In Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward, edited by Robbin D. Crabtree, David Alan Sapp and Adela C. Licona, 1-20. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Currier, Danielle M. 2021. “Feminist Pedagogy.” In Companion to Feminist Studies, edited by Nancy A. Naples, 341-356. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell.

El-Alayli, Amani, Ashley A. Hansen-Brown and Michelle Ceynar. 2018. “Dancing Backwards in High Heels: Female Professors Experience More Work Demands and Special Favor Requests, Particularly from Academically Entitled Students.” Sex Roles, 79, 136-150. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0872-6.

Feigenbaum, Anna. 2007. “The Teachable Moment: Feminist Pedagogy and the Neoliberal Classroom.” The Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, 29(4): 337-349. doi:10.1080/10714410701291145.

Foster, Karen and Louise Bauer. 2018. “Out of the Shadows: Experiences of Contract Academic Staff.” Canadian Association of University Teachers. https://www.caut.ca/sites/default/files/cas_report.pdf.

Llewellyn, Kristina R and Jennifer J. Llewellyn. 2015. “A Restorative Approach to Learning: Relational Theory as Feminist Pedagogy in Universities.” In Feminist Pedagogy in Higher Education: Critical Theory and Practice, edited by Tracy Penny Light, Jane Nicholas and Renée Bondy, 11-31. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.

MacNell, Lillian, Adam Driscoll and Andrea N. Hunt. 2015. “What’s in a Name: Exposing Gender Bias in Student Ratings of Teaching.” Innovative Higher Education, 40: 291-303. doi:10.1007/s10755-014-9313-4.

Maslach, Christina, & Michael Leiter. 1997. The Truth About Burnout. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Merritt, Deborah J. 2008. “Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching.” St John’s Law Review, 82(1): 235-288. doi:10.2139/ssrn.963196.

Mitchell, Kristina M.W and Jonathan Martin. 2018. “Gender Bias in Student Evaluations.” Political Science and Politics 51(2): 648 - 652. doi:10.1017/S104909651800001X.

Peterson, Anne Helen. 2020. Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Boston: Mariner Books.

Robbins, Wendy, Meg Luxton, Margrit Eichler, and Francine Descarries, editors. 2008. Minds of Our Own: Inventing Feminist Scholarship and Women’s Studies in Canada and Québec, 1996-76. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier Press.

Robinson. 2013. “Global Care Ethics Beyond Distribution, Beyond Justice.” Journal of Global Ethics 9(2): 131- 143.

Rohrer, Judy. 2018. “It’s in the Room”: Reinvigorating Feminist Pedagogy, Contesting Neoliberalism, and Trumping Post-truth Populism.” Teaching in Higher Education, 23(5) 2018: 576-592. doi:10.1080/13562517.2018.1455656.

Rose, Deidre. 2020. “A Snapshot of Precarious Academic Work in Canada.” New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry, 11(1): 7-17.

Skovholt, Thomas and Michelle Trotter-Mathison. 2016. The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Prevention and Self-care Strategies for the Helping Professions. New York: Routledge.

Stein, Sharon, Vanessa Andreotti and Rosalynd Boxall. 2019. “The Ethics of Private Funding for Graduate Students in the Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities.” Critical Education, 10(16).