Wifework and the University

We should be thinking in general about how we do affective labour in university settings. How do we, as faculty, support students with mental health and personal challenges to get the best from their university experience. How can we do the base level affective support which accompanies any pedagogical relationship. I had the immense good fortune as an undergraduate to have very supportive tutors during times of personal crisis. As a result I now find myself in the position of the tutor, of the one who has the opportunity to support struggling students, to do my damnedest to make sure they have appropriate access to support and to provide what pastoral care I can to allow them to get the best out of their university education.


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea of “wifework”, the term Susan Maushart uses for the hidden work expected of women in romantic relationships. Though her book is specifically about marriage, it connects to broader ideas about “affective labour” and “invisible work” which women carry out without acknowledgement. As the new university year approaches, I wanted to sketch a few ways in which this extra burden of work can be seen within university life, and ask for people’s own experiences.

Looking back at my own undergraduate days, it often seemed to fall to women to do the social maintenance within friendship groups. Remembering people’s birthdays, organising parties, ensuring that people weren’t left out, looking up whether there were tickets available for the play we’d said we wanted to see – these are the sort of things I’m thinking about. Of course it wasn’t always done by the women…

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