About this project

The Domestic Academic Interactive Quilt addresses the major injustice that threatens to significantly impede the developing careers of women academics with caring responsibilities. Early research statistics as reported in the Guardian and Inside Higher Ed* (April 2020) indicate that the number of women contributing to academic Journals since the pandemic began has dropped, whereas male contributions have risen. Studies also show that mothers spend over 50% more of their time supporting home schooling and completing domestic tasks, in comparison to their male partners. By moving the workplace to combine with domestic set-ups, without the opportunity for notice, prior consultation nor mitigation for the associated challenges, these women have experienced significant mental strain and an unequal increase in their workloads. This indicates an inequality as a direct result of the COVID-19 lockdown and ongoing prevalence towards working from home.

This project aims to:

–           document the impact of COVID-19 on the working lives of women academics

–           inform future practices and initiatives to support women and prevent gender-based discrimination

–           protect women academics roles and credibility

–           protect and value women academics contribution to university research outputs and growth

–           create awareness of the inequalities faced by women academics with caring responsibilities

–           provide a bedrock for discussion that entices change

–           uniquely engage the audience through creative narrative and visual outcomes

–           create an output that is easily accessible and shareable online

–           share outcomes UK wide (and worldwide)

–           create an output that can be shared in a variety of contexts (e.g., conference, textual output, exhibition)

–           create an output with scope for growth and increased impact

–           entice policy change to ensure contracts are not detrimental to women and support acknowledgement without penalisation of reduced research output for REF 2024

–           Acknowledge of the impact of missing research, posing the question: will women be fairly represented in the future?

It the need for tacit knowledge of these experiences to be acknowledged and made accessible in order to entice change. By enabling their experiences to be creatively expressed and performed, both visually and aurally online, this work can provide the bedrock for discussion and consultation to support the subsequent identification of the actions required to address and reconcile this inequality. This situation and the scale of its impact is unprecedented, therefore knowledge of its effect on women’s academic careers is needed but does not yet exist. In order that this significant and valuable proportion of staff can continue to build their careers without discrimination and contribute to the successful research growth of their universities, action must be taken swiftly.



It is acknowledged that there is significant research published and in progress regarding the medical and social impacts and implications of COVID-19. Creative outputs have also been widespread, including the UN call for creative responses and, notably for this project, through a number of ‘quilts’ on Instagram, which visualise collective experiences as a patchwork of images utilising the format of the site. These calls are collective and visual, but they are also open and largely untargeted. They present a range of voices, which may prompt discussion, but may not explicitly do so with the intention to entice change. This project builds community during this time of isolation and as an autoethnographic output entices change by positioning experiences in a social and economic context. It describes and critiques them, employs reflexivity to interrogate the intersections between society (gendered expectations) and self (lived experience) and strives for social justice (Ellis 2015). It specifically deals with women in academia and the struggle of completing research outputs, which by their nature require a quiet space and total concentration. This need for absorption in the task directly challenges the reality of working from home whilst simultaneously caring for other family members. This project will build on the popularity of the other creative outputs yet add value through its purpose and specificity. This knowledge can be used directly to inform Universities on how to support their female staff that fall into this category, for example by feeding into initiatives such as Athena SWAN, through textual output and presentation of findings at conferences, as well as through further research initiatives that can follow this funding (e.g., extension of this project to larger numbers, symposium, and physical exhibition).


Working from home whilst caring for other family members is not a situation that is unique to university lecturers; across the UK, female experts in their fields are juggling the demands of home and work in real time. Knowledge of the inequalities faced can be made available to universities across the UK through presentation, publication and sharing through networks, who will likewise subscribe to initiatives like Athena SWAN, but it can also serve as a starting point for discussion of other services and industries who require similar outputs from their staff.

This website is easily accessible through its interactive and visual nature, which will support engagement and popular sharing of this output via social media, online conferences, and other digital platforms. The visual and creative presentation of real lives is also visually compelling, and the aural stories will support connection through relatable narratives, thus supporting engagement across the UK in a variety of sectors in a manner that reaches beyond the scope of cold statistics, enticing change through quiet yet powerful proclamation.

The risk of detrimental impact from missing research, which would otherwise have been completed by these academics, should also be acknowledged as a potential loss along with its impact on universities for the REF 2024. This impact will be felt UK wide, therefore an easily scalable, approachable, and interactive project such as this is useful across the UK, and even worldwide.

Practice and methods

The 23 participants selected are at various stages in their academic careers, with caring responsibilities that span a variety of children’s ages (0-19 years), elderly parents and other demands. They met through a series of online workshops, which included several drawing and narrative exercises to prompt discussion and reflection. Each participant also recorded a 3-minute voice over to accompany their artwork.

Creative Practice as innovation

This output presents the research in a manner that reaches far beyond the scope of an interview or traditional paper. A quilt is the perfect output to present these findings because it communicates and resonates on many levels. As a familiar household item associated with warmth and comfort it reflects qualities that are often defined as feminine, with power in its form. Underpinned by the theories of Roszita Parker (1985), which acknowledges the legacy of women and stitch, along with Craftivism (Greer, 2014), which has established the power of stitch to emancipate women from gendered inequalities, the proposed story quilt will visualise and voice the experiences of these disadvantaged academics. This resonates with story quilts stitched by disempowered female slaves (for example by Harriet Powers), which have been claimed by feminists for the enduring significance of their work.

Within an arts practice ‘reading’ quilts as statements of discontent and personal narrative is widely accepted, for example through Tracy Emin’s quilt I do not expect to be a mother (2002) and Louise Bourgeois’ I have been to hell and back (2015). It also embraces the history of aural storytelling associated with quilts, which were often created by groups of women who told stories about their lives and experiences whilst they stitched. The workshop encounter mirrors this context and builds a sense of community, unifying voices and building solidarity. The storytelling theories of Haug (1983) and Crawford (1992) to express gendered narratives also inform this work.

Shifting the presentation of a quilt into the digital realm makes it easily accessible online, which is especially relevant during the current COVID-19 situation. The ability to see as well as hear experiences told through an interactive rather than a passive experience rewards the viewer and allows for a greater sense of connection with the stories. In a world where the need for physical interaction prevails, yet remote technology is currently a necessity in order to communicate, this project celebrates them both. There is also a huge physical version, ready for exhibition.

Rationale and Link to call

We seek to present evidence that women academics with caring responsibilities are having their social capital reduced and could see their careers irreprovably damaged due to gendered inequalities. The aims of this research are to entice social change through the voicing of these experiences, to explore the nature of participation through a practice-based output as opposed to written output (which requires a level of immersion challenging to those also caring for others) and to create an accessible output that can be engaged within and without academic contexts. It also has potential to inform non-academic industries and services. The first step in making change is to acknowledge the problem. This artwork will present the issues faced by women in this situation through an autoethnographically methodology that entices change and employs craftivist tactics to inform and persuade.

This interactive quilt employs tactics that are sympathetic to the cultural demand for digital outputs, engagement and interaction providing an opportunity to engage expansively through interactive online engagement with both a wide and a targeted audience. It also offers an opportunity for change that can reflect positively on the mental health and well-being of those involved, as well as those who will benefit from its impact. The role of arts, media, and culture in this pandemic in unprecedented; through the creative nature of this output and the intention to improve the work-life balance and therefore mental well-being, it can make a change that supports post-pandemic recovery.

Thank you for your interest. For further information please contact the Principal Investigator Vanessa Marr v.marr@brighton.ac.uk

As the Principal Investigator, I have recognised the need for this research through my own experiences since lockdown and through conversations with female colleagues. Autoethnography stories the self (Adamson and Moriarty, 2019) and this project extends upon that to allow others to also do the same. By investigating an experience that is common to both the participants and I, I’ve completed a study that is by its nature collaboratively autoethnographic. Ellis (2004) writes that autoethnography is: ‘research, writing, story and method that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political’. In this project the visual expressions become the method, the personal stories are told aurally and visualised within the quilt, and the method is further extended into online exhibition and interaction, which connects the stories to wider cultural and social issues. The collaborative nature of the workshops enticed the discussion and sharing of personal experiences, which in turn contextualises them within a wider social context. This means that the experiences become a voice amongst many. Creating this work has enabled participants and myself alike to ‘manoeuvre through [the] pain, confusion, anger, and uncertainty’ that many women experience through resentment of the fact it is they are often left with the responsibly of completing these tasks; to ‘break [the] silence’ and ‘re) claim [their] voice’ (Holman-Jones et al, 2013).

I am grateful to the amazing women who participated, for their open and generous approach to the project and for the laughter and tears that accompanied our workshops. I hope that together we have enticed a bit more recognition and the beginnings of positive change for domestic academics the world over. Thank you