Meet Dr Abigail Boucher on this edition of 3 Minutes with a Stylish Academic.
Her research/teaching area is in English literature (specialisms in nineteenth-century genre fiction, body theory, and class studies).
Location: Aston University, Birmingham, England
What being a “stylish academic” means to me
It means being comfortable in my own skin and feeling as though I have agency and confidence in a professional sphere.
It also means being just one of (hopefully) many role models for students who would like to see themselves represented in positions of authority.
However, I am cis, white, able-bodied, and conventionally femme, and most universities (including mine) could do a lot better in terms of hiring more diverse academic staff.
A character(s) that would best embody my personal style is…
I would love to say someone outrageous, like Cookie Lyon from Empire or Patsy Stone from AbFab, but I’m probably more akin to Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans when I’m around the house, Olivia Pope in Scandal when I’m at work, or Kathleen Moore in The Last Tycoon when I’m dressing up.
I have very little time for fussy clothing, so give me something beautifully cut and functional any day.
An unforgettable academic experience (research/teaching)
There are several moments far more significant than this, but there’s no way to articulate them in three sentences without sounding overly sentimental and trite.
So instead I’ll go with this: you get a real sense of accomplishment from being the first person to write about an overlooked text or genre–especially if it’s one often referenced in passing but given no critical attention.
What I find challenging about dressing in academia is…
Finding that fine line, as a young woman in higher education, between self-expression and perceived competence. There’s an internalized worry that if I dress down or dress up too much, I’ll be read as either unprofessional or frivolous.
What I enjoy about dressing in academia is…
Using another form of signifiers and codes to communicate.
Personal dress styles are a great way to teach students gaze theory, habitus, the intentional fallacy, appropriation, etc.
One of my most successful exercises is when I have students close read the costuming in films.
The one thing I love about academia is…
The variety of the work I do: the research I’m working on now will likely not be what I’m still working on in ten or fifteen years. I love being in an industry that’s not (or at least doesn’t have to be) rote or bromidic.
If I could change one thing about the culture of academia – it would be…
There are a lot of significant problems in academic culture–ingrained privilege, neoliberalism and the idea of students as the customer, increased pressure for all young people to attend university–
…Since this is an interview on style, I’ll focus my answer on that. I would love to change the idea that you have to dress in a certain way to be taken seriously, especially if you are young, a woman, a person of colour, or queer. I was recently very impressed with Prof. Grace Lavery’s defense of her staff photos, which don’t attempt to downplay her identity as a trans woman, nor her sense of whimsy.
My typical day begins with…
An hour of quiet time to have breakfast and read the news.
I’m a very early riser, not necessarily because I’m a morning person but because this is often the only time of day I have that’s purely for myself.
My favourite city I have visited to attend a conference is…
Samarkand. I was invited to Uzbekistan last year to give a 10-day lecture series and found the blending of external cultural influences–Persian, Soviet, Mongolian–to be fascinating.
The people were extremely stylish, too; I felt under-dressed the entire time.
If I could get away to go on a holiday, top on my list would be…
Sarajevo; it’s not overwhelmed with tourists and I’ve heard the bazaars are incredible.
The one item in my wardrobe I can’t do without is…
A tailored winter coat.
I grew up in Vermont, where winters are miserable, so a bright wool coat not only kept me warm and cheered me up six months into a hard winter, but it also was the easiest way to look polished with little effort.
What I do in my spare time/to relax…
I read a lot of books and watch a lot of films, but I suppose when you’re a humanities scholar those things go without saying.
I also go running and cook a lot, and I’m a fairly big computer game nerd.
I just played a very silly computer game based on the 1820s caricatures by J.J. Granville, which was a good laugh after a long term.