Ambiguous Empowerment

The Work Narratives of Women School Superintendents


Like other women who work in professions dominated by white men, women school superintendents tell stories about rising to influential positions, developing confidence in their authority and ability, yet continuing to confront discriminatory treatment in an occupation structured by gender and racial inequalities.

In this book, Susan E. Chase examines these contradictory experiences of power and subjection, drawing on interviews with professional women of various ethnic and racial backgrounds who head schools in rural, small-town, and urban districts across the United States. Chase focuses on the tension, implicit in the language these women use, between ostensibly gender- and race-neutral discourse about professional work and contentious, gendered, and racialized discourse about inequality. Through close analysis of their stories of success, she shows how these women have developed a range of narrative strategies for articulating and coping with their ambiguous empowerment.

Innovative in conception and interdisciplinary in approach, this study contributes to our understanding of how general social processes--the reproduction of culture, the construction of self-understandings--are embodied in the everyday practice of storytelling. It also invites us to listen in new ways to what professional women have to say about their lives.

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