Claire Spivakovsky is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Monash University.
Prior to joining Monash, Claire worked in the community and government sectors, developing a range of social and criminal justice projects which advocated for the rights and needs of marginalised populations.
I was always a very traditional criminologist/prisons scholar. I started working in academia right off the bat, getting my first job in the final year of my PhD. Two years into that position, I left academia and started to work in the community sector.
From the community sector, I went to work in the state government, and from state government, I worked in local government. In all these roles, I came across issues to do with people with disability, what kind of legislation we have, and what it permits. Our Disability Act here in Victoria allows service providers to lock people up, to tie them down, to drug them against their will, and, under a range of different orders, to do that for a year at a time.
It made no sense to me why this occurs and why the hell no one knows that it occurs. Also, why is no-one saying anything about it, and why aren't people angry? I made the choice to come back to academia because someone needed to be asking these questions loudly and with the intellectual freedom that academia allows. So I returned in 2013 to research the inclusion and exclusion of people with disability in Australia and around the world.
One of my proudest moments is my first article being accepted to the journal Punishment and Society. That was the first piece I wrote about the issues I had seen outside of academia. It was me starting a new stream of research, and the first time I voiced my frustration about the Disability Act allowing really horrific things to take place. When you're able to publish in journals where you will get noticed, the issues you write about will be noticed, that's when you feel proud.
On first returning to academia, a major challenge was job insecurity and what that does to your sense of self. Job insecurity can make you feel like a lesser citizen in academia, and this was a big issue for me. I felt like I couldn't say no to all sorts of different things because the people that you say no to are the people that will potentially hire you.
I successfully applied for a permanent position here at Monash in 2015. Since getting that position, I can say no to things, which is wonderful. But saying no makes me realise where my ambitions don't always align with the university's ambitions. I am here for advocacy; academia is a means to an end for me. Universities, in general though are pushing the idea that you should win money, you should have impact.
Monash aligns well with my ambitions to do meaningful research. But things go slightly askew when universities – and I’m speaking here about universities in general - say, "Oh, this is an interesting person that has really good connections. Let's use those connections, or let's encourage her, to do research about things that are disability-related, but not necessarily about violence, because she would be interested in that too, or there's a good funding opportunity there." But I have one agenda: changing the way of thinking about people with disability that allows violence to occur.
I think universities in general don't understand that there are other ways to do academia – that academics are diverse and that we are here for other reasons. The university will get more if it allows me to just do what I want to do, because I still have ambitions to publish, I still want to win money, and I understand the games that I have to play in terms of reputation.
Impact and Legacy
I want to do academia differently and role model that for others. In terms of the projects that I am doing, they are about building up the evidence base to get criminology to care about this stuff. To say, "Hold on, guys. I'm coming at this as a criminologist with all of the things that I've been taught as a criminologist. And, when I do that, I can see all of this stuff that people who are already doing this research from other disciplines don't seem to be seeing. Let's do more of this." I just want us to start the conversation. I do not need to be the leader of this for the rest of my life.
A good example of research impact would be an invitation I received from the Australian Human Rights Commission to have input into the development of a position on people with disability and the violence that they experience. I've also been invited to have a lot of input into Australia’s approach to ratifying the Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture. For me, that's what impact is - getting those invitations, having those conversations.
In terms of legacy, to me the future is very unclear and I'm okay with that. It is useful to understand overall what you want to do as a person and have goals, but sometimes it's not useful to have a vision of a career, Success for me would be criminology and a range of other disciplines paying attention to disability, and doing it properly. Twenty years down the line, if people other than me are making this kind of noise, I'd like to be outside of academia again. I'd like to be back trying to figure out the next step that needs to take place.
Advice to Younger Women
I'd tell my eighteen-year-old self to stop believing that your career has to be linear. Get out of that mind frame as it is a trap. Take opportunities, shift, and change. Have a reason for changing but accept also that you could be changed by others, and that doesn’t mean you have failed.
For me, that was a massive issue. I couldn't understand how someone who had done extremely well in everything could all of a sudden be outside of academia. I think I'm a much better academic as a result of that though. What I'd say to other eighteen-year-olds, is, "Play your own game." By play your own game, I mean try as hard as you can not to play other people's games or any games at all. It's not worth your time.