New faculty: Lynda Pickbourn

Lynda Pickbourn, new faculty at Mount Holyoke College, teaches gender studies, a dynamic department that has seen a lot of change over the years.

Lynda Pickbourn has a high-profile role at Mount Holyoke: She’s associate professor and chair of the gender studies department, which was once known as women’s studies. It’s a dynamic department that has grown and transformed over time, as Mount Holyoke continues to embrace expansive ways of thinking about identity.

“The gender studies department itself has evolved quite a bit. In its earliest iteration as women’s studies, the focus was very much on women. Now, the emphasis in gender studies is on foregrounding the critical perspectives and methodologies that constitute feminist and queer scholarship and activism,” she said.

As a trained economist, she’s especially excited to teach a new first-year seminar: Woman and Work in the Global Economy. The class examines the economic policies and processes that have facilitated the creation of the global apparel industry, where women compose 80% of the workforce, and introduces students to debates over the gendered implications of these processes for wages, working conditions and labor organizing.

“People often think about globalization as a cultural phenomenon. In this class, I emphasize a materialist perspective. I enjoy working with students to explore the ways in which the global economic system has changed over time and the implications of these changes for people’s lives, especially in the Global South. And students, obviously, are very connected to clothing and fashion in various ways, so the apparel industry provides a useful entry point for discussing these topics,” she added with a laugh.

Pickbourn grew up in Ghana, where she attended college and later taught high school economics. Although she initially started teaching as part of a one-year national service requirement, she ended up staying in the profession for nine years. She loved working in the classroom, interacting with students and challenging them to think deeply about issues that perhaps transcended the standard high school curriculum.

At the time, Ghana was in the midst of prolonged economic upheaval, and orthodox economic theory seemed far removed from the realities of the country’s development crisis, the burden of which fell most heavily on the poor. Pickbourn’s questions about the challenges and contradictions of economic development in Ghana and in Africa eventually brought her to the graduate program in economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she found an intellectual home and focused on development economics and feminist economics. The department was hospitable to creativity and boundary-spanning thinking.

“The department’s heterodox approach to economics encourages students to explore a variety of theoretical frameworks for understanding how economies work, and the ones that I found most valuable were the political economy and feminist approaches — both of which emphasize the role that social identities, intergroup conflict and unequal power relations play in shaping economic outcomes,” she said.

Before coming to Mount Holyoke, Pickbourn was an associate professor of economics at Hampshire College. She has written extensively on issues relevant to gender and economic development in Africa and on feminist and heterodox economic methodology, and is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled “Moving to Survive: Women Migrants and the Quest for Sustainable Development in Africa.”

While her intellectual interests are global, she’s happy to find a new academic home at Mount Holyoke, especially as a longtime resident of the Five Colleges area.

“I’m excited to be part of the Mount Holyoke community and to have the opportunity to work with students in gender studies and beyond who are committed to bringing about positive and meaningful change to their communities,” she said.

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