Professor Catherine Boyle
Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies
Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
A mixture of things was, of course, responsible for my interest in Spanish and Latin American Studies. The first and most important was excellent teaching in modern languages at my state school in Scotland. My passion for entering distant and, at that stage, only imagined worlds through the power and dynamism of words started then, has never left me and inform everything I do. Further excellent teaching at university and then my time teaching in Granada in Andalucía opened my mind to the different worlds we inhabit and to the depth of lived experience in the ways we express ourselves.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My research interests are in Latin American cultural studies, largely in theatre, translation for theatre and in feminist and gender studies. My entrance into these areas came firstly through my undergraduate introduction to Latin American literature, which opened my imagination to yet another set of worlds. Through my MA in Latin American Studies I was introduced to a number of disciplinary approaches, and it was this that drew me to cultural studies: I wanted to understand literature in its context of production. It was the absence of women in the panorama of study that prompted my work on feminist and gender, in the heady days of the 1980s and the now historic third wave of feminism. Finally, my work in Chile on theatre that challenged the Pinochet regime changed my intellectual life and taught me about the fundamental role of literary production in society.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I am a child of the force for political change that followed the Second World War. Being from a working class background and entering university in 1976 meant that I was a classic beneficiary of educational models and university funding of that moment. So, being the first person in my family to go to university, and the professional career that has followed are constantly rewarding, and constantly grounding. I have acted as Head of Department for 13 years in total (over two periods) and I have always found it enormously rewarding to work towards the creation of happy academic communities. My work on research leadership in Arts & Humanities, with the Inigo Rooms and Culture at Kings, for which I received a King’s Impact and Innovation Award, is always rewarding because of the ways it brings me into contact with colleagues. And becoming a Fellow of King’s College London in July 2014 was a special moment of recognition, shared with my colleagues and students.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
My role models are my lecturers at the University of Strathclyde, who were superb teachers and, particularly through John McIntyre, passionately dedicated to the learning of languages in schools in the west of Scotland. These were the lecturers who taught me how languages and literature worked together as one way to shape our worlds. In Chile, under the Pinochet dictatorship, I worked with academics who had been expelled from universities and who, with great bravery, created centres for research that became the motor for cultural and political thinking throughout the period. Their belief in the active role of the intellectual in society is still inspirational after all this time.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
The support of my family is the single most important thing; firstly, my family in Scotland, where the belief in education was profound and life-changing and then my husband and daughters in London through whom I route my life. The academic world is a strange one of learning through experience and through working with colleagues, and the best support has always come through my closest colleagues in all areas. Their knowledge and understanding of the ways in which King’s works and their ability to share that in effective and generous ways has been the most important support of my career.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
Balance between an academic career and life outside the workplace is achieved by being very single-minded in certain areas. I have always been very strict about prioritising family over academic work at home. That is the key thing. I am working on creating more balance in other areas of life outside the workplace. I think that this is an area that takes shape over a long period of time, depending on circumstances, like family and other care commitments. Inevitably, tough decisions have to be made – for example, how to build an international profile when you have a young family at home, or whether to take on roles with more responsibility when it will put pressures on relationships. It is still the case, I think, that the difficulty of finding ways to manage these tensions is a key factor in the lack of female leadership in the university sector.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
The most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of my job at King's is sharing my research with others. This, of course, is what drives my teaching, which is constantly rewarding at all levels. It also drives my involvement in and organisation of conferences and seminars, and, crucially for me, working through my research (particularly on theatre translation and performance) with groups outside the university sector. In that sense, the work that has come out of my AHRC-funded project on Spanish-language theatre in translation and performance, Out of the Wings ( www.outofthewings.org ) has been rewarding in the exchanges it has enabled with theatre professionals, community groups, schools festivals.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
The simple answer is that there is no real balance. Every aspect is demanding and, at certain times, every aspect is a full-time job. In this respect, it’s important to think about the balance over a full academic year and to value each strand enough in order to give it proper time when it is most needed. The single most damaging thing in university life is the erosion of time between the end of the exam period and the beginning of the next academic year. There is very little real time to dedicate to research, yet this is the most important time of the year in terms of the availability of concentrated quality time for research, thinking and writing.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
I have learnt something that has to be constantly relearned: that universities are about learning. It is very simple for me: universities are driven by the commitment to the people who work in them to creating the best possible environment for the production and critical engagement with knowledge and to learning. It is vital to recognise and respect the role of every single individual in that endeavour. And it is important to use our own particular knowledge, research, insight and understanding to create the best possible place for people to work and to learn.