Like many other young academics I remember feeling an acute sense of relief the first time I was told about impostor syndrome. Giving my underlying feelings of inadequacy a name and defining them as a syndrome made them manageable, made it slightly less likely that I was the only one who really didn’t know how to be a researcher.
If you put impostor syndrome into google you will find countless guides on how to overcome it. In the style of cognitive behavioural therapy we are encouraged to work on ourselves, in order to not let our erroneous beliefs limit us. I’m don’t necessarily disagree with this. impostor syndrome affects us individually and it therefore might be helpful for us to develop some strategies to deal with it on an individual level. But what troubles me about these approaches is that they tend to treat it as a matter of personal pathology and thereby individualising it. Impostor syndrome is something that is wrong about me.
Rather, we need to understand impostor syndrome as a form of social sufferingg, as a symptom, not of something wrong with us, but with the world we live and work in. In this short article I will explore impostor syndrome in terms of how it reflects on our sense of belonging and the conflicting values we are faced as academics and how it shows us the paradoxical nature of neoliberal agency.