Performing the ‘Two-Body Problem’: An Analysis of Academic Couples’ Career Sensemaking as Revealed Through Joint Storytelling

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Increasingly competitive labor markets have created new challenges for academic partners who are seeking faculty positions in the same location. Mismatches between career aspirations and available opportunities can precipitate struggles over the meaning and desirability of an academic career, triggering a need for sensemaking. This article offers an analysis of academic couples’ job search stories, focusing on how they jointly make sense of career events through narrative performances. Using dialogic/performance analysis, the article identifies several specific strategies by which participants collaboratively manage tensions between “self” and “other” and sustain positive identities. These strategies include bolstering the partner’s image through protective teamwork, minimizing status differences, and re-storying professional setbacks. Together, these strategies show how couples strive to make their experiences sensible to themselves and others and to forge new meanings of career passages that, in many cases, depart from established models.

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Journal of Family Communication, v. 16, issue 4, p. 403-418