#5 Cover Artist: Kate Carruthers Thomas

Dr Kate Carruthers Thomas is Senior Research Fellow and gender equality Project Manager at Birmingham City University, UK. Kate specialises in interdisciplinary enquiry into contemporary higher education, inequalities and gender, and is now exploring the potential of graphic social science (Carrigan 2017, Vigurs, Jones and Harris 2016, Priego 2016) as a research tool and also a format for publishing her research

The cover artwork for this issue of CLOSURE on Failure emerges from a larger graphic essay My Brilliant Career? An Investigation, which presents findings from her recent qualitative research project, Gender(s) At Work. The project explores the implications of gendered, lived experiences within the working environment of higher education and seeks to trouble dominant gender-neutral and linear career metaphors.  It uses an analysis of gender as a »geography of power« (Massey 2005) operating within the university, both positioning members of staff and enabling/constraining the ways in which they position themselves, in relation to career.

My Brilliant Career? An Investigation uses a large-scale comic format to illustrate participant data symbolically visualising three archetypal phenomena which frequently characterise academic and popular discussions of career obstacles, risks, constraints and privileges: the ›glass ceiling‹, the ›glass escalator‹ and the ›glass cliff‹ (see, for example, BruckmĂĽller, Ryan, Rink and Haslam 2014; Williams 2013; Ryan and Haslam 2005; Budig 2002). The cover artwork for this issue of CLOSURE features a reworked version of the representation of the ›glass cliff‹: »a phenomenon where women and other minority group members are over-represented in leadership roles that are risky and precarious« (Ryan and Haslam 2005). In it, a professional woman carrying the ubiquitous accessories of the workplace laptop, water-bottle and phone, is about to step off a cliff into an unforgiving abyss.  She is about to ›fail‹.  The clifftop sign ›Cape Expectation‹ and the way the word FAILURE is literally embedded into the cliff face highlight the structural pressures, fault lines and contradictions women can face in senior career positions.  They are ›failed‹ by patriarchal social and political structures within the workplace environment.

Kate is increasingly using graphic/comic work to interrogate, develop and disseminate her research.  She has recently developed Getting Graphic … ways of thinking, a range of opportunities for academic, student and professional audiences to explore the use of graphic/visual methods in any discipline, at any level.  These include The Accidental Cartoonist, an illustrated presentation on the power, pleasure and practice of graphic/visual methods in research and On The Page, a participative workshop introducing the use of simple graphic methods to work with research process, data and theoretical ideas. Kate is also touring My Brilliant Career? An Investigation as a graphic exhibit. 

Self-taught and still very much a novice cartoonist, Kate sees synergies between her practices as an academic researcher and as an artist: in both, she collects, analyses and distils data.  She has found the lengthy creative process provides an opportunity to intensively reflect on data, meaning and emotion, as Sousanis describes it: »comics creation as a way of thinking« (Hodler 2015).



  • BruckmĂĽller, S., Ryan, M. K., Rink, F. & Haslam, S. A.: Beyond the glass ceiling: The glass cliff and its lessons for organizational policy. In: Social Issues Policy Review 8 (2014), p. 202–232.
  • Budig, M.: Male Advantage and the Gender Composition of Jobs: Who Rides the Glass Escalator? In: Social Problems 49, No. 2 (2002), p. 258–277.
  • Carrigan, M.: What is Graphic Social Science? In: The Sociological Review <https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/blog/what-is-graphic-social-science.html>. 31 July 2017.   Accessed 19 November 2018.
  • Massey, D.: For space. London: Sage, 2005.
  • Priego, E.: Comics as Research, Comics for Impact: The Case of ›Higher Fees, Higher Debts‹. The In: Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship 6. <https://www.comicsgrid.com/articles/10.16995/cg.101/>, p. 16. 2016. Accessed 19 November 2018.
  • Ryan, M.K. and Haslam, S. A.: The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions. In: British Journal of Management, Vol. 16 (2005), p. 81–90.
  • Hodler, T.: Thinking Through Images: An Interview with Nick Sousanis. In: The Paris Review. <https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/07/20/thinking-through-images-an-interview-with-nick-sousanis/>. 20 July 2015. Accessed 19 November 2018.
  • Vigurs, K., Jones, S. and Harris, D.: Higher Fees, Higher Debts: Greater Expectations of Graduate Futures? – A Research-Informed Comic, Stoke-on-Trent: Staffordshire University, 2016.
  • Williams. M.: The Glass Escalator, Revisited. Gender Inequality in Neoliberal Times. In: Gender & Society Vol. 27. No.5 (2013), p. 609–629.