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Labour pains: Starting a career within the neo-liberal university

Robinson, Sarah; Ratle, Olivier; Bristow, Alexandra


Sarah Robinson

Alexandra Bristow


This paper explores how Early Career Academics (ECAs) come to understand their future and the nature of their academic labour at a time when the profession as a whole faces increasingly uncertain and challenging working conditions. Focusing on a group of 20 ECAs with an allegiance to Critical Management Studies (CMS), we explore how they attempt to find their feet and to practise in ways compatible with their own values within environments and evaluation systems potentially at odds with their CMS agendas. We draw on Bourdieu’s theory of practice and his concepts of ‘hysteresis’ and ‘illusio’ to understand the various transitions they have to make to practise in this academic field and why they feel the investment is nevertheless worthwhile. In so doing we paint a rich description of the often painful experiences of this group and identify a series of disjunctures between their habitus and the current field. We then explore how they use these disjunctures as springboards for learning how to manoeuver within the field through developing what we term a ‘critical’ habitus. We argue that their role as outsiders and their experiences of disjuncture might help these ECAs to negotiate the complex field, not only in working out the rules of the game but also in developing a facility to bend them and develop their own personal rules.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2017
Journal Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization
Print ISSN 1473-2866
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 3
Pages 481-508
APA6 Citation Robinson, S., Ratle, O., & Bristow, A. (2017). Labour pains: Starting a career within the neo-liberal university. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization, 17(3), 481-508
Keywords early career academics, Critical Management Studies, hysteresis effect, illusio, habitus, field, disjunctures, transitions
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