28 SES 06 B, Higher Education and the Academic Self: Insights from Mercosur and Europe
European higher education (HE) systems have been undergoing significant academic, political and administrative changes. Faculties are following a ‘new responsibilities academic regime’ (Normand 2016) based on accountability, the search of excellence, efficiency and efficacy, at the expense of peer regulation and hierarchy and traditional community. Two main dynamics that currently shape the contemporary European HE space – the Bologna Process and Lisbon Strategy (Keeling 2006) – are designed within the paradigm of the new public management (Hood 1991), spread through Europe during the 20 years. The translation and implementation of this HE policy model was combined with existing national systems, so whilst the narrative of transformation in each country is different, the above changes have been appearing to some degree in all European nations.
These policy developments at the European level are happening within the context of HE’s globally increasing marketization and neoliberalisation (Nixon et al. 2001), massification, and the emphasis on performativity evident in increased pressures towards productivity and fast and useful knowledge (Bleiklie & Powell 2005), concurrent with decreased public investment in HE (Guena & Martin 2003). Whilst this is producing discursive resistance and critique from within the system and the more established academics populating it (Ball 2012; Cribb & Gewirtz 2013), some concern is expressed regarding the condition of early career researchers (ECRs), shaped by precariousness, casualisation, narrowly defined utility, and even exploitation (see Åckerlind 2005; Acker and Weber 2017), all of which leads to a more or less coerced research path and a more or less agentively constituted career.
Given these political and economic realities of knowledge production in contemporary educational research space, also shaped by EU level policies and research agendas in education, our paper investigates the educational ECRs’ construction and performance of their professional identities in the context of competitive and internally competing Europe. Our interest is the effect of the above described EU policy developments on multiple aspects of ECRs’ academic experience: their mobility, employment and research funding opportunities, experience of collaboration, and research interests. At the same time, we are interested in issues specific to their country of origin, bearing in mind the question of the shared meaning, and the relevance, of Europeanness vis-à-vis national differences. In our approach, we aim to shed light on the relationship between European ECRs’ (im)mobility, working conditions and opportunities, and the knowledge that they create. Finally, we wish to highlight the way in which they construct and enact their ‘Europeanness’ and the way in which their Europeanness acts upon their academic selves.
Our research question is thus: how are European educational ECRs' academic selves developed? The ‘academic self’ is understood as an identity project, developed in everyday negotiation of opportunity and challenge (Bamberg et al. 2011), and we will explore it in reference to motivation, process of knowledge production, and supportive and obstructing mechanisms of research governance. We understand the concept of academic identity to have moved from a relatively stable professional identity category formed by the ‘first mission’ of university in the era of academic ‘ivory tower’ (Barret 1998) towards a continuing construction of an academic self as a consequence of split HE missions and associated organisational paradigms (Evetts 2011).
The study is built on the analysis of 20+ semi-structured interviews with a group of early career European researchers recruited through participation in EU-funded Summer School in European Education Studies (SUSEES), and subsequent snowballing, which allowed for the primary conditions of participation in the study to be fulfilled: experience of mobility throughout the duration of the academic career, of a comparative or a European approach to the study of education, or the experience of working on an EU-funded project. Interviews have taken the narrative form, allowing the participants to freely construct their academic path, with prompts reflecting our interest in geographical and intellectual spaces of knowledge production, (f)actors of influence and support, as well as obstacles and challenges to building a professional academic identity. Interviews are then subjected to narrative analysis, teasing out the processes of meaning-making, embodying of multiple positionalities, normative orientation, and identity production and group affiliation adopted within the socio-economic and political-ideological conditions of Europeanisation. The researchers’ own positionalities as early career academic working in the European space of higher education is acknowledged as the ‘objectification of the objectifying subject’, allowing for the recognition and the discussion of the emic properties of this study.
In the above outlined context of the development of the academic self, we will offer insight on the skills (expected of) the 21st century European education researchers, the roles that they embody and perform, and spaces for knowledge production in which they move and that they create. Our findings will suggest to which degree their work and their academic selves are primarily driven by availability, urgency, emergency, and agency. We expect to be able to articulate our participants’ imagination and construction of the academic self in the context of socio-economic factors that determine the conditions of possibility for their careers. We will look at their work strategies and motivational mechanisms in the context of professional and even existential precariousness, while exploring the meaning-making and the nature and purpose of the knowledge that they are creating. Finally, we expect to find to what degree the European space provides a specific early career existence in comparison to newer researchers elsewhere, and whether (and in what way) conditions of mobility, funding opportunities, and EU-level research agendas construct the feeling of Europeanness. The paper builds on the broader scholarship on early career academics in the context of contemporary higher education transformation noted above (see also Ashwin et al. 2016; McAlpine & Turner 2012; Bennion & Locke 2010), making its unique contribution through the employment of a European lens, and a focus on newer researchers working in the area of education.
Acker, S. and Webber, M. (2017). Made to measure: early career academics in the Canadian university workplace. Higher Education Research & Development 36: 3, pp. 541–54. Ashwin, P., Deem, R., McAlpine, L. (2016) Newer researchers in higher education: policy actors or policy subjects? Studies in Higher Education 41, pp. 2184–2197. Åkerlind *, Gerlese S. (2005). Postdoctoral researchers: roles, functions and career prospects. Higher Education Research & Development 24: 1, pp. 21–40. Ball, S. (2012). Performativity, commodification and commitment: an I-spy guide to the neoliberal university. British Journal of Educational Studies 60: 1, pp. 17–28. Bamberg, M., de Finna, A. and Schiffrin, D. (2011) Discourse and identity construction in Schwartz, S. J., Luyckx, K. and Vignoles, V. L. (Eds.) Handbook of Identity Theory and Research. New York: Springer. Barrett, B. (1998) What is the function of a university? Ivory tower or trade school for plumbers?. Quality Assurance in Education. 6: 3, pp.145-151. Bennion, A. and Locke, W. (2010) The early career paths and employment conditions of the academic profession in 17 Countries. European Review 18: 1, pp. 7-33. Bleiklie I. and Powell W. W. (2005) Universities and the production of knowledge: Introduction in Higher Education, Springer. Cribb, A. and Gewirtz, S. (2013). The hollowed-out university? A critical analysis of changing institutional and academic norms in UK higher education. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 34: 3, pp. 338–50. Evetts, J. (2011). A new professionalism? Challenges and Opportunities’. Current Sociology 59: 4, pp. 406–22. Guena A., Martin B. R., (2003) University research evaluation and funding: An international comparison”, Minerva, pp 277-304, Kluwer Academic Publishers. Hood, C. (1991) A Public Management for All Seasons? Public Administration 69, 3-19. Keeling, R. (2006) The Bologna Process and the Lisbon Research Agenda: the European Commission’s expanding role in higher education discourse. European Journal of Education 41: 2, pp. 203-223. McAlpine, L. and Turner, G. (2012) Imagined and emerging career patterns: perceptions of doctoral students and research staff. Journal of Further and Higher Education 36, pp. 535–548. Nixon J., Marks A., Rowland S., Walker M., (2001), “Towards a new Academic Professionalism: A Manifesto of Hope”, in British Journal of Sociology of Education, pp. 227-244. Normand R., (2016) The Changing Epistemic Governance of European Education, The Fabrication of Homo Academicus Europeanus? Springer.
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