SRHE 2012 Symposium: Methodologies in researching academic work
Caryn Cook, University of Wales, Newport, UK and Dr. Lynne Gornall, Working Lives
Professor Sally Fincher, University of Kent, UK;
Professor Lynn McAlpine, University of Oxford, UK;
Dr. Janice Malcolm, University of Kent, UK;
Monica van Winkel, PhD candidate, HAN University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands
Established quantitative and qualitative approaches to researching ‘the academic profession’
involving, for example, large-scale surveys (e.g. Halsey, 1992) or interview studies (e.g. Becher,
1989) are still very much with us. The recent international 'Changing Academic Profession'
study was a very wide-ranging but essentially broad-brush comparative exercise which has
produced (and is still producing) numerous statistical analyses of academic perceptions in
different countries and different higher education systems (e.g. Kehm and Teichler, 2012). Yet
increasingly over recent years, studies of this kind have had to share space with other, more
close-grained research approaches which reflect the changing theoretical resources available to
the field(s). Much current research on academic work reflects theoretical and methodological
developments that are also evident to varying degrees in the broader sociological fields of
knowledge, learning, identity , work and the professions . So, for example, conceptualisations
of ‘academic identity’, ‘governmentality’, ‘trajectory’ or ‘knowledge work’, have emerged in
various changing guises as theoretical attention has turned at various times to: discourse;
regimes of truth and accountability; community; activity and social practice; static or changing
networks of ‘the virtual’ or ‘the sociomaterial’; and so on. How are these changes played out in
the everyday practice of research?
In this symposium we explore firstly, how the availability of specific theoretical resources
influences our research methodologies; and secondly, how selected methodological choices
are played out in the practices of researching and analysing academic work. The papers
presented in the symposium are all concerned with researching the complex lived experience of
academic work and careers, but they approach the subject from different theoretical
perspectives, even where specific methods seem to share certain similarities. Each presenter
will explore their methodological stance in the light of theoretical resources, and illustrate with
examples from their own research the ways in which methodological choices are enacted in the
process of researching and creating new accounts of academic work.
Becher, T (1989) Academic Tribes and Territories: intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines, Open University
Halsey, A (1992) Decline of Donnish Dominion: The British Academic Professions in the Twentieth Century, Oxford:
Oxford University Press
Kehm, B M and Teichler, U (Eds.) (2012) The Academic Profession in Europe: New Tasks and New Challenges
Vol. 5 in series: The Changing Academy – The Changing Academic Profession in International Comparative
Caryn Cook, University of Wales, Newport
Dr. Lynne Gornall, Working Lives
‘Research on academic work matters to the scholars undertaking the study too!’
What we do in research and in academic life matters, it has effects and consequences, including
for the researchers. But research should also make a difference: drawing attention to new
features, rendering visible what is unseen or overlooked, giving voice, highlighting or
developing relations/ships. We may seek, through these outcomes, to influence policy and
structures. It may succeed, though what we can do is determine our own practices; and it is in
the conduct of research with its imaginative and realist processes that we also discover
ourselves professionally. The paper describes the Working Lives team’s research with HE
lecturers on the impact experienced - and remembered – of HE policies. An interdisciplinary
group comprising staff from three different universities in Wales, collaborative processes were
implied both in the formation of the research and in the conduct of inquiry. The paper reflects
on methodology and new knowledge in reflexive research.
The five Working Lives (WL) team researchers had different HE careers, disciplinary
backgrounds and employment roles. They brought expertise and paradigms from art
education, science, psychology, organizational studies and leadership, cultural anthropology,
business and personnel management. The topic developed out of original doctoral research
(Gornall, 2004) that was qualitative and statistical, of the shifting relationship between
academic staff and ‘new learning professionals’ in HE. Whilst the latter groups were entirely
unresearched at the time and thus a ‘hard to reach group’, academics’ changing experience had
been documented, in studies from Halsey & Trow (1971) to Fanghanel (2012). However, less
attention has been given to everyday working practices and how these might instantiate
aspects of academic identity.
What was striking was the optimism and positive ethos of the ‘new professionals’ in the original
study, compared with the gloom and pessimism expressed by academics (Cook et al, 2009).
This despair, and its antecedents, whether ‘causes’ or ‘contexts’, have been voiced in a number
of other studies (Raman, 2000). And what we wanted to do was open up an exploration not of
the ‘big picture’ - about policy and wider structural/employment change - but of the ‘small
picture’ of daily life. Academics have had, as we describe it, the ‘affordance’ in varying degrees,
to determine the place, pace, priorities of their work. What was changing were the boundaries
of work and workplace, of role, professional group and expected activities. We argue too that
they have also been in the forefront of changes that have and will affect many other
professional groups in a variety of occupations (Evetts, 2012).
Theoretically, the WL stance was informed by work in the sociology of occupations and
professions, the study of employee relations in organsiational change, and of issues in classical
anthropological studies. This immediately suggested using inductive, qualitative methods
(Denzin and Lincoln, 2000), and so a series of ‘group interviews’ or focus group sessions were
devised as the best way to provide a ‘grounded’ basis for formulating questions and topic areas.
Second stage data collection, with individuals and groups, involved probing in particular self-
organizational strategies around aspects of administrative and computer-based working, and
also perceptions of the places and spaces of contemporary work. To stimulate discussion, visual
cues were used (Stanzak, 2007), including photographs, in particular of desks, and copies of job
adverts; these were not just academic posts but for other, newer, learning-related roles.
Our main findings concerned actor notions of ‘productive work’, the importance of ‘working
from home’ as well as the character of ‘autonomy’ and logistics of ‘self-organisation’ in
academic professional work. Particular discussions centred upon administration, ‘unvalued’
aspects of academic work, and also the unseen nature of much academic ‘engaged’
productivity. The mobile context of academic flexible work was also foregrounded, and it was
noted how staff actively sought working spaces conducive to their ‘productive’ work, even
seriously cutting across ‘personal time’ boundaries in so doing (Gornall and Salisbury, 2012).
Our development as researchersp: henomenological conversations
As the research developed, and our own multi-disciplinarity as a research team blended,
interprofessional working (and learning) began to shape what we were doing (Eady, Drew and
Smith, 2012). We began to consider the affective aspects of academics’ relationship to their
work (see Neumann, 2006), including its various tasks, relations with other groups/with each
other and personal-professional boundaries. However, we were part of this too (Akerlind,
2008): five people in three very different institutions, experiencing change, juggling a
demanding and collaborative research project with ‘extended’ professional landscapes at work.
Our diverse backgrounds now provided a fund of resources to draw upon, both theoretically
and methodologically. But these were sometimes competing perspectives or unfamiliar
paradigms – and sources for dissent.
Using reflexivity (knowledge) in research practice
The power of the realization of the importance of the role of emotion in the study of behaviour
(Neumann, 2006) was not lessened in its impact by being such an obvious outcome. It was
indicated at the earliest stages, in the strong expressions of negativity and pessimism, and
which are often voiced in informal settings such as conferences and interpersonal encounters. It
was also indicated in the language of descriptions of what and how the study participants
worked – and how we worked. The ‘workshop’ stimuli certainly had a provocative effect. This
emergent signifier led then to an exploration by the team of the role of artefacts (Turkle, 2006)
as ‘icons’ of professional life for these academics, with powerful personal meanings (Key, 2012;
Michael, 2012). We applied this to ourselves too (Woolgar, 1988).
The research team worked reflexively, discussing and analyzing group session transcripts whilst
also recording their own analytical sessions. We experimented with and in our own group
sessions and found the framing of this activity within the ambit of ‘autoethnography’ helpful
(Meneley and Young, 2005; Ellis and Bochner, 2000). This also fitted our prior overarching
paradigm. Moreover, given the origin of our early work in applied anthropology, we also wished
to address issues of the ‘other’ in data collection, research and writing/publication (Mauthner
and Doucet, 2008). In order to do this, participants in one study would be debriefed, coached
and then invited to lead a subsequent data gathering group, thus building research skills and
capacity, as well as developing the data pool and stakeholding. This group is now an extended
network, a growing community of scholars who are involved in a major publishing project for
the work. The experience has prompted greater focus on the issues around collaborative and
inter-disciplinary working itself (Mauthner and Doucet, ibid), which in many ways, mirrors some
of the tensions around individualism and collegiality inherent in the psyche of academic life
itself and which are highlighted in our study, as well as in our own academic working lives. All
of these issues are familiar in anthropology, our paradigmatic theoretical resource, where
discussion of observer stance, participant voice, method, hermeneutics and legitimacy in
research are long-discussed (eg Sangren, 2007) and explored here.
Akerlind, G.S. (2008) An academic perspective on research and being a researcher: an integration of the literature.
Studies in Higher Education, 33 (1), pp17-31
Ashforth, B and Humphrey, R (1995) Emotional labor in service roles: the influence of identity, in Academy of
Management Review, vol 18 (1), pp86-115
Denzin, N K and Lincoln, Y S, (2000) SAGE handbook of qualitative research (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks,
Eady, S, Drew, V and Smith, A (2012) “Doing action research in professional organizations: dilemmas, strategies
and transformational learning”. Paper to Propel conference, University of Stirling Management Centre, Scotland,
on 10 May, 2012
Ellis, C., & Bochner A.P. (2000) Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: researcher as subject. In N
KDenzin & Y S Lincon (eds), The handbook of qualitative research (2nd edition) pp 733-768. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Evetts, J (2012) ‘Professionalism in turbulent times changes, challenges and opportunities’. Keynote lecture to
Propel conference, University of Stirling Management Centre, Scotland, on 9 May, 2012
Fanghanel, J (2011) Being An Academic: the realities of practice in a changing world. London and New York:
Gornall L (2004) New Professionals: Academic Work and Occupational Change in Higher Education. Doctoral
Thesis University of Cardiff
Gornall, L and Salisbury, J (2012) Compulsive working, 'hyperprofessionality' and the unseen pleasures of
academic work, in Higher Education Quarterly, Volume 66 (2), April 2012, pp 135–154
Halsey, A H, Trow, M A, with Fulton O (1971) The British academics, London: Faber and Faber
Key, S (2012) “Acting in-between: the professional identity of an art educator”. Paper to Propel conference,
University of Stirling Management Centre, Scotland, on 11 May, 2012
Meneley, A and Young, D.J eds (2005). Auto-ethnographies: the anthropology of academic practices. Peterborough,
Ontario: Broadview Press
Mauthner, N and Doucet, A (2008) ‘Knowledge once divided can be hard to put together again’. An
epistemological critique of collaborative and team-based research practices, in Sociology, vol 42 (5), pp971-985
Michael, M (2012) “Things of her practice: exploring visual methods for the study of the artist’s work”. Paper to
Propel conference, University of Stirling Management Centre, Scotland, on 10 May, 2012
Newmann, A (2006) Professing passion: emotion in the scholarship of professors at research universities, in
American Education al Research Journal, 43 (3), pp381-424
Raman, S (2000) From industrial feudalism to industrial capitalism: putting Labour back into knowledge politics, in
M Jacob and T Hellstrom (eds) The future of knowledge, Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education
and Open University Press, pp109-124
Sangren, P S (2007) Anthropology of anthropology? Further reflections on reflexivity. In Anthropology Today, Vol
23 (4), pp13-17
Stanzak, G (ed.) (2007) Visual Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Turkle, S (2006) The tethered self, in Katz, J (ed) Handbook of mobile communications and social change.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Woolgar, S (1988). Knowledge and reflexivity: new frontiers in the sociology of knowledge. London: Sage
Professor Sally Fincher, University of Kent
Non-storied narrative: anonymous academic diaries
The Share Project (SP) ran from 2008-2012 and aimed to gain insight into how educators share
teaching practice; how they represent it; and how, when and with what evidence they change
their practice (http://www.sharingpractice.ac.uk). The project comprised several inter-related
investigations and used narrative both as a medium with regard to representing practice and as
a methodology in research studies. In investigating teachers’ practice, SP undertook four
distinctly separate narrative enquiries (Fincher, 2012). One of these, inspired by Mass
Observation (MO), asked academics to keep a diary on the 15th of every month between
September 2010 and August 2011. This paper discusses this approach, the nature of the data it
yields and the analytic possibilities it affords.
MO, started in 1937, characterised itself as a project to create an “anthropology of ourselves”
and sought the everyday opinions of “ordinary” people, rather than established views from
journalists and politicians, or analysis from researchers. MO was concerned with the individual
and particular, placing themselves in opposition to “The obsession for the typical, the
representative, the ‘statistical sample’ …” (Mass-Observation & Harrisson, 1943, p. 10). A
standard MO technique was to ask contributors to keep a diary on a specific day; taken
together these were called a “day survey”.
In SP we undertook a series of day surveys, choosing a diary methodology to preserve (as much
as possible) what we termed “researcher distance”. A key problem of any narrative research
concerns the intended audience of a story, for in construction of an audience the author adapts
the tale. Interview research (whether structured, semi-structured, overtly biographical or
constrained to an event or place) necessarily involves the researcher’s attitudes and
interpretations, even in the choice of questions. Researchers shape what is allowable, what
may be said and what is permitted to stay hidden (let alone what is unseen and overlooked).
We talk to “subjects” or “participants” and (for the most part) unquestioningly accept their
responses as truthful and code them for similarities, for “themes” that illustrate our thesis.
In the day surveys, we were anxious to find out what was significant in academics' lives - not
what someone else thought should be significant. The solicitation was explicit: “We want you
to tell us what you really do. We're interested in detail and nuance, in the gaps between what is
supposed to happen and what does happen, between staff and student, between institution
The data, in quantity
389 academics registered with the project, although not all 389 participated from the start, and
not all wrote every month. Indeed, 140 (36%) registered on the website, but wrote no entries at
all. 29 (7%) were “completists” submitting an entry for every month. In total, the corpus
comprises 1,454 diary entries from the 249 registrants who submitted at least one entry.
However, the entries are as unevenly distributed as contributors. The “completists” account for
the largest number of entries (348) and the largest proportion (24%) of entries, emphasising
their voices and their concerns.
The data, in kind
There is no sense in which the 249 contributors are “representative” or a “representative
sample” of twenty-first century academics, but that was not the point of this particular
research, or indeed this sort of research. Along with MO, SP diaries are an irreducibly
qualitative instrument designed to elicit descriptively rich material that cannot be adequately
represented in a quantitative fashion. The diaries not only preserve, they celebrate individual
concerns and their expression. And in this, our methodological choices have implications for
our practice of researching academic work. Because they are not filtered through a series of
researcher-generated questions and lenses the diaries are compelling in their individuality,
intimacy and immediacy. This quality raises the problematic issue of “author intrusion”,
explored by Plummer’s “continuum of construction” (Plummer 2001: 176). How far may we, as
researchers, interpret and edit the contributors’ raw diary entries into another work, and what
do different possible degrees of intervention imply?
As a text, a diary has certain features: it is written from the author’s point of view and in the
present tense. A diarist may reflect on the past but does not inhabit it, and the diarist (unlike
the biographer or oral historian) cannot know what happens in the future. That means the
author has no knowledge of what “the ending” of diary is going to be, or where it will fall. In this
way, common features of “story” (such as suspense, climax and denouement) are devices
unavailable to the diarist, overall the plot isn’t going anywhere, isn’t leading to anything. A
diary preserves a narrative structure, in that it is sequenced by time, but is unable to exploit the
story sequence of causality: when a diarist writes an entry, they do not know what will happen
in the next one. Lejeune (2009: 204) characterises this as antifiction, positioning the diary genre
in “a specific category of texts that that adamantly reject fiction ... The diary grows weak and
faints or breaks out in a rash when it comes into contact with fiction”. Diary entries are
essentially fragmentary, non-storied narratives: as researchers we make texts of a different
character, whole and purposeful.
The day-survey diaries have an overwhelming emphasis on the quotidian, the ordinary, the
matter-of-fact. This has two corollaries for researchers: one is that if a diarist mentions
something, then it is likely to be important (in their life, at least); the other is that the diaries
may be interrogated for any aspect of academic life that is of interest: the likelihood that one of
the 1,454 entries will mention it is high.
There is additional analytic strength in the collection which is their situation in time. Just as MO
diaries have particular historical resonance (one of their day-survey days fell on 12th May 1937,
which marked the coronation of George VI; they gathered questionnaire and diary data over
the period of the Second World War) so SP diaries cover a period which contains significant
events for UK Higher Education, including publication of the Browne Report. This adds another
level of methodological nuance and irony: the diarists’ immediate and unknowing response is
made significant by the researchers’ knowledge of subsequent events.
Fincher, S (2012) Using Narrative Methodology, University of Kent Press
Lejeune, P. (2009). On Diary Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Mass-Observation, & Harrisson, T. H. (1943). The Pub and the People. A worktown study. London: Victor Gollancz.
Plummer, K. (2001). Documents of Life 2 : An Invitation to a Critical Humanism (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications
Professor Lynn McAlpine, University of Oxford
Early career academic experience: Using a narrative approach to understand identity
While an identity perspective is relatively common in examining early career academic
experience, what is somewhat novel is the framing of such work within a narrative perspective.
The underlying premise in linking narrative and identity is that narratives can integrate two
aspects of identity construction: both permanence and a sense of change. In our research, early
academics narrate their experiences at different points in time; these narratives articulate
purposeful action and meaningful relationships between past, present and future relationships,
emotions and experiences. After introducing the rationale for linking narrative to identity in
studying early career academic experience, the paper describes how narrative has come to be
embodied in data collection and analysis. While there are strengths and limitations to a
narrative approach, its value in offering a distinct view on early career academic experience is
For a number of years, my colleagues1 and I have been documenting the experiences of
doctoral students, researchers and new lecturers as they navigate careers and seek
employment within (and sometimes beyond) the academy. This research, in common with
others examining academic experience, is framed within an identity perspective. We
characterize our approach as narrative research. This methodology, which is somewhat novel in
higher education research (though well known in teacher education), builds on a tradition in the
social sciences in which narrative is seen as a window into identity. Its underlying premise is
that narratives can integrate two aspects of the construction of identity: the permanence of an
individual’s perception of personal identity combined with the sense of personal change rather
than stability through time (Elliott, 2005).
1 Principally Cheryl Amundsen, Gill Turner, and Nick Hopwood
This paper describes how narrative has been used as a methodology in documenting early
career academic identity construction.
Linking identity construction and narrative
Narratives, common in everyday life, are situated in a particular space-moment potentially
linking past, present and future – therefore representing a smaller scale than story (Juzwik,
2006). Their structure: a) makes connections between events; b) represents the passage of
time; and c) shows the intentions of individuals (Coulter & Smith, 2009). They are either oral or
textual snapshots on the identity under construction that influence in their telling who
individuals see themselves becoming and how others see them.
In this view, identity construction constitutes the integration of multiple negotiated
experiences, intentions and emotions through time and space as individuals constantly form
and re-form (through different narratives) who they have been, are presently and hope to
become. Each account provides the teller with a robust way of integrating past experience into
learning, locating oneself and others in the account (agency - intentions and related actions;
and feelings, motivation, values). The extent to which these stories impact the teller’s present
and future actions as reference points to replicate or live up to will vary.
Collecting narratives represents a negotiated interaction (Taylor (2008); researchers are
engaged partners in the narratives collected (see Sfard & Prusak (2005) thus influencing the
stories that emerge. Further, narratives capture only a limited number of experiences since
they are told in a particular time and place to a particular person. These features of narrative
are also present in researcher-constructed narratives based on participants’ narratives. In this
case, the researcher imputes meaning in blending diverse experiences into relatively coherent
new narratives of identity construction in which agency, time and connections between events
provide an integrative thread (Coulter & Smith, 2009).
How do we use narrative?
Participant narratives: We ask participants to construct narratives of different kinds. Three are
written and semi-structured (i.e., biographic questionnaire, logs of weekly activities completed
monthly, pre-interview questionnaire). The fourth narrative is an oral and semi-structured
interview drawing in part on the earlier narratives. These participant texts-as-narrative are
accounts representing aspects of the participants’ lives that are ‘editable’ (by us – and the
participants if they wish to edit them) and ‘edited’ (reduced by the location, the time, the
format, and the interlocutor – in the case of the interview).
Researcher narratives: Drawing on the participant narratives, new narratives are constructed
for different purposes. Initially, we construct for each participant a case narrative: a short
descriptive text with minimal interpretation to preserve the participant’s voice (Coulter &
Smith, 2009). These accounts, developed through successive re-reading of all data for each
individual (narrative analysis), preserve individual variation but enable us to look across the
cases for themes of interest to examine in more depth (Stake, 2006). Through the creation of
the case narratives, reading across the cases, and team discussion, cross-case themes emerge
which we can then take up for further analysis. In this process of analysis, new focused-case
narratives are created that highlight the individual experience of the cross-case theme(s); these
narratives fore-ground the theme and thus enable interpretation and links to the literature.
Lastly, in preparing manuscripts or presentations, we construct more reduced narratives in
order to ensure that readers gain a sense of the individuals from which the cross-case analysis
has emerged. For instance, we may include very short focused-case narratives to preserve
individual variation in relation to the pertinent themes. Alternately, a table structuring
individuals’ stories related to the themes enables the presentation of a larger number of
A narrative approach complements other perspectives on early academic experience that
privilege a more structural approach, such as socialization. Narratives are inherently and
explicitly agentive demonstrating early career academics’ desires, hopes and intentions in the
ways they attempt to navigate their present and future (McAlpine, 2012). We document more
explicitly the role of the personal in how individuals invest in and commit to academic work as
well as the influence of the individual’s past on the present. Overall, such personal legacies
shape how individuals learn through and from experience (Billett, 2009).
Billett, S. (2009). Conceptualizing learning experience: Contributions and mediations of the social, personal and
brute. Mind, Culture and Activity, 16(1), 32-47.
Coulter, C., & Smith, M. (2009). The construction zone: Literary elements in narrative research. Educational
Researcher, 38(8), 577-590.
Elliott, J. (2005). Using narrative in social research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. London, UK: Sage
Juzwik, M. (2006). Situating narrative-minded research: A commentary on Anna Sfard and Anna Prusak’s “Telling
identities”. Educational Researcher, 35(9), 13-21.
McAlpine, L. (2012). Identity-trajectories: Doctoral journeys from past to present to future. Australian University
Review, 54, 1, 38-46.
Sfard, A., & Prusak, A. (2005) Telling identities: In search of an analytic tool for investigating learning as a culturally
shaped activity. Educational Researcher, 34(4), 14-22
Stake, R. (2006). Multiple Case Study Analysis. New York: The Guilford Press.
Taylor, P. (2008) Being an academic today. In Barnett, R & Di Napoli, R. (Eds), Changing Identities in Higher
Education: Voicing Perspectives, 27-39. London: Routledge.
Dr. Janice Malcolm, University of Kent
Not here, not now: reconstructing academic work from a distance
This paper considers the methodological aspects of a current study of academic work in
contemporary and recent-historical contexts, which aims to combine a sociomaterial
‘sensibility’ with methods borrowed from oral history and visual sociology. It explores the value
of a sociomaterial perspective, particularly actor-network theory (ANT), in understanding how
contemporary academic work is negotiated, experienced and enacted both within universities
and within disciplinary communities, by academics and other actors. Selected data and
analyses generated by the recent-historical project strand are presented to illustrate how the
methodological choices arising from this theoretical perspective have played out in the practice
of conducting research. How far have these choices facilitated the tracing and interpretation of
the material and social entanglements of academic work from a distance in time and space?
Having mobilised ANT as ‘a gadget that might do a job’ (Law, 2011), can the gadget be said to
This paper considers the methodological aspects of a current study which attempts to combine
a sociomaterial sensibility with methods borrowed from oral history and visual sociology, as a
way of researching academic work in contemporary and recent-historical contexts. This
approach was stimulated by interest in exploring the value of a sociomaterial perspective
(Fenwick et al, 2011) in understanding how contemporary academic work is negotiated,
experienced and enacted both within universities and within disciplinary communities, by
academics and by other actors. This work has been strongly influenced by the emergence of
‘work and learning’ as a research field, and in particular by studies which draw upon actor-
network theory broadly conceived (e.g. Nespor, 1994; Mulcahy, 2011; Viteretti, 2012 ). One of
the challenging aspects of ANT is its perspective of ‘relational symmetry’, whereby human
beings and objects (physical, digital, textual, etc.) are accorded the same status as ‘actors’ in
any given situation; thus it has given rise to studies of, for example, laboratories, diseases,
technological innovations, etc. in which particular configurations of actors and networks of
relationships enact and create specific realities.
Researching from the standpoint of this sociomaterialist ‘sensibility’ entails tracing the
relations and connections of actors (including objects and artefacts) – or ‘material
assemblages’, in order to understand how these interact and negotiate to produce emergent
practices and meanings. Academics simultaneously inhabit the university and the discipline as
places of work; so one immediate problem for the researcher is in identifying the boundaries
around the academic workplace(s). And despite the prevalence of workplace and educational
ethnographies, the daily enactments of academic work in terms of spatial, temporal,
departmental and disciplinary practices (except perhaps in certain scientific disciplines) have
been far less subject to close-grained study.
The ongoing project which forms the basis of this paper sets out to investigate the everyday
practices of academic work in selected social science disciplines, focusing on the ways in which
the complex relationships between the discipline and the university are enacted in the everyday
practices of academic work, and how those practices and relationships vary over time,
discipline and institutional setting. The study has two distinct strands, contemporary and
recent-historical. Individual academics are not the direct subjects of the research, in that I am
not seeking to trace the trajectory or life-history of individuals. Rather they offer a way in,
through ‘the ordinary doings and language that are the stuff of people’s lives’, to a ‘terrain of a
sociological discourse, the business of which is to examine how that stuff is hooked into a larger
fabric not directly observable from within the everyday’ (Smith, 2005: 39) – a terrain on which it
becomes possible to trace the complex interaction of disciplinary and institutional networks in
producing academic work. For the study of contemporary academic work it is quite feasible to
make use of face-to-face and email interviews, diaries, workplace observation, visual narrative
and analysis of institutional and disciplinary documents/textual objects – methods that have
been used in various other studies of work drawing on sociomaterialist perspectives. But the
recent-historical strand of the project – where the question of variation over time is explored –
presented different methodological challenges. Although documentary material and archives
from the period in question (1965 – 83) are easily available, there are few contemporary
detailed qualitative studies of the experience of academic work – and those that do exist are
very much products of the intellectual (more specifically sociological) history of the time (e.g.
Halsey and Trow, 1971). Tracing materiality in the enactment of social processes from a
distance in time is a difficult task.
I therefore utilised approaches from oral history and visual sociology to gather data on the
experience of academics in post during some or all of this period. Although such methods are
quite common in sociological studies of work and employment, they constitute a novel
approach in research on academic work (in which neither the workplace nor the employment
relationship is easily defined). This involved face-to-face interviews combined with the use of
modified lifegrids (e.g. Ashwin et al, 2010 ); it also entailed asking participants to provide me
with access to historical visual material, correspondence, personal archives and artefacts.
These materials informed some of the discussion in the interviews, but images (usually
photographs) or copies of them were also collected and analysed as part of the research data.
In this symposium I present selected data and analyses generated by this historical project
strand to illustrate how the methodological choices arising from my chosen theoretical
perspective have played out in the practice of conducting the research, and to what extent they
have enabled me to trace and interpret the material and social entanglements of academic
work from a distance in time and space. Having mobilised ANT as ‘a gadget that might do a job’
(Law, 2011), can the gadget be said to have worked?
Ashwin, P., Abbas, B., Filippakou, O., McLean, M. (2010) ‘Using life grids and interviews to examine students’
educational trajectories’ SRHE Annual Conference 8-10 Dec Celtic Manor, Wales
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Monica van Winkel, PhD candidate, HAN University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands
Understanding lecturers’ development in novel researcher roles in the context of new
universities in transition. A longitudinal, qualitative analysis of weekly written narratives.
Due to the changing role and context of (new) universities, roles of lecturers are renewed and
diversified. In this study, weekly written narratives from lecturers on their development in novel
researcher roles at new universities are collected over time and analyzed correspondingly.
Understanding how individuals accomplish role transition is important to the health of
individuals and organizations alike. The method provided examples of configurations derived
from within-case analyses and illustrates lecturers’ work and learning activities, kinds of
support and affirmation succeeded each other which resulted in changes of intermediate
outcomes during lecturers’ development trajectories. In studying lecturers’ role transition,
outcomes such as role learning, identity and competence development, and strides in building
up research capacity are taken into account. The analyses of the narratives provide meaningful
insights into the inspiring, challenging, and ambiguous, erratic nature of the transition into
researcher roles at new universities, as experienced by the lecturers.
The context of this study concerns new universities which recently have expanded their core
practices of higher professional education with applied research. Due to this organizational
transition, from teaching-only to both teaching and research, lecturers have to engage in novel
researcher roles while maintaining their performance in teacher roles. A salient aspect is that
these researcher roles are rather novel both for the lecturers and for their institutions. In this
study narratives from lecturers´ development in researcher roles are collected over time and
analyzed correspondingly. Methods such as document analysis, interviews and questionnaires
are most often used in research on lecturers´ development in research roles (Baum, 1998;
Chetty & Lubben, 2010; Gething & Leelarthaepin, 2000).
The research question in this study is: How do lecturers-researchers develop into researcher
roles in the context of new universities in transition? In order to do justice to the multi-layered
nature of role transition (Chudzikowski & Mayrhofer, 2010), both concepts on lecturers´
development and on the dynamic interaction between lecturers and the social domains
teaching, research and professional practice were used. Eighteen lecturer-researchers were
asked to write weekly logs about their research activities. In order to capture the nature of
lecturers’ role transition, the content of the narratives were first analyzed to acquire the full
variation of lecturers’ experiences in their development. Second temporal patterns in lecturers’
series of narratives were analyzed.
In universities lecturers must cast about for roles that appear to resonate with their work and
learning needs and desires (Brew & Boud, 1996). Understanding how individuals accomplish
role transitions is important to the health of individuals and organizations alike (Ashforth,
2001). Role transitions (Ashforth), are the psychological and physical movements between
roles, including disengagement from one role and engagement in another role. In Ashforth’s
view role identities are particularly relevant to each type of role transition: 'Identification leads
the newcomer to faithfully enact role identity’. Research roles are rather complex and
therefore, when investigating lecturers’ development trajectories, issues such as role learning,
identity and competence development, and boundary management are taken into account.
From environmental perspective, the sequences of events in professional life may strongly
affect lecturers’ adjustment to new roles. Lecturers routinely decode events to learn about their
role identities and their work contexts. Moreover the lecturers influence the institutional
contexts just as the contexts influence the lecturers, the two co-evolve over time (Ashforth).
Therefore this study also focuses on the dynamic interaction between the lecturers and their
The weekly logs method
The participating lecturers (n=18) were asked to send ten weekly written narratives during a
period of twenty weeks. Through purposeful sampling, a broad variation in hard- and soft-
applied disciplines (Becher, 1989) and in research experience was obtained. Beforehand the
participants were given an explanation about what a log should contain. In the log assignment
the topics, related to their trajectory were: Which research activities did they perform, why
these activities, how these activities were performed, how they combined research and
teaching, with what resources, which meaningful events occurred, and which was their
development? Lecturers were asked to integrate accounts on their personal thoughts and
experiences of their development in their narratives.
The data analyses consisted of three phases. During the first phase, fragments of the series of
logs were selected which reported on changes in intermediate outcomes over the course of
lecturers' trajectories such as prosperity or adversity in task performance, awareness of
researcher identity, and milestones in competence development.
Fragments about forces on the course of lecturers’ trajectory were also selected: Lecturers’
activities related to associated working and learning tasks, provided and utilized human and
non-human resources, and experienced affirmation from stakeholders. All fragments were
then clustered based on similarities. These categories, which emerged both from the data and
the research questions, were systematically described in a category scheme.
During the second phase, the developed categories were combined in time-ordered matrices
for each lecturer separately. The resulting matrices provided an overview of the chronological
ordering of the categories for each lecturer as reported in the logs. Within-case analyses were
conducted on the matrices of each lecturer (Miles & Huberman, 1994). First, categories were
combined concerning the intermediate outcomes during the trajectory and the forces which
play during the trajectory. Changes in intermediate outcomes appear in particular sequences
and these sequences can vary arising from both activities of lecturers, and experienced support
and affirmation from the environment. Second, similarities in each time-ordered matrix were
identified concerning the intermediate outcomes during the trajectory and the forces which
play during the trajectory. And third, comparable configurations were described on a more
During the third phase, cross-case analyses are planned to explore which configurations of
forces during the trajectory and related changes in intermediate outcomes during the
trajectory could be retrieved for all lecturers.
The findings illustrate how the use of the aforementioned weekly logs provides detailed
insights into lecturers’ development trajectories in universities in transition. The developed
category scheme resulted in an understanding of the variety of forces, facilitating or hindering
lecturers’ role transition, e.g. female lecturer-researcher data architecture (50 years): “Last
week I did not have time to fully write the algorithm. I sat one day in a real flow. Frustrating is that
they have talked two years about scheduling enough spare time for research, but in practice this
still cannot be realized”. The method provided examples of configurations derived from the
within-case analyses and illustrates the activities, kinds of support and affirmation succeeded
each other which resulted in changes of intermediate outcomes during lecturers’ development
trajectories, e.g. female lecturer-researcher pedagogics (55 years): “I developed myself both as
researcher and lecturer-researcher. Along the way, I'm much more seeking connection with
teaching. That makes other lecturers enthusiastic. It is visible what I'm doing as (lecturer)-
researcher”. The analysis of the weekly written narratives provides meaningful insights into the
inspiring, challenging, and ambiguous, erratic nature of the transition into researcher roles at
new universities, as experienced by the lecturers.
Ashforth, B. E. (2001) Role transitions in organizational life. An identity-based perspective. New Jersey: Lawrence
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Open University Press.
Brew, A., & Boud, D. (1996) Preparing for new academic roles: A holistic approach to development. International
Journal for Academic Development, 1(2), 17-25.
Chetty, R., Lubben, F. (2010) The scholarship of research in teacher education in a higher education institution in
transition: Issues of identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(4), 813-820.
Chudzikowski, K., & Mayrhofer, W. (2010) In search of the blue flower? Grand social theories and career research:
The case of Bourdieu’s theory of practice. Human Relations, 64(1), 19-36.
Gething, L. & Leelarthaepin, B. (2000) Strategies for promoting research participation among nurses employed as
academics in the university sector. Nurse education today, 20(2), 147-154.
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