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Organising the academic career: Organisational inconsistencies as problems and solutions

Time: Wed 2023-05-17 13.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Technology and Learning

Doctoral student: Malin Henningsson , Lärande i Stem, The Knowledge Foundation, Higher Education Organization Studies (HEOS)

Opponent: Dr. Terhi Nokkala, University of Juväskyla

Supervisor: Professor Lars Geschwind, Lärande i Stem; Professor Sverker Sörlin, Historiska studier av teknik, vetenskap och miljö; Dr. Linda Assbring, The Knowledge Foundation

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The work of this thesis is sprung from a reflection I had in my daily work at a funder of research and education: How can the academic career be so problematic? Difficulties concerning the academic career in Sweden have been discussed for a long time with several problems discussed continually over time. Among these difficulties are the lack of a coherent career system, too many temporary employments and time-consuming recruitment procedures. In this thesis, the pluralism of ideals and systems in university organisations, as articulated in the academic career, is studied and conceptualised. The overarching research question is: How are tensions in the organisation of the academic career manifested and handled? The empirical material is presented in four papers, which explore the organisation of the academic career in Sweden. This research takes a qualitative approach, with interviews and documents as sources. 

By applying the perspective of institutional logics, the results of this thesis describe the academic career as located in a tangle of different ideals and systems that create tensions. Six sets of ideals and systems, institutional logics, are identified: state, academic, managerial, market, community and family. The logics are reflected in the structures and processes around the academic career and used by various actors to motivate action. The importance of academic and community logics, with the ideals of meritocracy, elitism and taking care of one’s group, is highlighted regardless of the rise in managerialism and marketisation in the last decades. A framework of institutional logics in the academic career is developed and put forward as the main theoretical contribution of the thesis, for use and further development in future studies, as a source of inspiration for how to study institutional complexity at universities, and for discussion with practitioners. The results also enhance understanding of how universities handle tensions by incorporating inconsistencies in the organisation of the academic career through inclusion of conflicting parties in decision-making, nurturing of numerous ideals, and separation of talk and action, so called organisation of hypocrisy. These organisational inconsistencies are presented as both problems (due to possible inertia for change and hard-to-predict consequences of change initiatives) and solutions (to continue generating support and resources from different actors). To further handle the tensions, actors are reconciling them through microlevel discussion and collaboration.