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Learning academic work practices in department, discipline and university

Zukas, Miriam, Malcolm, Janice (2017) Learning academic work practices in department, discipline and university. Journal of Workplace Learning, 29 (7/8). pp. 512-523. ISSN 1366-5626. (doi:10.1108/JWL-04-2016-0025) (KAR id:58182)


This paper examines the everyday practices of academic work in social science in order to understand better academics’ learning. It also asks how academic work is enacted in relation to the discipline, department and university, taking temporality as its starting point. The study sought to trace academic activities in practice. Within three universities, fourteen academics were work-shadowed; social, material, technological, pedagogic and symbolic actors were observed and where possible connections and interactions were traced (including beyond the institution). This paper reports on a sub-set of the study: the academic practices of four early-career academics in one discipline are analysed. Email emerges as a core academic practice and an important pedagogic actor for early career academics in relation to the department and university. Much academic work is ‘work about the work’, both in and outside official work time. Other pedagogic actors include conferences, networks and external web identities. Disciplinary work happens outside official work time for the most part and requires time to be available. Disciplinary learning is therefore only afforded to some, resulting in structural disadvantage. By tracing non-human as well as human actors, it has emerged that the department and university, rather than the discipline, are most important in composing everyday work practices. A sociomaterial approach enables researchers to better understand the ‘black box’ of everyday academic practice. Such an approach holds the promise of better support for academics in negotiating the demands of discipline, department and university without overwork and systemic exploitation.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1108/JWL-04-2016-0025
Projects: Discipline and workplace learning in practice: an exploratory study of academic work
Uncontrolled keywords: academic work
Subjects: L Education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Divisions: Divisions > Directorate of Education > Centre for the Study of Higher Education
Funders: Society for Research into Higher Education (
Depositing User: Janice Malcolm
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2016 17:35 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 19:15 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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