The 'sayings' and the 'doings' of collegiality within sites of academic practice: An analytic for exploring agency in higher education contexts

Year: 2017

Author: Kilgye, Giedre

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper is a critical examination of the role collegiality plays in relation to academics' agency and their ability to respond to and mobilise change in contemporary HE contexts. Much of higher education (HE) research on the contemporary politics and power struggles in academia tends to centre on the antagonism between the traditional academic and new managerial cultures (Marginson & Considine 2000; Leisyte 2014; Rowland 2008). Neoliberal logics and governance adopted by universities worldwide are seen as incompatible with and detrimental to the conditions required for scholarly work (Churchman & King 2009; Rowland 2008). Despite the drive to individualism and competition enacted through new accountability and measurement regimes in universities, collegiality emerges as a surprisingly persistent feature of contemporary imaginaries about academic work across all levels of academic appointments (Spiller 2010; Archer 2008). In the HE literature, collegiality has been identified both as an ideal academics should uphold in resisting managerialism (Rowland 2008), and as a nostalgic notion harking back to the 'golden age', out of touch with contemporary realities (Ramsden 1989). Kligyte & Barrie (2013) argue that construing collegiality and managerialism in simplistic oppositional terms prevents academics from imagining productive responses and alternative ways of organising themselves within neoliberal academia. Extending this critique, it has been shown that although collegiality largely plays a stabilising role in reproducing existing power structures in academic contexts, as a tactically polyvalent notion, collegiality also opens up possibilities for emergence of new subjectivities and practices as it circulates in discourses about academic work (Kligyte, in press).

In this paper I build on these new understandings of the effects collegiality produces in discourses about academic work, but shift the focus from language and discourses to both the 'sayings' and the 'doings' of collegiality as it unfolds in various sites of academic practice. This approach allows me to explore agency in academic contexts without dissolving it to 'discourse, signification, talk, text or conversation' (Caldwell 2012:287). Borrowing from practice theory (Schatzki 2005) and non-representational theory (Thrift 2005), I see social life as 'inherently tied to a kind of context in which it transpires' (Schatzki 2005:467). As part of a larger study on the dimensions of collegiality in contemporary academia, in this paper I am interested in the margins and traversals of boundaries within, and between, traditional sites of academic work. Exploring how we 'do' and 'speak' collegiality in these non-traditional contexts, illuminates the ways collegiality is entwined with the broader contemporary contexts of academic practice, and highlights new avenues for agency and alternative trajectories for academic life in neoliberal academy.