Casual academics’ professional identity and sense of belonging

Year: 2021

Author: Holder, James

Type of paper: Individual Paper

The introduction of neoliberal policies in Australia and globally, implemented over the last 30 years, have led to a significant casualisation in the workforce. The education sector is no exception, with an estimated 61% of the academic workforce on casual contracts and holding an estimated 80% of the first year teaching load. In Australia, these casual academics are often employed on a short-term basis, have no leave entitlements and are often outside standard employment protection; yet many casual academics continue to be employed in that position for several years. Additionally, the duties of CA are often flexible or ambiguous.  Frequently tasks outside of teaching such as student consultation, preparation for teaching, and responding to student emails are not always financially compensated. Research suggests that this may leave CA in precarious financial positions, this can leave them feeling under-appreciated as professionals and less valued than their full-time counterparts. This begs the questions: how do casual academics understand their professional identity and make sense of their organisational belonging?  These questions are answered by utilising an exploratory qualitative study that takes a social constructivist sense-making approach. Semi-structured interviews were used to gather data and thematic analysis was used to explore common themes, i.e topics, ideas, and patterns of meaning, which came up repeatedly among the interviews. As much as some casual academics thrive on the fast-paced environment which provides them a great sense of accomplishment and intellectual stimulation, others are experiencing insecurity and uncertainty from being micromanaged and over-assessed. Some argue casual academics must seek ways of safeguarding their sense of self, self-esteem, values, preferred ways of working, and indeed their very jobs. Casual academics are still underrepresented in research; thus by providing them with a voice to express themselves and an opportunity to reflect on their experiences, they are enabled to make sense of their experience through the interview process. This allows us to understand how casual academics construct their professional identity within the context of the university and therefore provides valuable insight into the mechanisms of the academic institution from the perspective of its actors. To have a strong sense of belonging to the institution you work for provides casual academics with increased self-esteem and efficacy. By acknowledging the struggles of the casual workforce, we can understand the underlying mechanisms which cause that struggle. To understand this allows us to better support this group, leading to a strengthening of the organisational culture by including this currently marginalised group and affording them the support they need.