Surviving as a novice academic on the educational left: A Guerrilla Guide

Year: 2012

Author: Pruyn, Marc

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This study sought the advice that successful and established academics on the political educational left might offer politically progressive novice academics (graduate students and new faculty members) negotiating the labyrinth of the academy.

I drew on the concepts of “hegemony” (Gramsci, 1971) and the “hidden curriculum” (Apple, 1990; McLaren, 1997) that have been so central to critical theorists and pedagogues. I was interested in how the hidden curriculum of higher education—as embedded in and born from web of power and hegemony—might be challenged with the individual and collective counter-hegemony of radial/progressive/left academics.

I interviewed over 25 prominent colleagues -- including Joe Kincheloe, Peter McLaren, Christine Sleeter and Shirley Steinberg – in session from between 45-90 minutes around these central questions: 'What advice would you give to progressive graduate students and new faculty members as they: Progress through their studies? Conduct their research? Seek jobs? Build their research agenda? And work towards promotion?'

My modes data collection, analysis and findings generation followed a qualitative research approach generally (Miles & Huberman, 1984; Oakes, Gamoran & Page, 1992), and a grounded theory methodology specifically (Strauss & Corbin, 1994), and produced the following thematic findings:

  1. Chose a chair/supervisor based on their ideological congruence;
  2. Be ready for rigorous psychological work;
  3. Seek to understand potential institutional, ideological and methodology barriers to your work;
  4. Seek and form progressive peer support networks and communities;
  5. Make connections with other scholars;
  6. Create more equitable relations between groups; and,
  7. Write well

This study holds educational and theoretical importance because it brings empirical data to bear on analyses of the key concepts in critical pedagogy of “hegemony” and the “hidden curriculum”; little research of this sort exists; and, it might prove helpful to novice members of the academy (both on the left and across the ideological spectrum).


Apple, M. (1990). Ideology and curriculum. New York: Routledge.
Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections for the prison notebooks. New York: International Publishers.
McLaren, P. (1997). Revolutionary multiculturalism: Pedagogies of dissent for the new millennium. Boulder: Westview.
Miles, M. and Huberman, M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis. London: Sage.
Oakes, J. Gamoran, A., and Page, R. (1992). Curriculum differentiation: Opportunities, outcomes, and meaning. In Jackson, P. (Ed.), Handbook of research on curriculum. New York: MacMillan.
Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. 1994. “Grounded Theory Methodology.” In Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y., eds., Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage.