Becoming leader-manager in Academia: an auto-ethnographic exploration of transitions and tensions

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In universities , it continues to be the case that many of their leaders and managers have come to these roles via an academic career path. The transition is considered either permanent or temporary, with some managers longing for the day that they can ‘go back’ and some realizing that they never will. The transition into leadership and management can be explored in various ways and there appears to be a wide interest in it (see e.g. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ongoing focus on this). In this article, I undertake an auto-ethnographic exploration of the transition, as a way of contributing to the field of inquiry into management and leadership in higher education. Auto-ethnography as a methodological approach continues to be controversial in some places, yet over the last two decades, it has gained traction particularly in the field of education studies and sociology. The basic idea of auto-ethnography, as the name indicates, is to study the ‘ethnos’ – in this case university managers – by examining the specific experience, enactment and embodiment of it. Therefore, it is neither biography nor advice giving based on personal experience but a form of anthropological investigation. The aim is not generalizable evidence but illuminating insight.
The material that I draw on consists of notes and reflections jotted down in a diary since I took up a university management position three years ago on the back of an academic career. As a longtime (auto)-ethnographer of academic cultures and work practices journaling was continuous with previous and ongoing data gathering. Similar to other middle management positions (e.g. assistant Dean), mine was not a complete transition since my position continues to hold expectations of both (some) research and (some) teaching.
In this auto-ethnographic exploration I focus on three moments which in turn speak of 1) a changing relationship to my colleagues, 2) a changing relationship to the university both generally and specifically, and 3) a changing relationship to myself and my previous work. As other researchers have shown, the transition entails shifts in identity and identification (e.g. Winther, 2009) and as positioning theory further highlights (Harré and Langenhove, 1998) new identities may shift significantly how the world is made sense of and may affect one’s values and actions. In the paper I trace and unpick these shifts and reflect on the implications of this process of ‘becoming manager’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventConsortium for Higher Education Research 31st Annual Conference - Moscow – Higher School of Economics – National Research University, Moskva, Russian Federation
Duration: 30 Aug 20181 Sept 2018
Conference number: 31


ConferenceConsortium for Higher Education Research 31st Annual Conference
LocationMoscow – Higher School of Economics – National Research University
Country/TerritoryRussian Federation
OtherTopic: “Differentiation and Integration in Higher Education: Patterns and Dynamics”
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