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    Learning to be a social scientist: discipline, department and university academic work practices

    Zukas, Miriam and Malcolm, J. Learning to be a social scientist: discipline, department and university academic work practices. In: 9th International Conference on Researching Work and Learning: Work and Learning in the Era of Globalisation: Challenges for the 21st Century, 9-11 Dec 2015, Singapore. (Unpublished)

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    What are the everyday practices of academic work in social science? How do social scientists learn these everyday practices, particularly as they relate to the complex demands of the discipline, the department and the university? Whilst a number of studies have examined scientists and scientific work (including Latour and Woolgar, 1979), and ethnographers of higher education have focused on institutions (eg Tuchman 2009) and students (eg Nespor 1994, Mertz, 2007), rather less attention has been paid to social scientists. This is somewhat ironic in the context of a conference on work and learning, given that we are social scientists ourselves. In order, therefore, to attend to this omission, a recent study of the ‘black box’ practices of academic work in the social sciences, from which this paper is drawn, was developed (Malcolm and Zukas, 2014). The study takes a sociomaterial approach, in keeping with a strand of studies on work and learning (eg Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk, 2011). It builds on previous work on the construction and development of disciplinary academic identity and practice (Malcolm and Zukas, 2009). The research was intended to trace how academic work in social science is learned, negotiated, experienced and enacted within universities and disciplinary communities. In particular, it examined the ways in which the competing ‘workplaces’ of institution, department and discipline interact, and how academics experience and negotiate the connections and conflicts of these academic workplaces. The empirical work from which this paper is drawn was based on three case universities. We shadowed individual social scientists in their daily work to produce a detailed picture of everyday academic practice. Observations included meetings, teaching and research activities and social, collegial and technological interactions as well as the collection of images, artefacts and relevant textual material (such as emails, disciplinary texts, public documents). In this paper, we will consider time, physical and virtual workplaces and [networks of] disciplinary, departmental and university relationships. By attending closely to the organisation of intellectual, technological, social and physical space and to the ways in which academics’ time is negotiated, mapped and ‘consumed’, we explore how and why academics learn to adopt particular working practices. Further, by taking account of networks of relationships, we examine questions of power and influence in and through discipline, department and institution. Although understood by social scientists as primary in their ‘real’ work, we show how disciplinary relationships are often enacted in the times and spaces between ‘work about work’ (eg recruitment and promotional activities, accountability demands, etc.). We identify overwork, self and institutional exploitation and gender inequalities as issues. We conclude that only a better understanding of social scientists’ learning of work practices will enable us to support them in negotiating successfully and collegially the complex demands of discipline, department and university work practices.


    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
    School: School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > SSHP Administration
    Research Centres and Institutes: Birkbeck Knowledge Lab
    Depositing User: Miriam Zukas
    Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2016 11:36
    Last Modified: 10 Feb 2021 19:34


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