In 1917, Max Weber (1922) explained to his students that the decision to enter academia is a response to a calling, a commitment
to embark on a demanding, life-long journey. Academics aspire to making surprising discoveries for which they will be remembered.
The delight experienced in such moments of insight is believed to compensate for the arduous toil along the way. The higher
callings in academic institutions, just as in religious orders, have traditionally been destined for men.
This heritage matters for organization studies, because, as Weber noted a century ago, the academic profession is culturally embedded (he compared Germany and the United States) and yet subject to change over time. In the meantime, the organizational landscape of academia has changed significantly, while the milestones on the journey into academia have retained some of the original features. In many countries, academic organizations have introduced incentives and performance measures from the market economy, and they expect their members to prove their worth according to the norms of two hitherto distinct orders of justification: of inspiration and of the market (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006). This amalgamation creates tensions with which every academic must grapple (Funken et al., 2015; Henkel, 2005). Critical scholars warn that the Lebenswelt of academics has been colonized, severely damaging the quality of knowledge production (Geppert & Hollinshead, 2017).
The traditional ideal of the linear academic journey still shapes expectations, but the changing institutional realities are affecting career options. The pressure to publish in particular outlets often implies focusing on a straighter and narrower intellectual path than academics aspired to when embarking on the journey; for many, the performance measures entail an unexpected search for a new orientation in mid-career. Some academics are forging different routes (Buzzanel & Goldzweig, 1991), entering academia at different stages of their lives, leaving it or developing activities outside of academia in parallel. Organizations are discovering that academics are experimenting with different forms of exit, voice, and loyalty (Hirschman, 1970), sometimes giving rise to new games with or against the institutional practices. Taking unexpected career journeys has implications for identity development. While they often increase the sense of fragility (Knights & Clarke, 2014) they can also expand identity beyond the confines of academic boundaries (Empson, 2012). The roles and responsibilities of academics in academic organizations and beyond are multiplying along the way, even offering surprising new models to aspire to, such as intellectual shamans (Waddock, 2014). Nevertheless, the opportunities and barriers often remain gendered (Lund, 2015).
The exploration of paths in academia requires inputs from different theories and disciplinary perspectives, including career theories, motivation theories, identity theories, gender, innovation and creativity theories, organizational and critical management studies. Social enterprise and non-profit sector development theories are relevant, too, because paths and identities in academia are also driven by social goals (Mair & Marti, 2006). Studies in this area offer methodological challenges because scholars in this field are both subjects and objects of investigation, “struggling with closeness” (Alvesson, 2009); and many are both agents and servants of the power to which they speak “truth”.
In summary, we envisage this subtheme grappling with questions at the individual, organizational and systemic level so that the interplay between them becomes visible and addressable in the organization studies domain. Among the questions that we invite scholars to consider in papers for discussion at our sub-theme are:
How do individuals and organizations deal with surprises – both positive and negative ones – in academic careers?
Looking across countries, disciplines, and types of academic institutions: where are surprising journeys experienced most positively? Where are they most risky?
Which institutional practices in academia currently support or impede people’s ability to achieve their life goals in the system? Are there examples of new emancipatory practices that we can learn from?
What surprising individual strategies have academics found effective in addressing demands to reach their institution’s ranking goals? How do they reconcile the assessment of their work based on (quantitative) measures from the world of the market with the (qualitative) valuation mode rooted in the world of inspiration?
What role does surprise play in the development of academic identities? How does gender play into this?
How are academics resisting the narrowing of their publication options or finding ways to escape the publication game? Where are organizations offering new ways forward?
What unexpected reasons drive people into and out of academia? What motivates academics to develop activities outside of academia? What challenges do such multiple roles create for them?
How are scholars handling the methodological challenges of studying themselves? How are they handling the power-related challenges of addressing the problems in the academic system?
Contributions may be purely conceptual as well as empirically-based, and we hope that the session will attract studies using different kinds of research methods, including case studies, surveys, and first-person action research.
In addition to providing ample time for feedback on each paper, we plan to organize an excursion on an unexpected journey in Tallinn to stimulate our thinking.