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Competitive accountability and the dispossession of academic identity: haunted by an impact phantom

Competitive accountability and the dispossession of academic identity: haunted by an impact phantom
Competitive accountability and the dispossession of academic identity: haunted by an impact phantom

This article discusses the intensification of research performance demands in UK universities in relation to the complex terrain of academic identity formation. It considers whether a demand for academic researchers to produce and evidence economic and societal impact–in the rewards game of the UK’s performance-based research funding system, the Research Excellence Framework (REF)–influences their self-concept as ‘engaged researchers’. While a designation of being REF impactful may be considered constitutive to a researcher’s sense of self-worth and advantageous to their professional and institutional profile, a consultation of researchers included within REF2014 impact case studies challenges these assumptions. Instead, respondents are found to complain of identity dispossession and exploitation by their universities where their public contributions are appropriated for positional gain. Their testimony confirms the prevalence of a culture of ‘competitive accountability’ across UK universities which is with a systemic insatiability for ‘scholarly distinction’, causing the privileging of appearance in rationalisations of publicly funded research. Using the theoretical insights of Guy Debord and Erving Goffman it is argued that REF impact elucidates the UK higher education sector as a ‘society of the Spectacle’ that subjugates ‘authentic’ versions of the academic Self. However, REF-impact is also seen to provide an opportunity for cultural detournément and a means to elicit and concurrently invert ‘simulations’ of research praxis’, thus enabling the assertion or ‘front-staging’ of perceived and idealised academic identities.

Academic identity, REF, UK higher education, research governance, research impact
0013-1857
92-103
Watermeyer, Richard
273c2b32-9606-4a79-b736-9bc99442abf8
Tomlinson, Michael
9dd1cbf0-d3b0-421e-8ded-b3949ebcee18
Watermeyer, Richard
273c2b32-9606-4a79-b736-9bc99442abf8
Tomlinson, Michael
9dd1cbf0-d3b0-421e-8ded-b3949ebcee18

Watermeyer, Richard and Tomlinson, Michael (2022) Competitive accountability and the dispossession of academic identity: haunted by an impact phantom. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 54 (1), 92-103. (doi:10.1080/00131857.2021.1880388).

Record type: Article

Abstract

This article discusses the intensification of research performance demands in UK universities in relation to the complex terrain of academic identity formation. It considers whether a demand for academic researchers to produce and evidence economic and societal impact–in the rewards game of the UK’s performance-based research funding system, the Research Excellence Framework (REF)–influences their self-concept as ‘engaged researchers’. While a designation of being REF impactful may be considered constitutive to a researcher’s sense of self-worth and advantageous to their professional and institutional profile, a consultation of researchers included within REF2014 impact case studies challenges these assumptions. Instead, respondents are found to complain of identity dispossession and exploitation by their universities where their public contributions are appropriated for positional gain. Their testimony confirms the prevalence of a culture of ‘competitive accountability’ across UK universities which is with a systemic insatiability for ‘scholarly distinction’, causing the privileging of appearance in rationalisations of publicly funded research. Using the theoretical insights of Guy Debord and Erving Goffman it is argued that REF impact elucidates the UK higher education sector as a ‘society of the Spectacle’ that subjugates ‘authentic’ versions of the academic Self. However, REF-impact is also seen to provide an opportunity for cultural detournément and a means to elicit and concurrently invert ‘simulations’ of research praxis’, thus enabling the assertion or ‘front-staging’ of perceived and idealised academic identities.

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 15 January 2021
e-pub ahead of print date: 2 February 2021
Published date: 10 January 2022
Keywords: Academic identity, REF, UK higher education, research governance, research impact

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 446367
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/446367
ISSN: 0013-1857
PURE UUID: 6f1d8d90-4e3b-49e4-8604-7f521fdeaa3a
ORCID for Michael Tomlinson: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-1057-5188

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Date deposited: 05 Feb 2021 17:31
Last modified: 26 Mar 2022 02:41

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Author: Richard Watermeyer

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