Understanding academic identity through metaphor

J. Billot, Virginia King

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    17 Citations (Scopus)
    241 Downloads (Pure)


    Metaphors used by higher education teachers in their narratives of academic life provide insight into aspects of academic identity. Drawing on an international study of leader/follower dynamics, the teachers’ narratives reveal how academics interpret their interactions with leaders; the perceived distance between expectations and experience, and the subsequent impact on motivations. Applying Bourdieu's ‘thinking tools’ of field, habitus and capital as an analytical framework for revealing participants’ conceptualisations of academia enriches our understanding of how workplace ideals are perceived to resonate with academic reality. Metaphors used by teachers indicate both alignment and dissonance between expectations of leaders and the reality of being led. The study recognises the effect of experiences with leaders on identity and how followers can be effectively proactive. Using these findings we posit that the wider organisational aspects of identity which may trouble newer academics could be addressed through guided theoretical and conceptual critique. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Teaching in Higher Education on 2015 available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/13562517.2015.1087999
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)833-844
    JournalTeaching in Higher Education
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2015


    • Bourdieu
    • early career academic
    • followership
    • leadership
    • staff development


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