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Valuation discourses and disciplinary positioning struggles of academic researchers—A case study of ‘maverick’ academics

  • Hah, Sixian1, 2
  • 1 University of Warwick, Warwick, UK , Warwick (United Kingdom)
  • 2 National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore , Singapore (Singapore)
Published Article
Palgrave Communications
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Publication Date
Mar 24, 2020
DOI: 10.1057/s41599-020-0427-2
Springer Nature


While it is known that researchers need to contend with increasing demands in the evolving landscape of higher education in the UK, few studies have examined how academic researchers discursively construct their struggles. This paper explores the valuation discourses that academic researchers draw upon to construct and account for their struggles in the process of establishing themselves as academics. It strives to answer the question: What kinds of struggles do academics face when positioning themselves and their research in relation to disciplines? What kinds of valuation discourses do academic researchers draw upon to position themselves as academics working in certain disciplines? The data comes from my PhD research, where I conducted 30 qualitative interviews with academic researchers ranging from PhD students, early career researchers to Professors Emeriti, who work in applied linguistics and language-related fields in UK universities. This paper focuses on two case studies of academics who positioned themselves as “mavericks” or who resist being pigeonholed in one discipline. In order to provide some comparative basis, the two case studies come from two ends of the academic career spectrum. I examine how they constructed their struggles with positioning themselves in relation to disciplines, and the kinds of valuation discourses evoked in the process. The paper proposes a model that conceptualizes how disciplinary positioning struggles are constructed by discursive acts and in the process, produce and reinforce valuation discourses about academic disciplines. Embedded in these disciplinary positioning struggles, researchers employed academic categories (Angermuller, 2017. High Educ 73(6):963–980) and evoked valuation discourses. The paper illustrates how academics hold valuation discourses about the kinds of disciplinary positioning practices that are valued, which may sometimes differ from the valuation discourses of fellow researchers, institutions and other stakeholders in higher education. The paper argues that such incongruence in valuation discourses between the individual and others result in positioning struggles.

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