Occupational limbo, transitional liminality and permanent liminality: New conceptual distinctions

Bamber, Matthew, Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn and McCormack, John (2017) Occupational limbo, transitional liminality and permanent liminality: New conceptual distinctions. Human Relations, 70 (12). pp. 1514-1537. ISSN 0018-7267

Full content URL: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0018726717...


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This article contributes new theoretical perspectives and empirical findings to the conceptualization of occupational liminality. Here, we posit ‘occupational limbo’ as a state distinct from both transitional and permanent liminality; an important analytic distinction in better understanding occupational experiences. In its anthropological sense, liminality refers to a state of being betwixt and between; it is temporary and transitional. Permanent liminality refers to a state of being neither-this-nor-that, or both-this-and-that. We extend this framework in proposing a conceptualization of occupational limbo as always-this-and-never-that, where this is less desirable than that. Based on interviews with 51 teaching-only staff at 20 research-intensive ‘Russell Group’ universities in the United Kingdom, the findings highlight some challenging occupational experiences. Interviewees reported feeling ‘locked-in’ to an uncomfortable state by a set of structural and social barriers often perceived as insurmountable. Teaching-only staff were found to engage in negative and often self-deprecatory identity talk that highlighted a felt inability to cross the līmen to the elevated status of ‘proper academics’. The research findings and the new conceptual framework provide analytic insights with wider application to other occupational spheres, and can thus enhance the understanding not just of teaching-only staff and academics, but also of other workers and managers.

Keywords academic careers, limbo, organizational theory, liminality, work environment

Keywords:Sociology, Sociology of work and occupations, Occupations, Academia, academic careers, Universities, University staff, Occupational cultures, Organisational theory, Teaching-only staff, Limbo, Liminality
Subjects:L Social studies > L300 Sociology
L Social studies > L370 Social Theory
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Sport and Exercise Science
ID Code:27669
Deposited On:16 Jun 2017 09:42

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