The great divide? Occupational limbo and permanent liminality amongst ‘teaching only’ staff in higher education

Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn, Bamber, Matthew and McCormack, John (2018) The great divide? Occupational limbo and permanent liminality amongst ‘teaching only’ staff in higher education. In: British Sociological Association Annual Conference, ‘Desire, Excess & Waste’, 10 - 12 April 2018, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


In this paper, we contribute new theoretical perspectives and empirical findings to the conceptualisation of occupational liminality, specifically in relation to so-called ‘teaching-only’ staff at UK universities. 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 conceptualisation of occupational limbo as always-this-and-never-that. Based on interviews with 51 teaching-only staff at 20 research-intensive ‘Russell Group’ universities in the United Kingdom, findings revealed participants’ highly challenging occupational experiences. Interviewees reported feeling ‘locked-in’ to an uncomfortable state by a set of structural and social barriers often perceived as insurmountable. These staff felt negatively ‘marked’ (Allen-Collinson, 2009), subject to identity contestation as academics, and were found to engage in negative, often self-deprecatory identity talk that highlighted a felt inability to cross the līmen to the elevated status of ‘proper academics’ (Bamber et al., 2017). The findings and the new conceptual framework provide sociological insights with wider application to other occupational spheres.

Keywords:Sociology, Sociology of occupations, teaching, University teaching, Universities, Liminality, Limbo
Subjects:L Social studies > L300 Sociology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Sport and Exercise Science
ID Code:31656
Deposited On:13 Apr 2018 08:37

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