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“Systemic Managerial Constraints”: How universities influence the information behaviour of HSS early career academics

Rebekah Willson (Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 11 April 2018

Issue publication date: 8 May 2018




The purpose of this paper is to explore the information behaviour of early career academics (ECAs) within humanities and social sciences (HSS) disciplines who are starting their first continuing academic position. The proposed grounded theory of Systemic Managerial Constraints (SMC) is introduced as a way to understand the influence of neoliberal universities on the information behaviour of ECAs.


This qualitative research used constructivist grounded theory methodology. Participants were 20 Australian and Canadian ECAs from HSS. Their information practices and information behaviour were examined for a period of five to seven months using two interviews and multiple “check-ins”. Data were analysed through two rounds of coding, where codes were iteratively compared and contrasted.


SMC emerged from the analysis and is proposed as a grounded theory to help better understand the context of higher education and its influence on ECAs’ information behaviour. SMC presents university managerialism, resulting from neoliberalism, as pervasive and constraining both the work ECAs do and how they perform that work. SMC helps to explain ECAs’ uncertainty and precarity in higher education and changing information needs as a result of altered work role, which, in turn, leads ECAs to seek and share information with their colleagues and use information to wield their personal agency to respond to SMC.


The findings from this paper provide a lens through which to view universities as information environments and the influence these environments can have on ECAs’ information practices and information behaviour.



The author wishes to thank the participants for taking time out of their busy schedules to participate, along with PhD supervisors, Prof Lisa M. Given and Prof Annemaree Lloyd, for their help and support. Lastly, the author would like to acknowledge the financial support received for this research, including a Doctoral Fellowship, Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada (Award No. 752-2014-0499) and an Australian Postgraduate Award International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (Charles Sturt University).


Willson, R. (2018), "“Systemic Managerial Constraints”: How universities influence the information behaviour of HSS early career academics", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 74 No. 4, pp. 862-879.



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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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