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Trapped in limbo – Academics' identity negotiation in conditions of perpetual liminality

Ingo Winkler (Marketing and Management, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark)
Mette Lund Kristensen (Marketing and Management, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 9 March 2021

Issue publication date: 21 May 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to investigate the experiences of permanent liminality of academics and the associated multidimensional processes of identity negotiation.

Design/methodology/approach

The article draws upon a three-and-a-half-year at-home ethnography. The first author – as insider, participant and researcher – investigated the consequences of an organizational redesign that pushed members of a local university department into a situation of permanent liminality.

Findings

The paper describes how academics simultaneously followed multiple trajectories in their identity negotiation as a response to ongoing experiences of ambiguity, disorientation, powerlessness and loss of status.

Practical implications

Management decisions in higher education institutions based on administrative concerns can have adverse effects for academics, particularly when such decisions disturb, complicate or even render impossible identification processes. University managers need to realize and to respond to the struggle of academics getting lost in an endless quest for defining who they are.

Originality/value

The paper highlights the dual character of identity negotiation in conditions of permanent liminality as unresolved identity work through simultaneous identification and dis-identification. It further shows the multidimensionality of this identity work and argues that identity negotiation as a response to perpetual liminality is informed by notions of struggle and notions of opportunity.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to express their gratitude to Paulina Segarra for her assistance in the review and revision process. The authors also would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.

Citation

Winkler, I. and Kristensen, M.L. (2021), "Trapped in limbo – Academics' identity negotiation in conditions of perpetual liminality", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 332-349. https://doi.org/10.1108/QROM-09-2020-2023

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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