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Assembling lines in research education: Challenges, choices and resistance among Swedish doctoral students

Petra Angervall (University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, and University of Borås, Borås, Sweden)
Eva Silfver (Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 7 June 2019

Issue publication date: 25 June 2019




The higher education sector in Sweden has, over decades, faced increasing demands in terms of efficiency rates in research, as well as increasing demands in the international competition for external revenue. These demands have influenced academic career trajectories and postdoctoral tracks as well as the everyday work of doctoral students. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how doctoral students express and challenge subjectivity in the present context of research education.


The authors depart from the overall understanding that doctoral students’ lines of actions in research education depend on and form assemblages and, thus, define an academic institution. By re-analysing eight in-depth interviews, they illustrate how doctoral students from different milieus not only comply but also challenge, use border-crossings and change directions in research education.


The results show that some of these doctoral students try to act as loyal and satisfied, especially in regard to their supervisors, whereas others use coping strategies and resistance. It is illustrated that when some of the students use “unsecure” molecular lines, they appear more open to redefining possibilities and change, in comparison with those on more stable molar lines. Those acting on molar lines sometimes express a lack of emotional (productive) engagement, even though this particular group tend to more often get access to rewarded assemblages. These patterns are partly gender-related.

Social implications

The tension between finding more stable lines and spaces for change is apparent in doctoral students’ subjectivity, but also how this tension is related to gender. The women doctoral students appear not only more mobile but also in a sense more alert than their men peers. This offers insights in how actions define and redefine not only academic institutions but also different subjectivities.


In the present, given the manifold demands on academic institutions, new insights and methodological approaches are necessary to illustrate how contemporary changes affect research education and the everyday life of doctoral students.



The authors want to thank Barbara Grant, Associate Professor, School of Critical Studies in Education, The University of Auckland/Te Whare Wānanga o Tamaki Makaurau, Aotearoa/New Zealand for her inspiring and constructive comments.


Angervall, P. and Silfver, E. (2019), "Assembling lines in research education: Challenges, choices and resistance among Swedish doctoral students", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 142-154.



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