Higher Education Policy

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 49–69 | Cite as

Academic Identity as a Discursive Resource for Resistance: The Case of Quality Management in German Higher Education Institutions

  • Michael LustEmail author
  • Christian Huber
  • Jaromir Junne
Original Article


This paper explores the relation of professional identity and resistance in organizations. While prior literature points out that protecting identities from managerialistic changes is an end for which resistance is a means, this study focuses on how identity can also serve as a discursive means for resistance. We present the findings of a qualitative research project about the impact of the implementation of quality management in German higher education. The findings of our study show that academics, especially full professors, counter quality management with a repertoire of discursive resistance, often drawing on identity claims. We identify three main types of identity claims that are used as resources for discursive forms of micro-resistance: professional autonomy, expertise for teaching quality and specificities of academic disciplines. These findings add to the debate about the dynamics of identity during organizational and institutional changes in higher education by empirically illustrating how identity can be mobilized as a means to resist. Our study has the implication for quality management that its relations to academic identities are decisive for the everyday discourses and micro-practices of resistance it provokes.


identity resistance quality management managerialization discourse 


  1. Alvesson, M. and Kärreman, D. (2007) ‘Constructing mystery: empirical matters in theory development’, Academy of Management Review 32(4): 1265–1281.Google Scholar
  2. Alvesson, M. and Spicer, A. (2016) ‘(Un)Conditional surrender?: Why do professionals willingly comply with managerialism’, Journal of Organizational Change Management 29(1): 29–45.Google Scholar
  3. Alvesson, M. and Willmott, H. (1996) Making sense of management: a critical introduction, London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, G. (2006) ‘Assuring quality/resisting quality assurance: academics’ responses to ‘quality’ in some Australian universities’, Quality in Higher Education 12(2): 161–173.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, G. (2008) ‘Mapping academic resistance in the managerial university’, Organization 15(2): 251–270.Google Scholar
  6. Ball, S.J. (2003) ‘The teacher’’ soul and the terrors of performativity’, Journal of Education Policy 18(2): 215–228.Google Scholar
  7. Becher, T. (1994) ‘The significance of disciplinary differences’, Studies in Higher Education 19(2): 151–161.Google Scholar
  8. Birnbaum, R. (1988) How colleges work: the cybernetics of academic organization and leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, P. (1988) Homo academicus, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  10. Bristow, A., Robinson, S. and Ratle, O. (2017) ‘Being an early-career CMS academic in the context of insecurity and ‘excellence’: the dialectics of resistance and compliance’, Organization Studies 38(9): 1185–1207.Google Scholar
  11. Clegg, S. (2008) ‘Academic identities under threat?’, British Educational Research Journal 34(3): 329–345.Google Scholar
  12. Courpasson, D. and Vallas, S. (2016) ‘Resistance studies: a critical introduction’, in D. Courpasson and S. Vallas, (eds.) The SAGE handbook of resistance, Los Angeles: Sage Publications, pp. 1–28.Google Scholar
  13. Czarniawska, B. (1998) A narrative approach to organization studies, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  14. De Boer, H.F., Enders, J. and Schimank, U. (2007) ‘‘n the way towards new public management?: the governance of university systems in England, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany’, in D. Jansen (ed). New forms of governance in research organizations: disciplinary approaches, interfaces and integration, Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 137–152.Google Scholar
  15. Degn, L. (2015) ‘Identity constructions and sensemaking in higher education—a case study of Danish higher education department heads’, Studies in Higher Education 40(7): 1179–1193.Google Scholar
  16. Denzin, N.K. (1978) The research act: a theoretical introduction to sociological methods, Somerset: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  17. Edgley-Pyshorn, C. and Huisman, J. (2011) ‘The role of the HR department in organisational change in a British university’, Journal of Organizational Change Management 24(5): 610–625.Google Scholar
  18. Eisenhardt, K.M. (1989) ‘Building theorie form case study research’, Journal of Management Review 14(4): 532–550.Google Scholar
  19. Enders, J. (1998) ‘Berufsbild der hochschullehrer’, in U. Teichler, H.-D. Daniel and J. Enders (eds.) Brennpunkt hochschule: neuere analysen zu hochschule, beruf und gesellschaft, Frankfurt/Main: Campus, pp. 55–78.Google Scholar
  20. Ezzamel, M., Willmott, H. and Worthington, F. (2001) ‘Power, control and resistance in ‘the factory that time forgot’’, Journal of Management Studies 38(8): 1053–1079.Google Scholar
  21. Flick, U. (2012) ‘Design und prozess qualitativer forschung’, in U. Flick, E. Kardorff and I. Steinke (eds.). Qualitative forschung: ein handbuch (11th ed), Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, pp. 252–265.Google Scholar
  22. Fontana, A. and Frey, J. (1994) ‘Interviewing: the art of science’, in N.K. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (eds.) The handbook of qualitative research, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, pp. 361–376.Google Scholar
  23. Friedmann, A.L. (1977) Industry and labor: class struggle at work and monopoly capitalism, London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  24. Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and self-identity, Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  25. Golden-Biddle, K. and Locke, K. (2007) Composing qualitative research, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  26. Henkel, M. (2005) ‘Academic identity and autonomy in a changing policy environment’, Higher Education 49(1–2): 155–176.Google Scholar
  27. Hirschman, A.O. (1970) Exit, voice, and loyalty: responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Hood, C. (1991) ‘A public management for all seasons?’, Public Administration 69(1): 3–19.Google Scholar
  29. Hüther, O. and Krücken, G. (2013) ‘Hierarchy and power: a conceptual analysis with particular reference to new public management reforms in German universities’, European Journal of Higher Education 3(4): 307–323.Google Scholar
  30. Janßen, M. and Sondermann, A. (2016) ‘Universitäre Leistungsbewertungen als Bedrohung der akademischen Identität?: Ein subjektorientierter Blick auf die Beurteilung und Kontrolle wissenschaftlicher Leistungen im Zeichen von New Public Management’, Berliner Journal für Soziologie 26(3): 377–402.Google Scholar
  31. Kallio, K.M., Kallio, T.J., Tienari, J. and Hyvoenen, T. (2016) ‘Ethos at stake: performance management and academic work in universities’, Human Relations 69(3): 685–709.Google Scholar
  32. Karran, T. (2009) ‘Academic freedom: in justification of a universal ideal’, Studies in Higher Education 34(3): 263–283.Google Scholar
  33. Kaufmann, B. (2009) Qualitätssicherungssysteme an HochschulenMaßnahmen und effekte: eine empirische studie, Bonn: HRK Hochschulrektorenkonferenz.Google Scholar
  34. Kehm, B.M. and Fuchs, M. (2010) ‘Neue Formen der Governance und ihre Folgen für die akademische Kultur und Identität’, in U. Clement, J. Nowak, C. Scherrer and S. Ruß (eds.) Public governance und schwache interessen, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, pp. 75–94.Google Scholar
  35. Kloke, K. and Krücken, G. (2012) ‘„Der Ball muss dezentral gefangen werden.“-Organisationssoziologische Überlegungen zu den Möglichkeiten und Grenzen hochschulinterner Steuerungsprozesse am Beispiel der Qualitätssicherung in der Lehre’, in U. Wilkesmann and C.J. Schmid (eds.) Hochschule als organisation, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, pp. 311–324.Google Scholar
  36. Knights, D. and Clarke, C.A. (2014) ‘It’s a bittersweet symphony, this life: fragile academic selves and insecure identities at work’, Organization Studies 35(3): 335–357.Google Scholar
  37. Knights, D. and McCabe, D. (2000) ‘‘Ain’t Misbehavin’?: Opportunities for resistance under new forms of ‘quality’ management’, Sociology 34(3): 421–436.Google Scholar
  38. Kondo, D.K. (1990) Crafting selves: power, gender, and discourses of identity in a Japanese workplace, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  39. Krücken, G., Blümel, A. and Kloke, K. (2013) ‘The managerial turn in higher education?: On the interplay of organizational and occupational change in German Academia’, Minerva 51(4): 417–442.Google Scholar
  40. Krueger, R.A. and Casey, M.A. (2009) Focus groups: a practical guide for applied research (4th ed), Los Angeles: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  41. Lane, J.E. (2000) New public management, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Lucas, L. (2014) ‘Academic resistance to quality assurance processes in higher education in the UK’, Policy and Society 33(3): 215–224.Google Scholar
  43. Lust, M. and Scheytt, T. (2017) ‘Akademischer Widerstand in universitären Entscheidungsprozessen: Eine Systematisierung’, Betriebswirtschaftliche Forschung und Praxis 69(6): 653–672.Google Scholar
  44. Madikizela-Madiya, N. and Le Roux, C.S. (2017) ‘Space and academic identity construction in higher education: an open and distance learning perspective’, Higher Education Policy 30(2): 185–201.Google Scholar
  45. Mårtensson, K., Roxå, T. and Stensaker, B. (2014) ‘From quality assurance to quality practices: an investigation of strong microcultures in teaching and learning’, Studies in Higher Education 39(4): 534–545.Google Scholar
  46. Mead, G.H. (1977) On social psychology, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  47. Mumby, D.K. (2005) ‘Theorizing resistance in organization studies: a dialectical approach’, Management Communication Quarterly 19(1): 19–44.Google Scholar
  48. Newton, J. (2000) ‘Feeding the beast or improving quality? Academics‘perceptions of quality assurance and quality monitoring’, Quality in Higher Education 6(2): 153–163.Google Scholar
  49. Nickel, S. (2014) ‘Typologie und Erfolgsfaktoren von QM-Systemen in Hochschulen—Ein Überblick’, in S. Nickel (ed.) Implementierung von Qualitätsmanagementsystemen: Erfahrungen aus der Hochschulpraxis, Bielefeld: WBV Bertelsmann, pp. 3–25.Google Scholar
  50. Parker, M. and Jary, D. (1995) ‘The McUniversity: organization, management and academic subjectivity’, Organization 2(2): 319–338.Google Scholar
  51. Pasternack, P. (2004) ‘Qualitätsorientierung an Hochschulen: Verfahren und Instrumente’, in HoF-Arbeitsberichte 5, HoF Wittenberg: Institut für Hochschulforschung Wittenberg.
  52. Peirce, C.S. (1994) The collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Bristol: Thoemmes Press.Google Scholar
  53. Prasad, A. and Prasad, P. (1998) ‘Everyday struggles at the workplace: the nature and implications of routine resistance in contemporary organizations’, Research in the Sociology of Organizations 16: 225–257.Google Scholar
  54. Prichard, C. and Willmott, H. (1997) ‘Just how managed is the McUniversity?: Craig Prichard, Hugh Willmott’, Organization Studies 18(2): 287–316.Google Scholar
  55. Quinn, L. (2012) ‘Understanding resistance: an analysis of discourses in academic staff development’, Studies in Higher Education 37(1): 69–83.Google Scholar
  56. Sapir, A. and Oliver, A. (2017) ‘Loose coupling, conflict, and resistance: the case of IPR policy conflict in an Israeli university’, Higher Education 73(5): 709–724.Google Scholar
  57. Schimank, U. (2001) ‘Festgefahrene Gemischtwarenläden—Die deutschen Hochschulen als erfolgreich scheiternde Organisationen’, in E. Stölting and U. Schimank (eds.) Die Krise der Universitäten, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, pp. 223–242.Google Scholar
  58. Schimank, U. (2015) ‘Identitätsbedrohung und identitätsbehauptung: professoren in reformbewegten universitäten’, in V. Groddeck and S.M. Wilz (eds.) Formalität und informalität in organisationen, Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, pp. 277–296.Google Scholar
  59. Scott, J.C. (1990) Domination and the arts of resistance: hidden transcripts, New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Teelken, C. (2012) ‘Compliance or pragmatism: How do academics deal with managerialism in higher education? A comparative study in three countries’, Studies in Higher Education 37(3): 271–290.Google Scholar
  61. Thomas, R. and Davies, A. (2005) ‘Theorizing the micro-politics of resistance: new public management and managerial identities in the UK public services’, Organization Studies 26(5): 683–706.Google Scholar
  62. Willmott, H. (2011) ‘Journal list fetishism and the perversion of scholarship: reactivity and the ABS list’, Organization 18(4): 429–442.Google Scholar
  63. Winde, M. (2010) Von der Qualitätsmessung zum Qualitätsmanagement: Praxisbeispiele an Hochschulen, Essen: Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wirtschaft.Google Scholar
  64. Worthington, F. and Hodgson, J. (2005) ‘Academic labour and the politics of quality in higher education: a critical evaluation of the conditions of possibility of resistance’, Critical Quarterly 47(1–2): 96–110.Google Scholar
  65. Ylijoki, O.H. and Ursin, J. (2013) ‘The construction of academic identity in the changes of finnish higher education’, Studies in Higher Education 38(8): 1135–1149.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Association of Universities 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department for Management Accounting and ControlHelmut Schmidt UniversityHamburgGermany

Personalised recommendations