Bloomsbury Education and Childhood Studies - Predicaments of Fusion and Transformation: A Journey from Georgia
Academic Identities in Higher Education
Academic Identities in Higher Education

Linda Evans

Linda Evans is Professor of Leadership and Professional Learning at the University of Leeds, UK, and has previously worked at the University of Warwick, UK. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Jon Nixon

Jon Nixon is Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Lifelong Learning Research and Development, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong. He also lectures at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and holds an honorary chair at the University of Sheffield, UK. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2015


Content Type:

Book chapter

Education Level:

Higher Education

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Predicaments of Fusion and Transformation: A Journey from Georgia

DOI: 10.5040/
Page Range: 133–148

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.


The heat haze rose in mirage eddies from the red pan-tiled roofs of Antalya . . . In cerulean-blue cloudless skies swallows peeled and manoeuvred in their aerobatic precision, catching insects rising on the thermals. I was meandering through a Turkish market – my senses flooded with vibrant colours, smells, sights and sounds – when an old lady, sitting between the stalls with a cooking pot, offered me a bowl of some sweet-smelling bubbling broth. I courteously declined, and she immediately asked who I was and where I was from. It was then that an instant turmoil presented itself in my mind: do I tell the old lady where I live now, or do I tell her where I was born? Do I tell her that I speak English, though Georgian is my native language? Do I tell her that I was a teacher in Georgia, but now I am a student at Liverpool University in the United Kingdom? What exactly is she expecting to hear, and how do I describe to her my identity? And, from my answer, what kind of perception of me as a person will she form?

My hesitation and uncertainty about my identity mirror its conceptualisation in the literature. From its emergence within the social sciences in the 1950s – pioneered by analysts such as Erikson ([1950]1993) – much focus has been directed at its meaning and its formation. Hall (1994) draws attention to major shifts in definitions of identity, from early perspectives on it as something that is ‘static’ and fixed, to a postmodern perception of identity as a process of continuous construction and re-construction of ‘self’. Consistent with Hall’s conceptualisation, I perceive my identity as something that is fluid and dynamic – not sculpted in one moment of time or as a result of one specific event, but transforming regularly, and often randomly, in a sporadic way and in contradiction to or complete negation of prior interpersonal and intrapersonal values.

Origins and beginnings

I was born in the 1960s in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. To understand fully all the influences on the development of my identity, it will be helpful to take a short excursion into the history and origin of the Georgian nation, which goes as far back as Ancient Greece, when western Georgia was known as Kolchis, and is believed to be connected to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts.

Known from 1990 as the Republic of Georgia, this former republic of the Soviet Union shares borders with Russia in the north and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the south country to the east of the Black Sea in the south Caucasus. Mostly orthodox Christians, Georgians constitute approximately 70 per cent of the country’s population, with Armenians, Azeris and Russians constituting major minority groups. Georgian, the country’s official language, is spoken by about 4 million of the total population and by about 3 million abroad. It is the most widely spoken language of the Caucasus, and the only one with a long-standing literary tradition (Tabidze, 1999). It is also one of the most ancient languages in the world; the earliest known Georgian inscriptions date back to the fifth century A.D. (Dzidziguri, cited in Tabidze, 1999), and the magnificent fifth-century literary work ‘The Martyrdom of Shushanik’ is included in secondary school curricula, allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to access and understand it.

Being an only child, I received a vast amount of parental attention and career advice, which – reflecting my own aspiration – was exclusively focused on pursuing a teaching qualification. After graduating with a first-class bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a foreign language (TESOL) at the end of a five-year teacher training course at the Institute of Foreign Languages in Tbilisi, I took a post as a TESOL teacher at a primary school in the most prestigious part of Tbilisi. I was fascinated by the challenges and peculiarities of working with urban children – most of whom came from extremely wealthy native Georgian families with a very strong sense of national identity and great pride in their native language and cultural traditions. This experience allowed me to observe first-hand the correlation between language – ‘the most unique human capacity that involves and governs broad areas of our personal and social life, which enables us to conceptualise abstract phenomenon and communicate through and about them’ (Grant, cited in Tomiak, 1983: 57) – and identity.

It was interesting for me, as a teacher, to note how my pupils avoided speaking Russian, communicating with their peers solely in Georgian – although Russian remained the language of instruction in all schools across the USSR. My experience of teaching in Soviet schools provoked in me an interest in the politics of education and the complexities of identity formation. Languages have been often promoted as ‘a crucial ingredient of national identity (and hence a central ingredient in national mobilization and nation-building)’ (Bgazhnokov, 2000: 12), and I was beginning to see the role of language in identity making as one of the main factors that was also closely interlinked with historical, social and economic factors.

Politics and language

It was then that I experienced my first ‘identity crisis’ that shifted my perspective as a teacher, a researcher and a citizen of the USSR through the mediated reflection provided by my teaching practice. In my search for a rationale for my teaching philosophy – why do I need to use Russian as a language of instruction when my pupils clearly prefer to communicate in their native language? – I began to search for analytic tools to unpack the mechanisms behind the state politics outside the classroom that were affecting my work inside it.

Language education policy in Georgia, I found, tended to reflect the stages of national formation, the development of national identity feelings, the level of democratic maturity of a certain nation, as well as peripheral factors impacting on the formation of these policies. Language policies and political forces seemed so closely interwoven that language education policies often could be perceived as a reflection of its social and political trends. It became obvious to me that the formation of my identity as a teacher in the 1980s was affected by wider identity-building processes that were constructed alongside Georgia’s historical development starting as early as the nineteenth century when the country was part of Imperial Russia: ‘The final objective of education to be provided to the non-natives living in the far reaches of the empire is undoubtedly their Russification and their fusion with the Russian people’ (Tolstoi, cited in Smith, 1988).

This comment on the part of the Minister for State Education makes crystal clear the basis of Imperial Russia’s educational policies towards national minorities. Remarkably, the situation I encountered in my classroom in the 1980s was a result – and just a single example – of a continuing aggressive state policy of a so-called linguistic Russification pursued through the educational system from the late nineteenth century. Russian was introduced as the language of instruction at all levels in 1872. Russification intensified after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, when Russian became a compulsory language. After the 1918 revolution backlash to the former regime’s injustices prompted a positive commitment to national education on the part of the new Soviet government, regardless of the practical economic and cultural benefits of universal knowledge of Russian. Consequently, the early years of the communist era were characterised by active promotion of the Soviet Union’s minority languages.

With Stalin’s rise to power in 1924, however, Russian culture and language began to eclipse the national languages, as Stalin pursued a policy of ‘sbleegenie’ – the forging of a unificatory Russian nationality. Hence Russification signified a new era in language education that, persisting until 1991, was to have a profound impact on my national identity. The Encyclopedia of Georgia defines Russification as the ‘aggregate of political measures and processes that stimulate non-Russians to adapt the Russian language and culture as their own, expanding in this way the political domination of Russia’ (my translation). Formulated in 1991, when Georgia was still a part of the USSR, this definition undoubtedly reflects the politically influenced discourse of the day and a prevalent self-identification amongst Georgians as ‘non-Russian’.

In the later Soviet era Russian became a compulsory subject in all schools, and in the Republics’ schools – where both a national language and Russian were used – science and technical courses were mainly taught in Russian, while some higher education courses were available only in that language. My secondary school certificates of achievement and my higher education diploma indicate a curricular imbalance that clearly prioritised Russian – which was referred to as the ‘native’ language – and Georgian, which was completely excluded from the higher education curriculum. This was a period when I struggled to identify myself with Georgians or with Russians, feeling rejected by both – yet, like the great majority of Georgians, I considered Georgian my first language.

A teacher in Georgia

Such was the political and linguistic situation in Georgia when I began teaching. Focused mainly on developing my teaching and delivering the curriculum as it was prescribed by the Soviet Ministry of Education, I initially did not question these policies. Countless official pronouncements emphasised that the Russian language has been voluntarily (my emphasis) adopted by the Soviet people as the language of international communication; that it had promoted the ‘social, political, and ideological unity’ of Soviet nationalities, enriched the cultures of all other nationalities in the Soviet Union, and given ‘each Soviet people access to the treasure of world civilization’ (Brezhnev, 1983). Then – in this period of my first ‘identity crisis’ – reflecting on the ‘linguistic atmosphere’ in my classroom and on my pupils’ preferences for using Georgian as a language of instruction, I tried to rationalise my teaching philosophy of ‘a Soviet teacher teaching Soviet children at a Soviet school’.

Meanwhile, the political and linguistic landscape continued to change. Soviet language policy that promoted the Russian language as the lingua franca for all union and inter-republican communications incited a burst of nationalism in the late 1980s, proving that the formation of a one-language entity was a fiction. In Georgia the Russifying language policy of the late-Soviet period was labelled ‘language genocide’ (Kobaidze, 1999: 161). Increasing resistance to the perceived Russification of schools in Soviet Georgia signified both a high level of nationalism as well as adherence to ethnic tradition. According to Isayev (1990), the Russification of national language education in the USSR created ethno-linguistic tensions by denigrating the peripheral nationalities to ‘folkloric’ or ‘ethnographic’ nations rather than deep-rooted societies. As a Georgian, I mourned the loss of my language – and my Georgian identity. I resented the state’s manipulation of my professional status as a teacher to fit its political agenda.

In the early 1990s the Soviet government explored strategies for reducing the growing opposition to Russification; its language policies had always tried to maintain a delicate balance between centrism and pluralism, although the underlying Marxist concept of sliyaniye (the conflation of all languages and cultures into one) remained the overall guiding principle. The Communist Part of the Soviet Union (CPSU) adopted a policy of dva potoka ‘two streams’ (Allardyce, 1987: 8), which involved the promotion of a tiered bilingualism to deter inter-ethnic conflicts and ensure a balanced linguistic education: the national schools met local, cultural linguistic-related needs, whilst Russian was used in official Soviet state business and in relation to industry and technology. The Soviet objective was ‘the attainment of complete bilingualism in the Soviet Union, thereby elevating Russian to the status of the “second native language” of the non-Russian nations’ (Solchanyk, 1982: 114). Bilingualism in Georgia was also promoted through ‘integrated’ schools, where Russian and Georgian children attended separate classes; each taught in their mother-tongue, they mingled in extra-curricular activities, which fostered a community spirit whilst improving children’s non-native language skills.

Bilingualism did not, however, prevent the growth of Georgian nationalism and general dissatisfaction with the pressure of Soviet language policies. During that period I worked as a TESOL teacher in an integrated school, where my Georgian pupils and their parents continued to object to the dominance and official status of Russian. Despite the state’s best efforts to promote a new identity – ‘a Soviet identity’ – I recollect developing a kind of dual identity, as did my pupils. My self-reflection led to my realisation that, whilst official bilingualism may be perceived as promoting the rights of national and ethnic minorities, it clearly cannot serve as a universally valid and adequate foundation for inter-ethnic agreement and harmony; the rhetoric of official bilingualism does not necessarily correlate with reality.

This was the time of my second ‘identity crisis’. I felt the need to de-construct my ‘official’ identity as a ‘Soviet teacher teaching Soviet children at a Soviet school’, and to re-examine my reality: my real aspirations and principles, as an educator within a society whose members were resisting shifting their ethnic identity from ‘Georgian’ to ‘Soviet’. It became obvious to me that while the Georgian and Russian languages were officially equal, the bilingualism was unbalanced: my Georgian pupils had to learn Russian, whereas immigrant Russians did not have to learn Georgian. That was one of the key factors undermining my effectiveness in the classroom, since my pupils were extremely negative towards the curriculum’s Russian delivery. The pieces of my teacher-identity ‘puzzle’ were beginning to fall into place: children, I decided – as (Schulter, 2003) concludes – can effectively develop their overall language skills only if at least part of their education is provided in their native language. This is why the measures the Soviet government sought to exert on education in constituent republics always recognised the importance of instructional language in identity building. It is why it has been crucial for post-Soviet ethnic revival in the Republic of Georgia to ‘de-russify’ schools and make Georgian the main language of education:

For many centuries literary Georgian has been the language of state administration, law, religion, science, education, art and inter-ethnic communication in Georgia. It retained these functions in the period of the political disunity of Georgia, because – in spite of the separation – in all parts of Georgia Georgian was the language of political administration, religion and culture. But where the position of the Georgian language was weakened, the Georgian sense of identity began to decline. (Jorbenadze, 1991: 7)

Since the declaration of Georgian independence in 1991 the Georgian government attempted to give the country more prominence, making study of the Georgian language compulsory in schools. Whilst I could discern my Georgian identity slowly overshadowing my other identities, I could clearly see that even in early post-Soviet Georgia there remained an asymmetry between the use and usefulness of Georgian and Russian: Georgian language usage was considered ‘limited and particularised’, while Russian was the ‘normal’, ‘unmarked’ language that could be used in all functional domains (Faller, 2003). This represents part of the Soviet hegemonic policy, which was initially enforced in all areas of institutional practice, including education. Amongst the first attempts of the Georgian democratic forces to regain ground in the new political and social order were efforts at reforming the education system and eradicating the remnants of Soviet policies. Their ultimate aim was to foster a truly Georgian culture and sense of national identity.

An influential post-independence strategy for education, published by the Ministry of Education, claimed that the Soviet reforms had led to the suppression of natural talents, capabilities and the interests of all participants in the educational process. When the strategy was published in December 1992, Georgian state schools had already begun the strenuous task of converting to a post-Soviet Georgian-language curriculum by introducing Georgian as the official language of state education and by encouraging new interpretations of the Georgian historical experience. This resulted in job redundancies for most Soviet-trained teachers and headteachers – many of whom had only a rudimentary knowledge of Georgian. Initially, there was little overt protest over the change to a Georgian-language curriculum; certainly, some teachers were left with the daunting task of having to translate all their teaching materials from Russian into Georgian, but this depended on the region, for, as Shaw (2001: 132) notes, ‘most teachers and administrators, in the grand Soviet tradition of “two personalities”, simply accepted the policy in word and passively resisted it in deed’. I was one of those teachers.

Lack of availability of textbooks in Georgian delayed the introduction of new and revised courses, so state schools charged with creating a new world view had to do with ‘former Soviet’ staff using outdated Russian textbooks cluttered with references to the Soviet Union and Lenin, against the backdrop of a thriving black market of new Georgian-language textbooks. My post-Soviet teaching experience leads me to observe that the economic and structural aspects of Soviet education were easier to reform than values-informed practices. Government leaders’ grandiose plans to reform the educational system seemed at times to bear little resemblance to the multitude of obstacles that faced those charged with the ‘Georgianisation’ of state education:

In today’s state schools today children are still obliged to work up to the level of the class standard in all subjects, underlining the importance of the collective over individual achievement and abilities. Public humiliation, rather than positive reinforcement, is considered the prime motivator and means of disciplining lazy or weak students who do not meet the class standard. (Mepharishvili, 2006: 15)

From Georgia to the United Kingdom

It is interesting to note that the Georgian Ministry of Education’s introduction of a number of teaching-related innovations generated broad dissatisfaction only because it reflected Western teaching methods. It was the cultural facet of my identity that was challenged at this time. Specifically, the traditional Georgian respect – and even reverence – for books underpinned very negative attitudes towards the novelty of a combined textbook and exercise book, which was widely disliked; the idea of writing in books instead of reading them was perceived as reflecting a much more casual, disrespectful, Western attitude towards books and literary culture. (As an aside, it is worth mentioning that Georgians find it shocking to see how Western students casually deface books with multi-coloured markers – though, ironically, Lenin is notoriously renowned for his disrespectful annotations in library books!) My identity as a teacher was shaken, too, by the introduction of a specific teaching method: the use of play and picture books prior to children learning the alphabet. Georgian nationalists reacted with apparent hostility to this reform, which they saw as an attempt to delay and hinder the child’s learning of the national alphabet. Some parents went as far as to bribe teachers to teach their children Georgian illegitimately (my emphasis) by using the traditional method of introducing the alphabet from the first day of school.

In 2003, following accusations of election fraud, the then president of Georgia, Edward Shevardnadze, had to resign and, in what has become known as the ‘Rose Revolution’ – the new president, Mikhail Saakashvili, took office. The cabinet made a public promise that the new political order would be aimed at the development of a democratic state, free from corruption and ethnic discrimination. In order to do so, the new government needed a new legal framework, which would enable political leaders to function effectively.

In view of these demands, the Ministry of Education declared as its main objective the reform of the education system, with a focus on de-centralisation, where educational organisations would gain financial autonomy and be directly responsible for their educational outcomes. The reforms included changes to the language of instruction, the use of minority languages in schools and the teaching of Georgian history. As Korth et al. (2005) observe, the government tried to endorse a liberal approach in its attempt to propose, rather than impose, the reforms. In the absence of alternatives, however, it was anticipated that the standardised implementation of the reforms would be achieved.

Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to witness further changes in the development of the Georgian educational system from 2001, for this year marks my emigration to the United Kingdom, where I enrolled in a teacher training course at the University of Liverpool. It was an immense undertaking for me – a teacher with established professional ideologies shaped for 20 years by indoctrination within the totalitarian Soviet regime, where teaching methods and resources were designed to suppress and undermine democratic ideas – to transplant myself within a system that affirms diversity and encourages dialogue between all participants of the educational process. Another ‘identity crisis’ was about to unfold: it hinged around uncertainty about my role as a teacher in a UK school, and the kinds of teaching methods I should use to pass on knowledge to my pupils.

My earlier ‘Soviet’ teaching philosophy had been based on three main pillars: structured delivery of the curriculum dictated by the needs of the State, respect for the teacher and firm discipline. The underlying principle of the highly centralised Soviet approach to education was embedded in the psychology of behaviourism, where the process of learning is seen as a system of behavioural responses to physical stimuli driven by reinforcement. Within this teacher-centred behaviourist approach, pupils were seen as relatively passive recipients of knowledge, and, as suggested by Skinner (1953), their behaviour needs to be moulded by external reinforcement controlled by teachers. In line with this approach, I had perceived my goal as a teacher to be the de-construction of subject matter into smaller units to facilitate knowledge transfer to my pupils in a clearly structured linear way that would allow them to progress from ‘not knowing’ to ‘knowing’. Hence, rather than a facilitator of the learning process, I considered myself an influential authority in charge of the learning process and knowledge provision. The ultimate aim of that learning process was learners’ memorisation of knowledge for further reproduction rather than their creative knowledge use. Popper (1986) calls this ‘the bucket theory of knowledge’. Unfortunately, alternative ways of conceptualising education were non-existent during the Soviet era. My ‘transformation’ from authoritarian teacher to a teacher-facilitator was also hindered by the impact on my teaching identity of Marxist and Leninist philosophies – considered by the Soviet state to underpin ultimate truth. As a result of this, I led my pupils to believe that there were categorically right and wrong answers to, or explanations for, anything – including social and historical events. I considered myself the main source of knowledge, and my pupils were expected to follow my instructions and learn material in the form in which I presented it.

The seismic shift that directed me towards a learner-centred approach had a powerful impact on my teacher identity. I had to review fundamentally my philosophy of education. First as a student-teacher, and then as a primary school teacher, I started using learner-friendly teaching strategies and prioritised interaction and creative thinking over particular skills and behaviours, moving away from a ‘cookbook teaching style’ (Twomey, 1996). The revelation that pupils can be efficient in making their own decisions – and that a natural interaction between teacher and pupils promotes children’s cognitive processes – has changed my identity as a teacher forever.

A ‘double perspective’

Yet the shift in my teacher identity was not straightforward. The recursive relationship between my Soviet identity of authoritative teacher and a Westernised identity as a teacher-facilitator was one that I continually struggled with. As both a classroom teacher and a UK immigrant, I often felt pulled by the conflicting principles of these two identities, in addition to continuously recurring adjustments of national and cultural perceptions of myself. As I have shown in this chapter, multiplicity of identities has always been a feature of my professional life. Turkle (1995: 80) notes that ‘now, in postmodern times, multiple identities are no longer so much at the margin of things. Many more people experience identity as a set of roles that can be mixed and matched, whose diverse demands need to be negotiated.’ Similarly, Said (1994: 44) argues:

[T]he exile sees things both in terms of what has been left behind and what is actually here and now, there is a double perspective that never sees things in isolation. Every scene or situation in the new country necessarily draws on its counter-part in the old country. Intellectually this means that an idea or experience is always counter posed with another, therefore making them both appear in a sometimes new and unpredictable light. (My emphasis)

The complexity of articulating my academic identity became even more intricate when I started working as a lecturer at a UK university in 2007. At this time I felt acutely the overall effect of the modern globalised context on the formation of ‘me’, as the national, cultural and academic parts of ‘me’ started to merge and move from ‘multiple identity crises’ to something approximating to a ‘fused’ identity.

Moving into the university environment felt like a second birth. I had to learn new language conventions in relation to choice of words and style: a process variously referred to as ‘style shifting’ (Kutz, 1998) and ‘code switching’ (Flowers, 2000; Turner, 2009). I had to learn new hierarchies and familiarise myself with local social networks; I had to adjust to the whole new culture of university environment as well as learn to negotiate neoliberalism as it impacted on my work and my institution. Most importantly, not long after I started working in higher education I began to identify myself through the various university activities, structures, regulations, networks and communities of practice of which I was a part. I was beginning to recognise that, though my identity had been shifting in a ‘messy’ and ‘fluid’ way (Gosine, 2002), I commonly identified myself with the most dominant contexts in my life at given points; changes in my responses to them underpinned the formation of contradictory, or sometimes completely opposite, self-identities. I had never felt forced into such identity shifts or evolutions; I had always been willing to examine and, if necessary, revise aspects of my identity as a result of self-reflection on internal and external changes and influences.

One of the key changes that I experienced while working in higher education was a considerably greater emphasis on teaching and learning activities compared to my own experience of being a higher education student in Soviet Georgia. Whilst it probably reflects the specific sector in which I am employed – the United Kingdom’s post-1992 university sector, which, in contrast to the pre-1992 research-intensive sector, is historically teaching-focused – for me, this change reflected my recognition of the centrality of teaching and learning in higher education. Yet the opportunities to engage more fully in the teaching and learning processes also presented challenges to my academic identity as a discipline scholar and researcher, and entailed an epistemological move towards educational and even managerial orientations: a widespread phenomenon also conceptualised by a number of analysts (Clarke and Newman, 1997; Deem, 1998; McNay, 1995; Peters et al., 1999).

Reflecting on the nature of these changes, I have discovered two significant sources of influence on the formation of my academic identity: my interaction within my chosen subject and my interaction with the university as an institution. This perception followed Clark’s (1983) interpretation of the discipline and the enterprise, or higher education institution, as the main communities in which academic identities are built. Initially I enjoyed the positive dynamic between my academic role and the organisational features of higher education, when I felt my identity was being transformed in response to the – new to me at the time – collective university values, and specifically, as defined by Henkel (2005: 155), the ‘primacy of the discipline in academic working lives and academic autonomy’. However, the meaning of academic autonomy started to shift rapidly as I progressed further in my career as a university lecturer, and soon a realisation came that my professional practice could not be detached from the current societal and political context, nor could it be unrelated to the strategic aims and objectives of higher education. My ‘academic autonomy’ was therefore not as autonomous as I expected it to be. Unfortunately, this shift did not represent an isolated case at a single higher educational institution, but a much wider social and political phenomenon: new public management:

The restructuring has involved the reform of education in which there has been a significant shift away from an emphasis on administration and policy to an emphasis on management. This form of managerialism is known as New Public Management (NPM) and has been very influential in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It has been used both as the legitimating basis and instrumental means for redesigning state educational bureaucracies, educational institutions and even the public policy process. (Fitzsimons, 1999: 1)

Foucault (1991) provides an alternative term: ‘governmentality’, arguing that the perceived internal constraints of ‘governmentalising’ practices are just as capable as principles of legitimation of carrying normative meaning and content. Pressures and challenges created by these changes led to significant change to my academic identity: the development of a ‘fused’ identity of academic and manager. As an academic, I felt that I could no longer function autonomously, and that my academic agendas were required to be aligned with my institution’s strategic goals and vision, which reflected what Strathern (1997) refers to as the ‘audit explosion’ in universities. Bonisch-Brednich’s experiences (2010) resonate in many ways with my own; a German academic migrant finding herself within the corporatist performativity regime of a market-oriented university, she describes her culture shock as a deep intrusion into her academic identity: ‘It is an imposition of another learning process in the entrepreneurial system of producing and selling knowledge. Resisting this often means a slow or sudden professional death’ (Bonisch-Brednich, 2010: 179).

Archer (2008) rightly points out that these current developments are disrupting notions of professionalism, and create uncertainty amongst academics on what constitutes academic work and what it means to be an academic. Rapidly changing political and institutional contexts have given rise to a modern generation of academics with new ‘fused’ identities, who continue to be challenged in defining their identity and trying to find new ways of establishing and envisaging the ‘self’.


Whilst my long-held confusion over who I am continues to concern me, the issues raised in this chapter have explored the process of identity formation through an autobiographical account that I hope will stimulate discussion. Self-reflection can help colleagues to understand their own academic identities within the current political and economic climate and, in so doing, reclaim the power to determine how academic identity should be defined and perceived in our ever-changing society.

The single narrative of a life unfolds over time and in response to the endless unpredictability of circumstance and event:

The ‘self’ fluctuates through a lifetime and even through the day, altered from without by changing relationships and from within by spiritual and even biochemical changes, such as those of adolescence and menopause and old age. Yet the self is the basic thread with which we bind time into a single narrative. We improvise and struggle to respond in unpredictable and unfamiliar contexts, learning new skills and transmuting discomfort and bewilderment into valuable information about difference even, at the same time, becoming someone different. (Bateson, 1994: 66)


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