Beyond the academic precariat: a collective biography of poetic subjectivities in the neoliberal university

Catherine Hartung, Nicoli Barnes, Rosemary Kate Welch, Gabrielle O'Flynn, Jonnell Uptin, Samantha McMahon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The ‘neoliberal turn’ in the higher education sector has received significant intellectual scrutiny in recent times. This scrutiny, led by many established academics working within the sector, has highlighted the negative repercussions for teaching and research staff, often referred to as the ‘academic precariat’ due to their tenuous employment prospects within an increasingly market-driven system. This critique of the modern university can also inadvertently position academics as either resisting or complying with neoliberal governance. This does not adequately account for the nuanced and poetic ways in which professional, personal and gendered subjectivities are formulated, intertwined and negotiated. In this paper we draw on the six overlapping yet distinct narratives of the six female authors, all early-career academics from Australia. We capture and analyse these narratives through collective biography, a qualitative methodology underpinned by the work of Davies and Gannon and others, that helps us to move beyond the ‘good vs. bad’, ‘resistance vs. compliance’ debates about academic life. We identify aspects of our lived subjectivities that offer rupture through poetic and hopeful ways of understanding how academics construct and negotiate their lives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-57
Number of pages18
JournalSport, Education and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2017


  • Higher education
  • Neoliberalism
  • Collective biography
  • Subjectivity
  • Early-career academics

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