‘You’ve got to love what you do’: academic labour in a culture of authenticity

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Past research on values change in academia has largely focused on changes perceived to emerge from managerial organisational cultures. What has received less attention is the degree to which broader cultural phenomena have contributed to these processes of change. Using data from a study of academics from across the Australian university sector, this article explores how academia’s presence within a culture of authenticity influences values change among academic labourers. Managerial values are contrasted against an idealised past – the Golden Age of academia – enabling the potential for both critique and compliance with those values. Discourses of ‘passionate’ labour, self-authenticity and personal freedom are hence central to academic governance. Moving beyond the dichotomy of managerial/academic values, the data presented here suggest that the motivations of academic labourers are influenced by the ideal of an authentic self that may be realised through engaging a range of values and professional norms. Beyond narratives of ‘compliance’ and ‘resistance’ to organisational change, studies of values change and motivation in academia need to further contextualise values formation. Situating the motivations of academic labourers through a culture of authenticity offers insight into the cultural structures that influence how values are normalised amid higher education reforms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-106
Number of pages16
JournalSociological Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • academia
  • authenticity
  • managerialism
  • motivation
  • nostalgia
  • values

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