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Feudalism and academia: UK academics' accounts of research culture

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Our knowledge of research cultures in university education departments is still evolving, particularly in connection with the departments which have achieved a high ranking in the UK government's Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), and also the conditions under which 'knowledge workers' operate are under-researched, although this is beginning to change. The purpose of this empirical study is to explore and describe characteristics of a research-intensive university education department in the UK through the accounts of five academics, with the aim of contributing to our knowledge about academic labour. Social anthropological and historical notions are utilised to illuminate and theorise their accounts. The analysis conceptually recasts Halsey's thesis about the decline of academic autonomy through the prism of feudalism. It is conjectured, using ethnographic analogy, that contemporary academics are akin to a twenty-first century peasantry in a feudal order where academic freedom to pursue independent research is subject to prescriptive transformations emanating from neo-liberal policies.
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Keywords: anthropology; culture; research

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Education, Health and Social Science, University of the West of Scotland, UK

Publication date: 01 January 2011

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