The research 'game' : a sociological study of academic research work in two universities
One of the most important changes to UK higher education in the last ten years has been the funding of research within universities and particularly the introduction of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). This thesis is concerned with the organisation of research work within universities and possible impacts of this change in government policy on the research activities within university departments. Much of the recent literature on academics has documented their declining status and persistent undervaluing (Halsey, 1995). The decrease in government funding to higher education and the increase in processes of accountability and assessment are argued to weaken academic autonomy and further the `proletarianisation' of academic work. Further research, however, has raised the question of whether academics are quite so passive in their response to policy changes. Trowler (1998) argues that academics are active agents in their implementation of policy within institutional settings. This thesis investigates the disciplinary and institutional structural processes that govern academic work and analyses in detail the inter-relationship of these structures with the practices of academics. Bourdieu's framework for the analysis of the relationship between structure and agency is used in this study. He argues that there are many social fields within which agents struggle to accumulate forms of symbolic capital. His concept of habitus encapsulates the complex inter-relationship he postulates between structure and agency. Bourdieu is often criticised for being overly deterministic in his analysis of human agency. This thesis attempts to counteract this charge by placing the analysis at the site of interaction of field (structure) and habitus (agency). It is a collective case study of the organisational, managerial and ideational structures (Grenfell and James, 1998) found within six university departments and the involvement of academics in the reproduction and resistance of those structures. The way in which the RAE serves to reproduce and/or reconstruct the disciplinary and institutional structures discussed is also of central concern to this thesis. The study concludes that the RAE has had a profound impact on the forms of construction and evaluation within academic life but that this is mediated through the complex variety of organisational, managerial and ideational structures within institutions and across disciplines. Similarly, the positioning of individuals within institutional and disciplinary structures is important for understanding their particular struggles and strategies for recognition. This is most acute in struggles over the classification of research and non research active which has significantly increased the differentiation of academics within departments. This thesis also concludes by arguing that a greater understanding of the individual academics location within the context of specific institutional interactions will provide a necessary addition to Bourdieu's framework of analysis.