Academic identities and communities of practice in a professional discipline

Journal Article


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Teaching in Higher Education

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

This paper explores the dynamics surrounding the formation of academic identities in a context where the nature of academic work is contested both as a result of tensions within the discipline and in response to pressure from both the institution and the field of higher education. It is based on a case study which investigated the process of academic identity formation at the micro level of a department at a South African university. The study revealed a complex relationship between identity construction and participation within the particular configuration of teaching, professional and research communities of practice that defined the academic field in the department. Multiple identity trajectories were evident, indicating the role of individual agency, despite the dominance of a professional community of practice within the department. The arrival of new academics in the department without professional practice experience was found to have created the possibility of a changed notion of the academic within the discipline.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Teaching in Higher Education on 26 May 2009, available online: