The Practice of Authority in Academic leadership/Management

Sally Jarvis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This study sought to advance understanding of authority in higher education academic management/leadership. Although there is rich literature on education management and leadership, the role of authority in this area has received less attention. Drawing on an understanding of authority as social, multiple, changeable and contested, this study had three broad aims: to understand contextualised authority practices; to conceptualise authority in academic leadership/management and to investigate the value of practice-focused constructivist grounded theory methodology in educational research. Data were collected from the Education Departments of two, post 1992, UK universities over a period of eighteen months and analysed using elements of practices as a sensitising framework. The study shows how elements combine in construction of authority. Three practices: overseeing, deciding and challenging, are considered.
The study contributes to the discussion on academic leadership and management. Findings demonstrate the complexity of authority practices in this domain. Four ideas in particular stand out: that access to knowledge and material resources confers or restricts authority; that elements and everyday practices combine to create a ‘toolkit’ from which authority practices can be constructed; that grouping multiple authorities into a triad of structuring, relational and knowledge-based authorities can cast light on constructions and contestations of authority; and that knowledge-based authorities in higher education have multiple and conflicting sources that draw on different higher education discourses.
Finally, the study suggests the value of practice focused grounded theory methodology in shifting focus from an agentic understanding of academic leadership/management.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Lancaster
  • Tight, Malcolm, Supervisor, External person
Award date14 Dec 2017
Place of PublicationLancaster
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


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