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‘Luck, chance, and happenstance? Perceptions of success and failure amongst fixed‐term academic staff in UK higher education’

Loveday, Vik

British Journal of Sociology, September 2018, Vol.69(3), pp.758-775 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

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  • Title:
    ‘Luck, chance, and happenstance? Perceptions of success and failure amongst fixed‐term academic staff in UK higher education’
  • Author/Creator: Loveday, Vik
  • Subjects: Academic Identities ; Agency ; Casualization ; Employment ; Higher Education ; Individualization ; Luck ; Responsibility
  • Is Part Of: British Journal of Sociology, September 2018, Vol.69(3), pp.758-775
  • Description: What does it mean to attribute success to ‘luck’, but failure to personal deficiency? In 2015/16, more than 34 per cent of academic employees in UK higher education institutions were employed on temporary contracts, and the sector itself has undergone a substantial transformation in recent years in terms of expansion, measurement, and marketization. Based on two waves of interviews conducted with fixed‐term academic employees at different career stages, the article explores the narrativization of success and failure amongst staff working at the ‘sharp end’ of the so‐called neoliberal academy. Arguing that precarious employment situations precipitate the feeling of being ‘out of control’, the majority of the participants’ narratives were characterized by a distinct lack of agency. The paper explores the recourse to notions of chance and the consolidation of ‘luck’ as an explanatory factor in accounting for why good things happen; however, in tandem with this inclination is the tendency to individualize failure when expectations have been thwarted. While accounts of fixed‐term work are suffused with notions of chance and fortune, ‘luck’ remains an under‐researched concept within sociology. The article thus concludes by considering what the analysis of ‘luck’ might offer for a fuller, politicized understanding of processes at work in the contemporary academy.
  • Identifier: ISSN: 0007-1315 ; E-ISSN: 1468-4446 ; DOI: 10.1111/1468-4446.12307