Constructing Professional Identities: Chinese Academics Navigate Shifting Landscape

A recent study examines how Chinese academics' identities are shaped by power dynamics, external changes, and internal motivations in a performance-oriented environment. The research reveals distinct identity modules among Chinese academics, including fanatic converts, career survivors, diligent game players, and career retreaters.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Constructing Professional Identities: Chinese Academics Navigate Shifting Landscape

Constructing Professional Identities: Chinese Academics Navigate Shifting Landscape

The academic landscape in China has undergone a significant transformation from a spiritually rooted vocation to a model driven bymanagerial efficiency, catalyzed by market reforms. This shift has forced scholars to adapt to a performance-oriented environment, leading to significant changes in their professional identities.

Why this matters: The changing academic landscape in China has far-reaching implications for the global academic community, as it reflects a broader trend of commercialization and instrumentalization of higher education. Understanding the impact of these changes onacademic identities is crucial for promoting academic freedom, integrity, and autonomy.

A recent study explores how Chinese academics' identities are constructed amidst a complex interplay of power dynamics, external changes, and internal motivations. The research employs an intersectional approach within a multidimensional organizational power framework, using case study methods to probe deeply into the multiple identities of academics in the Business Management discipline across various Chinese higher education institutions.

The study reveals a dynamic interplay among multiple power dimensions, including American research hegemony, industrialization of academic governance, and self-regulation and rebellion against academic games. These forces collectively shape distinct identity modules among Chinese academics, such as fanatic convert of American research, career survivor, diligent game player, and career retreater. Each identity module responds uniquely to the evolving academic pressures.

Max Weber once described the ideal scholar as "someone for whom academia is a vocation of the spirit, characterized by a profound passion and dedication akin to a believer's devotion to their faith." However, as Alvesson et al. note, "The rising influence of managerialism has cultivated a global culture that prioritizes performance, accountability, and instrumental research, diminishing the authenticity and integrity of scholarly work."

The academic environment in China has seen several key turning points over the past decades. Post-1949 Chinese academia was governed under a paternalistic management model until Deng Xiaoping's market-driven reforms significantly disrupted the traditional system in 1992. The dawn of the new millennium brought accelerated transformations to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) through expansions, mergers, and market-oriented reforms.

This research significantly enhances our understanding of academic identity construction by extending beyond traditional role-based analyses to encompass a broader spectrum of cognitive processes. It highlights the nuanced intersectionality of academic identities, effectively integrating structuralist perspectives with personal agency. The study provides critical insights into the development of Management disciplines, university governance, and professional practices within the academic community in China.