The academic game: compliance and resistance in universities

Senia Kalfa, Adrian Wilkinson, Paul J. Gollan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


This article draws on the sociology of Bourdieu to explore how academics respond to managerialist imperatives. Bourdieu’s metaphor of the game is applied to a case study of a regional Australian university, which underwent significant changes in 2007, the most notable being the introduction of performance appraisals. In-depth interviews (N=20) reveal evidence of symbolic violence: staff compliance with and complicity in the changes. This is evident in the way that the interviewees, mostly early career academics, chose to play the game by concentrating their efforts on increasing their capital within the new order. To further support this argument, signs of resistance to the new regime were explored. Findings show that vocal resistance was sparse with silence, neglect and exit being the more realistic options. The article concludes that it is academics’ illusio, their unwavering commitment to the game, which neutralizes resistance by pitting colleagues against each other.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-291
Number of pages18
JournalWork, Employment & Society
Issue number2
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • academia
  • Bourdieu
  • game
  • illusio
  • performance appraisal
  • resistance
  • symbolic violence


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