Narratives of leadership in academia: A discursive-dialogic analysis

Leadership Learning and teaching Academics Pacific Area

In this thesis, I explore how academics with and without formal leadership positions experience and understand themselves as leaders in their everyday working contexts. The thesis both responds to and advances recent criticisms that the majority of leadership studies in higher education tend to exclusively focus on people in formal leadership positions, with an instrumental focus on 'what works' as effective leadership. These studies tend to take for granted who counts as a leader, and that knowledge situated in one context can be generalised and applied to another. I conducted qualitative interviews with 19 academics from diverse backgrounds and positions at a university in Aotearoa New Zealand. Social constructionism, poststructuralism and Bakhtinian concepts were drawn upon to create a discursive-dialogic approach as an analytical framework for my study. This approach enabled me to examine academics' accounts of leadership in relation to the discursive and dialogic process of identity construction as well as the broader micro-politics of higher education. From my analysis, I identified three recurrent narratives of leadership prevalent in my participants' accounts, namely, legitimate leadership, heroic leadership, and effective leadership. I argue that these three dominant narratives shaped how individual academics made sense of, and talked about, leadership in their everyday lives. These narratives were pivotally implicated in how academics constructed their own and others' identities as particular kinds of leaders. The thesis concludes with implications and recommendations for institutions, academics, and leadership researchers, proposing new ways of conceptualising leadership in higher education.

Publication Details