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The university as Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

Early-career academics on competition, collaboration, and performance requirements
Published May 04, 2022

The authors use Tönnies' twin concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft to analyze what early career academics (ECAs) gone through when they were recruited as assistant professors to gain tenure.

ECAs – Early career academics

This chapter describes the work circumstances of early career academics (ECAs) in a research-intensive university in Sweden. It highlights some of the management challenges that arise from tensions that ECAs experience in relation to individualism and collective belonging. The chapter also discusses ways to manage tensions that arise as a result of conflicts with hybrid organisations or 'penetrated hierarchies' that blur academic and administrative lines. 

As they examine what early career academics (ECAs) go through when recruited as assistant professors to gain tenure, the authors draw on Tönnies' twin concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.It investigates several factors related to socialisation of these recruits, including relationships, networking, job performance, and CV building from the data collected from 19 semi-structured interviews at a research-intensive university in Sweden 


A young academic should demonstrate independence and exceptional performance, and they are measured according to various scales. They are also heavily dependent on senior colleagues who serve as gatekeepers and 'clan leaders' for entry into the academic community, and are expected to participate in collegial activities such as co-supervising PhD students and playing a key role in large grant applications. There are also differences between those who previously attended the university as students or employees and those who are externally hired with no previous affiliation with the university. In contrast, men who have been associated with an academic institution tend to be less critical and happier at work. 


In this study, it was shown that the two strategies of organizing academic life - one centered on collaboration and group work, the other on individual work and formal organizations - coexist and are integrated to a great degree. Establishing good social relationships is a vital part of becoming a tenured academic staff member, and in the end, the way in which you perform academically is determined by the support of your colleagues. 

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Page responsible:Madeleine Tucker Smith
Belongs to: The Department of Learning in Engineering Sciences
Last changed: May 04, 2022