Monash University
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Being/becoming an academic: Spatio-temporal experiences of precarious employment and wellbeing

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posted on 2017-03-29, 01:05 authored by Kate Bone
Precarious employment is a structural feature of work at the contemporary Western university which is troubling given that employment insecurity is known to negatively affect the health and wellbeing of employees. This qualitative multi-case study research focuses on young peoples’ lived experience of wellbeing as precarious academic employees. Findings are generated from three rounds of in-depth interviews with ten casual or fixed-term academics under the age of thirty, working at Monash University in Australia. The theoretical framework for the thesis is underpinned by a social-ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1999) and informed by concepts drawn from the work of Giddens (1984) (notably structuration, ontological security, space and time) and Coser (1967) (the greedy institution).
   This research demonstrates how structural aspects of work intersect with the participants’ agentic understandings and enactments of being/becoming academics. Spatially, participants negotiated precariousness in their day-to-day experience, living and working under conditions that threatened their identities and constructions of an ongoing professional self. An empirically derived typology highlights the ways participants enacted being/becoming academics through everyday identity-forming practices in relation to the structures of the greedy institution. The typology shows how participants’ actions were prescribed by the structural norms and values of their working context, and illustrates the importance of ontological security to a sense of wellbeing and self-cohesiveness.
   In terms of temporality, participants experienced what was conceptualised as a ‘continuous present’ whereby their anticipated futures appeared to be colonised by the present and always out of reach. In this continuous present, participants existed in the present and lacked the feelings of ontological security required to move into the future or make future commitments. Participants engaged with future-orientation strategies to cope with their experience of the continuous present, a state which compromised their sense of being agentic decision-makers.
   This research contributes to knowledge by offering an in-depth, socialised account of how precarious employment influences the lived experiences and wellbeing of a
   distinctive group of young workers. Specifically, it advances knowledge about the spatial and temporal dynamics that are generative of employees’ experiences of, and responses to, identity threats. The typology extends understandings of how the recursive actions of multiple actors lead to legitimated social practices which shape precarious work practices and norms. The empirically derived future-orientations and conceptualisation of a continuous present, extends understandings of how precarious employment affects wellbeing across space-time boundaries. This research highlights the experiences of the precarious workers who participated in the study and ends with recommendations for change to support the wellbeing of present and future precarious employees.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Gavin Jack

Additional supervisor 1

Susan Mayson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics