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Disabled Academics' Career and Organizational Experiences

Jannine Williams, Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University
Co-author(s): Dr Toby Brandon


Career literature distinguishes between two main approaches; firstly the traditional concept of a career 'unfolding' within a single organizational context (the bounded career) and secondly 'unfolding' both across and between organizations, without inferring any particular career form (the boundaryless career). Recent research has contested the notion of a boundaryless career, suggesting that careers across or between organizations are inevitably bound, albeit in diverse ways. What's lacking is an exploration of the effect of environmental boundaries upon individuals and how they operate within them.

The extensive career literature is limited in regard to academic careers, and in particular there is little work at an individual level, most studies focusing at an institutional level and upon structural change work. Whilst there is growing interest in disabled professionals, and some interest in disabled academics in other fields, there is little within the career literature on the perspective of disabled people or disabled academics. In response, the research informing this paper focuses upon the ways in which disabled academics' careers are 'bound', or shaped, by the ways in which we organize in higher education.

This paper therefore presents the results of a recent study using a 'disability studies informed lens' into disabled academics' career and organizational experiences. Eight disabled academics were interviewed using an open narrative approach, and the data was analysed using the Voice-Centred Relational Method. The intention of adopting this approach was to hear participants' voices and gain access to the discourses drawn upon to inform their narratives of both career and organization.

Findings highlight a number of ways in which participants' careers are bound subjectively and contextually; through agency, impairment effects, organizational practices and processes and within there working relationships and academic networks.

In addition, working with a voice and visibility conceptual framework, the paper identifies the discourses disabled academics draw upon as challenging organizational norms. These norms are premised upon assumptions of non-impairment, and suggest disabled academics careers are enacted within a context where their career claims are contested and the higher education organization can be understood as a site of resistance.

Finally the paper will consider the implications of adopting a 'disability studies informed lens' for the study of career and organizations when researching disabled people's experiences.

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