Luck and precarity: Contextualising fixed-term academics' perceptions of success and failure

Loveday, Vik. 2023. Luck and precarity: Contextualising fixed-term academics' perceptions of success and failure. In: Eric Lybeck and Catherine O'Connell, eds. Universities in Crisis: Academic Professionalism in Uncertain Times. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 73-92. ISBN 9781350249981 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

What does it mean to attribute success to ‘luck’, but failure to personal deficiency? Based on two waves of interviews conducted with fixed-term academic employees at different career stages, the chapter explores the narrativization of success and failure amongst staff working at the ‘sharp end’ of the neoliberalising UK higher education sector. Arguing that precarious employment situations precipitate the feeling of being ‘out of control’, the majority of the participants’ narratives were characterised by a distinct lack of agency. The chapter examines the recourse to notions of chance and the consolidation of ‘luck’ as an explanatory factor in accounting for why good things happen; however, in tandem with this inclination is the tendency to individualize failure when expectations have been thwarted. While accounts of fixed-term work are suffused with notions of chance and fortune, ‘luck’ remains an under-researched concept within sociology. The chapter thus concludes by considering what the analysis of ‘luck’ might offer for a fuller, politicized understanding for the academic profession.

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Book Section

Additional Information:

The research was supported by the British Academy [SG142753].

An earlier version of this chapter - ‘Luck, chance and happenstance? Perceptions of success and failure amongst fixed-term academic staff in UK higher education’ (2017) - was published in The British Journal of Sociology, 69 (3): 758-775.


Academic identities; agency; casualization; higher education; individualisation; luck; responsibility; success

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26 January 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

08 Jun 2023 11:50

Last Modified:

26 Jul 2023 01:26


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