Accepted Paper:

At least a little bit of stability. How life scientists do identity work in today´s academia  


Sarah Schönbauer (Technical University of Munich)

Paper short abstract:

Scientists in today´s life sciences are in need of conforming to the demands for a successful career while trying to create belonging to their profession, their workplace or to other scientists. Hence, I explore how scientists act on and build their identity in between conformity and resistance.

Paper long abstract:

In today´s universities, scientists need to live up to pressing requirements, such as moving internationally, continuous publishing in high-ranked scientific journals and successfully acquiring third-party funded projects. In line with this, they predominantly have to focus on performance and output while at the same time working in temporary conditions that are mostly devoid of future possibilities. Hence, scientists have to conform to the demands for living and working in today´s academia. At the same time, they aim for (temporary) stability in their careers, in their local embedding in place and time and in their relationships with other scientists.

Based on ethnographic work and interviews with life scientists in globally recognized research departments, I explore how scientists do identity work as individuals and as collectives and how they build and negotiate their lives against the need for stability. In so doing, I take the life sciences as model organism for conceptualizing identity work. I frame this work along the tension of having to conform to the normative demands for a successful career in science while aiming to create attachment and belonging to ones profession, ones workplace or other scientists.

Based on empirical insights, I will critically reflect on what it means to be a scientist today. I will also engage with how we can re-think individual and collective identities in ways that are less insecure and conforming. Thereby, I will draw attention to the situatedness and multiplicity of identities at work to open up ways for alternative ways of being a scientist.

Panel F03
Scientists - agents under construction