Racing for What? Anticipation and Acceleration in the Work and Career Practices of Academic Life Science Postdocs


  • Ruth Müller Lund University



academic career, life sciences, postdocs, anticipation, acceleration, individualization, entrepreneurial self, slow science, qualitative interviews, higher education policy, science & technology policy


In the wake of contemporary new public management, the temporalities of academic work have undergone significant transformations. One key feature of these changes is a perceived acceleration of working pace. While this phenomenon is widely acknowledged in scholarship about the transforming universities, to date there are only few studies investigating its empirical details. Building on qualitative interviews with 38 postdoctoral life scientists in Austria, this article investigates how these researchers experience the temporalities of their work and career practices. Postdocs are particularly susceptible to the changing demands of academic work life, as they mostly inhabit fragile institutional positions while they aspire to establish themselves in academia. The experience of being in a highly competitive race that requires a continuously accelerating working pace as well as a strong focus on individual achievement is central to their narratives about working for a career in academia. Drawing on recent scholarship on anticipation (ADAMS, MURPHY & CLARKE, 2009), acceleration (ROSA, 2003) and the entrepreneurial self (BRÖCKLING, 2007), I develop the concepts of anticipatory acceleration and latent individualization to analytically capture postdocs' experiences of temporalities in the context of their work and career practices. In conclusion I discuss the possible impacts of these particular temporal orientations for the contents and formats of academic knowledge production and ask in how far concepts and movements such as "slow science" help to address effects and problems of these specific forms of acceleration and anticipation.



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Author Biography

Ruth Müller, Lund University

Ruth MÜLLER is a postdoctoral researcher at the Research Policy Group, Lund University, Sweden. She has earned her PhD in 2012 from the Department of Science and Technology Studies, University of Vienna, Austria. Her work has been exploring how academic career rationales shape the epistemic and social practices of junior researchers in the life sciences, and more recently the climate sciences. She has been engaging with concepts such as slow science since 2010, when she co-organized an international workshop on the topic at the Science & Justice Research Centre, University of California Santa Cruz, USA, where she was a visiting scholar at the time.




How to Cite

Müller, R. (2014). Racing for What? Anticipation and Acceleration in the Work and Career Practices of Academic Life Science Postdocs. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 15(3).



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