A social-psychological examination of academic precarity as an organizational practice and subjective experience

Br J Soc Psychol. 2023 Jan;62 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):95-110. doi: 10.1111/bjso.12607. Epub 2022 Nov 21.


Research and teaching conditions have, particularly for those who are junior or from disadvantaged backgrounds, deteriorated considerably over the years in the higher education sector. Unequal opportunities in access and advancement in careers have led to increasing levels of precarity in the higher education sector. Although the concept of precarity has been grasped in many other disciplines, the social-psychological understanding of this concept remains unexplored. In this paper, we aim to develop a social-psychological understanding of precarity to examine how identity dynamics and intergroup relations, as well as associated organizational controls, reinforce inequality regimes and power structures that create precarious conditions in academia. In doing so, we use social identity theory and system justification theory under an inequality regime framework. We argue that even though change towards equality and equity in academia should be possible, it is difficult to achieve this because of entrenched identity interests by power holders and the perceived legitimacy of the existing system. Therefore, academic precarity should be recognized both as a subjective experience and as an organizational practice to make inequalities more visible and decrease the perceptions of legitimacy-and to eventually achieve a fundamental positive transformation in academia.

Keywords: academia; inequality; precarity; research; social identity; system justification.

MeSH terms

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion
  • Education*
  • Humans
  • Social Identification*