Academic Arrhythmia: Disruption, Dissonance and Conflict in the Early-Career Rhythms of CMS Academics

Bristow, Alexandra; Robinson, Sarah and Ratle, Olivier (2019). Academic Arrhythmia: Disruption, Dissonance and Conflict in the Early-Career Rhythms of CMS Academics. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 18(2) pp. 241–260.



Starting a career on the margins of the neoliberal business school is becoming increasingly challenging. We contribute to the understanding of the problems involved and to potential solutions by developing a theoretically-informed approach to the rhythms of academic life and drawing on interviews with 32 Critical Management Studies (CMS) early-career academics (ECAs) in 14 countries. Bringing together Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis (and his concepts of polyrhythmia, eurhythmia and arrhythmia), Zerubavel’s sociology of time, and identity construction literature, we examine the rhythm-identity implications of the recent HE changes. We show how the dynamics between the broader pressures, institutional strategies, and our interviewees’ attempts to reassert themselves are creating a vicious circle of arrhythmia – a debilitating condition characterized by rhythmic disruption, dissonance and conflict. Within the circle, identity insecurity and regulation, CMS ECAs’ identity work, and arrhythmia are mutually co-constructive, so that it is hard for individuals to break out. We consider the possibilities and limitations of individual coping strategies and, drawing out lessons for business schools, advocate for more collective and structural solutions. In so doing, we contribute to the reimagining of business schools as more eurhythmically polyrhythmic places where ECAs of all intellectual orientations have the time to learn and develop.

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