Psst, don't tell anyone, but I'm an intellectual

September 16, 2005

Academics may be embarrassed to be associated with the term "intellectual", with its connotations of superiority and patched corduroy jackets. Yet secretly it is exactly how they define themselves, according to new research.

Sue Clegg, professor of educational research at Sheffield Hallam University, will tell delegates at the British Educational Research Association's annual conference this week that while academics may have seen their roles shaken up, they have retained a strong sense of their own identity.

She told The Times Higher : "Academics are reluctant to use the word intellectual, but the people I interviewed saw themselves as such."

Professor Clegg interviewed academics from different backgrounds within the same institution and found that they all had a sense of self-worth despite an apparent "eroding of values" around them.

Individuals saw value in their own particular project, whatever that was.

"Doing virtually all teaching, or all management, did not strip these identities from them," she said.

"Nor was there much evidence of nostalgia or indeed systemic personal dissatisfaction."

And while one might assume that academics in traditional universities would be more likely to be sure of themselves, Professor Clegg found that this is not necessarily the case.

She said: "My suspicion is that there might be very different hybrids in old universities, where the pressure of research selectivity is much fiercer. There might be securer identities in the newer universities, where you might not expect it."

Professor Clegg stressed that her study was just a starting point and that the theory should be explored across the sector.

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