Collegiality: Leading us into fantasy - the paradoxical resilience of collegiality in academic leadership

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Higher Education Research and Development, 2014, 33 (1), pp. 157 - 169
Issue Date:
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It has been argued that leadership in higher education differs from leadership in other organisational contexts, in part because of the culture of collegiality and autonomy underpinning academic work. Collegiality, however, is a complex and somewhat 'slippery' idea that features in academic leadership literature in a variety of, sometimes contradictory, ways. We argue for the need to unpack and explore the notion of collegiality to understand what makes it such an enduring idea in academic leadership. We start by examining the multiple meanings of collegiality circulating in scholarly writing on leadership to reveal the complexity and tensions it raises for academic leaders. We then turn to Lacanian theory and explore collegiality as a subliminal fantasy that represents an important interface between 'leaders' and those who are 'led', and one which influences our understanding of academic work and leadership. From the perspective offered by our Lacanian exploration, we propose that in order to traverse the nostalgic fantasy of the collegial past, instead of looking for closure, it might be more useful to put indeterminacy, absence and lack at the centre of the academic leadership project. © 2014 © 2014 HERDSA.
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