Playing the research funding game – complicity in crime?

Foto av George Becker från Pexels

The last days of September are hectic times in Finnish universities since the application deadline of the most important funding agency, the Academy of Finland, takes place then. A couple of days ago I participated in a zoom meeting. After two hours of intense discussion most of us were tired but busy to hurry to finalize application writing. One said, “Why must we always make these applications, this is crazy.” Another replied, “But nobody is actually forcing us, it is more a cultural thing that we somehow feel obliged to make applications. We could say no, not this year.” Then the third one commented, “Yes, but we do this because of junior researchers. We want to get funding in order to be able to employ them, to protect them from unemployment. We do this for others and for a good reason.”

This small conversation reminded me of one article that I had just read for a book chapter that I am writing with my colleague Lea Henriksson on polarization of early career building in academia. Lambros Roumbanis has attended university lectures in which established professors give advices to juniors on how to write successful research funding applications. Roumbanis argues that in doing this, the professors are exercising symbolic violence. Although their intentions may be benevolent aimed to help juniors to get ahead in their career trajectories, in fact they are complicit in sustaining and reinforcing the present funding regimes. They exercise subtle form of power by socializing early career academics into the practices of the competitive academic work ethos. This power is invisible both to themselves and to its victims since it is embedded in taken-for-granted assumptions of what it means to be a successful academic.

In a rather similar tone, Carole Leathwood and Barbara Read argued already some time ago that established academics are like accomplices in crime. Although many of them are highly critical of the current managerial and neo-liberal transformations, their views remain at the level of ideological critique. In practice, they comply with the research imperatives. According to them, this reveals senior academics’ own privileged and secure position and their complicity in the strengthening of the audit culture.

I just wonder how guilty we are of producing and maintaining the current research funding game and the resulting precarious workforce of project researchers, mostly women? What could be done otherwise?

Oili-Helena Ylijoki

Leathwood, C. & Read, B. 2013. “Research policy and academic performativity: compliance, contestation and complicity”, Studies in higher education 38:8, 1162-1174.

Roumbanis, L. 2019. “Symbolic violence in academic life: A study on how junior scholars are educated in the art of getting funded”, Minerva 57:2, 197-218.

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