Negotiating Professional Identities in a Liberalized Sub-Saharan African Economy: The Case of University of Zambia Faculty

Ferdinand Mwaka Chipindi
University of Minnesota, USA
August, 2018

This dissertation examines the development of professional identity among faculty members at the University of Zambia (UNZA), at several epochs in the institution’s history. The study explores how faculty identities emerged, shifted and were reconfigured in response to the shifts in the political economic landscape of the country. These shifts included the movement from a strong socialist orientation in the post-independence era (1964-1991) to a neoliberal system from 1991 to the 2016. The research data was collected through close to eight months of fieldwork at the Great East Road campus of UNZA between May 2016 and January 2017. The primary instrument of data collection was a semi-structured interview with 30 academics, representing three generations of faculty at UNZA (first from 1966 to 1990, the second from 1991 to 2000, and the third from 2000 to the present).

The findings of the study suggest that there are several identities that have emerged over the past five decades of UNZA’s history dependent on the subject positions availed by the political economy of higher education. In the early years, marked by an abundance of funding from the federal government, the faculty tended to occupy subject positions connected to the discourse of national building and the liberation of Southern Africa. This led to the emergence of nation-builder academics and liberation-scholar academic. With the overhaul of the socialist system in 1991, new subject positions opened in the 1990s as entrepreneurial motivations started to drive academic work. In this age, the scientrepreneur academics came to the fore and prided themselves for being hunter-scholars. With the further entrenchment of neoliberal discourses and practices of accountability, efficiency and competitiveness after 2000, the development of scholarly identity became a struggle to become academically alive, in an ontological sense, marked by the importance of being mentioned by other scholars, leaders in the university, as well as multilateral and bilateral donor agencies. This study concludes that there is a need for the development of policies that reduce excessive teaching and community service demands on faculty and to reduce the number of challenges the faculty face in negotiating their professional identities.