The Negotiation of Professional Identity of Lecturers in Institutes of Technology in Ireland

  • Pat O'Connor

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


AbstractOriginally conceived as Regional Technical Colleges and located in regions across Ireland, the Institutes of Technology (IoT) have evolved as a major sector of the binary system of higher education in Ireland. The Institutes of Technology are identified as focussed on teaching however recent years have also seen increasing focus on research. Following convergence in the sector, recent policy measures and changes signal a 'future higher education landscape' which opens the possibility of technological university status to Institutes of Technology who merge as part of the process for recognition as technological universities. The traditional orientation to practical, vocationally focussed teaching in Institutes of Technology is now challenged by the potential changes being driven at policy level and it is in the context of this changing higher education system that this study examines IoT lecturers' negotiation of professional identity.The research uses narrative enquiry to access the stories and narratives of lecturers working in a number of the institutes located in the Dublin region. Through an in depth qualitative study of eight lecturers in four IoTs, the study, in line with the research questions, identifies three major themes that underpin the professional identities of the sample - discipline; professional development; and external influences and policy decisions. Associated with these three themes are six constructs - Discipline; Professional Practice; Teaching; Development; Community Orientated Values; and Research - that resonate with this changing and volatile higher education environment and that intersect in different ways for individuals in the study to produce varying 'portraits' of professional identity. An analysis of how these identity portraits emerge is facilitated by a theoretical framework proposed by Paul Gee (2000) that gives appropriate insights into the dialogic process of the negotiation of professional identity. The study, through a synthesis of data generated themes and constructs and a theoretical identity perspective proposed by Gee (2000), contributes to knowledge in the field by creating a proposed framework for facilitating a generative analysis of the location and negotiation of professional identity. Such a framework enables, for example, explanations for both the strong links in the data between academic identity and subject discipline and yet also evidence of the fragmentation of an academic identity and an associated emphasis on practice-based experience. Given the way the framework allows for a multiplicity of factors to be combined in particular ways that reflect both structure and agency in individual lecturer's negotiation of professional identities, an argument is made for its application in the design and implementation of development structures at the level of the individual and the organisation - one that recognises that a Higher Education professional development model based on a "one size fits all" approach will not work. Instead the temporal nature of the impact of policy decisions and external influences is highlighted with a call for more focus on discourses on higher education, the associated importance of lecturer autonomy and the nature of professionalism and professional identity.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarlo Raffo (Supervisor) & David Dyson (Supervisor)


  • Academic Identity
  • Professional Identity
  • Institutes of Technology
  • Narrative Research

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