Navigating Uncertainty: Early Career Academics and Practices of Appraisal Devices

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There is a lack of objective evaluative standards for academic work. While this has been recognized in studies of how gatekeepers pass judgment on the works of others, little is known about how scholars deal with the uncertainty about how their work will be evaluated by gatekeepers. Building upon 35 interviews with early career academics in political science and history, this paper explores how junior scholars use appraisal devices to navigate this kind of uncertainty. Appraisal devices offer trusted and knowledgeable appraisals through which scholars are informed whether their work and they themselves are good enough to succeed in academia. Investigating how early career academics rely upon appraisals from assessors (i.e., ‘academic mentors’), the study adds to existing literature on uncertainty and worth in academic life by drawing attention to how scholars’ anticipatory practices are informed by trusting the judgment of others. The empirical analysis demonstrates that early career academics are confronted with multiple and conflicting appraisals that they must interpret and differentiate between. However, the institutional conditions for dealing with uncertainty about what counts in future evaluations, as well as which individuals generally come to function as assessors, differ between political science and history. This has an impact on both valuation practices and socialization structures. Focusing on what I call practices of appraisal devices, the paper provides a conceptual understanding of how scholars cope with uncertainties about their future. Furthermore, it expands existing theory by demonstrating how scholars’ self-concept and desired identities are key to the reflexive ways appraisal devices are used in the course of action.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-259
Number of pages23
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021 May 13

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Educational Sciences


  • Appraisal devices
  • Uncertainty
  • Valuation
  • Identity
  • Socialization
  • Early career academics


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