Academics at play: Why the “publication game” is more than a metaphor

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceeding


It is increasingly common for academic work to be described as a ‘publication game’. For some, the idea of academic game-playing serves as a convenient metaphor for explaining concrete phenomenon such as professional advancement or instrumental careerism in the context of national research assessments such as the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK. However, we suggest that academic game-playing should not solely be understood in metaphorical terms. Rather, we propose that many of the attributes of play – as articulated by play theorists – can be usefully applied to understand and problematize academic research under the contemporary ‘regime of excellence’. Drawing on extensive interviews with critical management scholars, we argue that academia is characterized by a ‘lusory attitude’ towards research; this means that scholars relate to their work as players relate to a game. Ultimately, we seek to show how the separation between ‘mere’ game-playing and ‘real’ research is not possible to maintain in practice. In doing so, we also problematize the ‘separation thesis’ in play theory, which holds that play, by its very nature, is strictly separated from ‘reality’.


External organisations
  • Stockholm School of Economics
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Information Systems, Social aspects
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch
Event78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, AOM 2018 - Chicago, United States
Duration: 2018 Aug 102018 Aug 14


Conference78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, AOM 2018
CountryUnited States

Related research output

Butler, N. & Sverre Spoelstra, 2020 May 19, In : Management Learning.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

View all (1)