An Ethnographic Study of College English Teachers’ Identity Negotiation in a Mainland Chinese University

Bacui Chen, Jing Huang

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


This government-led agenda and discourse, realized through institutional agenda and discourse, has given rise to heightened requirements of publication for academic staff in social sciences, and thus their struggling to make a choice between efforts on improving teaching and promotion-driven engagement in publication. College English teachers (teaching non-English majors) were once considered as teaching staff, yet it is not until the recent decade their obligations in conducting research have been emphasized by university administrators. It is against this background that this study intends to investigate how college English teachers perceive their roles in higher education and how they position themselves and exercise their agency to take control over their professional-personal development. Adopting an ethnographic approach, this study aims to document how college English teachers in a nonkey university negotiate and construct their teacher and researcher identities; and to explore how their negotiation and construction of teacher-researcher identities is afforded and constrained by the socioinstitutional environments. An initial data analysis indicates that college English teachers are much more engaged in teaching than in research. Guidance from experienced researchers and advancement in a doctoral degree are perceived to afford opportunities for forming a researcher identity. Personal and contextual factors such as limited knowledge in research, heavy workload, unequal resource allocation, and asymmetrical power relationships among colleagues, suppress their agency and constrain their professional development. Moreover, new institutional requirements for promotion with an emphasis on research productivity and quality might constitute both affordances and constraints upon their professional agency and identities. The research sheds light on understanding academic staff’s varied pathways to professional-personal development in China and similar contexts and generates implications for higher education management worldwide.


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