Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Legibility Zones: An Empirically-Informed Framework for Considering Unbelonging and Exclusion in Contemporary English Academia

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Abstract:  This article introduces a new, empirically-derived conceptual framework for considering exclusion in English higher education (HE): legibility zones. Drawing on interviews with academic employees in England, it suggests that participants orientate themselves to a powerful imaginary termed the hegemonic academic. Failing to align with this ideal can engender a sense of dislocation conceptualised as unbelonging. The mechanisms through which hegemonic academic identity is constituted and unbelonging is experienced are mapped onto three domains: the institutional, the ideological, and the embodied. The framework reveals the mutable and intersecting nature of these zones, highlighting the complex dynamics of unbelonging and the attendant challenge presented to inclusion projects when many apparatuses of exclusion are perceived as fundamental to what HE is for, what an academic is, and how academia functions.

Keywords:  academia; academic staff; alienation; belonging; higher education; diversity and inclusion; impostor syndrome; inequalities; unbelonging



© Jessica Wren Butler. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.