“Doing Just Enough to Get By”: Voices of Black Women Early Career Academics on Navigating the Publish or Perish Discourse in South Africa





Early career academic, higher education, transformation, decolonisation, publish or perish, neoliberalism


In this article, we focus on the narratives of black women early career academics (ECAs) who are confronting and negotiating the “publish or perish” discourse in their professional lives in the university. Through a qualitative interpretivist case study, we purposively recruited and interviewed 10 education academics in one research-intensive university in South Africa. We relied on Nancy Fraser’s social justice framework to think through and to theorise the complex positionality of black women academics in a South African university. The findings reveal that black women ECAs often have challenges when it comes to research and publication, with some of the participants rejecting the publish or perish mantra, questioning the usefulness of publishing, and to what extent their own research will make a societal impact. The findings also reveal the deeply embedded patriarchal and gendered nature of the publish or perish discourse in how it disregards the role of wife/motherly/societal care work that women academics often perform. We end the article with broader reflections on the emergence of the publish and perish discourse in the South African higher education system and its implications for the attraction, retention, and wellbeing of black women ECAs in the sector.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biographies

Mlamuli Nkosingphile Hlatshwayo, University of Johannesburg

Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies, University of Johannesburg

Bongiwe Ngcobo, University of KwaZulu-Natal

MED candidate

School of Education

University of KwaZulu-Natal


Akoojee, S., and N. Nkomo. 2007. “Access and Quality in South African Higher Education: The Twin Challenges of Transformation”. South African Journal of Higher Education 21 (3): 385–99. https://doi.org/10.4314/sajhe.v21i3.25712. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4314/sajhe.v21i3.25712

Amutuhaire, T. 2022. “The Reality of the ‘Publish or Perish’ Concept: Perspectives from the Global South”. Publishing Research Quarterly 38 (2): 281–94. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12109-022-09879-0. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12109-022-09879-0

Aprile, K. T., P. Ellem, and L. Lole. 2021. “Publish, Perish, or Pursue? Early Career Academics’ Perspectives on Demands for Research Productivity in Regional Universities”. Higher Education Research and Development 40 (6): 1131–145. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1804334. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1804334

Badat, S. 1994. Differentiation and Disadvantage: The Historically Black Universities in South Africa: Report to the Desmond Tutu Educational Trust. Bellville: Education Policy Unit, the University of Western Cape.

Badat, S. 2004. “Transforming South African Higher Education, 1990–2003: Goals, Policy Initiatives and Critical Challenges and Issues”. In National Policy and a Regional Response in South African Higher Education, edited by N. Cloete, P. Pillay, S. Badat and T. Moja, 1–50. Cape Town: James Currey.

Badat, S. 2008. “Redressing the Colonial/Apartheid Legacy: Social Equity, Redress and Higher Education Admissions in Democratic South Africa”. Paper presented at the Conference on Affirmative Action in Higher Education in India, the United States and South Africa, New Delhi, India, March 2008. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/49241217.pdf.

Booi, M., L. Vincent, and S. Liccardo. 2017. “‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’: Challenges Facing Institutional Transformation of Historically White South African Universities”. African Sociological Review/Revue Africaine de Sociologie 21 (1): 2–19.

Bogdan, R. C., and S. K. Biklen. 1982. Qualitative Research Methods for Education: An Introduction to Theory and Methods. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Booysen, S., ed. 2016. Fees Must Fall: Student Revolt, Decolonisation and Governance in South Africa. New York, NY: New York University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18772/22016109858

Boughey, C., and S. McKenna. 2021. Understanding Higher Education: Alternative Perspectives. Cape Town: African Minds. https://doi.org/10.47622/9781928502210. DOI: https://doi.org/10.47622/9781928502210

Bourabain, D. 2021. “Everyday Sexism and Racism in the Ivory Tower: The Experiences of Early Career Researchers on the Intersection of Gender and Ethnicity in the Academic Workplace”. In “Radicalizing Diversity Research: Time to Resume Talking about Class”, edited by L. Romani, P. Zanoni and L. Holck, special issue, Gender, Work and Organization 28 (1): 248–67. https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12549. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12549

Bozalek, V., D. Hölscher, and M. Zembylas. 2020. Nancy Fraser and Participatory Parity: Reframing Social Justice in South African Higher Education. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429055355. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429055355

Césaire, A. (1955) 2005. “Discourse on Colonialism”. In Postcolonialisms: An Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism, edited by G. Desai and S. Nair, 60–64. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Cook-Sather, A. 2020. “Student Voice across Contexts: Fostering Student Agency in Today’s Schools”. Theory into Practice 59 (2): 182–91. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2019.1705091. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2019.1705091

Corbera, E., I. Anguelovski, J. Honey-Rosés, and I. Ruiz-Mallén. 2020. “Academia in the Time of COVID-19: Towards an Ethics of Care”. Planning Theory and Practice 21 (2): 191–99. https://doi.org/10.1080/14649357.2020.1757891. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14649357.2020.1757891

Corbin, J., and A. Strauss. 2008. Basics of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Creswell, J. W., and J. D. Creswell. 2017. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

De Courcy, E. 2015. “Defining and Measuring Teaching Excellence in Higher Education in the 21st Century”. College Quarterly 18 (1): 1–6.

DHET (Department of Higher Education and Training). 2015. Staffing South Africa’s Universities Framework. Pretoria: DHET.

DoE (Department of Education). 1997. Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education. Pretoria: DoE. Accessed July 4, 2023. https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201409/18207gen11960.pdf.

DoE (Department of Education). 2001. Draft National Plan for Higher Education in South Africa. Pretoria: DoE.

DoE (Department of Education). 2008. Report of the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions. Pretoria: DoE.

Drosou, N., M. Del Pinto, M. A. Al-Shuwaili, S. Goodall, and E. Marlow. 2020. “Overcoming Fears: A Pathway to Publishing for Early Career Researchers”. Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal 29 (3): 340–51. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPM-07-2019-0197. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/DPM-07-2019-0197

Fraser, N. 2000. “Rethinking Recognition”. New Left Review 3: 107–20.

Fraser, N. 2009a. Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. New Directions in Critical Theory Vol. 31. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Fraser, N. 2009b. “Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics”. In Geographic Thought: A Praxis Perspective, edited by G. L. Henderson and M. Waterstone, 72–91. London: Routledge.

Fukuyama, F. 2022. Liberalism and Its Discontents. London: Profile Books.

Gibson, N. 2015. “Thinking Outside the Ivory Tower: Towards a Radical Humanities in South Africa”. In Being at Home: Race, Institutional Culture and Transformation at South African Higher Education Institutions, edited by P. Tabensky and S. Matthews, 184–202. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Gourlay, L., and J. Stevenson. 2017. “Teaching Excellence in Higher Education: Critical Perspectives”. Teaching in Higher Education: Critical Perspectives 22 (4): 391–95. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2017.1304632. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2017.1304632

Habib, A. 2019. Rebels and Rage: Reflecting on #FeesMustFall. Cape Town: Jonathan Ball.

Heleta, S. 2016. “Decolonisation of Higher Education: Dismantling Epistemic Violence and Eurocentrism in South Africa”. Transformation in Higher Education 1 (1): 1–8. https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v1i1.9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v1i1.9

Herndon, N. C. 2016. “Research Fraud and the Publish or Perish World of Academia”. Journal of Marketing Channels 23 (3): 91–96: https://doi.org/10.1080/1046669X.2016.1186469. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/1046669X.2016.1186469

Hlatshwayo, M. N. 2020. “Being Black in South African Higher Education: An Intersectional Insight”. Acta Academica 52 (2): 163–80. https://doi.org/10.18820/24150479/aa52i2/9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18820/24150479/aa52i2/9

Hlatshwayo, M. N. 2022. “The Rise of the Neoliberal University in South Africa: Some Implications for Curriculum Imagination(s)”. Education as Change 26 (1): 1–21. https://doi.org/10.25159/1947-9417/11421. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25159/1947-9417/11421

Hollywood, A., D. McCarthy, C. Spencely, and N. Winstone. 2020. “‘Overwhelmed at First’: The Experience of Career Development in Early Career Academics”. Journal of Further and Higher Education 44 (7): 998–1012. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2019.1636213. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2019.1636213

Khunou, G., E. Phaswana, K. Khoza-Shangase, and H. Canham. 2019. Black Academic Voices: The South African Experience. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Kumalo, S. H. 2021. “Justice through Higher Education: Revisiting White Paper 3 of 1997”. Higher Education Quarterly 75 (1): 175–88. https://doi.org/10.1111/hequ.12253. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/hequ.12253

Langa, M., ed. 2017. #Hashtag: An Analysis of the #Feesmustfall Movement at South African Universities. Johannesburg: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. https://csvr.org.za/pdf/An-analysis-of-the-FeesMustFall-Movement-at-South-African-universities.pdf.

Lorenzini, D. 2016. “Foucault, Regimes of Truth and the Making of the Subject”. In Foucault and the Making of Subjects, edited by L. Cremonesi, O. Irrera, D. Lorenzini and M. Tazzioli, 63–75. London: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Lubicz-Nawrocka, T., and K. Bunting. 2019. “Student Perceptions of Teaching Excellence: An Analysis of Student-Led Teaching Award Nomination Data”. Teaching in Higher Education 24 (1): 63–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2018.1461620. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2018.1461620

Magoqwana, B., Q. Maqabuka, and M. Tshoaedi. 2019. “‘Forced to Care’ at the Neoliberal University: Invisible Labour as Academic Labour Performed by Black Women Academics in the South African University”. South African Review of Sociology 50 (3–4): 6–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/21528586.2020.1730947. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/21528586.2020.1730947

Maistry, S. M. 2019. “(Re)Counting the High Cost of Predatory Publishing and the Effect of a Neoliberal Performativity Culture”. Journal of Education 75: 5–19. https://doi.org/10.17159/2520-9868/i75a01. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17159/2520-9868/i75a01

Mamdani, M. 2007. Scholars in the Marketplace: The Dilemmas of Neo-Liberal Reform at Makerere University, 1989–2005. Dakar: Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.

Mbatha, N., N. Satimburwa, V. Msiza, and T. Zondi. 2020. “The Academentia of ECAs: Navigating Academic Terrain through Critical Friendships as a Life Jacket”. Educational Research for Social Change 9 (1): 31–44. https://doi.org/10.17159/2221-4070/2020/v7i2a3. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17159/2221-4070/2020/v7i2a3

Mbembe, A. 2016. “Decolonizing the University: New Directions”. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 15 (1): 29–45. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474022215618513. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1474022215618513

McKinley, J., S. McIntosh, L. Milligan, and A. Mikołajewska. 2021. “Eyes on the Enterprise: Problematising the Concept of a Teaching-Research Nexus in UK Higher Education”. Higher Education 81 (5): 1023–41. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00595-2. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00595-2

Miller, A. N., S. G. Taylor, and A. G. Bedeian. 2011. “Publish or Perish: Academic Life as Management Faculty Live It”. Career Development International 16 (5): 422–45. https://doi.org/10.1108/13620431111167751. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/13620431111167751

Miller, F. 2014. “Knowledge Ecosystems of Early Career Academics: A Grounded Theory of Experiencing Information Use for Learning in Developmental Networks”. PhD diss., Queensland University of Technology. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/33490707.pdf.

Mkhize, Z. 2022. “Is It Transformation or Reform? The Lived Experiences of African Women Doctoral Students in STEM Disciplines in South African Universities”. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education Research 84 (3): 1–23. https://doi.org/1007/s10734-022-00918-5.

Msimanga, A. 2014. “Too Late to Come Back? The Paradox of Being a 50-Year-Old ‘Early Career’ Black Female Academic: Part 2: Being and Belonging in South African Higher Education: The Voices of Black Women Academics”. South African Journal of Higher Education 28 (6): 2013–26. https://doi.org/10.20853/28-6-441. DOI: https://doi.org/10.20853/28-6-441

Müller-Kuhn, D., E. Zala-Mezö, J. Häbig, N.-C. Strauss, and P. Herzig. 2021. “Five Contexts and Three Characteristics of Student Participation and Student Voice—A Literature Review”. International Journal of Student Voice 6 (2): 1–30.

Mumtaz, N., G. Saqulain, and N. Mumtaz. 2021. “Online Academics in Pakistan: COVID-19 and Beyond”. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences 37 (1): 283–87. https://doi.org/10.12669/pjms.37.1.2894. DOI: https://doi.org/10.12669/pjms.37.1.2894

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. 2017. “Decolonising Research Methodology Must Include Undoing Its Dirty History”. The Conversation, September 26, 2017. Accessed July 25, 2023. https://theconversation.com/decolonising-research-methodology-must-include-undoing-its-dirty-history-83912.

Nyoni, P., and O. Agbaje. 2022. “UBuntu Philosophy and the Gender Crisis within South Africa’s Higher Education Sector”. In Comparative Education for Global Citizenship, Peace and Shared Living through Ubuntu, edited by N. T. Assié-Lumumba, M. Cross, K. Bedi and S. Ekanayake, 136–52. Leiden: Brill. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004518827_009

Osbaldiston, N., F. Cannizzo, and C. Mauri. 2019. “‘I Love My Work But I Hate My Job’—Early Career Academic Perspective on Academic Times in Australia”. Time and Society 28 (2): 743–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/0961463X16682516. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0961463X16682516

Price, E., B. Coffey, and A. Nethery. 2015. “An Early Career Academic Network: What Worked and What Didn’t”. In “The Experience of Being a Lecturer in Further and Higher Education”, edited by J. Rowley, special issue, Journal of Further and Higher Education 39 (5): 680–98. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2014.971106. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2014.971106

Puwar, N. 2004. Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies out of Place. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Ramohai, J. 2019. “A Black Woman’s Perspective on Understanding Transformation and Diversity in South African Higher Education”. Transformation in Higher Education 4 (1): 1–10. https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v4i0.58. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v4i0.58

Remmik, M., M. Karm, A. Haamer, and L. Lepp. 2011. “Early-Career Academics’ Learning in Academic Communities”. International Journal for Academic Development 16 (3): 187–99. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2011.596702. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2011.596702

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 1997. Higher Education Act, 1997. Government Gazette Vol. 390, No. 18515. Cape Town: Government Printers. Accessed July 21, 2023. https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201409/a101-97.pdf.

Shore, C. 2010. “Beyond the Multiversity: Neoliberalism and the Rise of the Schizophrenic University”. Social Anthropology 18 (1): 15–29. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8676.2009.00094.x. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8676.2009.00094.x

Smith, L. T. 2013. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Book.

Spina, N., K. Smithers, J. Harris, and I. Mewburn. 2022. “Back to Zero? Precarious Employment in Academia amongst ‘Older’ Early Career Researchers, A Life-Course Approach”. In “The Academic Precariat: Understanding Life and Labour in the Neoliberal Academy”, edited by S. Burton and B. Bowman, special issue, British Journal of Sociology of Education 43 (4): 534–49. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2022.2057925. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2022.2057925

Van Dalen, H. P. 2021. “How the Publish-or-Perish Principle Divides a Science: The Case of Economists”. Scientometrics 126 (2): 1675–694. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-020-03786-x. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-020-03786-x

Van Hilten, A., and S. Ruel. 2022. “The Chihuahua and the Space Princess Writing in the Margins: Antenarratives of Two (Older) Women Early Career Academics”. Gender, Work and Organization. https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12910. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12910

VitalStats. 2020. Public and Private Higher Education Data 2020. Pretoria: Council on Higher Education.

Vohlídalová, M. 2021. “Early-Career Women Academics: Between Neoliberalism and Gender Conservatism”. Sociological Research Online 26 (1): 27–43. https://doi.org/10.1177/1360780420914468. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1360780420914468

Wa Azania, M. 2020. Corridors of Death: The Struggle to Exist in Historically White Institutions. Polokwane: Blackbird Books.

Wadesango, N. 2014. “Publish or Perish: Impediments to Research Output and Publication”. In “Academic Development Practices in South African Universities”, edited by N. Wadesango and C. Maphosa, special issue, International Journal of Educational Sciences 6 (1): 57–63. https://doi.org/10.31901/24566322.2014/06.01.08. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31901/24566322.2014/06.01.08

Welton, A. D., K. C. Mansfield, and J. D. Salisbury. 2022. “The Politics of Student Voice: The Power and Potential of Students as Policy Actors”. Educational Policy 36 (1): 3–18. https://doi.org/10.1177/08959048211059718. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/08959048211059718

Zhou, N. 2020. “Almost 10% of Australian University Jobs Slashed during Covid, with Casuals Hit Hardest”. The Guardian, October 7, 2020. Accessed March 1, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/oct/07/almost-10-of-australian-university-jobs-slashed-during-covid-with-casuals-hit-hardest.

Zondi, S. 2021. African Voices in Search of a Decolonial Turn. Pretoria: HSRC Press.




How to Cite

Hlatshwayo, Mlamuli Nkosingphile, and Bongiwe Ngcobo. 2023. “‘Doing Just Enough to Get By’: Voices of Black Women Early Career Academics on Navigating the Publish or Perish Discourse in South Africa :”. Education As Change 27 (August):21 pages. https://doi.org/10.25159/1947-9417/13352.



Received 2023-03-14
Accepted 2023-07-06
Published 2023-08-07