Explorations of ‘Maverick’ Educators within the institutional Arts and Art and Design Higher Education context

  • Curtis Tappenden

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study explores non-compliant attitudes and behaviours of educators, self-defined and/or dubbed ‘mavericks’ in the arts/art and design sectors of United Kingdom (UK) higher education (HE) institutions. How these educators work within them and the effect they have on these establishments is central to the discussion. Working in bureaucratically-run HE contexts under new managerialism, these educators establish their roles, at times accepting but also challenging the culture of audit, accountability and monetary efficient models. It is a central task of this thesis to understand why and how they do this and the effect such behaviours have on their institutions in the sector.

The thesis is founded on a critical incident: a colleague’s accusation that I was a ‘maverick’ for employing unconventional practices, and this raised questions for me concerning educational identities and adherence to pedagogic rules for those who choose to work under neoliberal management despite an unwillingness to fully engage in its directives. To express and understand details of management teacher contestations of power, my professional life experiences and those of seven selected educators practising in the sector are explored and discussed using the narrative interview method of ‘inter-views’. Suitability for the study was established through author-participant correspondence prior to the interviews, where each participant self-identified or was identified as ‘maverick’ in their contexts, having concurred with the project’s questions and emerging themes. Participants’ interviews identified experiences shared in common, contradictory experiences between institutional expectations and personal, autonomous goals and practices. Their storied accounts produced evocative texts, supported by a blended constructivist–autoethnographic methodology. Analysis of data related the participants’ maverick attitudes and behaviours to the theoretical and critical literature exploring power, resistance and liminality; subjects theorised using perspectives offered by the work of Bourdieu, Foucault, Goffman, and Bakhtin to aid constructivist interpretations of maverick identities.

The thesis attempts to historically contextualise the problem of mavericks in the arts/art and design HE sector, problematise their relationship with neoliberal education management using vivid examples from participants’ data to understand what defines them and identify and characterise the attitudes and behaviours they employ to achieve their aims. Key questions being asked in this thesis are:
1. What is a maverick in the context of arts / art and design UK HE?
2. How do mavericks act in arts / art and design UK HE?

The conclusion summarises the thesis findings that participant mavericks are catalysts of change, gain respectful trust and establish credible alternatives to educational management restraint. The research exposes alternative visions implied through successful resistant and compliant practices in HE contexts. Recommendations are made for further studies to consider unsuccessful mavericks’ impact on institutions through scrutinising behaviours in context. This thesis is an original contribution to knowledge addressing a deficit of literature exploring maverick identities and behaviours in arts/art and design HE, and it reflexively positions maverick identities from a maverick perspective, where they are important to the ongoing life and development of education in the sector.
Date of AwardFeb 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorGina Wisker (Supervisor), Carol Robinson (Supervisor) & Mark Erickson (Supervisor)


  • Higher education
  • Maverick identities
  • autoethnography
  • constructivism
  • power relations
  • compliance
  • narrative
  • thematic analysis

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