This article deals with flow phenomena in liquid crystal materials. The model that I analyse is that due to Ericksen for liquid crystals with variable degree of orientation. One of the goals is understanding the role of the order parameter in the model. I examine the multiplicity of solutions, phases, that occur in shear flow regimes and analyse their stability under physically realistic conditions. In particular, I show that ellipticity of the linearized system of governing equations is a consequence of the Clausius–Duhem inequality.