To explore identity work as a salient and contemporary tool for understanding organisation (verb) and organisations (noun), the concept of identity also warrants discussion. Firstly, as “identity” is highly debated and uniquely defined across multiple disciplines, from sciences to humanities, this paper examines it from a largely organisation and management perspective. Within this context, identity remains contentious. Many authors consider it “dynamic” and “fragmented,” connoting positive and negative associations (Nic Beech, Robert MacIntosh, and Peter McInnes, 2008: 957; Matts Alvesson and Dan Karreman, 2001: 64 and 63; Andrew D. Brown, 2015: 24; Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, 2008: 114). Secondly, as a result, identity work is also disputed, with Brown (2015) identifying three notable iterations of identity work by Snow and Anderson (1987), Sveningsson and Alvesson (2003), and Watson (2008). These definitions cover the range of divergent identity work conceptions. Moreover, Brown (2015: 20) pinpoints five key themes of identity work that appear throughout the literature: choice, stability, coherence, positivity and authenticity. While recognizing the inherent limitations in selecting single definitions, this paper includes the following definitions as points of reference. For identity, Cerulo (1997) and Gergen and Gergen’s (1988) definition suffices, as cited by Brown (2015: 23):
[I]dentity refers to the meanings that individuals attach reflexively to themselves, and developed and sustained through processes of social interaction as they seek to address the question ‘who am I?’
Additionally, Tony J. Watson’s (2008: 129) definition of identity work i...
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...the “same” and women as “different” in examples, even if gender is not the focus of the article (Alvesson and Karreman 2001, 63). Identity work invokes this gendered sameness-difference dialectic in many organising processes. For instance, in Watson’s (2008: 138) study, a female personnel manager Kay smokes and swears frequently, described by a male co-worker, Leonard Hilton, as “want[ing] to be a man.” Here, Kay engages in discursive interaction identity work, adopting the stereotypically masculine quality of swearing. This occurs in response to Leonard and others attempting to impose a gendered social identity on her. Watson (2008: 139) describes her circumstance and resulting identity work as “clearly related to broader structural and discursive circumstances of gender inequality.” In this way, the dominant discourses and structures create gendered organisations.
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