Understanding Identity & Organizations


Kate Kenny, Andrea Whittle & Hugh Willmott

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  • Back Matter
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    About the Authors

    Kate Kenny is a Lecturer in Political Science and Sociology at NUI Galway. She is a Fellow at Cambridge University's Judge Business School in Cambridge. Her research interests centre on issues of subjectivity and identity in relation to work organizations. Projects include a year-long ethnographic study at a non-profit aid organization (funded by ESRC among others), and upcoming research into the concept of identity among organizational whistleblowers. Her work has been published in Human Relations, Health and Place and Gender Work and Organization. She is an editorial board member of the Journal of Organizational Ethnography and Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organizations.

    Andrea Whittle is a Professor of Organization Studies at Cardiff Business School. She joined Cardiff from the Saïd Business School, Oxford University, where she worked as an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Post-Doctoral Fellow. She studied identity among management consultants for her PhD. More recently, Dr Whittle has conducted research on technological change in organizations, the branding of higher education and public testimonies in the banking and accountancy professions. Her recent research has been inspired by the fields of discursive psychology, discourse analysis and narrative and has been published in a range of journals, including Organization Studies, Human Relations, Journal of Applied Behavioural Science and Organization.

    Hugh Willmott is Research Professor in Organization Studies, Cardiff Business School, having previously held professorial positions at the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester. He has a strong interest in the application of social theory, especially poststructuralist thinking, to the field of management and business. His other books include Making Sense of Management (with Mats Alvesson, Sage), The Body and Organization (with John Hassard and Ruth Holliday, Sage), Management Lives: Power and Identity in Contemporary Organizations (with David Knights, Sage) and Organization Theory and Design (with Richard Daft and Jonathan Murphy, Cengage Learning).

    This publication was granted-aided by the Publications Fund of National University of Ireland, Galway.

  • Glossary of Terms

    • Discourse This term means different things in different research perspectives and traditions. For some, discourse refers to actual practices of language use – talk and text (things that are said or written). For others, particularly those inspired by poststructuralist thought (see below), the term discourse refers to a set of ideas that are dominant in a particular period of time that shapes how we see ourselves and the world around us. In this book, we (mainly) refer to this latter conception (ethnomethodology and conversational analysis is one exception, which focuses more on former conception: the actual practices of talk-in-interaction). A good overview of the different meanings of ‘discourse’ is provided by Alvesson and Karreman (2000).
    • Dis-identification The process through which a person detaches their sense of self from an organization, for example through distancing, cynicism, humour or resistance.
    • Foucauldian The body of work which has taken inspiration from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault. We explain the Foucauldian perspective on identity in Chapter 2, Section 2.4.
    • Ideology A set of ideas that serves to maintain or further the power of one particular group.
    • Identification The process through which a person attaches themselves to an organization, feels a sense of belonging with the organization and defines themselves according to the ideas, beliefs and values of the organization (e.g. ‘I love being an Apple employee’).
    • Identity The answer to the question ‘who am I’? Can refer to an individual's self-identity (‘who I am’) or a collective identity (‘who we are’).
    • Identity work The more or less conscious effort and activities that are undertaken to build, maintain, protect or defend our sense of ‘who I am’.
    • Personality The idea deriving from the field of psychology that we have relatively stable and distinct attitudes, orientations, values and behavioural patterns that make us different from one another.
    • Poststructuralism A body of work that rejected the claims of ‘structuralism’ to objectivity and instead emphasizes the power involved in the search for ‘truth’. Associated primarily with certain continental European philosophers and theorists such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze. Often associated with the idea of ‘deconstructing’ established truths and expert knowledge and binary oppositions (e.g. male and female, subjectivity and objectivity, agency and structure). For identity in particular, poststructural thought holds that the ‘self’ is not a bounded, discrete and autonomous entity, but instead is ‘de-centred’: positioned in and through discourse (see definition above) and is itself a medium and outcome of power relations.
    • Psyche The notion that there is an organ or function that directs, whether consciously or unconsciously, thought and emotion by governing behaviour – for example, by adjusting responses to the social and physical environment.
    • Stereotype An oversimplified and biased opinion or image that we hold about all members of another social group.
    • Subjectivity An open capacity to develop a state of awareness and self-understanding that is not reducible to biology or the effects of social conditioning.
    • Subject position The ‘location’ people are invited (‘hailed’ to or ‘called upon’) to inhabit in a particular discourse (see definition above). Compare, for example, the predominantly Western notion of ‘individual human rights’ with the predominantly non-Western notion of ‘duty’ and ‘honour’ to society and family. The idea is that, when a person takes up a particular subject position, they see themselves and the world around them from the vantage point of that position – for instance, as having ‘rights’ or ‘duties’. In some cases, different discourses can open up alternative, and perhaps even contrasting, subject positions that people can occupy.
    Notes on Citation Terminology
    • Ibid. An abbreviation of the Latin phrase ibidem – ‘the same place’, meaning the source is from the previous citation.
    • Et al. An abbreviation of the Latin phrase et alia, which means ‘and others’, used for referencing work that has three or more authors.


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