Looking glasses and social ghosts : the impact of imagining others on identity working processes
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In organisation studies there has been an increasing interest in ‘identity work’ – that is, the processes through which people’s identities become constructed. The role that others play, along with the self, in identity work has, with varying degrees of emphasis, been a recurrent theme both in the contemporary literature and in its classical antecedents. Extant research leaves scope for further investigation of how others are present within identity working processes and this thesis is primarily concerned with the elaboration and understanding of the centrality of others to the working of identities. An interest in this area stemmed from my professional occupation and its context in a performing arts organisation. My observation of the constructions of the identities of my colleagues and myself was forming prior to my engagement in a formal research role. I adopted an interpretivist perspective, an ethnographic and autoethnographic method and an abductive analytical approach. The data collection was achieved through: field note collection; autoethnographic reflection; semi structured and interactive interviewing; and a reflexive diary. The thesis seeks to augment the identity work literature by applying and elaborating previously under-used theories, in particular, reflexive imagination in Cooley’s ‘Looking Glass Self’ (1902/1983) and ‘social ghosts’ (Gergen, 2001). These ideas are synthesised to produce an understanding of the significance of others to identity working and the processes through which they impact on identity construction. A detailed explication of the qualities of social ghosts and the ways in which actors use them in interaction (identity work moves) leads to more profound understandings of how people work identities in relation to others. This reveals that identity emerges in an interactive process that is other-multiple, tentative and reactive, and which is underpinned by imagining the self in relation to others.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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