(De)stabilizing Self-Identities in Professional Work
AbstractIt is characteristic of much professional work that it is performed in ambiguous contexts. Thus, uncertainty, unpredictability, indeterminacy, and recurrent organizational transformations are an integral part of modern work for, e.g., engineers, lawyers, business consultants, and other professionals. Although key performance indicators and other knowledge management systems are used to set standards of excellence for professionals, the character of professional work is still flexible, open to interpretation and heterarchical. The very successfulness (or unsuccessfulness) of the work is established in a complex work context where various goals, interests, and perspectives are mediated, altered, contested, mangled, and negotiated in a process of sense-making. The work context is heterogeneously populated by various actors (e.g., the customer, the manager, the colleagues) and actants (e.g., quality systems and technical equipment) that give “voice” to (conflicting) interpretations of what constitutes successful work. Thus, the professionals must navigate in a very complex environment where the locus of governance is far from stable. These characteristics of professional work seem to have implications for the way professionals make sense of their work and their own identities. The identity work of professionals is interwoven with their professional training and career background. With an academic training and a professional career, the individual typically identifies with the profession’s values and adopts a certain way of seeing and approaching the world. This professional outlook typically will constitute the basis of the individual’s appraisal of the work and lay out a horizon of expectations in relation to fulfillment, self-realization, and job satisfaction. In this way, the construction of self-identity becomes the yardstick for the individual’s sense-making and, a fortiori, for the individual’s sense of meaningful work. In this paper, we will claim that the ambiguity involved in professional work becomes a potential strain on the identity construction of the employees engaged in professional work and a potential source of enthusiasm and self-fulfillment. On a conceptual basis, the paper develops three interpretative frameworks that are useful in understanding how professionals deal with ambiguity in professional work. To illustrate this point, the paper refers to qualitative material from a research project conducted in six Danish knowledge-intensive firms. Referring to this empirical material, we discuss how professionals perceive and relate to their work and the role played by professionalism in this relation. Drawing on neo-institutional theory our paper discusses how professionals draw on different frameworks of meaning in order to stabilize their identities.
Copyright (c) 2013 Author and Journal
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
The Copyright Holder of this Journal is the authors and the Journal. This Journal gives Open Access with CreativeCommons license CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0.
You can download all the content of the Journal and share it with others as long as you credit the authors and the journal, but you can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.
More specifically this license means that you – authors and users – may:
Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form as long as you follow the license terms. The freedom to share includes parallel publishing on authors’ own website and in institutional repositories or in ResearchGate after publication in NJWLS, or if you want to reprint your article as part of publication of a PhD-thesis or a dissertation
You may share under these terms:
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit and provide a link to the license. Appropriate credit implies that you provide the name of the creator and attribution parties, a copyright notice, a license notice, a disclaimer notice, and a link to the material. The link used should be its DOI.
NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes. A commercial use is one primarily intended for commercial advantage or monetary compensation.
NoDerivatives — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material. Merely changing the format never creates a derivative.
Exceptions to the license terms may be granted
If you want to use content in the Journal in another way then described by this license, you must contact the licensor and ask for permission. Contact Bo Carstens at firstname.lastname@example.org. Exceptions are always given for specific purposes and specific content only.
The Journal is listed as a blue journal in Sherpa/Romeo, meaning that the author can archive post-print ((ie final draft post-refereeing) and author can archive publisher's version/PDF.
Copyright of others
Authors are responsible for obtaining permission from copyright holders for reproducing any illustrations, tables, figures or lengthy quotations previously published elsewhere.
All published material is archived at Roskilde University Library, Denmark, and transmitted to the Danish Royal Library in conformity with the Danish rules of legal deposit.
We do not screen articles for plagiarism. It is the responsibility of the authors to make sure they do not plagiate.