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Identity as a category of theory and practice

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Oliver Mallett



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Identity has emerged as a major theme in management and organisation studies. This is perhaps unsurprising since questions of who one is or who one might become are particularly important in organisational settings (Watson, 2008). An insightful and widely cited introduction to a special issue in the journal Organization by Alvesson, Ashcraft and Thomas note that ‘Identity has become a popular frame through which to investigate a wide array of phenomena […] linked to nearly everything: from mergers, motivation and meaning-making to ethnicity, entrepreneurship and emotions to politics, participation and project teams’ (2008: 5). They suggest that the concept’s adoption reflects an academic fashion but argue that its popularity is predominantly due to identity’s widespread application and its value for a range of different perspectives, including functionalist, interpetivist and critical approaches. Given its widespread and varied use in management and organisation studies, the concept of identity itself seems worthy of consideration and critical reflection.Generally, the adoption of identity to understand organisations and develop organisation theory has been taken up unproblematically. This is in contrast to other areas of study such as ethnicity where questioning identity has a longer and more powerful tradition (see, for example, Gleason, 1983; Brubaker and Cooper, 2000). Identity and Capitalism by Marie Moran represents a fascinating review of a range of these literatures, drawing out some of the often unquestioned or obscured limitations in identity scholarship that may also be of relevance and value to management and organisation studies. This review will follow Moran in outlining a contested history of the concept of identity before highlighting key debates and discussing what emerges from this critique which is, for Moran, the need to consider identity as a category of practice.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mallett O

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: ephemera

Year: 2016

Volume: 16

Issue: 3

Pages: 161-169

Print publication date: 01/08/2016

Online publication date: 23/01/2016

Acceptance date: 16/11/2015

ISSN (print): 2052-1499

ISSN (electronic): 1473-2866


Notes: Online ahead of print