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Relationship Between Work and Identity

By mushroom969 Mar 20, 2011 1338 Words
The aim of this review is to focus on the relationship between paid / unpaid work and the formation of an individual’s personal identity and their general sense of self. The key sociological question I intend to address is ‘How does work shape personal identity?’ However, throughout the course of my research for this literature review two other questions relating to work and identity have arisen; ‘How does occupation/ job status affect self-worth and an individual’s level of self esteem’ and ‘Do individuals develop a separate work personality?’ I believe that these additional questions along with my core research question provide a good basis for further research into this topic area. Thus, I will attempt to also address the new questions to further assist the development of my forthcoming research proposal.

The first of the articles that I found particularly interesting and the most useful of all the literature on the general topic of work and identity was written by Billett’s (2007) “Exercising self through working life: Learning, work and identity”. This article explores the motivation of an individual to learn through engaging in work and how this in turn can result in development of self and identity. The study suggests that there is a two-way causal relationship between participating in work and formation of personal identity, wherein work can influence sense of self and one’s self can affect how they engage in learning and working. The author also stipulates that it is important to understand how individuals gain attributes throughout their life as a worker, how they apply their identity in participating in work, and how this is associated with their personal values and beliefs. The bulk of research reported in this study is based on an interview methodology. A sample of five individuals who were active participants in the paid workforce was interviewed. The data collection consisted of a series of semi formal interviews / conversations that were tape recorded. The first round of interviews was used to determine the type of work the five individuals engaged in, a breakdown of the work activities they had to undertake and their interactions within the workplace, as well as their personal working histories. The initial interviews were followed by conversations occurring every two months over the next twelve months. According to the author, Billett, the later consultations were utilised in an effort to obtain data about “work, working life, life outside work and transitions in working life.” (Billett 2007: 194). I believe this was an effective methodology to use in an attempt to monitor changes in working life and thus changes in the sense of self over the study period. The researcher also used specific questions and hypothetical scenarios to extract information and extend the initial analysis. Billett makes a point to highlight that it was a key concern of the investigation “to continue the conversations through a process of refinement and extension of data over a yearlong period.”(2007: 194) I found this strengthens the study and supports the argument that learning through work is directly related to an individual’s overall evolving personality and identity.In terms of providing an overall critique of Billett’s study; I believe his article to be sociologically relevant to the area of work and identity and although it does not provide specific explanations of how work shapes personal identity his research does support the notion that work and working life has an influential standing in the formation of our identity and self as a whole.

In contrast to Billett, Walsh and Gordon (2008) address the issue of individuals developing separate ‘work identities’ or ‘personalities’ as a component of their larger overall personal identity. Their article uses previous research on social and work identity to “theoretically examine ways individuals create their own personal work identities” (Walsh & Gordon 2008: 46). They define ‘work identity’ as “a work-based self-concept, comprised of a combination of organisational, occupational, and other identities, that affects the roles people adopt and the corresponding ways they behave when performing their work.” (Walsh & Gordon 2008: 46). Their study demonstrates how an individuals' identification with their paid or unpaid occupation will form their specific ‘work identity’.The method used by the authors in this study was primarily secondary analysis, they consolidated and further extended our understanding of previous research done on work identities. I believe this was an advantageous method to use particularly because their research is mostly qualitative in nature. They would have also gained cost and timing advantages and by conducting their research in this manner they were able to provide us with a greater assurance of quality as the existing data bank would be more likely to have higher-quality data than the lone study could have hoped to obtain. Also to their merit, in an attempt to strengthen their own argument Walsh and Gordon do make a point to highlight and outline the limitations of ‘work identity’ research within their article. Thus, as a result of this article I found that “Work identity is a major part of the overall identity of many adults. Yet little research has examined the concept of individual work identity, which impacts the way people think and act in the context of their work.”(Walsh & Gordon 2008: 58)

Although the two discussed articles provide valuable insight on the relationship between work and identity, previous studies conducted in the general research area of this topic are quite broad and the availability of recent literature on my specific research question is scarce. This suggests room for further research on the effects of work on personal identity formation or perhaps it could mean a shift in focus to a slightly different area of inquiry will be necessary for my own larger research proposal – throughout the search for readings for this literature review it became apparent to me that there has been more research completed on the development of a separate work personality rather than on my chosen topic of the influence work has on individual’s personal identity and overall sense of self. Also, through studying the other readings listed in the bibliography I have discovered that class and status are defining features of personal identity on the basis of work and that to be recognised as a useful member of society is a crucial aspect of identity formation. Thus, this literature review has revealed that it will be necessary for me to develop a methodology that will encompass all these newly arisen issues (at least briefly) in my final research proposal. Word Count excluding Bibliography: 1082

Billett, S. (2007), "Exercising self through working life: Learning, work and identity." Identities at work:183-210.

Walsh, K., and J. R. Gordon. (2008), "Creating an individual work identity." Human Resource Management Review 18:46-61.

Baruch, Y., and A. Cohen. (2007), "The dynamics between organisational commitment and professional identity formation at work." Identities at work:241-260.

Berger, I. E., P. H. Cunningham, and M. E. Drumwright. (2006), "Identity, identification, and relationship through social alliances." Journal of the academy of marketing science 34:128.

Collin, K. (2009.), "Work-related identity in individual and social learning at work." Journal of Workplace Learning 21:23-35.

Collins, M. (2008), "Transpersonal identity and human occupation." The British Journal of Occupational Therapy 71:549-552.

Feather, N. T., and K. A. Rauter. (2008), "Organizational citizenship behaviours in relation to job status, job insecurity, organizational commitment and identification, job satisfaction and work values." Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 77:81-94.

Holmes, J., and N. Riddiford. (2005),"Professional and personal identity at work: achieving a synthesis through intercultural workplace talk." Journal of Intercultural Communication.

Jaussi, K. S., A. E. Randel, and S. D. Dionne. (2007), "I am, I think I can, and I do: The role of personal identity, self-efficacy, and cross-application of experiences in creativity at work." Creativity Research Journal 19:247-258.

Watson, T. J. (2008), "Managing identity: Identity work, personal predicaments and structural circumstances." Organization 15:121.

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