Academic journal article Communication Studies

"Keeping It Real:" Identity Management Strategies Used by Teens in Conversation

Academic journal article Communication Studies

"Keeping It Real:" Identity Management Strategies Used by Teens in Conversation

Article excerpt

Identity management is a process through which individuals make choices to enact and negotiate different identities (Carbaugh, 1994; Czariawaska-Joreges, 1994; Harre, 1994; Thoger Christensen & Cheney, 1994; McKerrow & Bruner, 1997). Identity has been described and theorized as (a) one's individually located sense of self, developed over time (Erikson, 1968; Jacobson, 1963); (b) different social roles one enacts (Mead, 1934; Goffman, 1959; Hogg, Terry & White, 1995); (c) one's sense of group membership within, as well as in contrast to other groups (Hogg, Terry & White, 1995); and (d) the way that one represents oneself to others, and the impressions others form as a result (Redhill, 1999; Scott & Lane, 2000; Pfeffer, 1981). In contemporary work in organizational theory, the concept of identity may be applied to organizational, as well as individual, identity; organizations, like individuals, have multiple, often conflicting identities needing management (Pratt & Foreman, 2000; Cheney, 1991; Czarniawska-Joerges, 1994). Czarniawska-Joerges (1994), for example, argues that organizations have come to be thought of as individuals, in both legal rights and obligations.

Researchers in business management in particular (Albert & Whetten, 1985; Cheney 1983; Hogg & Terry, 2000; Scott & Lane, 2000) utilized the concept of identity management to discuss new organizational management strategies. For example, in a recent issue of Academy of Management Review (Jan. 2000) devoted to the topic of identity management, Michael Pratt and Peter Foreman develop four strategies that managers within business organizations can use to effectively regulate organizational identities: (a) compartmentalization, (b) integration, (c) deletion and (d) aggregation. Compartmentalization involves the physical, spatial or symbolic separation of identities in conflict. Integration is an attempt to fuse conflicting identities into a third, new identity. The strategy of deletion describes managers who make decisions to eliminate particular organizational identities. Finally, utilizing the strategy of aggregation, managers attempt to forge links between different identities often through the creation of identity hierarchies and/or new beliefs. These identity management strategies, as well as the assumptions which underlie them, are intriguing for what they suggests about the nature of both individual and organizational identity management.

This paper explores the alignment between individual and organizational identity management by examining how individuals manage identities within organizations. Rather than attempt to settle on one of the possible conceptions of identity, we assume that, at the very least, the meaning of identity is constructed through the process of communication (Philipsen, 1990/1991). As symbol-users, people create meaning with others through communication or what Burke terms "symbolic action" (Burke 1966, 1973, 1984). Symbols are prominent and recurring terms which, when grouped with like ways of speaking, form a discourse through which participants made sense of actions and use to enact a sense of identity (Carbaugh, 1996). Attending to the key symbols (Mead, 1934) people employ when they engage in everyday activities, should permit discovery of how identities are enacted as well as the strategies used to manage different identities within an organization.

Unlike most business management literature which applies identity management to the management of corporate business organizations, our analysis uses two videotaped episodes which feature adolescents attempting to negotiate a place within educational institutions in New York City. There exist significant differences between corporate business and educational organizations. Employees are voluntary members of business organizations while students' membership in primary and secondary educational organizations is compulsory, the result of state law and parent or guardians' decisions. …

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