Academic journal article Adult Learning

Identity Development in Personal Branding Instruction: Social Narratives and Online Brand Management in a Global Economy

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Identity Development in Personal Branding Instruction: Social Narratives and Online Brand Management in a Global Economy

Article excerpt

Our lives, worldwide, are increasingly characterized by dislocation and uncertainty, challenging the traditional role of families, cultures, communities, and societies as holding environments (Winnicott, 1973) for the development of the ideal of a stable identity. In 1956, Erikson described identity in a less volatile era as "an individual's link with the unique values, fostered by a unique history, of his [sic] people" (p. 57). A personal identity was developed and supported in a social context of reciprocal human relationships of recognition and responsibility. The erosion of stable spaces, rooted in history and a community of people, has come to characterize our global movements of people, media, technology, ideas, and money in a time of "disorganized capitalism" (Appadurai, 1990, p. 296). More and more of the world's people strive to construct lives and identities in decontextualized environments of labor and technology (Appadurai, 1996, 2013).

A pervasive anxiety about finding and staying employed has accompanied these changes (Fullerton & Wallace, 2007; Van Horn, 2013), as organizations have turned from investing in long-term employees to hiring temporary and contract workers. This trend has spawned a small industry of career and marketing professionals who have found a career niche in helping job seekers create personal brands and market their personal narrative identities using tactics originally developed to sell products and services (Williams, 2014).

In this article, we look at personal branding and related career development practices through the lens of personal narrative identity development. Drawing on Erikson's (1956) thought on psychosocial identity development and McAdams's (2008) work on narrative identity, we ask the following: What identity narratives do typical personal branding instructional materials foster? How do the learning activities foster the development of particular identity narratives? Then using Belk's (1988) notion of the extended self, we look at the challenges personal branders face when extending their narrative identities into the virtual space of the Internet.

Identity Development and Personal Branding

In his 1957 article, "The Problem of Ego Identity," Erikson linked individual identity development with group identity, writing that identity is "something in the individual's core with an essential aspect of a group's inner coherence" (p. 57). He went on to write that to develop an identity, "the young individual must learn to be most himself where he means most to others--those others, to be sure, who have come to mean most to him," specifying the culmination of a young person's identity development is a "conception of himself [sic] and his community's recognition of him" (p. 57).

Drawing on Erikson, McAdams (2008) conceptualized identity development as "an individual's internalized, evolving, and integrative story of the self" (p. 242). He described narrative identity development as both autobiographical and a situated performance. People's stories are selective and strategic: They construct and perform them for specific audiences for particular purposes. Stories endow lives with some unity and purpose, while also reflecting societal expectations and norms. Stories seek recognition from a society and subgroups their creators deem important. Recent research on identity as a narrative creation supported Erikson's view that such social recognition is particularly important for the identity development of emerging adults (McAdams, 2008).

Personal branding is the deployment of individuals' identity narratives for career and employment purposes. Trainers, career and vocational development consultants, and personal branding enthusiasts publish books and articles and conduct workshops to teach individuals to build their personal brands to become more employable and successful. Instruction and advice are also freely available via websites, pamphlets, social media, libraries, and the popular press, contributing to a vibrant public pedagogy for adults (Sandlin, Wright, & Clark, 2013). …

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