Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

The Discursive Construction of Older Worker Identity: A Reflection on Process and Methods

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

The Discursive Construction of Older Worker Identity: A Reflection on Process and Methods

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper presents a reflection on the process of doing critical discourse research using examples from a current project on the discursive construction of older worker identity. While the study targeted an under-researched topic in the discourse literature-age identity and its implications in employment-some additional contributions emerged from the research process. Firstly, applying multiple methods permitted a greater understanding of the complexity of processes of social construction of identity. Secondly, the sampling approach allowed exploration not only of the discursive processes of construction of social identity, but also of its suppression in discourse. By adopting a critical orientation, it was possible to show the implications of this suppression for different (gendered) groups in the labour market. Thirdly, the study illustrated the potential of discourse analysis to enhance understanding of the processes and implications of public policy development.

INTRODUCTION

This paper discusses the process and experience of doing critical discourse research, using examples from a current project, that explicitly focuses on the social construction of age identity and its political implications for different groups in the labour market. The social construction of age identity has received scant attention in the discourse literature, and yet it is an area of increasing social, economic, and political importance for developed countries. However, the adoption of discourse theory as a research framework presented various challenges, and the ways in which these were addressed in this current research are reviewed. Some brief background to the study is provided, followed by discussion of the justifications for using discourse theory as a research framework, the research design and site, the collection and management of data, and the application of a variety of discourse analytic methods in data analysis. In addition, it shows how a staged approach to analysis permitted initial findings to inform subsequent analysis. These findings were able to be further explored in the analysis and framed in the context of broader debates about age, gender, and unemployment. The paper concludes with a reflection on the contributions of this study to the current state of organizational discourse research, including the ways in which integrated use of discourse analytic methods can lead to more complex understandings of the processes of social construction and their implications.

BACKGROUND: THE "OLDER

WORKER" AS AN OBJECT OF STUDY

Over the last twenty years, research on aging has undergone a dramatic expansion (Andrews, 1999). Yet much of it presents aging as essentially problematic, focusing either on the social problems of older people (such as health) or older people as a social (and economic) burden (Arber & Ginn, 1991) on the rest of society. which Butler (1989) argues is evidence of a new and disturbing ageism towards the older population (Clark, 1993), Such concerns have also stimulated interest in research on older people and the labour market. Trends such as the early retirement and early exit of older men from the workforce (Laczko & Phillipson, 1991) have heightened concerns about whether societies can "afford their older populations" (Saunders, 1996). The older population is also recognized as increasingly heterogeneous, with substantial differences in socio-economic status, employment patterns, and stability, education, ethnicity, and gender (Bernard, Itzin, Phillipson, & Skucha, 1995; Elman & O'Rand, 1998; Ginn & Arber, 1995; Phillipson, 1998; Settersten & Lovegreen, 1998). More fundamentally, the definition of "who" is an older worker is ambiguous and contingent. While people may be living longer, they are being defined as older workers at increasingly younger ages, and this classification can vary with industry, occupation, and gender-for example, women report experiencing age discrimination or being considered "too old in employment" at earlier ages than men (Encel & Studencki, 1997; Ginn & Arber, 1995; Onyx 1998). …

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