Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Embodied Identities: Toward an Organizational Research Agenda in a Material World

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Embodied Identities: Toward an Organizational Research Agenda in a Material World

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Recently scholars have begun to explore the influence of materiality on organizations. For example, Gagliardi (1996) notes that the physical setting cultivates human senses and Gieryn (2002) asserts that buildings are a stabilizing influence in social life and are objects of (re)interpretation, with meanings or stories flexibly interpreting the walls and floors they describe. As a counterpoint to the materiality of organizations represented by places and spaces, the materiality of worker identity is noted in embodiment. While organizational studies address a plethora of individual constructs (e.g., motivation, self-efficacy, personality) the embodied identity of workers is a topic largely absent from the field. As individuals manufacture identities in organizational life, what role does the materiality of the body play? The embodied-self influences cognition and emotion (Varella, Thompson, and Rosch, 1991). This paper explores the influence of embodiment on individual identities, actions, decisions and experiences. Examples from a case study highlight issues of embodied selves at work, illuminating the significance of embodiment in workers' processes of manufacturing identities.

Introduction

Recently, scholars have begun to explore the influence of materiality on organizations. For example, Gagliardi (1996) notes that the physical setting cultivates human senses and Gieryn (2002) asserts that buildings are a stabilizing influence in social life as meanings and stories flexibly interpret objects (e.g., the walls, desks, and floors that stories describe). As a counterpoint to the materiality of organizations represented by places and spaces, the materiality of worker identity is noted in embodiment. We argue the embodiment of the self is central to the aforementioned cultivation of human senses as the embodied self interacts with the material settings of work.

While organizational studies address a plethora of individual constructs (e.g., motivation, self-efficacy, personality) the embodied identity of workers is a topic largely absent from the field. When organizational scholars do mention the body, it is the symbolic rather than material nature of the body that focuses organizational theorists' efforts. When the material body is considered, the interaction between a body as and entity and a physical work setting is often the focus, as in ergonomics. Current trends toward understanding the Virtual' nature of the 'brave new workplace", such as virtual work teams, offer an opportunity to focus on the embodiment of work experiences as the change from conventional working conditions highlights the body as absent from the traditional material work environment. However, organizational studies scholars have aligned efforts to examine the individual in virtual work settings with a traditional organizational studies gestalt, often foregrounding cognition and largely ignoring the embodied nature of the worker. Yet, as organizational members are increasingly mobile and nomadic, and organization spaces are increasingly loosely defined (favouring open-landscapes and eschewing closed-cell offices) the material nature or organizations, and corresponding material embodied identity of individuals in organizations, cannot be ignored.

Workers exist in a material (corporal) way that has been largely ignored by organizational scholars. As individuals manufacture identities in organizational life, what role does the materiality of the body play? The embodied-self influences cognition and emotion (Varella, Thompson, and Rosch, 1991). How can organizational scholars include the influence of embodiment on individual identities, actions, decisions and experiences?

This article unfolds in three parts. First, the social construction of the self is explored and the nature of embodied identity is outlined. Second, examples from a case study highlight issues of embodied selves at work, illuminating the significance of embodiment in workers' processes of manufacturing identities. …

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