Academic journal article Management Revue

"Who Are You?" - Constructing Managerial Identities in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Academic journal article Management Revue

"Who Are You?" - Constructing Managerial Identities in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

This study focuses on the construction of identity concepts and values, in the process of developing managerial identities within a selected publically owned utility in South Africa. The methodology used is a multi-method case study approach which is conducted in the phenomenological, qualitative research paradigm. The findings show that managers define themselves in terms of "intra-personal" and "social identities" which are based on strong individual and socio-cultural value foundations. Data highlight that managerial identities are connected to the organisational identity. Seventeen years after the end of apartheid, managerial identities are no longer reduced and limited to fixed racial, cultural or professional identities founded on historic perspectives, but are rather viewed as a dynamic cross-cultural construct of interpersonal interactions. This article provides the reader with new insights into managerial identity constructions in a multicultural public utility setting in post-apartheid South Africa.

Key words: identity, South Africa, management, ethnography, interviewer-interviewee interaction, values

(JEL: F54, J17, J71, O10, O55)


The question: "Who are you?" has gained particular interest in management sciences and organisational studies during the past years (Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2003). Thereby, identity concepts are often interlinked with managerial and organisational values which are usually associated with particular roles, managerial belonging, identification with the organisation and its history, the cultural context, imagination of the future and the organisational identity (Mayer, 2008a). However, narrating identity is a process of intra-psychological and socio-cultural reconstruction (Lindgren & Wâhlin, 2001).

The South African societal context of contemporary organisations and public utilities is highly complex and fragmented regarding global, national, local and individ- ual influences (Albert, Ashforth, & Dutton, 2000). They provide space for individual and managerial identity (re-)construction as a process of intra- and inter-psychological, as well as socio-cultural reconstruction. In the South African context, identity constructions still refer to apartheid categories, current politically correct values and attitudes towards diversity (Mayer, 2008). This specific context increases the importance of interrelated, flexible identity constructions. Managers need to make sense of the inherent complexity and ambiguities of their identities (Keupp 2004, 2004a) beyond race, in order to manage and conduct themselves appropriately.

Extensive research has been conducted on managerial identity constructions (such as Albert et al., 2000; Mayer, 2008). The importance of studying identity and values in South African management contexts is obvious: South African society has undergone tremendous change on societal, political, economic and individual levels since 1994 (Hart, 2002). The process of "double transition" (Webster & Adler, 1999), referring to the global impact of change on South African society as well as to intranational transformation, has affected identities, values and management in organisations and public utilities. New approaches, therefore, are required to understand the newly emerging identities and value concepts in South African organisations and public utilities to address and manage them adequately (Mayer & Louw, 2011). However, identity reconstructions have hardly been researched in the South African public utility context, which has undergone tremendous change in its organisational structure and in diversity during recent years.

The contribution of this paper is therefore to increase the understanding of identity and value constructions in managers in the specific work context of a South African post-apartheid public utility, and thereby add to theoretical knowledge. It explores how managers define themselves and express their identity through narrations by referring to individual and organisational values. …

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