Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

Remembering Who WE Are: Memories of Identity through Storytelling

Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

Remembering Who WE Are: Memories of Identity through Storytelling

Article excerpt


The study presented in this article focuses on matters of organizational identity and the interplay between organizational and individual identity construction processes by connecting these to the everyday storytelling practices of organizational members of an HR Consultancy. Primarily inspired by the work of Boje (1991; 1995; 2001; 2006; 2008; 2011) and Linde (2001, 2009), the organizational identity construction processes are conceptualized as a web of stories performed by all members of the organization in the storytelling work that goes into maintaining a sense of community and coherence across time and space, i.e. "(...) the work that keeps us US, whoever WE may be" (Linde, 2009: 224). In this way, the focus is not only on the polyphonic and fragmented nature of identity but also on the discussion of continuity vs. discontinuity (Chreim, 2005), which considers 'continuity and change not as contradictory elements, but complementary and interwoven' (Chreim, 2005, p. 587). This paper adds to the literature by combining the study of narrative identity with the study of narrative memory and nostalgia, hereby contributing to the understanding of how identity is constructed and reconstructed across time and space. Hence, this article works to capture not only the multivoiced, changeable nature of organizational identity, but also the work that goes into establishing a sense of community and coherence by organizational members. The article also contributes by adding the concept of personal polyphony (Belova, 2010; Pedersen & Johansen, 2012) to conceptualize how organizational members simultaneously perform official, positive stories and more critical counterstories. The present study shows how both types of stories have stabilizing effects in the sense that they create on-going memory systems of organizational identity. This is not in the shape of a core identity or stable corporate persona but as shared frames of reference connecting geographically separated employees in a constantly changing organizational environment.

Literature review

Identity and everyday storytelling practices

In recent years, there has been a growing interest among scholars of organizational identity in open-ended and polyphonic identity formation processes (Alvesson & Empson, 2008; Brown, 2006; Coupland & Brown, 2004; Humphreys & Brown, 2002; Komberger & Brown, 2007). This development reflects an increased focus on the dynamic, intertwined nature of the relationship between individual, collective and organizational identity constmction processes (Humphreys & Brown, 2002; Komberger & Brown, 2007; Sveningsson and Alvesson 2003; Thomas & Linstead, 2002). The complex understanding of identity within organization studies is by now well established (Chreim, 2005; Belova et al., 2008; Belova, 2010). Many scholars no longer view organizations as homogeneous, monolithic or closed units with firm, identifiable organizational identities. Rather, the individual, collective and organizational self-understandings are viewed as constantly being (re)constructed and enacted in daily dialog and practices in and around organizations, thus making them pluralistic and polyphonic (Hazen, 1993; Humphreys & Brown, 2002).

Similar to various other scholars, this study accentuates the narrative aspects of both individual and organizational identity (Brown, 2006; Brown & Humphreys, 2002; Chreim, 2005; 2007; Coupland & Brown, 2004; Cunliffe et. al. 2004; Cunliffe & Coupland, 2012; Driver, 2009; Humphreys & Brown, 2002; Komberger & Brown, 2007; Linde, 2001; 2009; Mishler, 1999; 2009; Pedersen, 2009; Soderberg, 2009). In particular, it builds on a body of literature focusing on the everyday storytelling practices in and around organizations as important in the understanding of organizational identity formation process, e.g. during periods of organizational change or uncertainties (Brown & Humphreys, 2002; Chreim, 2007; Humphreys & Brown, 2002; Pedersen & Johansen, 2012; Soderberg, 2009). …

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