Managing Professional Identities: Knowledge, Performativity and the "New" Professional

By Mike Dent; Stephen Whitehead | Go to book overview

6

Speaking professionally

Occupational anxiety and discursive ingenuity among human resourcing specialists

Tony Watson

Words in action: discourse and discursive resources

The focus of this chapter is on one particular occupational activity, that of personnel or human resource management, and to compare the utilization of notions of professionalism as discursive resources by an occupational spokesperson, on the one hand, and by an occupational member on the other hand. We will see the former individual expressing one version of a professional identity for the occupation he ‘leads’ and we will see the latter talking in terms of a rather different, and much more equivocal, professional identity for human resource managers.

The approach to be taken is a sociological one, with elements of social psychology included. In spite of attention to language, the concern is not with language or linguistics as such. To treat certain linguistic utterances like ‘profession’ or ‘personnel’ as discursive resources is to recognize two things. First, these utterances are resources that are utilized by human actors to further particular projects and manage their identities. And, second, they are drawn from certain ‘resource banks’ or ‘linguistic repertoires’ (Potter and Wetherell 1987) made socially available to any particular social actor. A particular position in the sociology of knowledge is thus being adopted here. It is one that sees a vast range of discourses emerging within human cultures as part of the process of the social construction of reality and the ways in which people construct their identities (Berger and Luckmann 1971).

The concept of discourse being used here has it as a connected set of concepts, expressions and statements which constitutes a way of talking or writing about an aspect of the world, thus framing and influencing the way people understand and act with regard to that aspect of the world. There are clear similarities in this concept of discourse and that used by Foucault (1980). But the notion is being used here as part of a social constructionist sociology and a discursive psychology, these being conceived in a way that does not entail a commitment to Foucauldian poststructuralism. Discourses, as they are defined here, are both drawn upon by human actors in the fulfilment of their projects and reshaped and developed by the way they use them—playing a part, that is, in the active reality-constructing dimension of human project fulfilment (Schutz

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