Attila Bruni and Silvia Gherardi1
What makes us who we are within the particular historical gender arrangements and organizational culture dominating the community of practices to which we feel that we belong? How do we learn to embody and enact the gendered professional selves required by and considered appropriate to particular workplace situations?
Answering such apparently simple questions becomes more complex once we abandon essentializing modes of thought about gender and identity for a conception of them as cultural achievements located in material and semiotic practices. This shift entails the treatment of notions such as culture, organization, identity, gender and knowledge not as ‘substances’ but as ‘achievements’ performed in—and through—sociotechnical relations.
In fact, the notion of individual identity, with fixed and enduring properties, has been problematized as a modern institution (MacIntyre 1980), while the features of a post-modern concept of identity have been outlined as constituted theatrically through role-playing, image construction (Rorty 1989), and performativity (Butler 1990, 1999). The autonomous self of the romantic and modernist tradition, the centre of consciousness, the agent par excellence, has been relativized and dismissed as conviction, as a way of talking, as a product of conversation. The ongoing idea of a relational self situated in actual performances and discursive practices produces the notion of self-identity as a narrative (Giddens 1991), the self as story teller (Bruner 1990), identity as performance of autobiographical acts (Czarniaswka-Joerges 1995) and identity as a ‘cyborg’ (Haraway 1991), an unstable assembly of human and non-human elements. Identity can thus be analysed as the product, unstable and only partly under the individual’s control, of what Law calls a ‘heterogeneous engineering’ which arranges human and non-human elements into a stable artefact. Following John Law we can assume that:
Each one of us is an arrangement. That arrangement is more or less fragile. There are ordering processes which keep (or fail to keep) that arrangement