'What do you Want from Me?' A Poststructuralist Feminist Reading of Middle Managers' Identities

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Journal Article
Culture and Organizations, 2002, 8 (1), pp. 1 - 21
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This paper explores the processes of identity construction of four male and female middle managers within one restructured organization, Larts, to illustrate how these individuals draw on different gendered discourses to construct and legitimize their generic roles and identities as middle managers. Drawing on earlier research (Thomas and Linstead, 2002) that argued for a socially constructed view of identity to explore middle managers' identity construction, this paper conducts a poststructuralist feminist reading to move beyond existing studies of managerial identities which regard those identities as changing but relatively stable, towards the recognition of identity construction as a form of first-order accounting (Garfinkel, 1967) which is characterized by paradox, fluidity, inconsistency and emergence. Identities are constructed in terms of the conjunction of reflecting on past and future experiences, as an explanation of previous events in a way that positions the constructor of the account advantageously for future episodes. The paper presents accounts of four middle managers, drawn from interview material, to illustrate and explore issues of identity construction in one organization. We offer here the conceptualization of identities as masks that are created as resources for participation in an ongoing masquerade. More specifically, the gender mask is analyzed to account for the ways in which middle managers restructure their sense of 'self ' by managing the tension between the often contradictory demands posed by unfolding answers to the continuously posed, yet often implicit, questions "What do you [the organization] want from me?" and "What do I want to be in the future?"
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