Emotions and identity work: Emotions as discursive resources in the constitution of junior professionals’ identities

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Human Relations, 2019, 72 (5), pp. 988 - 1009
Issue Date:
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© The Author(s) 2018. For junior professionals, notions of professional identity established during their education are often called into question in the early stages of their professional careers. The workplace gives rise to identity challenges that manifest in significant emotional struggles. However, although extant literature highlights how emotions trigger and accompany identity work, the constitutive role of emotions in identity work is under-researched. In this article, we analyse how junior professionals mobilize emotions as discursive resources for identity work. Drawing on an empirical study of junior architects employed in professional service firms, we examine how professional identities, imbued with varying forms of discipline and agency, are discursively represented. The study makes two contributions to the literature on emotions and identity work. First, we identify three key identity work strategies (idealizing, reframing and distancing) that are bound up in junior architects’ emotion talk. We suggest that these strategies act simultaneously as a coping mechanism and as a disciplinary force in junior architects’ efforts to constitute themselves as professionals. Second, we argue that identity work may not always lead to the accomplishment of a positive sense of self but can express a sense of disillusionment that leads to the constitution of dejected professional identities.
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