Paradoxical Identity: The changing nature of architectural work and its relation to architects' identity

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Professions and Organization, 2017, 4 (1), pp. 2 - 19 (17)
Issue Date:
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In this article, we explore what happens in professional formation when the locus of its meaning, as it has been formed, is increasingly contradicted by professional practice. Specifically, we explore the problematic nature of architects’ professional identity that is constituted in terms of the primacy of design aesthetics, in contexts where practice denies this identification. We highlight the tensions between identity and practices and suggest that while architects’ traditional self-identification enables perpetuation of the profession’s identity, it challenges the profession’s standing in its relations with other professions and occupations. We refer to this as a paradox of identity. Although much has been written about the profound changes occurring in professional practices and professional jurisdictions, scant attention has been given to the ways in which professionals shape their identities in the context of changing practices. We conducted a year-long ethnography of contemporary architects engaged in large and complex projects in order to examine both the architects’ and the profession’s identity. Our contributions are threefold. First, we conceptualize misalignments between professional identity and professional practice as identity paradox that has consequences for identity work among professionals. Second, we highlight how professional identity construction is organized around competing and paradoxical identification. Third, the article contributes to sociological studies of architecture by generating insights about the identity work of architects engaged in large multi-organizational projects.
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