In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Identity Work in Organizations

  • Introduction
  • Reviews of Identity Work
  • Construct Introduction, Clarifying, and Expanding
  • Taking into Consideration Identity Complexity

Management Identity Work in Organizations
Heather C. Vough, Brianna Barker Caza, Harshad Puranik
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0196


As research on identity has expanded exponentially, the research on identity work has followed suit. Scholars of identity work focus on the underlying dynamics of identity with the recognition that one’s sense of self at a given time and in a given context is the result of an effortful, though not necessarily conscious, identity construction process. As research on identity work has grown, scholars have identified a wide array of ways in which individuals develop, grow, change, and exit their various identities. Further, while presumably all identities may be worked upon, some specific identities—such as gender, entrepreneur, manager, or professional—have been emphasized in the existing organizational literature. In addition, while, up to this point, the emphasis in the identity work research has typically been identifying the nature of changes to the self, a growing body of literature points to the individual, relational, and organizational implications of identity work.

Reviews of Identity Work

Research on identity work is advancing quickly, after its beginning around two decades ago. Accordingly, several authors have taken upon the challenge of compiling and summarizing the extant literature on this topic. Some of these reviews are focused on the intersection of identity work and other specific topics. For example, Winkler 2018 focuses on the intersection of identity work and emotion. Lepisto, et al. 2015 explores identity work around professional identity in particular, and Brown 2017 reviews the research on identity work and organizational identification. Other reviews, such as Beech, et al. 2008 and Brown 2015, take on the identity work literature more broadly, working to bring new perspectives or organizing frameworks to this literature.

  • Beech, Nic, Robert MacIntosh, and Peter McInnes. “Identity Work: Processes and Dynamics of Identity Formations.” International Journal of Public Administration 31.9 (2008): 957–970.

    This article reviews prior research on the dynamic nature of identity, focusing specifically on unpacking the complex processes underlying identity work. In doing so, it advances a dynamic perspective of identity work and its implications for change management in the public sector.

  • Brown, Andrew D. “Identities and Identity Work in Organizations.” International Journal of Management Reviews 17.1 (2015): 20–40.

    This article reviews prior research on identity work and positions identity work as one type of metaphor useful in analyzing work identities. It further delineates five key debates in the current identity literature and outlines how identity work can be used to bridge levels of analysis and disciplinary boundaries. It provides a broad array of recommendations for identity-based future research opportunities.

  • Brown, Andrew D. “Identity Work and Organizational Identification.” International Journal of Management Reviews 19.3 (2017): 296–317.

    Based on a review of prior research, the author outlines five approaches to identity work—discursive, dramaturgical, symbolic, socio-cognitive, and psychodynamic—and explains their utility in understanding how people draw on their organizational identification in constructing their identities. In the process, the dynamic and complex nature of identity and identification is emphasized alongside issues of agency and process. Lastly, several issues and questions for future research are also proposed.

  • Lepisto, Douglas A., Eliana Crosina, and Michael G. Pratt. “Identity Work within and beyond the Professions: Toward a Theoretical Integration and Extension.” In International Handbook of Professional Identities. Edited by Ana Maria Costa e Silva and Miriam T. Aparicio, 11–37. Rosemead, CA: Scientific & Academic Publishing, 2015.

    This comprehensive book chapter first reviews prior definitions and research on identity work in terms of the triggers, motives, tactics, and outcomes of identity work. Then it goes on to discuss identity work in the context of professional identities and also elucidates how consideration of professions can enhance our understanding of identity work. Building on this discussion, the article then advances a revised model of identity work based on the claiming and granting perspective.

  • Winkler, Ingo. “Identity Work and Emotions: A Review.” International Journal of Management Reviews 20.1 (2018): 120–133.

    This article reviews the literature on identity work and emotions. It summarizes prior research that has mainly examined emotions in the context of triggers and outcomes of identity work, as well as positions identity work as an emotional process. The article also identifies an emerging stream of research that explores the mutual interplay between emotions and identity work by studying concepts such as emotional labor, affective social identification, emotional attachment, and humor in the context of identity work. The author also suggests several future research avenues.

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