University of St.Gallen
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Careers in Transition - Resistance, Ambiguity and Contextual Resources in the Identity Constructions of Former Management Consultance

Kurzfassung While a wide range of organizational studies have investigated how control is exercised in the context of management consultancies through the regulation of identities, little attention has so far been given to the effects of identity control on individuals who exit consulting firms. Assuming that consultancies are rather successful in shaping and orchestrating the identities of their employees through the construction of a self-pleasing elite image, this project challenges the idea that consultants, upon resigning their job, can easily ‘walk out of’ their former professional context. Instead, the concept of 'post-exit identification' highlights that a strong identification with a firm may exist well beyond the boundaries of an employment relationship.
For investigating post-exit emancipatory moves, that means the ways in which ex-consultants are still able to leave behind discursively constructed elite identities and to create a new image of self that is not primarily grounded in their previous working context, 30 life story interviews have been conducted with ex-consultants who now work in one of the following organizational contexts: academia, financial services, industry, NGOs, inhouse-consulting and own business start-ups. Based on this data, three different analyses are being conducted to shed more light on the question of post-exit identification.
The first analysis documents what can be called a post-exit identity struggle between discourses that on the one hand express nostalgia and even regret towards the consulting past and discourses that on the other hand indicate positive re-orientations towards the new working context. The analysis indicates that the creative mixing of these discourses constitutes new professional identity constructions in the post-exit arena.
The second analysis focuses on the role that transition narratives play in the construction of alternative identities in the new working context. Assuming that different organizational settings provide different contextual resources for telling a more or less compelling transition narrative, the analysis indicates that the degree of experienced contrast or radical change between the previous and the new working context has an impact as well on ex-consultants' ability to construct an alternative image of self that is not primarily grounded in the past.
By zooming in on the post-exit identity struggle that some former consultants experience , the third analysis sets out to investigate the discursive strategies and acts of balancing through which coherence and ambiguity can simultaneously be maintained in self-narratives of professional transitions. By drawing upon psychodynamic theory, this analysis moreover examines 'why' it might be emotionally worthwhile in narrative identity constructions to consciously or unconsciously preserve both: coherence for a sense of authenticity and ambiguity for a sense of openness.
By having chosen this theoretical framing and overall methodological set up, the study sets out to make the following contributions. By drawing attention to ex-consultants, the study acknowledges a diaspora of professionals which so far has mostly been rendered ‘absent’, ‘invisible’ or ‘identity-less’ in organizational research. Furthermore, by elaborating upon the notion of post-exit identification the existing analysis of identity regulation can be expanded beyond the boundaries of the employment contract.
Moreover, in showing the variation of contextual resources available for the reconstruction of identity in the different new working contexts, greater insights may be provided to practitioners on the link between career shifts, contextual resources and identity change. And finally, by investigating the co-existence of coherence and ambiguity in the narrative constructions of identity from a psychoanalytic perspective, this co-existence can be better understood and explained.
Schlagwörter (Tags) Identity construction, career change, discourse, transition narratives, ambiguity
Typ Dissertationsprojekt
Status laufend
Projektstart 2009
Projektende 2013
Weitere Informationen
Themen Identity constructions of former management consultants, control and resistance in the post-exit arena, ambiguity and coherence in narrative identity constructions, contextual variation during career transitions
Methoden Discourse analysis, narrative analysis
Profilbereich SHSS - Kulturen, Institutionen, Märkte (KIM)
Kontakt Patrizia Hoyer