'Identity Work’ in the context of organisational change: a Gestalt perspective
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AbstractThe purpose of the thesis is to make a contribution to the development of an empirically informed theory of identity work in organisations on the basis of a gestalt paradigm. Since its emergence almost three quarters of a century ago, gestalt has been applied to therapy, personal development, leadership education and organisational consulting. Gestalt remains, however, fundamentally a paradigm, which preferentially projects onto and deals with complex and dynamic organisational phenomena at individual, dyadic or small group levels. It can be argued that, with its focus on phenomenology and awareness, the gestalt paradigm is predominantly methodological, with only ambiguous or weak links to explicitly articulated epistemology or ontology. A long-term professional, consulting relationship with a trade union branch enabled conducting action research in order to explore the constituents and dynamics of its organisational identity, prior to and following significant change. The subsequent dismantling and closure of the branch demanded an adjustment of research design. The new situation offered a unique opportunity to follow the existentially challenged organisation as its members reacted to and made sense of the closure. The research is contextualised in three analytical clusters: identity and identity work, gestalt paradigm, and trade unions as organisations, institutions and social movements. An ontology of the intersectional field is posited, and on this foundation, four statements, seen as fundamental conditions for identity work, are operationalised through six propositions explicating identity work in a gestalt paradigm perspective. Methodologically, the overall design is informed by a constructivist grounded theory approach, moving abductively - iteratively and even recursively - between inductive and deductive analysis and reflection. The empirical component of the thesis comprises participant observation, field notes, in-depth interviews during and subsequently two years after the closure, and memos. The data proved relevant and informative in terms of identity work in the organisation. The result of the research is a hypothesis about identity work in organisations, firmly anchored in and commensurate with a present-day revised gestalt paradigm, which contribute to a formal development of a gestalt organisational theory. The hypothesis states that: “Identity work in organisations is a dialectical positioning, both individual and collective, between the existential polar opposites of inclusion and exclusion. The processes through which identity work is enacted are cognitive, affective, and conative, instrumentally served by the contact boundary dynamics of egotisming, confluencing, projecting, retroflecting, introjecting, and deflecting. “ The empirical findings are considered robust, and the theory formulation meaningful. Acknowledging the specific circumstances of the study organisation and empirical design, however, a more general application of the hypothesis requires further research in diverse contexts for verification and possibly refinement of the gestalt theoretical concepts at the organisational level. The research results are of interest to gestalt practitioners who teach or work in or with organisations, and equally so for those interested in dynamic process perspectives in which attention shifts - whether at the level of the individual, group, or organisation - from static assessment of reified identity to real-time identity work; from structure to mutual interaction and influence, in order to balance the well-being of the human beings “in” and “profitability” of the organisation.
PublisherUniversity of Derby
TypeThesis or dissertation
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