978-1319052348 Chapter 7

Document Type
Homework Help
Book Title
Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint 8th Edition
Angela Trethewey, Eric M. Eisenberg, Marianne LeGreco
Identity and Difference in Organizational Life
Chapter 7 begins by framing the relationship between identity and difference. The chapter explores early theo-
ries that considered identity a fixed and essential entity as well as more contemporary views of identity as a dy-
namic product of communication processes. Implicit within this chapter is an emphasis on how gender, race,
class, age, ability, sexuality, and other identity markers interact to construct a sense of self. Moreover, the au-
thors make reference to the concept of consumption as individuals construct their identities through the pur-
chase and use of products. The primary purpose of this chapter is to gain a better understanding of how
differences make a difference in organized contexts.
Discuss the argument that “differences make a difference” in organizations.
Relate the concept of difference to the social construction of identity.
Describe how identity and difference is constructed in terms of organizational practices and perfor-
mances, fixed aspects of ourselves, features of the organization that influence members, and popular
culture narratives.
Discuss how organizations attempt to control the identities of their members. Be sure to consider both
the benefits and drawbacks of this type of control.
Outline different images of identity (such as struggler, strategist, stencil, or soldier) that are constructed
in organizations.
Explain the concept of consumption and its importance to research in organizational communication.
Discussions about identity can be both a blessing and a curse for instructors. On the one hand, many students
enjoy taking a look at their own lives to examine the influences on their identities. On the other hand, some stu-
dents may resist engaging in the self-reflexive work required to have a good discussion about identity. You
should be prepared to have both kinds of students in your class. The most significant challenge of this chapter is
keeping a balanced discussion that relates to the chapter. The chapter admittedly focuses on gender, but it also
addresses other identity markers such as race, class, sexuality, ability, and age. Your students might be tempted
to focus their discussion exclusively on gender; therefore, you must ensure that students grasp the concept that
identities are constructed of many pieces. Finally, the students who enjoy talking about identity-related issues
might take the discussion in directions beyond the scope of the chapter. The key is to link these issues to organ-
ization, work, and life. Using the four approaches to constructing identity and difference should help anchor
your discussion in organizational communication.
Exercise 1
This exercise is a great way for students to make connections between the concepts of identity and consump-
tion. The purpose of the exercise is to allow students to construct their consumer identity. As individuals, ask
students to generate a list of all of the products or services that they use on a regular basis. These products and
services could include:
The type of car they drive.
The music they listen to.
The brands of food they eat.
The places where they socialize.
How they decorate their living spaces.
Where they buy their clothes.
What they do on summer vacations and spring breaks.
What activities they participate in to enhance their job prospects.
You can ask students to generate this list in one of two ways: They can either create the list in class, or you can
turn this exercise into an extended assignment and ask students to create this list over time. Once the list has
been generated, ask the students to articulate what their patterns of consumption say about their identity. In oth-
er words, what is the personal brand that they have created for themselves, and how is that personal brand
communicated to others? After the individual tasks are completed, ask students to reflect on their conclusions in
Exercise 2
As a journal assignment, have students write down their typical response to the request “Tell me a little bit
about yourself.” Many of them may have heard this in a social situation or a job interview. Most of us tend to
provide a similar answer each time that includes information regarding the same parts of our lives. After the
students write their responses, ask them to analyze their responses from the perspective of an outsider. What
does the narrative say about this character? What kinds of resources were used in constructing this narrative?
What processes of sense making are seen within this narrative?
Exercise 3
This exercise focuses on the dark side of building a personal brand. In other words, what happens when key
organizational figures have an identity meltdown? You might draw from historical examples such as when:
Steve Jobs famously left Apple in 1985.
Fraud and sex scandals brought down Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in 1987.
President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during his Tour de France in 2004.
Sex scandals derailed Tiger Woods’s career in 2009.
Paula Deen was the target of a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in 2013.
Students can research more current events and add to this list. Rather than thinking about these meltdowns from
a public relations perspective, think about them from an organizational identity perspective. You can begin by
dividing students into small groups and assigning them a brand meltdown to study. Ask them to think about
how this person used different elements of identity to construct a personal brand and how his or her meltdown
undermined that brand. Also, ask students to discuss the repercussions that this meltdown had on an organiza-
tional level. For example, when Paula Deen faced allegations of racism, she lost her Food Network show, sev-
eral corporate sponsorships, and her agent. Not only did this affect Deen but also the several hundred people
whose jobs were tied to her personal brand. Ask students to update Deen’s story by asking, “Where is she
Exercise 4
Have students read the What Would You Do? box titled “The Secret Identity of an English Professor.” This ex-
ercise addresses how individuals manage multiple aspects of identity by focusing on health and ability. In small
groups, ask students to consider both the benefits and drawbacks that Michael faces in disclosing his disease.
What supports will he enjoy because of his education, occupation, and social position that other individuals
might not? What social challenges and difficulties might he face? What other factors might make it more or less
difficult for individuals to manage different parts of their identity at the same time?
Exercise 5
The “Valuing Identities across Five Generations” case study at the end of Chapter 7 offers a nice opportunity
for students to think critically about the subject of age in the workplace. Students can also apply concepts such
as the images of identity and the four approaches to constructing identity as they work through the discussion
questions. Divide students into small groups, and ask half of the groups to work through question #1 from the
case study. Ask the remaining groups to consider question #2. After everyone has had the opportunity to discuss
the question with their group, engage students in a class discussion about how each group would handle these
questions of generational differences in the workplace.
Exercise 6
Have students read the Everyday Organizational Communication box titled “Images of Identity: Making Sense
of Yourself at College.” This commentary from a college graduate provides a nice way for students to see the
connections between the social construction of identity and the power of organizations to facilitate changes to
identity. It also gives students an opportunity to apply the different images of identity to their own organization-
al experiences. Ask students, either as individuals or in small groups, to read through the material and apply the
seven images of identity to the graduate’s comments.
Exercise 7
o Have students work in pairs to create seven PowerPoint slides, one for each of Alvesson’s images.
These images need to illustrate examples of how individuals respond to an organization’s efforts to
manage their identities:
1. Self-doubter. Defined by uncertainty and insecurity.
2. Struggler. Characterized by conflict and contradictory forces.
3. Surfer. Based on shifting and unstable discourses.
4. Storyteller. Seeks an integrated identity by crafting a coherent sense of self.
5. Strategist. Moves between an authentic self and one that is more closely aligned with a preferred organ-
izational or occupational self.
6. Stencil. Understood as copies of an organizationally preferred or dominant discourse.
7. Soldier. Embraces the organization’s preferred identity.
Taking exercises online: Many of these suggested exercises can be made digital for those teaching hybrid or
online classes. Simply conduct discussions on your online forum, discussion boards, or course management
systems. In particular, Exercises 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 lend themselves to this conversion.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006, 109 minutes, Rated PG-13). The main character has to deal with a difficult boss
and fit into the corporate culture while maintaining her own identity. She stays true to herself despite the
pressure of the fashion industry.
Herb and Dorothy (2008, 87 minutes, Not Rated). This documentary follows the story of Herb and Dorothy
Vogel. He was a postal worker and she was a librarian, and together they redefined what it means to be an art
collector. They used their simple means to build an important art collection, and they helped transform the iden-
tity marker of what was once a very elitist group. This documentary provides a unique opportunity to talk about
social class, identity, and difference in a very unexpected way.
House, M.D.: “Three Stories” (2005, Season 1, Episode 21, 44 minutes, Rated TV-14). This episode of the
award-winning medical drama allows students an interesting opportunity to think about the social construction
of identity. While teaching a class of medical students, Dr. House uses three stories about patients presenting
with leg pain. Each patient is characterized by different aspects of their identity, and the future doctors are en-
couraged to become better communicators as a result of the lesson.
The Namesake (2007, 122 minutes, Rated PG-13). A young Indian boy struggles with his identity while living
in New Jersey with his traditional parents.
Samantha Who?: “Pilot” (2007, Season 1, Episode 1, 22 minutes, Rated TV-14). The pilot episode from this
television series may trigger a discussion about losing (and rebuilding) your sense of identity. The main charac-
ter suffers from amnesia and cannot recall who she is or most details about her life.
Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action (2010, Not Rated)
(http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action). In this TED talk, Simon Sinek
states, “People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Sinek starts by drawing a golden circle” and
asking, “Why?” This simple demonstration explains organizational identity from a different perspective.
A Small Act (2010, 88 minutes, Not Rated). This documentary tells of a young Kenyan man whose education
was sponsored by a stranger from Sweden. In return for this kindness, the young man started a scholarship pro-
gram. The film offers an opportunity to talk about intersections between race, poverty, education, and identity
as well as how individuals can work with differences to achieve organizational goals.
13 Hours (2016, 144 minutes, Rated R). Students can identify various people from the movie with key terms
such as self-doubter, struggler, surfer, storyteller, strategist, stencil, and soldier. Break students into groups and
instruct them to build character identity profiles from the movie.
Difference as Advantage (http://imdiversity.com/channels/language/difference-as-advantage/). This article en-
courages employees to embrace their differences in order to maximize their desirability in the workplace. The
article offers tips that employees might use to communicate their identity.
Disney Institute (http://disneyinstitute.com). Disney Institute is the professional development branch of the Walt
Disney Corporation. They offer various approaches to identity, leadership, career advancement, and brand de-
velopment. Disney Institute also offers your students an opportunity to analyze and critique the identities that
Disney is attempting to build.
Fascinate, Revised and Updated: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist (2016). Available at Ama-
zon.com in digital as well as print and audio formats. How can you create a personal brand that is irresistible?
Sally Hogshead reveals the answer.
First Ask Why? (https://www.startwithwhy.com/LearnYourWhy.aspx). This website, which features Simon
Sinek’s online Why Discovery course, offers an authentic way an organization can communicate uniqueness.
How to Determine Organizational Identity (http://smallbusiness.chron.com/determine-organizational-identity-
76406.html). This three-minute video by Deanna Murray provides steps to creating an organizational identity.
How to Fascinate (http://www.howtofascinate.com/). Sally Hogshead created this personality test to help pro-
fessionals understand their brand and how to use it.
King of the Hill: The Substitute Spanish Prisoner (2002, Season 6, Episode 10, 23 minutes, Rated TV-PG).
Peggy Hill likes to build her personal brand. How might Peggy benefit from Brenda Allen’s three strategies to
effective communication? Her identity is tied to what she does or what she perceives of herself. She loves tell-
ing people that she won “substitute teacher of the year” three years in a row. Peggy actually created the award
so she could win it. In this episode, Peggy is scammed by a fake IQ test, and she says, What if I'm not as smart
as I always thought. What if I'm . . . average?Ask students how they would explain to Peggy how to com-
municate more productively about difference.
Managing Difference in Organizations (http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/managing-a-diverse-
workforce-in-contemporary-organizations.html). This site contains a lesson and an animated video clip that fo-
cuses on issues of diversity within modern organizations. Ask students to analyze and critique the way that the
site talks about identity and difference in the context of managing multiple identities at work.
Personal Branding Blog (http://www.personalbrandingblog.com). This blog is run by a world-renowned per-
sonal branding expert. The blog includes video podcasts, interviews with experts, and research reports about
personal branding and contains a “starter guide” to personal branding, interviews with experts, use of social
media (e.g., Twitter), and research reports.
How do differences make a difference within organizations? What does it mean when we say, “I don’t
see color; I just see a person”? Or, “When I look at you, I don’t see a woman; I see a professional”?
What does it mean to be authentic?
What is the purpose of linking the study of identity to the study of difference? What do critical feminist
scholars contribute to our understanding of these concepts?
How is identity constructed in everyday performances and practices?
How do the different images of identity contribute to our understanding of identity and difference in
organizations? How do they help us develop better communication practices?
Define the relationship between identity and difference in four ways:
1. Organizational practices and performances
2. Essential or fixed aspects of the self
3. Features of the organization that influence members
4. Products of social and popular narratives
What does it mean to have a fixed identity? Would you agree or disagree that certain markers of identi-
ty are fixed? Why or why not?
How is the relationship between identity and difference organized in popular culture?
Define consumption. Why is it a useful concept to study alongside identity?
What does it mean to develop a personal brand?
identity How individuals position themselves in the world through language
and action.
authenticity Being real and honest in how we live and work with others.
identity regulation Articulating how and in what ways differences among members will
be valued.
identity work The process of negotiating the identities that have been (largely) de-
fined by organizational discourse.
self-doubter A sense of identity characterized by uncertainty and insecurity.
struggler A construction of identity characterized by basic conflict and contra-
dictory forces.
surfer An identity that is dependent on existing but shifting and unstable
storyteller Someone who seeks to build an integrated and coherent sense of self
by constructing a narrative.
strategist An identity that develops multiple senses of self as a way to move
between an authentic self and one that is more closely aligned with a
preferred organizational or occupational self.
stencil An image of identity that views individuals as copies or templates of
an organizationally preferred or dominant discourse.
soldier A view of identity in which the individual fully embraces the pre-
ferred organizational identity.
second shift The significant labor that women perform in the private sphere for
which they receive little compensation or gratitude.
gendered organization Organizational structures, practices, systems of power and control, or
actions that are patterned to reflect distinctions between masculine
and feminine.
consumption A cultural practice of purchasing and using cultural artifacts through
which individuals craft a self.
personal brand The value-added commodity that one becomes through the consump-
tion of products, services, knowledge, and so on.
How do differences make a difference? More specifically, how are socially constructed differences pro-
duced through everyday organizing?
Consider some of the ways in which identity and difference are constructed around the concepts of identi-
ty regulation and identity work.
Ask students to consider the ways in which their own involvement in organizations has shaped their sense
of self. How have these organizations attempted to control or regulate their identities?
Discuss the remaining three positions on identity that are adopted in practices of organizational commu-
nication. Pay particular attention to how discourses help to frame our understandings of identity, differ-
ence, and discourse.
These perspectives on identity tend to focus more on gender as it relates to organizational communica-
tion. At the same time, there are many other aspects of identity that intersect with gender. Before you
move on to the next section, ask students to name “differences that make a difference” in their under-
standing of identity.
How do we communicate more productively about difference?
Revisit the connections between communication, identities, and organization. Pay specific attention to the
four perspectives on defining identity and difference, and encourage your students to discuss the tensions
associated with constructing an identity.

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