Organisational Change and the Politics of Identity: Four Reflexive Inquiries into Ordinary Power Struggles and their Role in Shaping Organisations and Individuals
Askeland, Maj Karin
This thesis sheds light on the ideals we construct in the workplace and how these emergent ideologies mask over power dynamics and political struggles for meaning and identity. Challenging the idea that ‘office politics’ or ‘small-p politics’ get in the way of change, it is argued that these relational dynamics, where power is inevitably involved, are the source of both organisational stability and change. The research contains four reflexive inquiries into these ordinary power struggles and their role in shaping organisations and individuals. Uniquely, this research draws on the field of bereavement studies to explore the intensified political struggle during periods of disruptive change and loss where organisational death and grief is effectively masked over by the dominant ideology of the entrepreneurial self, which serves to discipline people and encourages individuals to take responsibility for dealing with the consequences of endings and losses and closes down spaces for new social sensemaking that may challenge the prevailing ‘truths’ and thus the existing power figurations. Spanning over 10 years with the first two projects written in 2007/8 and the last two in 2017/19 the thesis also shows the immense power the ideology of the group one belongs to holds over one’s thinking and how engaging in reflexive practice in a community of research with a plurality of voices belonging to other groups and figurations is crucial to gain sufficient detachment to be able to notice and question what counts as ‘truth’ or ‘common sense’. It is argued that: Organisational continuity and change emerge in the interweaving of intentions and actions of many people in local interaction and change requires feelings of loss as new beginnings inevitably also involve endings. Severe loss or threat of loss can shake one’s sense of who one is and can trigger intense emotions and struggle to regain meaning. The process of grief is a renegotiation of meaning and of relationships and a repair of the basic plot of the life story and sense of self, which calls for witnessing and validation by significant others and social systems. Meaning made promotes growth. Impatiently negating the importance of social sensemaking comes with increased risk of employee withdrawal and reduced engagement. Taking the political struggle for meaning and identity seriously is fundamental to connect the past, present and future in a meaningful way and thus key for the construction of organisations – and of society. It is argued for: Taking the political struggle for meaning and identity seriously by increasing our awareness of our historical, cultural and relational embeddedness and ability to tolerate our own and other people’s distress and anxiety so that we may be able to participate in the social reconstruction of meaning and identity perturbed by loss.
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