Behind the Mask of a CEO of a Management Training Institution: Exploring Breakdowns of Identity in the Struggle for Recognition
This thesis explores how idealisations of management identity influence everyday practice as a CEO, drawing on narrative accounts from my experience over a number of years. Combining the performative perspective of Erving Goffman with Axel Honneth’s ideas on the struggle for recognition, my inquiry delves into what happens when the habits and expectations behind the masks we wear break down. My research is informed by the complex responsive processes perspective developed by Ralph Stacey and colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire that views organisations as ongoing patterns of communicative interaction between human beings. As such, the inquiry gives critical attention to the concrete micro-interactions of everyday conversation, taking such experience seriously (Stacey & Griffin, 2005). I combine this perspective with contemporary identity research in management and organisation studies to make original contributions to the current scholarly conversation (Afshari et al, 2019; Beech & Broad, 2020; Brown, 2020; Clarke & Knights, 2020; Coupland & Spedale, 2020; Kenny, 2020; McInnes & Corlett, 2020; Petriglieri, 2020; Pratt, 2020; Simpson & Carroll, 2020; Winkler, 2020; Ybema, 2020). I establish a perspective on neutrality as a privilege arising from dynamics of power and make further contributions to four themes in the contemporary debate by addressing the methodological importance of reflexivity; by taking a paradoxical perspective on identity as individual and social both at the same time; by thoroughly considering embodied and emotional qualities of emotion; and by taking up the invitation to adopt and extend Goffman’s dramaturgy to include a habitual interpretation of performativity (Brown, 2020; Beech & Broad 2020). My arguments are that management practice is performative involving idealisations of managerial identity that are profoundly influenced by assumptions of autonomy and choice in the systemic management discourse. This idealised identity can break down in the everyday flow of practice, leading to intense feelings of shame and disappointment. Since they are painful and associated with failure, these emotions can become covered over, influencing practice, amplifying the struggle for recognition (Honneth, 1995) and the search for meaning and fulfilment. Finally, I argue that management practice can encompass inquiry into breakdowns (Dewey, 1910) as a way of enhancing our capacity to act amidst the indeterminacy of organisational life. My contribution to practice includes unique and original empirical material, which, through reflexive inquiry, offers a rich account of my experience as CEO of a modern UK training institution. This thesis presents critical analyses of highly ritualised managerial events, such as Board meetings, as well as much more mundane, conversational episodes that together offer highly resonant openings for reflection by other managers interested in problematising everyday dramas that typify everyday organisational life. This contribution includes critical engagement with evidence of movement in my experience of management practice, including a challenge to neutrality as benevolence, the struggle to stay with the emotional heat of breakdowns of identity and how, together with the groups in which management practice takes place, a CEO might come to experience ways of becoming more reflexive. I offer no prescriptions for better outcomes. Instead my contention is that reflexivity can broaden our capacity to act as a way of taking our responsibility for each other seriously.
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