Although interest in meaningfulness is mounting in the growing stream of research dedicated to how professionals experience it, research has only just begun to investigate the complex relationships between the search for meaningfulness and the constitution of professional identity for emerging professional groups. This paper investigates how meaningfulness interacts with the formation and enactment of professional identity, focusing on the emerging professional group of corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultants. Relying on interviews with 39 CSR consultants, we induce two social mechanisms bridging meaningfulness and professional identity, namely ‘meaning-making through professional self-identification’ and ‘meaning-making through professional socialization’. Our results explain how these mechanisms produce distinct, and potentially contradictory, professional identities of CSR consultants, which themselves enable contrasted forms of professional identity enactment. The study advances meaningfulness research by clarifying how the self- other tension is played out through identity formation and revealing the gendered nature of meaningfulness. The research also contributes to studies on professional identity through the specification of meaning-focused mechanisms of identity formation, and ultimately to micro- CSR research by offering a nuanced approach to how CSR is involved in the production of work meaningfulness.
- Meaningfulness, professional identity, consultants, micro-CSR