Identities and identity work of veterinary surgeons

  • Sarah Page-Jones

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The purpose of this thesis is to investigate how veterinary surgeons’ (vets) identities are subjectively construed via identity work processes within societal, professional, and organizational discourses. Methodologically, this research is undertaken within the interpretive paradigm where realities are subjectively and discursively constituted and continuously crafted and re-crafted though intersubjective experiences. This study utilizes qualitative methodologies and is exploratory, inductive, and iterative in nature. It draws on extant research on discursive identities, identity work, and possible selves, and incorporates a Foucauldian understanding of discourse and power relations. The principal data source are fifty-one semi-structured interviews collected within a single case study organization but additional resources include published materials and contemporaneous field notes. These data are interpreted using constructivist grounded theory and a thematic analysis to uncover underlying meaning in accounts of vets’ lived experiences of managing clinical cases. Analysis is approached reflexively, and as part of reflexive practice, auto-ethnographic accounts are included and critically interrogated. Three key tensions in vets’ identity work are presented: self-aggrandizement and self-doubt, saving lives with science and clinical errors, and craving client idolization and contempt for clients. These presentations are brought together in an overarching discussion of desired and feared identities. The primary contribution of this thesis is to propose that desired identities cannot be fully understood without the added dimension of feared identities. Desired and feared identities may be mutually constitutive and simultaneously dichotomic and intimately linked. Second, my study challenges received wisdom that identity work is largely a positive endeavour and suggests work on desired identities may be, at least in part, driven by ‘negative’ identity states. Feared identities are defined as ‘those one is repulsed by or dreads and does not want to be seen to be’ and may be managed via a range of defensive identity work strategies. Third, this investigation augments existing research by suggesting identity threats – including losses – can be used as discursive resources to construct feared (as well as desired) identities.
Date of Award29 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAndrew Brown (Supervisor) & Yiannis Gabriel (Supervisor)


  • identities
  • identity work
  • possible identities
  • professional

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