Narratives of an Organization's Identities

  • Matt James

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The thesis explores narratives constructed by participants about an organization’s identities. I examine how identity-relevant statements were deployed as exercises in power, serving to legitimize and promote their authors. Framed within an interpretive paradigm, the research adopts reflexive approaches to consider participants’ understandings. I draw on organizational identity theory and empirical studies to explore the multiplicity and conflicting nature of identity in organizations. Literatures on organizational narratives, storytelling and power are also considered.The ethnography is set in a public sector organization in which I worked: the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority (PADA). Its role was to deliver the Government’s reforms to private pension provision in the UK; the reforms came into force in October 2012. The narrative data constructing the research were collected through semi-structured interviews with 60 members of the organization, transcripts of organizational events and a diary I recorded for a year. These data are augmented by a series of vignettes that weave in accounts of my experiences while working for and researching PADA. The analysis of narrative data is constructed in three chapters, each of which explores identity-relevant narratives from different perspectives. The first analysis chapter examines narrative data through five concepts: reflexivity, voice, plurivocity, temporality and fictionality. The second analyses identity narratives in two organizational events and the third explores my understandings of the organization’s identities from an autoethnographic perspective. The discussionchapter provides three readings that interpret the data through different lenses:narrative and storytelling, organizational identity and autoethnographic erspectives. I then make concluding remarks, including ideas for future research and the contribution of my research to the study of organizational identity. The primary contribution of the ethnography is to scholarship at the intersection of identity and power in organizations and specifically how identity-relevant narratives are deployed as exercises in power by participants. There are also contributions to narrative research methods, including the value of researching identity ethnographically. Additionally, I suggest practical contributions to literature on understanding issues of culture and sense-making in public bodies and how employees from different sector backgrounds (public and private) interact within a public sector context to deliver government reforms.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAndrew Brown (Supervisor)


  • organizational identity
  • power
  • narrative
  • public sector

Cite this