Telling stories of radical identity change: A study of divergence from the familiar

  • Jennifer Mizzell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This qualitative study explores the subjective, discursive development of divergent professional identity stories and their nascent consideration by studying former professional criminals who have made a significant professional change. This thesis investigates how individuals craft, a radical identity change story towards a profession in which they have no previous experience.

This thesis builds upon existing literature on identity stories, primarily focusing on possible, provisional, and identity stories, to provide new and expanded ways of understanding professional identity stories. This project – based in a qualitative, subjectivist framework and interpretivist paradigm – utilized interviews which allowed participants to freely share their experiences and provide their interpretations of how they began to tell this radically new and divergent identity story. This also allowed participants to expand upon the beginning stages of consideration when they said they felt hesitation in sharing it with others. Data for this project was built from 46 semi-structured interviews with former professional criminals. Interview data were thematically analyzed, providing novel insights about how an individual may begin to tell a divergent professional identity story and the need for nascent identity stories when making a significant professional change. These divergent professional identity stories were told by individuals who recalled instances when they pursued a radically different profession than their previous work experience, and nascent identity stories were told by individuals who said they needed to privately explore this change before discussing it more broadly with others.

The primary contribution of this research is to produce theory that provides new ways for individuals to discuss who one wants to become: divergent professional identity stories. This new understanding of narrating stories of identity change provides novel theory to inform researchers on the processes of voluntary professional identity changes. These stories are focused on shifts away from what is known and familiar in regard to an individual’s previous work, which may at times appear to be radical and unconventional to others. A secondary contribution of this research is the proposal of nascent identity stories as an extension of current research on possible identity stories. This research provides a greater understanding of the early periods of initial identity consideration – a place where many individuals say they hesitate to share new ideas of identities with those around them. The third contribution of this research builds upon this hesitation, explaining ways individuals may temporarily shelter their new identity being explored until they are prepared to share it with an audience. In summary, this thesis answers the call of extant literature to broaden the understanding of identity stories in a way that addresses increasing changes to the professional working world.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAndrew Brown (Supervisor) & Otilia Obodaru (Supervisor)


  • identity change
  • radical change
  • divergent
  • narrative identity

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