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Human Relations

http://hum.sagepub.com Between narration and interaction: Situating first-line supervisor identity work
Simon Down and James Reveley Human Relations 2009; 62; 379 DOI: 10.1177/0018726708101043 The online version of this article can be found at: http://hum.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/62/3/379

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Human Relations DOI: 10.1177/0018726708101043 Volume 62(3): 379401 Copyright 2009 The Tavistock Institute SAGE Publications Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC http://hum.sagepub.com

Between narration and interaction: Situating rst-line supervisor identity work


Simon Down and James Reveley
This article examines how frontline managers establish managerial identities. It combines narrational and Goffmanesque conceptions of managerial identity work in a longitudinal study of one rst-line supervisor at a restructured Australian industrial plant. We argue that, singly, neither self-narration nor dramaturgical performance accounts for the practical discursive work that constructs managerial identity. We demonstrate that frontline manager identity work is an iterative process in which self-narration and dramaturgical performance are almost seamlessly interwoven. The supervisor uses these different identity work stratagems simultaneously, and they are processually co-dependent. We conclude, therefore, that organizational scholars who study how persons construct managerial identities should take Goffmans dramaturgical perspective more seriously. It is an indispensible complement to the analysis of identity narratives, because successful performances undergird managers attempts to craft stable narrative identities.

A B S T R AC T

K E Y WO R D S

dramaturgy Erving Goffman identity work interaction narratives organizational change

Introduction
Studying how managers establish and maintain work-based identities has become an intellectually fashionable pursuit. Recent contributions take a
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broadly narrational-discursive approach to this topic (Martin & Wajcman, 2004; Sims, 2003; Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2003; Thomas & Linstead, 2002; Watson, 2008). Yet earlier treatments of managerial identity formation, exemplied by the pioneering work of Mangham (1986), instead use a dramaturgical-behavioural perspective that draws on the interactionist sociology of Erving Goffman (1990). Fashions change, and in the rush to understand managerial identity as a self-narrated accomplishment an important insight of the interactionist tradition has been overlooked. Namely, that displaying oneself in spoken interaction with others is central to identity formation (Goffman, 1990), by providing face-to-face conrmations of identity (Berger & Luckmann, 1966: 174). Narrational and Goffmanesque identity perspectives are very different (Manning, 2008; Scheff, 2006), but they can also be regarded as complementary rather than as competitors (Ezzy, 1998; Hacking, 2004; Holstein & Gubrium, 2000). The purpose of our article is to integrate their respective insights into managerial identity formation, as a process that is simultaneously one part narrational and one part dramaturgical. We focus, in particular, on the identity work of a frontline manager who is at the sharp end of organizational change. Our aim is to theorize identity work processes more fully through a study, using rarely combined observational and narrative-biographical methods, of a rst-line supervisor who successfully constructed a managerial identity. This contribution is important because the nature of identity work remains the subject of considerable debate (Musson & Duberley, 2007; Taylor, 2005a), with more eldwork needed to bring to life the deeply theoretic processes involved (Watson, 2008). Specically, we show how different identity work stratagems (Jenkins, 1996: 25) self-narration on one hand, dramaturgical performance and face-to-face interaction on the other are processually co-dependent, and how individuals use them simultaneously. We argue that singly neither self-narration nor dramaturgical performance is an adequate basis to account for the practical discursive work that constructs managerial identity. The reason is that face-to-face encounters are an important resource that actors can use to conrm narrative identities (Goffman, 1990). We refer to this identity conrmation process as self-verication (Burke & Stets, 1999), whereby the frontline manager conrms their managerial narrative identity by looking at the reactions of subordinates and peers with whom they regularly interact. Current social and organizational conditions mean that self-verication has assumed heightened signicance as a means by which frontline managers seek to conrm their inherently unstable narrative identities. Identity-shaping discourses have become less relevant to the everyday organizational life of this tier of managers. These discourses frequently fail to supply them with the kinds of readymade social identities (Watson, 2008) and clearly storyable
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items (Holstein & Gubrium, 2000: 107), which more senior managers use to construct managerial identity narratives (Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2003; Watson, 2008). The heteroglossia of organizational restructuring (Ainsworth & Hardy, 2004: 157) also produces discordant organizational discourses that buffet and discombobulate frontline managers, thereby making it difcult for them to sustain coherent identity narratives. Restructured organizations are especially replete with multiple and sometimes incommensurable discourses, competing narrative accounts of change, and dissonant voices (Buchanan & Dawson, 2007). Faced with a confused array of potential discursive resources the rst-line supervisor in our case study, Wilson, crafted a managerial identity by using the identity work stratagems of self-narration and dramaturgical performance in an iterative manner. In Darkovens, the large-scale Australian industrial plant where Wilson works, successive restructuring produced discursive confusion. As a result, Wilson uses supplemental identity pegs (Goffman, 1963: 57), at the interpersonal level, on which to hang his self-narrative. The main peg is successful self-presentation in front of peers and subordinates, by which he achieves self-verication. Episodes of successful self-presentation, in turn, become storyable items that Wilson then incorporates back into his identity narrative. Our main contention, therefore, is that dramaturgical interaction has a heightened signicance that has been overlooked in recent narrationaldiscursive studies of managerial identity. Specically, interaction is a source of narrative anchors (Foley & Faircloth, 2003: 168) that serve to stabilize managerial identity narratives, in situations where narrative unity (Atkinson & Silverman, 1997: 319) is otherwise difcult to achieve. As one of the most deeply identity-troubled subgroups of middle managers, industrial supervisors are an ideal group with which to illustrate how narrative anchoring occurs through dramaturgical interaction. The attenuation of classic Fordist oppositionalist discourses has rendered culturally available stereotypes (Davies & Harr, 1991: 50) or social identities (Watson, 2008: 128), such as waist-coated boss versus cloth-cap worker, untenable in large-scale industrial organizations. First-line supervisors have always been ambivalently positioned within these discourses, as they experienced one of modernitys failings: the incomplete accomplishment of a rationalizing process that sought to codify and bureaucratize people management within industrial production (Austrin, 1994; Gouldner, 1954). Due to the organizational trend towards devolution of authority and decentralization, the stereotypical gure of the industrial manager has become a less distinct object for rst-line supervisors to emulate. This erasure is compounded by the plethora of discourses of organizational change that inform the attening of organizations. Given the inherently nebulous nature of discourses such as workplace participation,
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supervisors confront a bewildering array of discursive resources, identity materials and cues, which produce narrative identity befuddlement as much as narrative coherence or unity (Musson & Duberley, 2007). While some supervisors seek to reject ofcially sponsored participation discourses and retreat into identities derived from outside their organizations, others, like Wilson, work at establishing a managerial identity. We use the example provided by Wilsons identity work to explore how situated interaction complements and iteratively informs self-narration by a frontline manager who nds himself in a situation of discursive confusion and ontological insecurity. We begin by positioning our study within the conceptual literature that addresses identity work. This is followed by discussion of our research methods and examination of the prevailing discourses at Darkovens. We then analyse the dramaturgical and self-narrational aspects of Wilsons identity work, showing that he made sense of his contradictory experiences as a rstline supervisor by developing an avowedly managerial identity embedded in a progressive identity narrative. Our conclusion teases out the implications, for identity work, of regarding face-to-face interaction as a key facet of narrative identity conrmation.

Understanding identity work


Extensive theoretical debates about self-identity, identity work and the discursive resources that sustain these processes have developed in recent years within sociology and organization studies (Alvesson & Willmott, 2002; Giddens, 1991; Jenkins 1996). A pivotal point of contention has been the extent to which human agency shapes self-identity in the context of wider discourses and other social structures like race and class that impinge on organizational members. Qualitative research (Ainsworth & Hardy, 2004; Musson & Duberley, 2007; Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2003) from poststructuralist and other social constructionist perspectives has drawn attention to the ways in which workers and managers are far from passive in the face of discursive pressures (Watson, 2008: 125). Middle managers have been a focus in this line of research (Sims, 2003; Thomas & Linstead, 2002), and one notable study addresses the concern of our article the historically angst-ridden gure of the industrial supervisor (Musson & Duberley, 2007). A consistent nding is that managers at these levels are agential, creative and generative, drawing on and even playing with discourses (Newton, 1998: 426), when establishing their identities. Explanations of how frontline managers establish their occupational identities must therefore address the dynamic interplay between agency and
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structure (Jenkins, 1996): identities are constructed within discursive contexts, but individuals are able to inuence and shape these contexts. The concept of identity work accommodates the agential powers of the identityseeking individual (Snow & Anderson, 1987). Broadly conceived, it refers to people being engaged in forming, repairing, maintaining, strengthening or revising the constructions that are productive of a sense of coherence (Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2003: 1165). People use a range of identity work stratagems to eliminate discordant elements, in order to create narrative unity that reduces identity contradictions and inconsistencies (Taylor, 2005a: 48). Some stratagems involve self-narration and introspection (Archer, 2003), while others entail external, other-focused engagement with persons, things or discourses. Watson (2008: 130, emphasis omitted) theorizes how managers engaged in identity work combine inward (or internal) self-reection and outward (or external) engagement with various discursively available social-identities. His study highlights the importance of the bridging role of social identities between the discursive context and the agency inherent in shaping ones personal self-identity. Martin and Wajcman (2004) likewise stress the interplay between the socially supplied narrative aspects and individually reexive aspects of managerial identity formation. These studies connect social norms and institutions with the individuals quest for identity stability, thereby affording insight into how organization-based identities emerge within the agency/structure dialectic. Yet to be sufciently conceptualized and explained, however, is the role of agential identity work within the ongoing cyclical interaction between narration and action (Ezzy, 1998: 251) in the managers working life. Faceto-face interaction is the conceptual missing link within this cycle that must be reinserted back into managerial identity work theory. Broadly speaking, identity work comprises reexive self-narration that draws on socially supplied narratives and discourses, on the one hand, and face-to-face interaction that involves mounting credible dramaturgical performances, on the other. These identity work constituents are mutually reinforcing in two senses. First, interaction is fundamentally discursive in nature, and therefore has a narrational quality, because it invariably involves conversation. Analysis of the conversational features of interaction is, of course, one of Goffmans (1981) main insights. As Manning (2008: 678) has recently argued, the narrational-discursive approach differs from Goffmanesque analysis because it hovers above the grounding of interaction; moreover that narratives (and hence also discourses) cannot be regarded as shaping interaction a priori. The implication is clear: face-toface interaction is a separable element of identity work that cannot be reduced to the self-narrational activities of individuals or the effects of external societal narratives or discourses upon them. This, then, is the second
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sense in which dramaturgical identity work reinforces narrative identity work. Identity work is not most usefully understood as primarily an internal self-focused process, based on self-narration, but rather is better understood as a coming together of inward/internal self-reection and outward/external engagement through talk and action (Watson, 2008: 130). We seek to avoid overstating the primacy of either self-narration (i.e. self-focused reection) or interaction (i.e. talk and action) in identity work, instead highlighting their interdependence. The forms of identity work necessary to achieve a unied and consistent narrative identity vary amongst managers at different levels both within and between organizations. Our research shows that Wilson needed to be especially active and creative in his identity work to achieve narrative unity. This is because the organizational context in which he is located, and his role as a rst-line supervisor, reduces the availability of the kinds of managerial social identities that Watson (2008) theorizes as connecting discourses and identity work. Our study therefore highlights the identity work stratagems adopted by one supervisor, whose tenuous and contradictory organizational position means that readymade social identities simply do not t as templates for use in crafting an identity at work. Many things fracture identity narratives, but one in particular is a lack of locally relevant symbolic resources (Gergen & Gergen, 1997). For supervisors like Wilson, strong social identities as managers derived from socially available discourses (Watson, 2008: 128) are frequently unavailable. They therefore nd it difcult to establish the narrative unity that sustains a coherent self-narrative. In these circumstances, one way that identity narratives are repaired and maintained is through successful self-presentation in situations where faceto-face conrmations of identity occur. That is, [w]hen others support an identity in a situation (Burke & Stets, 1999: 350). This is what we call narrative anchoring, whereby Wilson actively seeks and engages in identityconrming dramaturgical interaction. His experiences of selective interaction with self-verifying others, in turn, provide the materials he then uses to repair his fractured identity narrative. We elaborate the managerial identity work stratagems Wilson employed by distinguishing between identity talk rst-person tellings in an autobiographical genre and the face-to-face negotiation of identities through face-to-face encounters with a strong dramaturgical element. Identity talk involves rst-person narration of an autobiographical nature through the telling of ones self-story, in which one features centrally as a character in the story told (Taylor, 2005a: 46). In contrast with identity talk, the identity work stratagem we illustrate below face-to-face interaction with a strong dramaturgical element refers to self-presentation in front of

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others who through their responses conrm ones view of oneself. These episodes conrm ones identity, that is, by means of spoken interaction that does not consist of any specic self-autobiographical identity talk. Simply stated, there is no verbal avowal of identity (Snow & Anderson, 1987), or rst-person narration, in Wilsons dramaturgical identity work.1 The preceding distinction is supported by the idea that self-identity is as much a ritually delicate object, as it is a self-narrated accomplishment (Goffman, 1967: 31). Our analysis of Wilsons identity work bridges narrational-discursive notions of identity work (Mishler, 1999; Taylor, 2005b), and the more overtly behavioural conceptions of identity work that stem from classic micro-sociological interactionism in general (for a review, see Holstein & Gubrium, 2000), and from Goffman in particular. We show that verication of ones identity in the looking glass of others reactions is central to identity formation (Burke, 1991: 839), and these reactions in turn provide key storyable items that serve as identity materials for the construction and repair of narrative identities. Wilson used identity work, grounded in face-to-face interaction, to craft a unied managerial narrative identity by empirically conrming aspects of that identity in the everyday reactions of organizational members around him.

Research context and methods


Our account of the formation of Wilsons managerial identity is drawn from a year-long study that was part of a broader six-year research project, the focus of which was organizational change and identity effects at Darkovens a plant that transforms coal into high-grade coke for steelmaking. The rstnamed author, hereafter referred to as the eldworker, spent an average of one day a week embedded in a section of a coke-making facility called Utilities whose members maintain and repair the coke-making or battery oven doors. During the research project Utilities was transformed as the plant underwent a rapid-re series of change initiatives, based on the notion of shifting away from traditional autocratic and hierarchical management structures to atter structures through the creation of self-directed work teams (SDWTs), subcontracting out specialized tasks, and reducing staff numbers. Utilities consists of a change-champion manager (David), 14 Battery Specialists, and six Battery Technicians. The Specialists, or shitkickers as they are colloquially known, are the operational employees who work on the batteries as members of SDWTs. Technicians provide coaching and technical support to the Specialist teams, and conduct project work directed by the manager. To the extent that self-regulation was not

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accomplished within the SDWTs, Technicians also full a quasi-labour control function with respect to the Specialists. In short, the Technicians are staff supervisors. The use of single biographical or autobiographical cases is a wellestablished technique within the vineyards of narratology (Bruner, 1991: 5), as the basis from which to theorize how identities form (Josselson, 1995). Precedents also exist in studies of managerial identity (Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2003; Watson, 2008). Hence our focus on one frontline supervisor, Wilson the Utilities Technician, is not unique. While no formal distinction exists between the Technicians, Wilson is de facto lead supervisor the managers right hand man (as he put it). Wilsons misgivings about becoming a supervisor quickly became clear, as he repeatedly described himself as being in no mans land, lost and isolated. Our eldwork at Utilities coincided with the period when Wilson dealt with these experiences, between August 2002 and July 2003. The eldworker conducted repeat unstructured interviews with the manager, all of the Technician-supervisors, and many of the Specialists. All interviews were taped and transcribed. There were nine separate interviews with Wilson, which lasted an average of 1.5 hours, dispersed over the year. Mixed methods were used. Wilson was observed in situ, including his participation in weekly and ad hoc meetings at the plant, as well as at offsite Team Days. Detailed observational notes were made. As an embedded researcher, the eldworker was able to capture contextual features of spoken interaction that cannot be easily obtained through tape-recording alone. Participant observation facilitated access to bodily orientation and tone of voice, and enabled understanding of aspects of language-in-use like changes in footing, which are important in self-presentational displays (Goffman, 1981: 1278). These observations occurred in the context of a friendship between Wilson and the eldworker that developed through casual conversation, regular email communication and attending social events like Wilsons birthday party celebrations at his home. While the eldwork was limited to one or occasionally two days a week, the eldworker kept more frequent contact with Wilson. Our use of participant observation as a complement to interviews responds to an increasingly strident critique of the interview as a method for studying identity formation (Alvesson, 2003; Atkinson & Silverman, 1997). Interview-based studies provide an account of managers perspectives of action, which are orientated to the concerns of researchers rather than the perspectives in action through which an identity is accomplished by managers in a naturally occurring situation (Snow & Anderson, 1987: 1343). In the current study we sought to avoid the pitfalls of generating a

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theoretically self-fullling view of identity work as a purely self-narrational or discursive process, a view that sometimes results of necessity from having interviews with managers as the only data source. Sensing that the identity troubles Wilson experienced early in the research period had been resolved through a range of self-afrming work experiences, some of which the eldworker witnessed rsthand (e.g. at the Team Days), towards the end of the research period we asked Wilson to write a self-reective autobiographical essay (Wilsons Story). To the extent that a subsequent version of this essay was co-presented at an academic conference by Wilson and the eldworker, this method parallels the anthropologists ethnographic autobiography (Wolcott, 2004). More importantly for the analysis that follows, our request for Wilson to write his story was a form of narrative incitement (Holstein & Gubrium, 2000: 129) whereby we asked Wilson to tell about himself. This approach always risks contamination of research respondents life-narratives by the research process itself (Taylor & Littleton, 2006). There is no methodological guarantor of authenticity or touchstone of objectivity, but we did not tell Wilson what to write. Wilson himself wove his identity-conrming experiences of interaction with peers and subordinates into a progressive identity narrative that told of his becoming a manager. The importance of these experiences as a source of selfverication that, in turn, featured recursively in his identity narrative, is something we serendipitously discovered rather than methodologically orchestrated.

Discursive confusion at Darkovens


At Darkovens a traditional command and control discourse, which mapped directly onto wider socially supplied Fordist discourses of class opposition and low-trust transactional exchanges, was displaced by a contemporary culture change management discourse of self-responsibility. Discursive confusion arose when the latter discourse was itself quickly overlaid with but not entirely superseded by a new corporate-sponsored discourse. The existence of three successive ofcial, corporately sponsored discourses at Darkovens made the construction of coherent narrative identities difcult for supervisors like Wilson who sought to buy into the change process. They were quickly thrown onto the horns of a dilemma when seeking to story their experiences of managing and thus to establish coherent managerial identity narratives. It is this discursive confusion, we maintain, that sparked Wilsons shift to dramaturgical identity work, and then back again to narrative identity work as he sought to establish a managerial identity. Wilson also switches camps, choosing to derive his sense of self-worth as a manager

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from his interactions with subordinates rather than, as previously under the self-responsibility discourse, from his engagement with senior management. The initial discursive shift, from the command and control discourse to the self-responsibility discourse, occurred after the arrival of a progressive plant manager in the late 1990s. He launched a home-grown management and culture change initiative in an effort to inculcate a sense of responsibility in operational staff who were seen as being too reliant on direct supervision, and in managers who were seen to rely too heavily on formal authority. Central to this discourse was the notion of autonomous employees discharging their duties responsibly, as enterprising persons with a stake in the plant. The self-responsibility discourse was textually embodied in a widely disseminated 100-page Coke Manual, sanctioned by the new plant manager and developed in part through work-shopping with selected groups of employees, including Wilson who was an enthusiastic participant. The manual espoused employee responsibility, freedom within limits and involvement. The most obvious evidence of this discourses instantiation was the creation of SDWTs in areas such as the battery-ovens section of Utilities. Corporate-level cost cutting initiatives resulted in a new discourse that began to permeate Darkovens a few months after the arrival of the eldworker on site. Senior corporate managers decided to override Darkovens home-grown change initiative and roll out its own business-wide initiative by engaging change consultants, Requisite (a pseudonym), who applied the ideas of Elliot Jacques (1989). Successive rounds of management development initiatives and work-shadowing led to new hybridized organizational structures, procedures and reporting relationships. Unlike the previous change initiative, which was infused with a self-responsibility discourse, the Requisite system emphasized clear roles, accountability, responsibility, and was more rule-bound. The following extract from a supervisor-Technicians meeting captures the confusion wrought by the introduction of the Requisite discourse. Sol: [Requisites] approach seems to be the total opposite of what were trying to do here at Utilities [. . .]. Wouldnt get too alarmed, its all very grey at the moment [. . .] it does contradict what we have done here [. . .]. Its only my interpretation guys, but they are focusing on the green line up, on the system stuff, not the people. They the Requisite mob keep it separate. They dont talk about anything below the green line. [. . .]

David:

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Damo:

We have to protect the [our] new system and not their narrow view, it really gets me, these consulting mobs. Requisite are not great fans of self-directed teams. Itll be just like 15 years ago. All that work we did. (exasperated) [. . .] We wont have to change much anyway. Thats a good idea. [It] doesnt mean that well have to go back to the autocratic dickhead era. (Technicians meeting, eldworker notes, 6 November 2002)

David: Sol: Damo: David: Wilson: David:

Utilities manager David is allaying the Technicians fears about the Requisite reorientation and what it might mean for their supervisory roles and the ethos underlying their self-responsibility discourse (new system, self-directed teams). The reference to the green line contrasts the new Requisite discourse especially the lack of a people emphasis with the home-grown self-responsibility discourse. The Technicians fear regressing back to an ofcially sanctioned command and control discourse (the autocratic dickhead era), which still lingers in some custom and practice at the plant. For Wilson these changes meant that his supervisory role would seemingly be downgraded, and he expressed his disappointment thus: were just gloried battery specialists [now] (Interview, 4 June 2003). More than the usual role confusion occurred: Wilson had begun to see himself as a new breed of frontline manager and this incipient identity entailed considerable investment in the self-responsibility discourse. Hence he had hopes, shared by his manager David above, that Requisite would not change much in practice. The emergence of the Requisite discourse meant that Wilson was, in effect, being asked to set aside his enthusiasm for the SDWT regime. Im nding myself more and more being drawn towards the dark side [. . .], cause its an in-joke here that [. . .] Wilson just doesnt conform to plans and schedules and stuff like that [. . .] So Im on the light side, and then all this certainty and plan and schedule and shopping lists [happen]: [. . .] dark side! (Interview, 9 April 2003)

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In an otherwise coherent identity narrative assembled in discussion with the eldworker, Wilson found it increasingly difcult to make sense of his experiences as a supervisor. He became caught at the intersection of competing discourses, not knowing how far he should go in his efforts to manage the members of his team. As sources of identity materials for Wilson, the discursive resources of autonomy, participation, and teamwork contained in the Coke Manual were muddied by the Requisite discourse. Evidence of identity struggle, of Wilson trying to reassemble his supervisory self in short order, became a persistent theme in his recollections of this time: In terms of the management philosophy [. . .] the [Requisite] training weve had [. . .], well it preached that everyone gets treated the same. In some respects I just found it very regimented [. . .] I guess thats why I perceived [. . .] its being a stickler for the rules and this is the way you must do [things] [. . .] This is the way you must supervise, and this is the way you must treat your people, and I found that a little bit disconcerting [. . .] Not disconcerting, no, uncomfortable, but worrisome I guess. (Interview, 9 April 2003) Despite Wilsons attempts to obtain closure after several months in his new role, professing that he was becoming a manager, he still had lingering doubt. In consequence, Wilson swapped one identity work stratagem for another. Rather than narratively storying his identity using top managements discourses, which had been his approach when our eldwork commenced, the discursive confusion he experienced led him to change tack. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he switched to dramaturgical identity work that relied on his own interactions with subordinates and peers, as sources of storyable items with which to craft his identity, rather than interactions with senior managers and the discourses they promulgated. We turn now to examine how Wilson negotiated this particular identity work process.

Dramaturgical identity work


To develop and sustain a coherent managerial identity, in the context of conicting organizational discourses, Wilson drew on his experiences of presenting himself as a manager successfully in situations where his team members and other supervisors were present. That is, he sought and achieved self-verication by engaging in dramaturgical identity work based on his day-to-day interactions with the workers he supervised and with his

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peers. We demonstrate that Wilsons successful self-presentations were absorbed recursively into his identity talk, serving as a set of narrative anchors for a managerial identity that no longer had senior managers as its reference point. Wilson instead actively sought to establish a managerial identity based on his engagement with the workers for whom he was responsible, and by assuming an informal role as the lead supervisor among his fellow supervisor-Technicians. This type of dramaturgical identity work is itself fraught with difculty. As the following extract shows, Wilson experienced the classic anxiety eliciting problem of identity, described by Lyman and Scott (1970: 179), of people who must perform in front of subordinates who are intent on nding a single aw by which they can discredit not only the performer himself, but also the entire status group which he represents: Im forever aware that I have to cover my arse, I have to make sure that I have done things right and are whiter than white because [. . .] I now have an expectation that someone down that road is going to f**k me over [. . .] and its not coming from David [the Manager], its coming from these guys out here. (Interview, 25 June 2003) To illustrate how Wilson bolstered his managerial identity, while simultaneously dealing with this identity problem, we present two observed instances of his impression management while interacting with peers and subordinates. To the extent that their reactions are consistent with Wilsons idealized version of himself (Goffman, 1990: 56), he thereby conrms his view of himself as a rst-line manager who is a people expert and who can cope with resistance. This self-verication was then integrated back into his managerial identity narrative. In the interactional episodes we examine, Wilson successfully presents himself as the holder of special skill and expertise in weekly meetings with other Technicians, and he achieves dramatic dominance with Specialists at an off-site Team Day.

Displaying the staunch expert


Part of Wilsons idealized version of himself as a manager is established by contrasting his abilities with those of fellow Technicians who lack his understanding of how to manage people to which he credits his psychology studies. In Goffmanesque terms, Wilson presents himself as someone who has been reconstituted by his learning experience (Goffman, 1990: 55). The self-presentation of this identity element occurs when he is accepted as the

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resident people expert in framed interactions (Darr & Scarselletta, 2002: 63) with the other supervisor-Technicians. These interactions are framed in the sense that they are guided by the usual norms that obtain when people at equivalent organizational levels interact with one another. The claiming of special skill or expertise vis--vis others risks eliciting embarrassment or hostility, particularly given the threat to anothers face posed by using that expertise claim to comment on their performance; and a common response to this risk is simply to wriggle out of the difculty by means of selfabasement (Goffman, 1967: 32). Wilson used self-abasing humour in this manner to respond to the tension inherent in positioning himself as an ingroup member, but at the same time as someone who claims a pre-eminent role as the lead supervisor. One example from the regular meetings between the Technicians and David will sufce to illustrate Wilsons use of this dramaturgical identity work stratagem. In the following exchange between Wilson and two Technicians, Wilson is talking about a change management consultants tool they were told about on a training course and is stressing the need not to lose sight of the people issues below the green line. Wilson: You have to understand that what makes those systems work are the people, so those people have to be catered for just as much as the systems. I dont give a f**k about people. Just get the f**king job done. Hang on, how will that affect people? I dont give a f**k. If you manage one, the other will work. I have one leg either side of the green line. (Fieldnotes from meeting, 13 November 2002)

Jonno:

Wilson: Jonno: Julio:

Wilson interjected here saying that he had one nut (testicle, that is) on either side of the line, thereby evoking a laugh. This represents a change in footing (Goffman, 1981: 128), of his orientation in speaking to the participants in the encounter. Wilson then switches tone again, reiterating that its the people that will make this work. Plans mean nothing, because they achieve nothing in themselves, its the people that achieve things. The interactional episode began with Wilson espousing the need to be concerned for people.

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He presents himself as the resident people expert, which draws a negative response from one colleague (Jonno) but support from another (Julio). Wilsons use of genital humour, enabling a change in footing, defuses the potential conict in the situation by inserting an element of self-abasement. Wilsons footing shift helps Jonno to save face, thereby enabling Wilson himself to press the point and subsequently obtain grudging acceptance from the others. Wilsons expertise and lead supervisor position is conrmed when David asks him to act in his role for a month. The several standing meetings with Technicians that Wilson chaired during this time represented a working out in practice of his approach to managing people. This occurred in the context of a loss of faith in senior managements discursive pronouncements and an increasing reliance on the positively storyable potential of his interactions with subordinates. Notable features included Wilsons giving of praise, as the following eldnote shows: Wilson used the phrase good man to Julio and the others a number of times, he had not done this before (Technicians meeting, 8 January 2003). Wilsons peppering of the meetings with this phrase and the way he protected one Technician from repeated ribbing by the rest, represent the working out of his managerial identity through interaction. The meetings also facilitated the display of what in a total institution (Goffman, 1968: 11) context has been described as staunchness, namely the ability to remain reliable and stoic in difcult situations (Newbold, 1985: 254). At one meeting in particular, Wilson told the other Technicians about how some Specialists now regarded him: Apparently Im [seen as] a real c**t now [. . .] [but] Im not going to lose any sleep over it (Fieldnotes of Technicians meeting, 5 February 2003). The stoic self that Wilson presented was received by fellow Technicians with nods of the head and other similar gestures signifying acceptance of his claim.

Defusing discontent at a Team Day


The Team Days were off-site events held about three times a year. David usually convened them so that operational problems could be discussed offsite with the Specialists. These days are podium events (Goffman, 1981: 140) where managers exert a special claim on the Specialists who, in turn, have the right to examine the speaker directly, with an openness that might be offensive in conversation (Goffman, 1981: 138). One Team Day in particular provided Wilson with an opportunity to present himself as a manager of discontent, wherein he dealt with verbal resistance by Specialists. We describe this as an encounter wherein Wilson had some success at defusing discontent (Waters, 1990: 98).

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The following account of this meeting shows how Wilson imposes his denition of the situation on the meeting. Wilson brings up the controversial issue of Specialists being called back to work outside of normal working hours. Immediately, this issue results in raised voices and aggressive comments from Specialists, directed specically at the Technicians: Wilson raises the issue [. . .] of who is going to go on the call out list. One response to this was from one Specialist who said, All the c**ts do all day is sit on their arse. Just get on the phone. Various other jokey comments are made about the laziness of Technicians [. . .] Wilson responded when the hubbub had settled by saying that the Production Controllers dont want to have to call ten people. A specialist replied, Tell them to get f**ked, and another said, Get them to phone the Technicians, theyre staff anyway [implying that it was their responsibility, not that of the Specialists]. Some of the older Specialists clap and laugh in agreement and enjoyment at the vociferousness and abandon of these interactions. Why wake people up at two in the morning? There is no issues, why cant someone make 14 calls? Wilson is static on the desk waiting for things to settle. (Fieldnotes, 15 October 2002) His demeanour remains calm, and he brings the discussion back to how to improve performance. Despite ongoing interjections, he imposes his denition of the situation on the meeting commenting to the researcher at the end that some of the [Team Days] had been a lot worse in terms of the antagonism (Fieldnotes, 15 October 2002). Team Days had long been known as whinge sessions, where complaints are aired, but Wilsons efforts to focus the discussion left him thinking that he had had some success at directing the meeting, thereby achieving a modicum of dramatic dominance (Goffman, 1990: 105) the power to frame and dene the nature of the Team Day as being about improving performance rather than merely a forum for airing complaints. Wilsons self-presentation at the Team Day conrmed, for him personally, an aspect of how he views himself, as a manager capable of blunting resistant talk and thereby defusing discontent.

Narrative identity work


Frontline managers are bricoleurs who use diverse materials to construct identity. In Wilsons case, his narrative identity as a manager drew on different sources of verication and legitimation at different points in time. During

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the research period, the predominant form of identity work that Wilson used to support his sense of himself as a manager therefore changed. It switched from self-narrations that drew heavily on the managementsponsored self-responsibility discourse, to using interactions with peers and subordinates to work out what kind of a manager he is going to be. Shortly after Wilson became a supervisor-Technician, he strongly identied with the self-responsibility discourse: One of the reasons why weve gone to this at level structure is [. . .] because we [are] trying to get, you know, autonomy for each individual [and] for our team [. . .] And we believe that to get that, everyones got to be equal. Theres issues around that, and were discovering those now, but we do have people that have stepped up to the plate. (Interview, 24 September 2002) By stressing the inclusive we and our of a responsible manager, Wilson positions himself within the self-responsibility discourse and thereby accepts its legitimacy, which thus also conrms his identity as a manager. Yet after the Requisite discourse had eroded some of his formal responsibility, and removed the solidity of a discursive anchor he initially used to verify his emerging managerial identity, Wilson instead began to incorporate his dramaturgical successes into his identity storyline (Mishler, 1999). The process of incorporation is evident in the following examples, where Wilson recounts the effects of his positive interactions with subordinates. Reecting on his feelings soon after his successful experience of covering for his manager, Wilson remarked: I have noticed that I have more condence. I had to ask Jonno to do something, and Jonno wasnt happy, but he did it. Normally Id be a bit nervous and baulk at that, but this time I just told him that he was the man and we need to help Nigel out [. . .]. I have now got the authority and its ne I can do it. [. . .] I have the most experience in the ofce. I can mentor them a bit. (Fieldnotes from conversation with Wilson, 18 January 2003) Wilson begins to story these positive experiences of managing, as a journey, and incorporates them almost seamlessly back into his identity narrative. Its the experience that I gathered from that journey, that [. . .] for me is the most important part, the end [. . .] to be honest, the end does not

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concern me. [. . .] [Doing Davids job] had an effect on me. [. . .] the effect was that it was like adding to that [. . .] widening of my horizon. (Interview, 2 July 2003) Narratively befuddled by his engagement with senior managers and their discourses, Wilson draws on face-to-face encounters with peers and subordinates as the raw materials for unied self-narrations. His successful presentations of self-as-manager reduced the dissonance that was apparent when he was rst asked about how he viewed himself. Bolstered by the reactions of his team members to these self-presentations, Wilson came to regard himself as a manager who is intelligent, entrepreneurial, and able to cope with pressure. He veried this identity in face-to-face encounters: by coping with resistance, and using the tacit norms of spoken interaction to be accepted as an expert. Wilson regards himself as a manager, he tries to act like a manager (as both a self-styled people expert and manager of discontent), and the responses of others to his own self-presentational behaviour experientially anchor his managerial identity. Wilson coped well with living in the no mans land, created by conicting managerial discourses at Darkovens, because the self-verifying responses of others when he presents himself as a manager serve as storyable items that eliminate dissonance from his identity narrative. These responses enabled him to construct a progressive identity narrative (Gergen & Gergen, 1997: 166) of his development as a manager. The progressiveness of Wilsons narrative is clear in what he wrote at the end of the research period: [W]hen I did Davids job for while, going to his meetings, I realized that most people have only the broadest clue about what theyre supposed to be doing, and those that pretend that they are in total control are normally deluded, blufng or bullshitting; or all three. I realized that managers are just people and not some special breed. With experience and knowledge I can be one too. Hey, I am one! (Wilsons Story, October 2003)

Conclusion
Our primary goal has been to illustrate the types of identity work used by frontline managers in situations of discursive confusion. Singly, conceptually driven understandings of self-narration and dramaturgical performance

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cannot account for the construction and maintenance of managerial identity. We have argued instead that narrational and interactionist theories of identity formation must be combined in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the processual dimensions of managerial identity work. To develop a coherent managerial identity narrative is to be immersed in a relational context of organization-level face-to-face encounters that supply a steady stream of identity materials. When established discourses fail to provide readymade answers to identity questions, frontline managers seek narrative identity anchor points in the self-verifying responses of co-present others. We have used Wilsons experiences to underscore the importance of self-verication, which derives from staging dramaturgical performances in front of others, as a resource for unifying an individuals managerial narrative identity. Our analysis also illustrates how Wilson uses different types of identity work simultaneously, thereby establishing that these stratagems are processually co-dependent and mutually reinforcing. Our argument is not that Goffmanesque face-to-face interaction is the primary form of identity work, but rather that interaction comes to the fore when formal organizational discourses cease to be a useful identity resource for self-narration. Wilson switches his identity work stratagems, and also the source of his identity work materials from senior managers and their discursive pronouncements, to worker and peer reactions to his own selfpresentations. This shift is prompted by mixed and banal managerial discourses that point Wilson towards an identity he cannot experientially conrm. In the face of discursive confusion, Wilson draws on face-to-face interactions with his team members to verify his identication and sense of self-worth as a manager. They treat him as a manager, thereby giving him the licence and self-conrmatory cues to regard himself similarly. Our article has implications that transcend the immediate details of Wilsons (auto)biographical narrative. Using Wilsons experience to theorize identity work provides a new view of how supervisors respond to organizational change (see Hales, 2005; Musson & Duberley, 2007). It also complements recent theories of how lower-rung managers construct identity by highlighting a strongly dramaturgical-behavioural element to this process, based on the situations and relationships that managers enter into on a daily basis. This dramaturgical element has been played down in recent discussions of identity work in favour of how organizational discourses insinuate themselves into the persons internalized processes of self-narration. Our article, by contrast, points to the continuing importance of studying dramaturgical social behaviour, and supports recent calls to recognize the ongoing relevance of Goffmans work to studies of organizational life (Manning, 2008).

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We have shown that managerial identity researchers should not rely on culturally supplied (i.e. discursive) and reectively constructed elements of identity (Martin & Wajcman, 2004: 259, emphasis omitted) as their sole focus. Following Goffman, an understanding of situated interaction is essential for grasping the structural and situational inuences on identity formation. This point has a methodological concomitant. The dominance of the narrational-discursive approach to understanding managerial identity has resulted in researchers preferring interview-based studies to direct observational studies of the managers whose identities they seek to investigate. This has led to a shift from studying situated interaction and naturally occurring talk to interview texts alone. As Manning (2008: 680) insightfully observes, a dramaturgical performance is a seeable: something one sees, a behaviour, not a value, a belief, or an attitude. Nor is it purely (or even largely) a discursive phenomenon. It is therefore not sufcient to rely on research strategies that ignore interaction in situ. Our study displays the merits of combining both narrative methods and rsthand observation of the dramaturgical encounters in which frontline managers are immersed. As such, it reinforces attempts to highlight the continuing importance of dramaturgical social behaviour in the process of identity formation in organizations (e.g. Krreman & Alvesson, 2001). Wilsons case may well be situated and particular, but it provides the opportunity for theoretical as distinct from empirical generalization (Watson, 1994). The following propositions ow from our study. Dramaturgical encounters constitute a distinct form of identity work by which frontline managers construct narrative identities. Encounters with others at work continue to be a source of anxiety but also a bulwark of identity for rst-line supervisors, for whom answers about who they are are not fully answered through the social supply of discursive resources, whether by the organization or by reference to wider culturally supplied discourses. Inherent to face-to-face interaction are elaborate routines by which people seek to conrm their idealized view of themselves. Frontline manager identity work is not, therefore, sealed within a self-narrational or discursive envelope. In situations of discursive confusion it is likely that managers at higher levels within the organization also use interaction-based identity work stratagems to resource their self-narrations. This, it would seem, is a promising line for future research. Most management identity researchers forget or ignore one of the most fundamental micro-sociological axioms: that conrming ones identity by displaying oneself in front of others is central to identity formation. Reaching its pinnacle in Goffmans work, this insight must be brought back to centre stage within management identity theory.

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Acknowledgement
The authors would like to acknowledge Professor Richard Badham, whose Australian Research Council funded projects made the eldwork for this article possible. The work was also supported by a University of Wollongong research grant.

Note
1 Situations that blend dramaturgical identity work with identity talk are beyond the scope of this article.

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Simon Down is a Senior Lecturer in Management at the University of Newcastle Business School, UK, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Enterprise (KITE). Beginning his working life as an entrepreneur in the independent music sector, he has published articles on small rm policy, entrepreneurial self-identity, management history and ethnographic methodology in journals such as Organization and the International Small Business Journal. He is the author of Narratives of enterprise: Crafting entrepreneurial self-identity in a small rm (Edward Elgar, 2006), an ethnographic study of a small rm in the UK. He is currently writing a textbook for SAGE on small business and entrepreneurship and is beginning a major historical project on Victorian and Edwardian exhibition entrepreneurs. [E-mail: simon.down@ncl.ac.uk] James Reveley is Associate Professor of Management, Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. His research interests include the social formation of entrepreneur identity, employee identity documents, occupational identity, management history and maritime business history. His work has been published in journals such as Organization, the International Small Business Journal, and Management and Organizational History. His two books are Registering interest: Waterfront labour relations in New Zealand (International Maritime Economic History Association, 2003), and (with Malcolm Tull) the edited volume Port privatisation: The Asia-Pacic experience (Edward Elgar, 2008). He is currently the Secretary of the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand. [E-mail: james_reveley@uow.edu.au]

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