Archive for December, 2010

Identity Study Methods

For my last blog of 2010 I thought why not share my first methods review of Identity studies mainly from an organisation perspective.  This is some preliminary work for the Research Methods assignment (in the program I am still not yet officially accepted of course!!)

Actually, the assignment instructed a ‘brief review’ of the literature – and being without a supervisor I have no idea what ‘brief’ actually means – so I settled on a list of 123 initial articles compiled from a 2008 Special Issue on Organizational Identity Studies in a 3 star publication called – Organization, Volume 15 (1).

Here is the process adopted:

1.Read all eight or so articles within the Journal.

2.Compiled a summary list of all references from these articles (119) and books (132).

3.The books I left to one side, although I noted prominent authors who were repeated within articles.

4.Performed a general database search on ‘Identity’ and ‘Social Identity Theory’ Studies from the Emerald Search Engine.  This appended a further 50 articles.

5.I searched and downloaded these 169 articles (That took me two days as some were not easy to find!)

  1. Loaded these into Mendeley, and tidied the references.
  2. Scanned from within Mendeley, each article for philosophy, methodology and methods adopted.

6 articles were dropped for clear lack of relevance and a further 46 articles demoted to indirect relevance to Identity studies in my research context (i.e. those not directly related to self, organizational, groups studies of identity).

8.123 directly related articles reviewed with associated spreadsheet analysis (see below).

9.Finally summaries were created for Epistemology, Methodology, Methods type, and collection.

Some points pre-analysis of the sample of Identity articles:

•It is very important to note that the editors of the special issue magazine were explicitly more interested in the interpretivist and critical research agenda.  This may/will have skewed this sample.  I supplemented with further articles form the Emerald database search, nevertheless, this sample may not be a fair representation.

•The epistemology was as a rule not explicitly stated by the article author.  I improvised a bit not having the time to carefully review this aspect e.g. most case studies using interviews and ethnography are assumed to be interpretivst.  Guideline only.  Explicitly stated research philosophy’s were recorded accurately as stated.

•Methodology was often not stated clearly, or was confusing e.g. either call the study ‘a case study’ when I could not see how, or even not call it anything using interviews and analysing results.  In these cases, judgment was used to reclassify as a ‘general qualitative approach’.

•Data collection methods used various naming conventions so I grouped things together e.g. ethnography, participant observation (or non) were all under ethnography; while semi-structured, in-depth or informal conversations were recorded as interviews.

•All discussion, conceptual, and literature review papers were classified under conceptual papers.

•Data analysis methods were as a rule totally unclear in the papers.  No analysis has been added here because of the lack of quality data, nevertheless it was more often than not qual or quant analysis in some fashion.

•Details around period of study, location, sampling were sketchy in most articles.

•Articles within the direct relevance sample were from 1977-2011, 112 of the 123 are from the past 10 years.


Interpretivist philosophy dominates the research methods suggesting that qualitative work is the most preferred choice for investigating Identity phenomena.


Conceptual and discussion papers, and case studies dominated sample articles evenly throughout the whole time period.  Interestingly, the research studies (i.e. not conceptual papers) are almost entirely in the past 10 years.   This might suggest that contemporary authors favour recent studies or is a recent empirical endeavour.  Removing the conceptual papers, the graph highlights the dominance of case study, general qualitative, and ethnography.  Survey methodology is roughly used once in every 5 studies.

Method Type


Single methods remained consistently the most popular method type over the period.  Multi-method is also common while mixed-methods remains to be used only sporadically, perhaps due to the difficulty for many to cross the quant/qual divide philosophically!

Data Collection Methods

Interview is the most popular method for Identity studies, followed by Ethnography and questionnaire.  Of course as per the method type above, these were often combined in mixed or multi-method configurations.  The most common of these are interviews and ethnography (72%), followed by interviews, ethnography and documentary (24%) – totaling 96% of multi method choices.  These naturally seem to form the multiple perspectives in which to build up a case study.

Journal  Characteristics

I also check the quality of the journals represented.  High quality category 3 and 4 journals were well represented at 29% and offer a third of the actual articles reviewed.  Equally a third of the articles samples come from journals not rated within 2010 Association of Business Schools ‘Academic Journal Quality Guide’, Version 4.



Within the sample overall, I must admit to be having mixed feelings over the quality of the outcomes from the research work undertaken.  In some cases, I was left in awe at the time and care taken to compile differing perspectives and literature on the identity study terrain.  In others, I was amazed at the detail surrounding the research design or the novelty factor on choices e.g. an auto-photography.  Yet, in many cases, I was left wondering what was the point of this research, what NEW insights were found and shared?  The positivist articles still leave me cold, and I found the overly narrative examples left me asking where is the value add?

Frankly, I have found this exercise to be quite laborious, but also interesting and helpful to see the plethora of choices researchers have to make up the design.   Using Morgan & Burrell’s 2×2 categorizations (1979) would have been interesting to validate Alvesson’s et al. (2008) claim of Identity studies being dominated from the functionalist frame.  My initial scan here seems to contradict this, nevertheless, I will admit my philosophical understanding is very light, and considering my limited methods focus in this first review – I could well be totally wrong here!

I will say that, one paper left an impression on me for an odd reason.  Tracy and Trethewey (2005) who highlighted the idea of the ‘crystallized self’ left me with the thought not so much in terms of identity but instead of qualitative research itself i.e. an attempt to extend far past a mere triangulation of evidence to looking for as many angles as possible to find the contribution to knowledge – Crystallized Research!!!!

As per usual, to anyone doing qualitative research or identity related studies – I would love to hear from you.

Shortly, I will post this detailed bibliography on to Mendeley in a shared folder.  Just holler if you would like access.


M. Alvesson, K. Lee Ashcraft, and R. Thomas, “Identity Matters: Reflections on the Construction of Identity Scholarship in Organization Studies,” Organization, vol. 15, Jan. 2008, pp. 5-28.

S.J. Tracy and A. Trethewey, “Fracturing the Real-Self ↔ Dichotomy : Moving Toward ‘ Crystallized ’ Organizational,” Communication Theory, 2005, pp. 168-195.

Got what it takes soldier?

To be truthful, it has been tough not to write a blog this past month, however it was partly due to time constraints, and partly due to being lost for words in what to say, but I’ll explain that comment in a bit…

I went to Glasgow at the end of November full of excitement to attend the mandatory Research Methods course.  This was though without an assigned supervisor.  Naturally the course passed quickly, with a healthy amount of winter snow which was fun for the first 15 mins at least.  Frankly, I found myself dipping in and dipping out of the materials based on how the topics interested me (I seem drawn to the qualitative approaches like interviews and ethnography, and shy away from quantitative sampling and surveys).   The course was well done braking the sessions into various vignettes of numerous research methods available undertaken by people already with their PhDs.  I found in the end quite that the vignettes were a curious mixture of concepts at different layers e.g. a case study within a case study within which there could be various methods.  I also started to sense a serious difference between research ‘as planned’ verse research ‘as practiced’ by many of the professors who shared their own research experiences.  Without a doubt, instrumental case study, ethnography (observation), interview, and artifact analysis of some kind will be in the mix of my research preferences.  I like to understand something in depth – the survey although quick and efficient just seems to lack for me.  In the spirit of qualitative studies there is a sense surpassing the concept of triangulation and looking at reality from as many points as possible.


During the visit, I felt the need to respond one night to some criticism directed at a paradigm table (I created) from one of the Critical Realist Professors on the Research Philosophy course site.  This person felt that the PhD students’ who were  obsessed about thinking in ‘paradigms’ was not the right way to be heading i.e. getting hung up on paradigms.   I responded equally as I received – but this was like me entering into the ring with a heavy weight boxer in philosophy and I knew there was only going to be one result – to be knocked out :o)


The next evening after eating his knuckle duster – I did make the final comment that summed up my perspective – “What seems to be emerging is a quite complex dialectic between philosophy, history and trends in the field, the phenomena under research, choice of methods, supervisor, and the researcher….and this is where the focus of the new researcher should be i.e. no single aspect dominating the conversation.”  Sometimes my being an experienced practitioner I can forget that these professors have been around academia a long time to read and understand philosophy, and research to such a level of detail that will be almost impossible for me to play on a level playing field.


Anyhow, getting through the week seemed to me to be really quite difficult.  I was waiting for a meeting at the end of the week with a potential supervisor I greatly admire, and after being dropped so cruelly by the last advisor I knew this meeting would be important.  Even on the last day when we were split into teams to work on the research methods presentations I found I was sometimes absent in mind, half participating, and getting ready for the 430pm meeting.  Well, the time arrived and I nervously went over to the department to meet this advisor – hoping for a positive result – I mean surely, I am a great catch – intelligent, studious, creative, and not to forget a full fee paying student etc…


Oh what a shock that was before me.  After some niceties… I was hit repeatedly with comments like: “I don’t think you have what it takes to be a PhD student – you may not even have what it takes to do the MRes”, “you are not focused, you have too many ideas to research – and your writing is all over the place”, “you don’t listen – and I’m worried you won’t follow my instruction”, “you are too revelational and not critical”, “you seem more interested in a contribution to practice not theory”, and “I don’t like advising part-time PhD students”, etc etc etc.  Oh my god – what a meeting, not at all what I had expected.  Tough – truthful? – devastating!

I left the meeting quiet, I walked quickly to Waterstones to buy some books for Leo, and I smoked along the way – the smoking was more important than keeping my fingers warm.  I felt emotional to be honest, I wanted to scream and throw in the towel.   What just went on there?  Was I so out of touch with reality?  After picking up the books I went back to a coffee shop and sat down to the laptop defeated – and skyped the love of my life.  At once she calmed me.  Eating the scottish pie and mash, and seeing her beautiful face put me in a better frame of mind.

But what to do?  I knew I needed to sleep on this for a few days.  So with tail between my legs, and still no supervisor – I flew back to a warm welcoming Abu Dhabi.

A few days afterwards I spoke to some of my PhD friends and discovered from one of the them that this is probably a just tactic – one that was played on her when she did her PhD.  The idea is that from the advisor’s perspective they will be investing a lot of time over many years so the interest, confidence etc that it will be done must be assessed thoroughly i.e. it is not actually about me but about the research, about being successful, and about adding to a field.  Other friends disagreed telling me that this is not the way to treat a part-time full fee paying customer (Phd student) and I should look else where.  What to do?

Thankfully, after about three days I realized that it was not important for me to analyze to death everything the potential supervisor had said was right nor wrong, but I had to respond, and learn to play by the rules of the institution – it simply doesn’t matter my status, my age, my history, my fee paying etc.  If I want in at this university – I have to succumb or look elsewhere.   So I decided to give it one last try.  I would choose a new topic aligned to this person’s interests, re-write a solid proposal, and submit it for approval to become an advanced graduate programme in the MRes to be followed by the PhD.

The big news is that this means I have finally dropped “Sustainability” and replaced it with “Identity Construction” within the Project construct.  So, this past Monday 13th December – 10 days after the disastrous meeting – my proposal was re-submitted to the University for consideration.  So here’s hoping.  For therapy last week, I moved from student to local counselor and marked students’ strategy assignments!   :o)

This past weekend, I looked for the first time since being back from Glasgow at the Research Methods assignment, and I studiously started to download and investigate the methods used in other such organisational studies of identity construction, and began the start of preparing a bibliography of articles and research in the area of Identity studies in Organisations.  I believe I have found my equilibrium.

How do I respond to the original criticisms?

  1. “I don’t think you have what it takes to be a PhD student – you may not even have what it takes to do the MRes: Not true – I definitely have what it takes.  It will be tough, but my resolve is unshakable!
  2. “You are not focused, your have too many ideas to research – and your writing is all over the place” – This is true, I might say I have been too easy with it, and I am ok for things to get tighter.
  3. “You don’t listen – and I’m worried you won’t follow my instruction” – partly true!  Sometimes I am not sure, sometimes I want to follow my own way, and sometimes I might misunderstand something.  I pledge to do better.
  4. “You are too revelational and not critical” – true, and something I will grow out of – hopefully!
  5. “You seem more interested in a contribution to practice not theory” – not true – I just want the contribution to theory to emerge from field research, from practice.  Arguably it is what theory needs – a credible, empirical, and practice base.

So what’s next?

Well, I’ll wait for the decision and respond in turn.  I’m not going to give up.

THIS SOLDIER HAS GOT WHAT IT TAKES – this university or the next :o)