Relational Identity and Identification

Relational Identity and Identification

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姝 Academy of Management Review 2007, Vol. 32, No. 1, 9–32.

RELATIONAL IDENTITY AND IDENTIFICATION: DEFINING OURSELVES THROUGH WORK RELATIONSHIPS DAVID M. SLUSS University of South Carolina BLAKE E. ASHFORTH Arizona State University We explore the meaning and significance of relational identity and relational identification, predicated on the role-relationship between two individuals. We argue that relational identity integrates person- and role-based identities and thereby the individual, interpersonal, and collective levels of self; contrast relational identity and relational identification with social identity and social identification; contend that relational identity and relational identification are each arranged in a cognitive hierarchy ranging from generalized to particularized schemas; and contrast relational identification with relational disidentification and ambivalent relational identification.

Identity is at its core psychosocial: self and other; inner and outer; being and doing; expression of self for, with, against, or despite; but certainly in response to others. It is both those for whom one works and the work of loving (Josselson, 1994: 82).

ship have provided valuable insights on the impact of relationships on one’s development, performance, and well-being (e.g., Baker, Cross, & Wooten, 2003; Dutton & Heaphy, 2003; Flum, 2001b; Gibbons, 2004; Hall & Kahn, 2002; Kahn, 1998; Lord & Brown, 2001; Morrison, 2002; Ragins, Cotton, & Miller, 2000; Sherony & Green, 2002; Wrzesniewski, Dutton, & Debebe, 2003). What has been missing, though, is a specific focus on how one’s definition of self might be influenced by interpersonal relationships and the consequent interplay of three “levels” of identity: individual (or personal), interpersonal, and collective (or group, social). A major breakthrough occurred with Brewer and Gardner’s (1996) article, “Who Is This ’We’?” in which they contrasted the three levels of self (see also Brickson, 2000; Brickson & Brewer, 2001; Sedikides & Brewer, 2001). According to these and other scholars (e.g., Kashima & Hardie, 2000; Lord, Brown, & Freiberg, 1999), the individual level focuses on oneself as a unique being, and self-esteem derives from interpersonal comparisons of traits, abilities, goals, performance, and the like. The basic motivation is self-interest, and the individual is essentially independent and autonomous. The interpersonal level focuses on one’s rolerelated relationships (henceforth “role-relationships”), such as supervisor-subordinate and coworker-coworker. Individuals are therefore interdependent, placing a premium on the na-

The study of identity and identification in organizations has focused almost entirely on the individual vis-a`-vis a collective, such as a workgroup, department, and the organization itself. This research has yielded a wealth of insights on how individuals define and locate themselves within organizational contexts (Ashforth & Johnson, 2001; Ashforth & Mael, 1996; Barker & Tompkins, 1994; Dutton, Dukerich, & Harquail, 1994; Elsbach, 1999; Haslam, van Knippenberg, Platow, & Ellemers, 2003; Hogg & Terry, 2001; Pratt, 1998; van Dick, 2004; van Knippenberg & van Schie, 2000). However, this focus on the individual vis-a`-vis a collective has largely ignored the interpersonal level and its influence on one’s identity and identification in the workplace. To be sure, management scholars in areas such as career development, leadership, social networks, and positive organizational scholar-

We thank Glen Kreiner, Loriann Roberson, former associate editor Elizabeth Mannix, and three anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts. An earlier version of the paper was presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Seattle. 9


Academy of Management Review

ture of interaction and the potential for personal connection and intimacy. As Andersen and Chen put it, the “self is relational— or even entangled—with