What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger: Identity change in a social enterprise facing place-oriented disruption

  • Author / Creator
    Asma Zafar
  • In this research, I explore how place-oriented environmental disruptions shape the flow of organizational identity. I studied a social enterprise, Better World (a pseudonym), that faced a place-oriented disruption and fought hard to keep its place. In doing so, the organization emerged as a stronger, louder, larger, and more professional entity. Better World is located in the heart of Edmonton, a Western Canadian city. It was disrupted when the municipal government decided to construct a massive national sports arena across the street from Better World. They feared being pushed out due to the changing social milieu of downtown – from a place for the homeless to an entertainment district for the rich people in the city. However, Better World asserted its place in downtown Edmonton through a variety of tactics.
    I designed an ethnographic study to understand how responding to place-oriented disruption influenced the flow of identity at Better World. Rich data was collected by means of ethnographic observations spanning over 19 months, including 42 interviews and over 1500 pages in documents. An inductive analysis combining ethnographic procedures, grounded theory techniques, and prescriptions for analyzing process data revealed that the organization engaged in three interrelated processes of territorial work, identity work, and image work, three times over a period of 8 years. It is through a combination of these processes over time that Better World not only secured its territory but also started becoming different from who it had been.
    My study bears important implications for the organizational identity literature. First, I point out that the flow of organizational identity is shaped by environmental disruptions. Second, I develop the notion of organizational territoriality and portray place as an important referent for organizational identity processes. Third, I explicate the importance of power dynamics in the study of organizational identity and propose a future-looking research agenda integrating power and organizational identity. Finally, I present a nuanced perspective on organizational identity work by situating identity work within a broader societal context. I end the study with a discussion on the transferability of findings and outline implications for practice.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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