In his book, Organizing Identity, Paul Du Gay seeks to explore the question: What does a sociology of persons look like? Du Gay explores these issues by focusing on the person’s context such as ‘ the relations, techniques and forms of training and practice through which individuals in particular organizational settings have acquired definite capacities and attributes for existence as particular sorts of person.’ (2007: 13).

This, according to du Gay, is in contrast to theoretical approaches to identity which rely on the idea of the person as an autonomous, self-governing individual. His book explores personae in context and seeks to do so through a descriptive approach, in contrast to what he describes as the ‘universalist critical philosopher’. This theoretician, it is argued, is committed to the idea of universal norms and not open to the possibility of different practices of personhood (2007: 10). Du Gay refers to Rorty and Latour who instead, prefer a contextualized approach, descriptive and which does not attempt to group together or generalize. Du Gay suggests that it is possible to consider theories of the constructed identity, which purports that a person is not autonomous or acting as a ‘free agent’, without excluding the fact that society treats us as individuals with responsibility for our actions. This leads him to explore the contexts in which individuals develop their identity or identities and equip themselves with the tools to do so.

This enables the researcher to home in on detail without trying to make the individual fit into a prescribed theoretical position.

… instituted norms and techniques of conduct are regarded as instruments for the cultivation of particular ‘personal’ deportments, whose historical circumstances, purposes and distribution are matters of sociological and historical investigation and description… (2007:11)

The type of individual intellectuals associated with theoretical work as described above, have, some shared characteristics which can be described as a certain skepticism and negativity. Du Gay argues that this creates a critical persona with a particular position within academia, and that in the context of today’s more vocational emphasis within education, this approach is less popular.

… we find ‘Identity’ and ‘difference’, and the predictable chain of theoretical signifiers running out of steam. (2007:4)

Du Gay’s shift towards understanding the specific forms of personhood through immersion in a milieu or work context is a potential framework for my research of cultural entrepreneurs and education. It raises questions in relation to my methodology and the importance of the ‘milieu’ and of the normative characteristics or ‘regimes of conduct’ acquired by individuals immersed, for example, in a workplace for creative practitioners. How is identity created and what are the modes of conduct? How, as a researcher, can this be observed, analysed and interpreted?

    • Harry Matlay
    • September 19th, 2010

    I like your blog, Annette – very thoughtful, inspired and… professional. I wish you the best with your PhD: have a joyful journey!

  1. Thanks Harry!

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