creating the cultural worker identity

From constructed identity to techniques for developing one’s identity as a cultural worker.

Identity theory, in cultural studies, has focused on the idea of the constructed identity – the external factors which construct our identity through the power of discourse and ‘différance’ as described by Derrida. Stuart Hall argues this is enacted through codes, language and style that are constructed through difference, how we define ourselves in relation to the ‘other’ as a means of distinguishing ourselves. This identity is not a fixed state of being but as Hall argues it is unstable, in a constant state of flux. But do we play a role in shaping that identity, specifically in the context of cultural work?

Paul Du Gay refers to Foucault, Weber and Mauss who explore the self in relation to religious (Protestant) and spiritual disciplines as a means of involving individuals in systematic practices of self-control, monitoring their own behaviour and introducing them to practical techniques and making them personally responsible for ethical life. The result is an individualisation and a set of techniques to conduct oneself as the ‘subject’ in a reflective way, of one’s conduct. In his research Du Gay explores this idea in relation to bureaucratic work done in public sector organisations and the erosion of the specific behaviours and practices developed by individual workers as a result of the introduction of entrepreneurial modes of working. His example demonstrates how workers adopt a personality and practices appropriate to the work context and separate from their personal life.

To me this suggests the potential for ‘acting’ out a role and a potential for learning and developing a set of attributes relevant to a particular environment in which it is possible to carve out a personal identity.

The question for me to explore is how, as a researcher can I observe and analyse the cultural worker or entrepreneur and the techniques  she employs to develop  her identity? What are the external factors which impact on the context and environment? To what extent Do cultural workers self-consciously construct their identity and to what  end?

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  1. This is a really fascinating approach. Your reading and ideas put me in mind of aspects of my literary studies over the years. I wonder whether any of the theoretical work on autobiography might be of use here in thinking of the manner in which subjectivities are constructed?

    I guess that a lot of us are involved in autobiographical writing/narration every time we produce CVs or put together portfolios of work and write letters of application or even the kinds of blurb we put on websites. Personally, I’ve had to produce about 5-6 over the last year which is always a troublesome task.

  2. I’m sure that blurbs on website – however casual – are very much part of creating our professional identities. The example given by Du Gay are easier to investigate as they refer to more traditional organisations but for the creative worker / entrepreneur it is quite difficult to pin down. Practices such as CVs are useful but I think that the use of social media could be very insightful as well as all the ‘casual’ networking practices. A complex ‘milieu’ in which to shape or form your identity.

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