Date of Award


Document type


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Linda Smircich

Second Advisor

David A. Butterfield

Third Advisor

Thomas F. Juravich

Subject Categories

Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations | Management Information Systems


Identity has long been a prolific research interest for organizational scholars. Its popularity can be attributed to the development of post-bureaucratic organizations, where control is no longer achieved through external forms (i.e. rules and procedures), but rather, "softer" mechanisms, such as organizational culture and values. Examining identity therefore becomes crucial for understanding how employees internalize organizational goals to exhibit desired behaviors. While the predominant approach has been to analyze how organizations help shape, control, and regulate member identity, this project calls into question the assumption of organizational employment to explore the micro-processes of identity construction among a growing class of worker in the U.S.: the self-employed professional.

This investigation is grounded in the world of personal coaching, an emerging profession organized largely by self-employment. Between 2007-2011, I immersed myself in the "field" of coaching, generating data via ethnographic methods--i.e. participant observation, in-depth interviews, informal interactions--and secondary archival sources.

Applying a critical interpretive lens to conceptualize identity not as a "thing" but as an ongoing social accomplishment, the analysis reveals three main insights. First, intense identity working was provoked by tensions and anxiety arising from conflicts, contradictions, and challenges, as informants tried to construct a positive identity as a self-employed professional, while simultaneously performing vital (and mostly unrecognized) identity work for the wider coaching profession. Second, since "doing" identity and material conditions are mutually constitutive, identity efforts can be categorized as having a profitable, proficient, or pragmatic orientation; I contend that this typology is applicable to other self-employed professionals. Third, as a socially negotiated process, identity working is one which recruits many participants--both within and outside of the coaching community. Furthermore, geographically-dispersed members actively regulate and control each other's identities to maintain professional standards, via new organizing forms, like social media.

This investigation contributes to knowledge about the nuances of identity working, and linkages between such micro-processes and the wider historical, socio-economic conditions. Extending beyond the coaching profession, the data produced serve as a contextual exemplar for exploring how individuals navigate the restructuring of labor and changing employment relations, which increasingly characterize the "new world of work."