Sub-theme 33: Identity Work through the Ages: Unexamined Lives?

Cynthia Hardy
University of Melbourne, Australia
Leanne Cutcher
University of Sydney, Australia
Cara Reed
Cardiff University, UK

Call for Papers

Age is a potent organizer of our lifespace and power accrues to those who are able to shape age cultures and control the age agenda. The meanings of age categories such as infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age are fluid and depend on cultural and political circumstances. Age designations … compress and impress ways of feeling, thinking, and understanding about a person … They seep into our identities, sometimes as pleasant infusions, other times as sharp erosions. Some can feel patently unjust or unfair and trigger resistance. [Fineman, 2011: 3]

From 'Kidults' and the 'Boomerang Age' to 'Grey Power' and the 'Third age' – age is a "master discourse" (Fineman, 2011), deeply embedded in social experience; and at certain points associated with reflexive moments.

Ironically, age remains relatively unexamined and underexplored by researchers in organization studies. Studies of individual age are notable for their absence in most management journals: the mention of age in the title of an article is more likely to refer to a particular epoch – such as the global age or the information age – than to an individual. When age is considered, it is more likely to be treated as a fixed, independent variable rather than an identity associated with diverse and ambiguous meanings; also age is typically taken to mean 'older' age when the concept obviously pertains to all ages.

This sub-theme will problematize the concept of age; and critically examine how identity work is influenced by age as well as how age influences identity work. We are particularly interested in papers that explore the complexity and diversity in meanings of age – and their effects – from a critical standpoint. We therefore welcome papers on critical perspectives on how individuals engage in identity work through all ages – young, middle, and old.

In keeping with the general theme of the Colloquium, we seek papers that reflect on age and examine its implications for identity work, particularly those that link power and identity and which transcend dualisms and traditional levels of analysis. We invite papers that inspire dialogue about what age means; move beyond demarcations of old and young age and other reified categories of age; and relate individual age-related identity work to organizations and organizing.

Papers may address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • What role does "youth" play in organizations? How might the association of youthfulness with novelty and innovation engender the need for constant reinvention and a "future orientation" (Sennett, 2006)? How is youthfulness made a salient discourse and how is it appropriated and exploited by organizations?
  • How are generational categories – Baby Boomers, Generation X, Y and Millennials – constructed and deployed in organizations? And to what effect? What new categories of age are being constructed and why?
  • How is ageing made real in organizations? What effects does the "grand narrative of decline" associated with ageing (Gullette, 2004) have on individuals? In what ways and under what circumstances is older age valued and privileged, and for what ends?
  • What is the relationship between age, organization and corporeality (Casey, 2000)? How is ageing embodied and performed?
  • How is age resisted? How are reifying age categories subverted? How do organizational members draw on discourses that counteract the negative meanings associated with age? How is the visual imprint of age resisted? What roles might social and political movements and other organizations play in resisting discourses of age? How can we resist age without denying our identity or reproducing the categories that constrain us?
  • How does identity work in relation to age vary across different contexts? What can we learn from cultural and geographical differences in what age means?
  • What are the paradoxes and tensions of age? How does age intersect with other identity categories such as sexuality, gender, race and ethnicity? Why are some ages invisible while others are so prominent and prevalent? Why do we stereotype and discriminate on the basis of age when most of us hope to achieve it?




  • Casey, C. (2000): "Sociology sensing the body: Revitalizing a dissociative discourse." In: R. Hassard, J.R. Holliday & H. Willmott (eds.): Body & Organization. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 52–70.
  • Fineman, S. (2011): Organizing Age. Oxford University Press.
  • Gullette, M. (2004): Aged by Culture. Chicago University Press.
  • Sennett, R. (2006): The Culture of the New Capitalism. Yale University Press.


Cynthia Hardy is Laureate Professor of Management at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She has published over 60 articles in refereed journals, in addition to numerous book chapters and conference papers. She has published over ten books, including two SAGE Handbooks: the "Handbook of Organization Studies", which won the George R. Terry Book Award at the Academy of Management; and the "Handbook of Organizational Discourse", which won the Outstanding Book at the National Communication Association. She is also Co-Director and Co-Founder of the International Centre for Research into Organizational Discourse, Strategy & Change. In 2014, Cynthia became Honorary Member of EGOS.
Leanne Cutcher is an Associate Professor in the School of Business at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research explores issues of gender, race, space and age in organisations and has been published in leading journals, including 'Organization Studies', 'Gender, Work and Organisation', and 'Work, Employment and Society'.
Cara Reed is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management at Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, UK. Previously a PR consultant, her PhD thesis explores the construction of professional identities in the UK PR industry, considering the power effects of the professional discourse drawn on by PR's professional association in the professional identity construction of practitioners.