Sub-theme 49: Identity Tensions and Strategizing

David Oliver
University of Sydney Business School, Australia
Virpi Sorsa
Hanken School of Economics, Finland
Joëlle Basque
HEC Montréal, Canada

Call for Papers

This sub-theme explores the impact of tensions between various aspects of identity on organizational strategizing processes and strategy work. Different understandings of organizational identity (commonly defined as the characteristics that members see as central, distinctive and enduring about the organization) are likely to influence competitive strategy in ways that may diverge from a simplistic focus on profit and efficiency. The “Good Organization” balances values and aspirations to create meaning with which individuals can identify. Strategizing activities, such as strategic planning, strategic change, strategic renewal, and reversal of strategic changes (Mantere et al., 2012) can have implications for the way people think and feel about themselves in relation to their organization, with important consequences for motivation, commitment, and trust (Huy, 2011; Pratt & Foreman, 2000; Voss et al., 2006). Strategy-related events and their associated identity struggles thus appear to be good opportunities to study how organizations balance profits with the greater good, and the tensions that arise when such ambitious goals are at play.
The strategy-as-practice perspective connects to the processual view on identity, which examines ways in which identity is constructed as a form of ‘work’ carried out by organizational members at times in tension with each other and with other stakeholders (Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2013; Schultz et al., 2012). Identity rhetoric has been linked to strategy through notions of time and agency (Sillince & Simpson, 2010), with identity work considered a strategic practice integrating past, present and future temporal orientations (Oliver, 2015). Such a practice involves tensions of various degrees of intensity and control concerning who and what is involved with identity-related strategic decisions (Hatch et al., 2015).
Identity tensions are also apparent across levels. While there have been numerous studies of identity at a single level of analysis, multi-level identity is attracting increasing interest (Ashforth et al., 2011). Research might focus on the embeddedness of identity in the interplay of individual, social, organizational, and political/historical understandings of “the complex forms of ‘personhood’ that individuals acquire in their passage through particular [organizations and] institutions” (du Gay, 2007, p. 22; see also Laine et al., 2016). At the individual level, “Good organizations” might need to avoid loss of the ‘I’ (Samra-Fredericks, 2010), or negative impacts of identification such as loss of sense of self, paranoia, or reduced organizational creativity (Pratt & Foreman, 2000) in times of strategizing. At the organizational level they might also consider identity as a risk-reducing device when tensions arise around strategic objectives attainment (or non-attainment) (Fumasoli et al., 2015).
We invite strategy scholars with a variety of theoretical, methodological and empirical persuasions to join us in the exploration of identity tensions and strategizing. A few questions that we would find of interest include

  • What is the role of multiple identities in strategizing processes?
  • What practices related with identity and strategy are used in organizations in order to balance tensions, logics or resistances?
  • In what ways are strategy and identity construction constrained or “regulated” (Alvesson & Willmott, 2002) by others’ attempts to influence them both internally and externally?
  • How do strategy narratives draw on and (re)construct the identities of the organization and of different internal and external organizational stakeholders over time in the face of identity tensions related to strategizing?
  • How do organization leaders and others navigate individual, group and organizational identity tensions in the course of developing and implementing strategy?
  • How do the use of discourse, materiality, practices and space contribute to individual, group and organizational identity construction during strategizing?
  • How are fragmentations of and/or holistic (sub-)identities at interplay in the organizations’ distinctively identifiable strategic attempts to control and regulate identities?



  • Alvesson, M., & Willmott, H. (2002): “Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual.” Journal of Management Studies, 39 (5), 619–644.
  • Ashforth, B.E., Rogers, K.M., & Corley, K.G. (2011): “Identity in organizations: Exploring cross-level dynamics.” Organization Science, 22 (5), 1144–1156.
  • Du Gay, P. (2007): Organizing Identity: Persons and Organizations ‘After Theory’. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Fumasoli, T., Pinheiro, R., & Stensaker, B. (2015): “Handling uncertainty of strategic ambitions – The use of organizational identity as a risk-deducing device.” International Journal of Public Administration, 38 (13–14), 1030–1040.
  • Hatch, M.J., Schultz, M., & Skov, A.-M. (2015): “Organizational identity and culture in the context of managed change: Transformation in the Carlsberg Group, 2009–2013.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 1 (1), 56–87.
  • Huy, Q.N. (2011): “How middle managers’ group‐focus emotions and social identities influence strategy implementation.” Strategic Management Journal, 32 (13), 1387–1410.
  • Laine, P.M., Meriläinen, S., Tienari, J., & Vaara, E. (2016): “Mastery, submission, and subversion: On the performative construction of strategist identity.” Organization, 23 (4), 505–524.
  • Mantere, S., Schildt, H., & Sillince, J. (2012): “Reversal of strategic change.” Academy of Management Journal, 55 (1), 172–196.
  • Oliver, D. (2015): “Identity work as a strategic practice.” In: D. Golsorkhi, L. Rouleau, D. Seidl, & E. Vaara (eds.): Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 331–344.
  • Pratt, M., & Foreman, M. (2000): “Classifying managerial responses to multiple organizational
  • identities.” Academy of Management Review, 25 (1), 18–42.
  • Samra-Fredericks, D. (2010): “Where is the ‘I’? One silence in strategy research.” In: J.A.C. Baum & J. Lampel (eds.): The Globalization of Strategy Research. Advances in Strategic Management, Vol. 27. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing, 411–444.
  • Schultz, M., Maguire, S., Langley, A., & Tsoukas, H. (2012): Constructing Identity in and around Organizations. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Sillince, J.A.A., & Simpson, B. (2010): “The strategy and identity relationship: Toward a processual understanding.” In: J.A.C. Baum & J. Lampel (eds.): The Globalization of Strategy Research. Advances in Strategic Management, Vol. 27. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing, 111–143.
  • Sveningsson, S., & Alvesson, M. (2003): “Managing managerial identities: organizational fragmentation, discourse and identity struggle.” Human Relations, 56, 195–224.
  • Voss, Z.G., Cable, D.M., & Voss, G.B. (2006): “Organizational identity and firm performance: What happens when leaders disagree about ‘who we are?’” Organization Science, 17 (6), 741–755.
David Oliver is Senior Lecturer in Work and Organizational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School, Australia. His research interests include organizational identity, contemporary strategy practices and tools, and stakeholder engagement. His publications have appeared in management journals such as ‘Organization Studies’, ‘British Journal of Management’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Management Decision’, and ‘Journal of Business Ethics’. He is a member of the Strategy as Practice Research Group at HEC Montreal, and the Organisational Discourse, Strategy and Change Group at the University of Sydney.
Virpi Sorsa is Assistant Professor in the Department of Management and Organization at the Hanken School of Economics, Finland. Her research interests include discursive perspectives on cities’ strategy work, communicative constitution of interventions in organizations, and critical perspectives on identity. Her research has been published in journals such as ‘Organization’, ‘Management Communication Quarterly’, and ‘Discourse & Communication’. She is a member of Strategy as Discourse community in Helsinki ( and the Strategy as Practice international community (
Joëlle Basque is a Research Fellow at HEC Montréal, Canada, and Coordinator of the Strategy-as-practice Research group. She holds a PhD in organizational communication from Université de Montréal and her expertise is in discourse analysis, interaction analysis and identity construction processes in organizations. She is currently leading two major research projects with important Canadian organizations to understand the role of organizational identity in strategic planning. Her research interests include: the relations between strategic discourses and strategic planning, as well as collective creativity in organizations.