Identity narratives under threat: A study of former members of Arthur Andersen
This paper examines the processes by which individuals work their sense of organizational and professional identity in the aftermath of a professional failure. Drawing on twenty-five interviews carried out with former members of Arthur Andersen who mostly worked for the firm in Canada and the United Kingdom, we investigate interviewees' identity work ensuing from the breakdown of the firm. Specifically, identity work comprises processes by which individuals reflectively seek to maintain or revise their sense of identification with the AA organization and also with the public accounting profession, along with developing self-understandings regarding causes and consequences ensuing from the firm's collapse. Our analysis indicates that four interpretive schemes or patterns mainly characterize interviewees' identity work: disillusion; resentfulness; rationalization; and hopefulness. Each of these patterns can be viewed as conveying a distinct representation of what "truly" happened within AA. In this sense, identity work, sense-making and truth contests are inextricably linked altogether. Moreover, the present paper underlines the pertinence of studying entangled processes of identity work and sense-making in order to better understand how broader social forces or discourses (e.g., commercialization and risk) are experienced and translated by the self in the context of identity-threatening events. That is, the identity work/sense-making nexus constitutes a relevant theoretical anchoring to study the circulation of discourses in society.
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