Working paper

Work and careers are becoming increasingly market-based, entrepreneurial, and precarious – in a word, unstructured. This presents challenges to organization theory, which is largely predicated on the structures of post-WW2 Western corporate working life. In particular, notions of identity in organization theory are founded on imagined and actual positions in organizational structures, such as firms, teams and supervisor relationships. The purpose of this paper is to modernize organization theory in this regard, by putting forward a model of identity in unstructured work. This is achieved by widening the theoretical foundations of identity to include contemporary sociological literature that theorises identity through narrative rather than structure, and by conducting an empirical study of ‘microwork’, an extreme example of today’s unstructured working arrangem ents. Through interviews and observation, we examine the identity challenges that this highly unstructured form of low-status online work poses to workers, and the coping strategies that workers develop. The resulting model consists of three identity processes: evading the question of identity, constructing a positive occupational identity by casting fluidity as freedom, and networking with other workers to form self-organized structures that provide identity.

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