Do you also wonder, why the topic of identity, which gained a lot of prominence in Organization Studies, has not yet found its entry into OB teaching? At least this question appears when one has a look into the numerous OB textbooks that follow the traditional OB perspective of unchallenged managerialism and organizations as driven by economic effectiveness. Even the so-called critical OB textbooks, who call into question such a perspective, remain rather silent with regard to individual, group, and organizational identity and continue to address the established set of topics that one finds in almost every OB textbook.
Turning towards the understanding of behavior in organizations on a more individual level (actually the distinction between individual/group/organizational level is not very helpful, since they are mutually related to each other) textbooks continue to connect to the personality concept and the extensive psychological literature on personality and organizational behavior. Teaching the personality chapter, I observed that this session (or these sessions) constitute a perfect opportunity to squeeze into the course some extra-curricular knowledge on identity. Even though my students, at least in the beginning, seem to swallow the definition of personality as ‘the enduring characteristics that describe an individual’s behaviour’ (e.g. Robbins et al., 2010), they soon become suspicious when we turn towards the nature vs. nurture debate (i.e. whether personality is inscribed into our DNA or shaped through socialization in early childhood, adolescence, and perhaps even later on) and even more critical when I ask them: “Is your personality stable over time? Are you the same person talking to friends over a beer as you are talking to your lecturer or the minister / priest / mullah / rabbi…? (These questions are from Fiona Wilson’s OB textbook.). Discussing these questions students are usually quick to abandon the idea of stable and enduring characteristics defining who they are and therefore predicting their future behaviour. Reminding them that the personality concept builds on these assumptions and therefore enables us to see some things, yet, not others, I use a couple of minutes introducing the students to the concept of identity and thereby to the sociological understanding of people as being actively engaged in the reflexive project to shape their identity in organizations (usually I refer to work organizations). One relatively easy way to do this is to refer to Antoni Gidden’s quotation: “Self-identity, then, is not a set of traits or observable characteristics. It is a person’s own reflexive understanding of their biography. Self-identity has continuity—that is, it cannot easily be completely changed at will—but that continuity is only a product of the person’s reflexive beliefs about their own biography” (1991, p. 53). Departing from this quotation I address the relationship between the self and identity and the distinction between personal and social identity, and the importance of individuals biography (e.g. their upbringing, past work experiences, relationships to other people, and the turning points in their life) for their identity. Explaining these aspects to my students they get at least a bit of an understanding of the notion of identity and that this concept, although not core of the OB course, enables them to see and understand more aspects of organizational behavior.