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Cycles of identity formation in collaboration

Beech, P.N.H. and Huxham, C. (2003) Cycles of identity formation in collaboration. International Studies of Management and Organization, 33 (3). pp. 28-52. ISSN 0020-8825

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Abstract

In this article we consider how issues of identity may have relevance to the management of interorganizational collaborations, and the establishment and disestablishment on trust in such settings. The focus is on the forces for and against consistency and disruption of identity in collaborative settings and the process by which identities are formed and assigned to self and others. On the basis of emergent theorizing using data from a collaborative setting concerned with health promotion, we build up a picture of a complex, interwoven, and tangled mêlæ#169;e of cycles of interaction in which the actions of participants are (consciously or subconsciously) at least partly determined by the identities that those participants assign to themselves and others and in which the identities are partly determined by the actions. The picture portrays identities as generally made up of a combination of social categories with different categories to the fore at any one time, so that any single actor might give a quite different sense of identity of any other single actor (or of self) on different occasions. The picture suggests that identities will be continually shifting but that sometimes identities will become crystallized for periods of time. These identities may become so deep rooted that they are seriously difficult to change, should that be deemed helpful to the progress of the collaboration. We argue that the processes of identity formation will affect almost every aspect of the nurturing that is the essence of productive collaborative practice.