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3 September 2024, 15:30 - 17:00 CET / 9:30 - 11:00 EST

A Grounded Model of Personal Rivalry and Covert Politics in Field-identity Formation


Shubha Patvardhan

Indian Institute of Management Bangalore

Abstract: Existing literatures by and large portray field-identity formation as an organic, distributed, and democratic meaning-making process—with members across the field negotiating to arrive at a consensus on shared meanings that constitute collective identity. Our inductive study of the formative years (1890-1920) of a century-old academic-professional field revealed however an unobserved dimension of field-identity formation—one marked by personal conflict and collusion to manipulate the field’s identity. Our emergent grounded model, pivoted around an episode of identity contestation in the emerging field, maps how a soured personal relationship and growing rivalry spurred the nascent field’s founder to employ covert politics to mount an overt contestation against his successor in defense of the central feature of the field’s founding identity—ultimately, forcing his successor out of the field and manipulating a consensus over the founding identity. Effectively, we theorize field identity construction as potentially Janus-faced in that it involves actions unfolding, in a complementary and recursive manner, across two levels: an overt level marked by open discourse and debates, to create an illusion of emergence of consensus over the field’s identity; and a covert level marked by personal rivalry and collusion to secure control over the field’s identity. Overall, beyond advancing theory on the hitherto underrecognized psychological and political dimensions of field-identity, our model uncovers the underexplored, dark side of institutional entrepreneurship, and reveals how micro, individual-level interactions inform macro-, field-level processes.

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