Managing emergent identities in a workplace community of practice

Tamas Eitler

ELTE University Budapest, Hungary


In order to track the dynamics of identity, the talk tries to integrate the notions of emergent style (Eckert 2007), indeterminacy in the social meaning of variables (Chun and Podesva 2007) and emergent network (Watts 1991).

The paper presents and discusses some results of a longitudinal, participant observation-based study conducted at the Hungarian branch of a transnational company. The original aim of the research was to find various identity management strategies by mapping the dynamism of interpersonal accommodation and speaker design within a Hungarian-speaking team collaborating in an open-plan office. Accommodation and speaker design were both found to be multidimensional as the different indirect connotations and projected images of the reference groups resulted in different adjustment patterns and strategic moves, reflecting the complex agenda of the speakers. Although accommodation was found to correlate with network position and strength, the strength of the correlation proved to be different for the examined variables, suggesting considerable complexity in identity construction and an emergent distribution of network positions within the team.

Next, through some in-depth case studies of various team members, it was found that the ongoing redistribution of network positions can be brought in line with the emergent nature of identity management, which is compatible with Chun and Podesva’s (2007) model. They argue for the indeterminacy in the social meaning of variables. This indeterminacy can be regarded as a strategic resource which can always be called into action: e.g., it can be resolved or left unresolved when a given style is constructed out of a combination of variables, each with a distinct yet somewhat indeterminate meaning. It will be pointed out that the management of this process is accomplished dynamically, during the ongoing interaction and through the various stages of group formation. Consequently, style itself can be conceptualised as emergent, which is what Eckert (2007) arrives at for the age cohort of (pre)adolescents. The talk concludes by proposing to view emergentism as a universal tendency, e.g., part and parcel of group formation in any context.


Chun, Elaine and Rob Podesva. 2007. On indeterminacy in the social meaning of variation. Paper presented at "UK Language Variation and Change". University of Lancaster, 13 September.

Eckert, Penelope. 2007. Emergent style. Paper presented at the Workshop "Styles and lifestyles – micro and macro approaches to the study of social meaning in linguistic variation", ICLaVE 4, Cyprus, 18 June.

Watts, Richard. 1991. Power in Family Discourse. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Session: Paper session
Identity 4
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 12