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Work and the Self: How The Constructed Self is Maintained

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Work and the Self: How The Constructed Self is Maintained Mandi Exner-Johnson University of Victoria Direct all correspondence to mandiexn@uvic.ca [AE1] Upon meeting someone new one of the first things that is often asked is "so, what do you do?" The type of occupation that one holds plays a key role as a signifier of status and prestige. It is this status and prestige, or lack there of, that helps to construct the self and identity. Through personal embedment in the hospitality industry and interviews of those who are a part of the same environment this study looked at the differences of group dynamics between people who are full-time employees without any post-secondary education and part-time employees who are also full-time students. This study displays that the differences in self-identification are linked to other factors such as role distancing and role embracement. This study was conducted in the interests of symbolic interaction. [A2] In order to make an attempt to understand a certain culture of interactions, there is a need for one to lurk, loiter, and observe. There is a need to pay attention to the symbols used within the culture, the context they are used in, and what the symbols signify. There are many different ways to interpret symbols, especially when the context they are expressed in is complex. This is the case with the trying to understand the dynamics of identities within the workplace and how they are constructed and maintained. How people interpret them will depend on their life up until that point in time, and their own construction of personal status will surely play a large role in their interpretation and each will be at least slightly different from the last. The workplace studied in this paper is Food Idol. In particular, this paper focuses on the serving staff at Food Idol, also known as waiters. Superficially it may seem that the focus is on one group of people but don't be fooled. ...read more.


The Difficulties of Data Collection: Keeping Focus on The Topic During the interview process I encountered few difficulties. All interviews were conducted face-face, in groups of myself and either one or two participants. There was nothing coercive, or hidden from the participants as they were aware of the nature of the study and were able to ask questions or ask for clarification about the topic to ensure that their response would be accurate. However, one problem that I encountered during the interview process was that in some instances the tension between employees rose due to the nature of opinions expressed. An example would be when those in school said they would never want to be a "lifer" in the business while some of the full-time employees had expressed that they wanted to advance themselves and make a career out of their current position. However, the tension was fused as I directed the conversation in another path, as I did not want my study to construct any further tension between employees. Another testing complication that arose was the seriousness and depth of answers and the variation between those who seemed to want to express a clear a opinion and displayed a stronger degree of seriousness when voicing responses and those who accepted to be part of the study but lost interest more easily and often tried to change the subject towards something completely off topic. For example, I tried to interview Jessicaii, a full-time female employee twice, both times she lost interest quickly and wanted to talk about going to Vancouver to go shopping, or how her boyfriend had taken her out for dinner the night before. In both the mentioned instances it was hard to restore focus on the topic and the interviews ended, after the second interview with Jessica I decided that although she had said she wanted to be included in the study she did not put forth any relevant information so she was omitted as one of the fourteen participants. ...read more.


Aside from the hierarchies that exist within Food Idol, hierarchies from outside Food Idol have their place. It does not go unnoticed in this service industry that employees often feel looked down on by their customers. Some employees find it frustrating and feel the need to dignify themselves or show what status and worth they have aside from their identity of "server." Given more time, I would choose to further my study and look at the interactions between employees and customers addressing why a power struggle exists and how these struggles could be perceived in a different way. [A8] It is also clear from this study the employees included in this research all wanted to express themselves in a positive self-image. The ways in which these positive images were displayed were somewhat surprising until I put them under the perspectives of role distancing and role embracing (Anderson and Snow, 2001). Further, I included the primary ways that the two groups used self-identification (student or server) and in doing so I was able to make sense of how the two groups constructed such different positive identities. Overall, the research process became increasingly interesting with each interview conducted. As mentioned if time had permitted there are aspects that I would have liked to have included in the research, and I invite any one to further with those aspects should they wish to do so. However, upon reflection I realized, that those who I included in the study are those who I work with most, who I am friendly with, and know better than other co-workers. This may have had an effect on the research process as it is possible that the responses given may have not been what they would have been if an outsider had been conducting the research. Acknowledgements I would like to use this space to thank the participants who made this research possible. I would also like to thank Phillip Vannini, who without trying to sound corny he was able to spark a genuine interest in me for the research and writing of qualitative research methods. ...read more.

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