Work and the Self: How The Constructed Self is Maintained

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.

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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.

There are distinct sub-cultures within the serving staff, those who work full-time and do not have any post-secondary education and those who work part-time and are currently enrolled in full-time studies. The concentration of this study is on how the self is identified, constructed, and maintained. This study critically looks at how identities are formed and how identities are played out according to their different social status. As the study progressed, the topic of how people strive to display a positive self-identity also emerged.

The Biology of Work: The Dynamics of an Occupation A moment in our age is also an event in history. As we biologically age so do the social groups that we identify with. As Everett Hughes has pointed out, physical energy, speed, and [A3]physique all play a role in the success of a career (1997). The changes in the above variables may also account for changes in occupation; Hughes gives an example of an anthropologist who may no longer be able to stomach the tropics for observation so he/she may choose to instead work at a museum (1997).

Hughes also notes that often those who remain in the same industry and move-up within that industry or company are part of the “in-group” of people (1997). Therefore a career may often move through not only a biological sense but also through a social sense of group dynamics. [A4]The dynamics of an occupation can also include the title of an occupation. This is of interest for symbolic interaction as language is a symbolic form and is used to anchor meanings to the symbols. For example, the core activity of an occupation is often the name of the occupation but this can be deceiving.

For example a college teacher does not refer to him/herself as a “paper grader” as the title of teacher or professor carries much higher cultural prestige. Work the Self: Ambition, Prestige and the Construction of Status Clearly it takes a certain kind of ambition to train for certain kinds of work and in our society is seems that the careers that carry more prestige also require more ambition (Hughes, 1951). Work is one of the main things that a person is judged upon, and is one the main things on how one judge’s his/her own self (Hughes, 1951).

One of the most important things about any person is his/her audience, and the several available audiences which one can use to claim their worth in front of (Hughes, 1951). Work is therefore one of the most important parts of social identity and the self, work helps shape the self. As Everett Hughes says, there are rules that classify people, and in occupational groups there are rules for determining who is a true fellow worker, and can be initiated into the “in-group” of close equals, and there are those who must be kept at some distance (1951).

Those who are invited into the “in-group” maintain a higher status and respect in the institution that they are a part of (Hughes, 1951). In turn this brings attention to the point of the social drama of work. Most kinds of work bring people together in definable roles, for example the doctor and the patient (Hughes, 1951). There is also the position of consumer of services (Hughes, 1951). There is a tension that lay between the roles of the producer of the service and the consumer. There are many women who are employed in service work (Hall, 1934).

Often forms of service work can be both demeaning and demoralizing if the worker has little control over her environment (Hall, 1934) and the worker often feels a need to fight for status and personal dignity (Hughes, 1951). However, in most occupations the most crucial relationships are among co-workers. And as Hughes points out the relationship that one has with his/her co-workers has the ability to make their working life sweet or sour. Inequality and Self: Understanding Social Stratification

What are the real life implications for the everyday functioning and psychology of social actors; how do people manage affronts, insults and other situations as they go about their everyday routine? (Anderson and Snow, 2001). This is a primary concern that can be looked at through a symbolic interaction lens. According to the symbolic interaction perspective, people act based on symbolic meanings they find within any given situation; we interact with the symbols and form relationships around them.

The goals of interactions with one another are to create a shared meaning (Vannini, 2005). It is said that, “the way people seek and give attention and the amount they are likely to receive is significantly shaped by their social roles and their status within the major institutional hierarchies” (Anderson and Snow, 2001). Power and inequality are manifested in everyday lives and the self-concept can be seen as an internal measure that reflects external social structure and institutionalized hierarchies.

Anderson and Snow argue that the relationship between the self-concept, identity and others is a much more complicated relationship than earlier assumed and they cite Goffman’s concept of “identity work” which may include forms of role distancing, role embracement and storytelling with the ulterior motive to confirm a positive self-identity (2001). The lived experience and agency of actors is what constructs reality, and everyone shapes their own reality uniquely, which is what can make symbolic interaction exceedingly complex and intriguing. [A5]