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The identity work of HR-managers

The point of departure in this research project is a paradox. While many authors argue that we live in the Knowledge Society and that HRM is becoming an increasingly important topic, the level influence of HRM specialists – i.e. the personnel managers - does not seem to be increasing contrary to the official rhetoric. The study is built on a combination of social constructionist theories of identity and more critical theories. Identity construction is seen as a process of argumentative positioning in different discourses. The perspective emphasises the social and discursive dimensions of identity construction. Another important strand of theoretical influence is more critical and structural theories that focus on reproduction. Even if identity is constantly negotiated in interaction with others, the possibilities of positioning the self in a given context is limited and asymmetrical.

Given that the aim is not only to understand different ways in which professional personnel managers construct their identity but also to explain the problems the professionals experience in positioning themselves as a strategically important professional group within the top management team, this combination of theoretical influences is considered important. The ongoing arguments for and against the professional group of HR-specialists (both written and spoken) are analyzed using a thematic discourse analytic approach.

Important guiding questions are:

  •   How are the arguments for and against the professional group and their strategic aspirations organised?

  •   Which underlying ideas of personnel management as a profession are thereby reproduced?

  •  What are the consequences of these ideas in terms of understanding the professional group’s problem in achieving legitimacy?

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