Villains, Victims, and the Financial Crisis: Positioning Identities through Descriptions

Frank Mueller and Andrea Whittle

in Constructing Identity in and around Organizations

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199640997
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191738388 | DOI:

Series: Perspectives on Process Organization Studies

Villains, Victims, and the Financial Crisis: Positioning Identities through Descriptions

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This chapter draws insights from the field of Discursive Psychology (DP) to examine the identity positioning employed in the narratives surrounding the financial crisis. Existing narrative, discursive, and communicative approaches to studying identity have tended to focus on more or less explicit identity-talk, where participants produce direct accounts of themselves or others. What is less well understood is how descriptions of objects, actions, and events perform identity work. This chapter contributes by showing how DP enables us to understand how apparently “neutral” and “factual” descriptive accounts act as a form of identity positioning. We focus our analysis on the identity positions constructed during a public hearing involving senior banking executives in the United Kingdom. The analysis suggests that two competing identities, victim and villain, were constructed for the bankers in the dialogue between the witnesses (bankers) and the questioners (politicians). We argue that apparently neutral descriptions of events, such as accounts of what happened and why, can represent methods of positioning identity. We propose that a “discursive devices” approach, inspired by DP, contributes to the understanding of identity positioning by highlighting the power of micro-linguistic tools in laying out the moral landscape of the characters involved in the description. We conclude by arguing that the characters and stories surrounding the financial crisis are important because they acted to shape how the crisis was made sense of and acted upon.

Keywords: discursive devices; Discursive Psychology; financial crisis; identity; positioning

Chapter.  13909 words. 

Subjects: Organizational Theory and Behaviour

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