Media, Organizations and Identity


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by Lilie Chouliaraki

With this mega-threat in the foreground, we present a conceptual model that illustrates the influence of mega-threats on Black employees at work see Figure 1 for full model. Our proposed dual-pathway model suggests that mega-threats spill over into the workplace by leading social identity group members to experience cognitions and emotions that trigger changes in the relationship between their identities and subsequent behaviors. We suggest, however, that because mega-threats cause individuals to experience adverse intrapsychic outcomes—namely, negative emotions and rumination—they impel these social identities to become activated and stay at the fore within the workplace, along with their already activated organizational identities.

However, we argue that because mega-threats concern all members of a social identity group, affected employees will also engage in affective and cognitive group-level processes with other ingroup members to make sense of the threats.

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We then posit that this experience of identity fusion will act as a catalyst to motivate personally risky, progroup behavior e. We assert that these factors, when combined with identity fusion, have especially potent effects on the enactment of positive deviance, countering organizational expectations that minority employees accept the status quo and stay silent at work.

Our goals in this article are threefold. First, by highlighting the far-reaching spillover effects of large-scale, diversity-related occurrences i.


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By contrast, our theory assumes that diversity experiences are dynamic: we posit that mega-threats forcibly alter the relationship between organizational and social identities, changing how minority organizational members view their experiences of diversity. Our second goal in this article is to propose a mechanism whereby mega-threats lead to functional organizational outcomes. Specifically, we argue that identity fusion, a possible consequence of a mega-threat, is an important antecedent to positive change within organizations since it leads individuals to engage in two productive behaviors: progroup voice and relational bridging aimed at improving the social stature of a group within the organizational context.

We also postulate that factors in the organizational context, including leader compassion, a climate for inclusion, and organizational demography, serve to empower minority employees to act more audaciously and heighten the functional outcomes of mega-threats.


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Last, our third goal in this article is to shine a light on the unique experiences of Black employees. While our theory is relevant for any minority employee coping with the occurrence of a relevant mega-threat, we specifically focus on highly publicized instances of violence enacted against Black Americans by law enforcement officers as the specific mega-threat under study.

To underscore the reason why we focus on this particular mega-threat: Black Americans are three times more likely than are White Americans to be killed by police and five times more likely to be killed unarmed Buehler, Thus, we suggest that Black employees in particular are constantly coping with the occurrence of group-relevant mega-threats. However, the spillover effects of these societal events on Black employees have largely been overlooked by management scholars.

In sum, our model of mega-threats specifies why, when, and how these events can be galvanizing for minority employees and the organizations they belong to. We integrate fragmented and disparate bodies of literature on events, emotions, and identities to build a dual-pathway individual- and group-level model that includes both affective and cognitive components.


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Accordingly, we highlight the factors that cultivate identity fusion and its potentially functional effects, and we offer critical moderators upon which these outcomes depend. We conclude by offering an agenda for future theory and research.

Since the early days of organizational research Allport, ; Pepper, , scholars have recognized that organizational phenomena are best understood by virtue of the events that are encountered by organizations as a whole and the entities within them. Figure 2 illustrates the relationship among mega-events and other types of events. However, this work has yet to explore how mega-events influence individual outcomes Morgeson et al. We therefore extend research on mega-events by building a theory of how individuals are impacted by one type of mega-event—a mega-threat—which we define as negative, large-scale, diversity-related episodes that receive significant media attention.

We identify three defining characteristics of mega-threats: identity relevance, negativity, and broad impact. First, regarding identity relevance, research on mega-events has shown that both planned events e. Second, because the identity groups in question are threatened, devalued, or harmed by mega-threats, we identify these events as inherently negative. Finally, mega-threats garner significant media attention.

Together, these three characteristics distinguish mega-threats from other large-scale events.

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In this article we demonstrate the main tenets of our theory by considering one major type of mega-threat: instances of police shootings and brutality enacted against Black men and women that have received significant media attention over the past decade. A few examples of these mega-threats include the shooting of Black teenager Michael Brown by a police officer, the death of Sandra Bland in police custody following an illegal arrest, the death of Eric Garner as a result of an illegal police chokehold, and the shooting of Stephon Clark by two Sacramento police officers, all of which underscore the experience of danger for Black Americans in interactions with law enforcement.

As per our definition, these tragic instances were accompanied by considerable media attention; for instance, 3. These examples each fit the definition of a mega-threat in that they are large-scale events that particularly threaten Black Americans because they contradict a value shared that all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, are united under the motto of e pluribus unum out of many, one and, thus, should be treated equally and justly under the law McAuliffe, Table 1 provides details regarding the numerous mega-threats referenced in this article.

At the individual level, we argue that mega-threats act as stressors that lead minorities to experience negative emotions and cognitive rumination. We then argue that mega-threats trigger a second group-level pathway, where group members collectively engage in the social sharing of emotion and sensemaking about the event, and that it is the combination of these intrapsychic and group processes that leads to identity fusion. We then describe how individual-level group identification and group-level cultural values moderate intrapsychic- and group-level pathways, respectively.

This identity-switching process is particularly important for minority employees whose social identities are intentionally managed or masked so as not to draw attention to characteristics that make them appear visibly different within the workplace Roberts et al. However, when minority employees engage in group-level processes in response to mega-threats, these group processes act in concert with intrapsychic ones, compelling minorities to reconstruct the relationship between their conflicting organizational and social identities to produce identity fusion, a visceral sense of oneness between social and organizational identities that, we suggest, has positive organizational outcomes.

Events that are attention grabbing, vivid, novel, unexpected, and relevant to the needs, values, goals, or beliefs of the affected individual Frijda, ; Lazarus, act as a gateway to emotion. We suggest that mega-threats, which are inherently negative, identity devaluing, and attention garnering, are likely to be appraised as undesirable, deleterious occurrences for relevant groups and the individuals that belong to them. Based on this set of appraisals, we argue that Black Americans will be more likely to experience high-arousal, negative emotions like anger, fear, anxiety, and grief in response to this event Bor et al.

By contrast, Americans of other races, for whom this event carries neither personal nor group relevance, will likely perceive this event as but one of the numerous mega-threats occurring across the world every day. When exposed to a mega-threat, group members are also likely to engage in cognitive rumination in an attempt to understand the event. We argue that, similar to personally threatening events, mega-threats cause postevent cognitive rumination, in which individuals ruminate about the relevance of the event to themselves as individuals as well as their social identity groups.

Mega-threats cause individuals to ruminate about their social identities because these events challenge taken-for-granted notions that we live in a predictable world. As such, because people generally believe that they are personally invulnerable to negative events, that they themselves are worthy individuals, and that other people get what they deserve, exposure to mega-threats highlighting to minority group members that their identities are perceived as lower in status and desirability shatters these positive assumptions Janoff-Bulman, For instance, in reacting to the shooting of Terence Crutcher in the epigraph at the beginning of the article, Karpi Bibbs expressed fear for his personal safety and the safety of other Black Americans when interacting with police.

This quote is an example of ruminative thoughts triggered by a mega-threat. Once triggered, these intrapsychic affective and cognitive processes are likely to have bidirectional effects Pachankis, Additionally, experiences of negative emotions also increase ruminative thought as individuals seek to understand these emotions, which then serves to further prolong experiences of negative affect Nolen-Hoeksema, We argue that these affective and cognitive processes cause the social identity implicated by the mega-threat to become activated at work.

This experience stands in contrast to the typical identity transition process, where organizational identities switch on and non-work-relevant social identities switch off at work Kreiner et al. The activation of a social identity along with an organizational one is likely to be problematic for minority individuals because their social identities may provide divergent and incompatible sets of expectations about how to engage with others and enact behaviors at work. Proposition 1: Mega-threats lead to individual-level a negative emotions and b cognitive rumination that c influence each other through a feedback loop that d leads to identity interference and conflict.

We propose that group identification has an important moderating influence on the intrapsychic experience of mega-threats. Individuals who are highly identified with their groups are also more likely to experience identity-related threats as psychologically painful because the threats hurt a central aspect of themselves Settles, Building on this research, we posit that the intrapsychic experience of mega-threats will be heightened for individuals high in group identification. Because these individuals have a heightened sense of connection to their group, a mega-threat involving another group member will trigger highly arousing negative emotions.

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Highly identified individuals are also more likely to ruminate about a mega-threat because the event challenges an identity that is a core aspect of their self-concept, leading to repetitive negative thoughts about the event. Taking these findings together, we argue that high levels of group identification heighten the intrapsychic experience following the occurrence of a mega-threat, leading individuals to experience stronger negative emotions and higher levels of rumination.

Yet we also hold that those low in group identification are also affected, albeit to a lesser degree. We therefore hold that for individuals who have low group identification, mega-threats may goad these individuals into recognizing their status as minority group members and perceiving the potential threats associated with being a member of their group. Hence, while the intrapsychic experience of mega-threats may be particularly strong for highly identified individuals, we argue that individuals low in identification also experience negative emotions and cognitions as a result of a mega-threat.

Proposition 2: Group identification will moderate the effect of mega-threats on the individual-level intrapsychic experience of mega-threats such that higher levels of identification will lead to increased negative emotions and rumination. Because mega-threats pertain to all members of a social group, individuals confronted by a mega-threat are likely to seek out group members for emotional support and social validation.

We predict that these group interactions involving group-level affective processes of emotional sharing and cognitive processes of collective sensemaking will then combine with intrapsychic identity responses to mega-threats to engender identity fusion. For highly fused individuals, the boundaries between their identities becomes permeable, and these identities mutually influence each other such that activating one identity necessarily activates the other Swann et al. Below we discuss the facilitating effect of group-level processes on the development of identity fusion.

Together, these affective sharing experiences will increase group shared emotion. We also propose that group members engage in collective sensemaking in which they jointly work as a group to attempt to reduce confusion in the uncertain environment created by a mega-threat.

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Specifically, we argue that mega-threats foment a contextual ambiguity regarding the value and meaning of social identities and that group members use collective sensemaking to reduce this ambiguity. This development of mutual understanding may be of particular importance to Black Americans, for whom storytelling is an important tradition Cannon, ; Haight, and serves as a means of conveying and preserving history Kouyate, This shared sentiment among Black Americans that society does not value Black lives and that their value must be reaffirmed is an example of the collective sensemaking process that occurs among group members following a mega-threat.

We posit that an overarching group-level affective and cognitive feedback loop then combines with the intrapsychic outcomes of mega-threats, leading minorities to experience identity fusion, or a visceral sense of oneness with a group that involves the elimination of boundaries between organizational and social identities Swann et al. While in prior research on identity fusion scholars have predominantly investigated fusion between personal and social identities, we posit that because identity fusion can occur with any set of salient identities Swann et al.

Specifically, we suggest that while these particular constructs are similar to identity fusion because they also involve activated and merged identities, the causes, characteristics, and consequences of identity fusion differentiate this identity experience from the others.

Media, Organizations and Identity Media, Organizations and Identity
Media, Organizations and Identity Media, Organizations and Identity
Media, Organizations and Identity Media, Organizations and Identity
Media, Organizations and Identity Media, Organizations and Identity
Media, Organizations and Identity Media, Organizations and Identity
Media, Organizations and Identity Media, Organizations and Identity
Media, Organizations and Identity Media, Organizations and Identity
Media, Organizations and Identity Media, Organizations and Identity
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