Pragmatics 22:2

Pragmatics 22:2 (June 2012)


SPECIAL ISSUE: The interplay between professional identities and age, gender and ethnicity

Edited by Dorien VAN DE MIEROOP and Jonathan CLIFTON


Dorien VAN DE MIEROOP and Jonathan CLIFTON, The interplay between professional identities and age, gender and ethnicity: Introduction


Introduction to the issue.


Ana Cristina OSTERMANN and Caroline COMUNELLO DA COSTA, Gender and professional identity in three institutional settings in Brazil: The caseof responses to assessment turns




The current study looks at the construction of professional identity and its relations with gender, by analyzing the discursive practices of a unique set of contrasting groups, i.e. three parallel institutions created to address violence against women in Brazil: An all female police station and two crisis intervention centers – one run by feminists professionals and the other run by lay women from a working class community. In particular, the study investigates how the professionals in each setting respond to self and other assessments made by the female victims of violence.

The article discusses how broader insights about the discursive practices at the three settings can be drawn from the analysis of the more micro-interactional phenomenon of adjacency pairs in assessment turns. More specifically, it looks at how the professionals in each setting respond to the assessment turns produced by the women they serve. The theoretical approach used in the study represents innovations to previous sociolinguistic analyses of assessment turns in such way that it relates the study of preference organization to that of facework and social solidarity. This paper aims to present some contributions to the studies that look at diversity in the relationship between language, gender and professional identity, and institutional interaction in work settings.


Keywords: Adjacency pairs; Assessment turns; Identity; Gender; Institutional interaction.


Sophie REISSNER-ROUBICEK, “The guys would like to have a lady”: The co-construction of gender and professionalidentity in interviews between employers and female engineering students




Gender and professional identity are intertwined particularly in professions where women are underrepresented, making gender identities and professional identities simultaneously relevant. A promising area for inquiry into identity construction (and one where the effect of actions to increase the proportion of women in professions such as engineering can potentially be observed) is graduate recruitment, a process designed to put novice professional identities to the test. This paper takes a social constructionist approach in exploring the discursive negotiation of female engineers’ professional identities and how these are co-constructed dynamically in interaction with gender identities in this important gatekeeping context. The analysis, which draws on examples from a dataset of 20 naturally occurring interviews between employers and final-year undergraduates at a university in New Zealand, focuses particularly on the interplay of gender in the necessary synthesis of personal and institutional discourses in constructing a professional identity. Ways in which gender is oriented to explicitly and/or implicitly in these gatekeeping encounters are shown to resonate with existing gender divisions (technical vs relational) in the androcentric professional context of engineering, undermining a pro-women recruitment stance. Central to the validation of professional identities by interviewers was the demonstration of “passion for engineering” but ways in which it was deemed to be demonstrated, such as through reasons for career choice and outside interests, were arguably gender-circumscribed. This further set of normative expectations, on top of the existing competency-discourse-driven requirement to fit candidates into prescribed categories, contributes invisibly to maintaining the homogeneous identity of the engineering profession. The tension between conflicting requirements for “difference” and “sameness” in the professional identities of female engineers is highlighted in a discussion of the ways gender is made relevant in the co-construction of these identities.


Keywords: Graduate recruitment; Female engineers; Professional identity; Careers and employment discourse; Gender stereotypes; Co-construction.


Jo ANGOURI, “The older I get the less I trust people”: Constructing age identities in the workplace




In 2006 laws banning age discrimination came into effect in the UK.  Even though unions seem to suggest that ‘age’ is a very common form of discrimination, it does not typically attract (at least as yet) the same attention as other more widely discussed cases. Age discrimination is typically associated with discourses around an ‘ageing workforce’, however it affects both younger and older employees.

Looking closer at ‘ageing’ discourses it becomes apparent that the boundaries between ‘old’ and ‘young’ are not as clear cut as a first reading would suggest. Further to this, recent sociolinguistic research has repeatedly shown that (age or other) identity is not something people ‘have’ or ‘are’ but something people ‘do’ (e.g., Holmes 2006; Coupland 2009). Accordingly, the aim of this paper is to discuss and problematise the ways in which employees construct age identities in the complex system of white-collar workplaces. 

The paper draws on recordings of real life routine meeting data featuring primarily employees in a small/medium enterprise (SMEs). Special attention is paid here to one member of the team, Cynthia the youngest member of staff. The discussion also draws on interview data in order to further analyse perceptions and representations of ‘age differences’ in this context. The analysis shows the complex process of negotiation of identity where chronological age is related to ‘expertise’ and ‘experience’ and becomes an important resource participants draw upon in the process of self -and other- positioning.


Keywords : Age identities; Young employees; Professional age; Small medium enterprises  (SMEs).


Stephanie SCHNURR and Olga ZAYTS. “You have to be adaptable, obviously”: Constructing professional identities in multicultural workplaces in Hong Kong




In spite of the increasing globalisation of the work domain and the mobilization of the workforce (Wong et al. 2007) only very little attention has been paid to the interplay between culture and professional identities in workplace contexts. This paper addresses this gap by exploring some of the ways through which professionals are required to construct and negotiate their various identities in increasingly multicultural contexts where notions of culture may become particularly salient.

We focus on multicultural workplaces where, we believe, the intricate and complex relationship between culture and identity is particularly well reflected: In these contexts members are on a daily basis exposed to culture-specific perceptions, assumptions, expectations, and practices which may ultimately be reflected in workplace communication, and which impact on how professional identities are constructed.

Drawing on a corpus of more than 80 hours of authentic workplace discourse and follow-up interviews conducted with professionals we explore how expatriates who work in Hong Kong with a team of local Chinese construct, negotiate and combine aspects of their professional and cultural identities in their workplace discourse. Our particular focus is on two issues that have been identified in participants’ interviews: Sharing decision making responsibilities and negotiating a work-life balance. Our analysis of these two aspects illustrates the complex processes of identity construction from two different but complementary perspectives: i) the ways in which participants portray themselves as adapting to, negotiating or rejecting the new culture in which they work and live; and ii) the ways in which these perceived identity construction processes are actually reflected in participants’ workplace discourse.


Keywords : Cultural identity; Professional identity; Social constructionism; Multicultural workplaces; Hong Kong; Shared decision making; Work-life balance.


Dorien VAN DE MIEROOP, The discursive construction of gender, ethnicity and the workplace in second generation immigrants’ narratives: The case of Moroccan women in Belgium




This article examines the professional identity construction of three young 2nd generation immigrant women of Moroccan descent who have university degrees and high-skilled jobs. More specifically, I focus on how they construct this professional identity in relation to their gender and ethnicity. The data consist of interviews in which the interviewer explicitly probes for the relation between these topics. Interestingly, all the interviewees construct their professional identities in relatively similar ways. Furthermore, they resist the interviewer’s projections of ethno-professional identities and replace these by professional identities, thus making ethnicity irrelevant for the discussion. Finally, when discussing gendered identities, they all orient to the Western hegemonic model of the struggle in finding a work-life balance. As such, these interviewees bracket ethnicity which may be related to the role of the interviewer, interviews as a genre, and the interviewees’ orientation to societal norms.


Keywords : Professional identity; Gender; Ethnicity; 2nd generation immigrants; Interviews; Narrative; Moroccan women.


Marlene MIGLBAUER, “… Because I’m just a stupid woman from an ngo”:  Interviews and the interplay between constructions of gender and professional identity



Over the last decade, using interviews to analyse identity construction has been gaining in popularity (de Fina 2003; Johnson 2006; Baynham 2011) and, given this interest, analysing identities has become a much debated issue that is being approached from various angles. Regarding interviews as interaction between the interviewee and interviewer, and stories in the interviews as emerging from interactional dynamics (de Fina 2009), this paper draws attention to the emergence of identity at different levels. First, identities emerge at the level of the interview narrative, which is ongoing talk as it evolves in real time and consists of reporting facts, giving opinions on, and explaining aspects of, various topics to the interviewer. Second, identities emerge in stories which are included in the ongoing talk. Stories refer to actions in the past, usually told in chronological order. In contrast to interview narratives which are initiated by the interviewer, stories in interviews are primarily instigated by the interviewees to further support their identity co-construction in the interview setting. The interview setting is thus the third level of identity construction in interviews.

By applying the framework of identities occurring at different levels in interviews and Positioning Theory (Harré and van Langenhove 1999), this paper analyses the construction of professional gender identities in the workplace, the interplay between these identities, and the dependence of these constructions on the ‘interview as context’. The stories themselves reveal how, in the workplace, there may be a conflict between professional and gender identities. More specifically such stories make visible the way in which interviewees construct their professional identities in order to resist gender identities that are projected onto them.


Keywords: Identities; Gender;  Interviews; Identity levels; Power; Positioning; Stories.