Organizational Learning and Situated Identities : A Study of Change in "High Reliability" Organizations.

St-Amour, Wayne Fernand Joseph (2006) Organizational Learning and Situated Identities : A Study of Change in "High Reliability" Organizations. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This research explores situated learning and identity during periods of major organizational change within two 'high reliability' organizations (HROs), a British nuclear power station operator and a Canadian electricity grid operator. Situated learning refers to learning that occurs in the everyday experience of social practice, and identity is described as a learned outcome of social interaction. HROs are a fertile setting for examining learning and identity as integral elements of change. In HROs learning by experimentation is not an option without risking safety and system reliability. Further, in both firms, stable operating routines, which influence identity formation and contextual significance, have to take place alongside major change caused by industry deregulation. I argue that identity can influence commitment to organizational goals, collective motivation and internalization of norms and values; it is therefore relevant to the response of a community to major changes when people are pressured to learn new practices and roles that differ from previous experience or assumptions. This circumstance is referred to as identity tension. The thesis focuses on two main theoretical areas. First, there is a debate in the literature about whether identity tension impedes or facilitates learning. Evidence from this research suggests that we should go beyond this dichotomous view. Instead of being either impeded or facilitated, a community's learning can be both impeded and facilitated dependent on two key mediating factors: social identification and a process of change that facilitates identity continuity. The study shows that learning was impeded in the firm that employed a top-down approach to change. In this case members were expected to replace their existing notions of identity with a new conception, which fit better with the intentions of the organizational change. In the other firm, learning was facilitated when a process of change was adopted which promoted self-determination, having options and a degree of control to negotiate identity continuity and alignment. This finding illustrates that in some situations communities can negotiate new identities and learn new practices, thus they are able to transform. In other cases communities will withhold knowledge, which impedes learning both for themselves and the wider organizations in which they are located. This evidence introduces a new interpretation of the idea that learning is an assumed outcome of a community's practice repertoire. The research illustrates that in contrast to conventional views, despite the presence of legitimate peripheral participation, learning can be inhibited when community members withhold knowledge because of identity tension. Second, there is a view in the literature that communities are self-replicating social systems which embrace changes in their practice only in incremental ways. Empirical evidence demonstrates that communities are capable of more than just incremental changes to practice, since members did engage in an integrative problem solving process to jointly create a new set of practices in the merged organization. Consequently, it seems possible that communities of practice are capable of evolving in dynamic ways. This notion holds implications for management practice when communities of practice are faced with transformation. A model that draws from the study cases makes the 'below surface' aspects of identity negotiation more visible. In this way the thesis contributes some enhanced understanding of how identity continuity might be facilitated within a broader social system in an organization. Ultimately, the thesis extends current notions of situated learning through using insights from social identity theory, in order to deepen understanding of the complex interplay between learning and identity.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Lancaster University (United Kingdom), 2006.
?? miaapqmanagement.organization theory. ??
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Deposited On:
02 May 2019 16:28
Last Modified:
25 Feb 2024 00:24