Careers in Transition: Continuity, Complexity and Conflicting Desires in the Discursive Identity Construction of Ex-Consultants

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis – Research and graduation external


This dissertation investigates notions of continuity, complexity and conflicting desires in the identity construction of ex-consultants, especially as they make sense of a past career transition: away from the strongly identity-shaping work environment of a management consultancy towards a different working context. For this purpose 30 life story interviews were conducted with former management consultants who now work in one of the following organizational contexts: academia, financial services, industry, NGO, inhouse-consulting or own start-ups. In order to explore how the identity construction of ex-consultants and their related self-image shifted (or not) in the course of a past career transition, three distinct discursive analyses were conducted, each focusing on a different aspect of the phenomenon.
The first analysis emphasizes the notion of continuity by critically exploring how discourses of elitism are carried from the consulting context into the new work environment. It highlights the context-spanning effects that these discourses may have on the professional identity construction of ex-consultants even in the post-exit arena. The second analysis complicates this narrative around continuity by highlighting aspects of complexity and multiplicity in the identity construction of ex-consultants. It emphasizes that in instances of career change, a range of different and potentially conflicting forms of identification may be invited, thereby offering different subject positions.
As if to reconcile these seemingly opposing findings of the first two analyses, the third analysis investigates the co-existence of conflicting desires for coherence (continuity) on the one hand and ambiguity (complexity) on the other. With an interest in why this is emotionally important, the analysis suggests that particularly in times of career change people may be motivated to consciously or unconsciously preserve both, coherence for a sense of self-continuity and ambiguity for a sense of openness.
Each of the three analyses is based on a different discursive understanding of identity, namely a Foucauldian-inspired understanding of identity, an understanding of identity through positioning theory, and thirdly, a narrative understanding of identity. By problematizing some underlying assumptions of these frameworks, the study develops and refines current conceptualizations of discursive identity construction.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St. Gallen
Award date15 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2014


  • Career change
  • Career transition
  • Continuity
  • complexity
  • Conflicting desires
  • Discourse
  • Narrative
  • Identity
  • Management consulting
  • Ex-consultants


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