In search of the millennial : is there a distinctive millennial identity and what might this mean for our understanding of identity in organisations? : a study of emerging identities in Mexican young adults

Huett, Richard David

December 2019

Thesis or dissertation

© 2019 Richard David Huett. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Ideas of selfhood in contemporary society are increasingly understood in terms of generational membership (Rudolph, Rauvola & Zacher, 2018; Howe & Strauss, 2000). Popular discourses of generational identity offer individuals alternatives for self- definition in ways akin to traditional social identities (Gilleard, 2004). The Millennial Generation (born 1981 to 2000) is portrayed as particularly transformative, differentiated from its predecessors through a series of millennial roles and a distinctive portrayal of leadership (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Elmore, 2009).

Contemporary organisations are also conceptualised as spaces for self-definition (Brown, 2015). Individuals are theorised as “identity workers” (Alvesson & Willmott, 2002, p. 622, italics in original) who craft an organisational self subject to identity regulation and control (Reedy, King & Coupland, 2016). Leader identity has received particular attention from scholars (Sinclair, 2011) and is especially relevant to the popular discourse of The Millennial Generation.

This qualitative research finds only weak support for claims of a distinctive millennial identity. Further, the participants’ narratives suggest only partial support for a distinctive millennial understanding of leadership. These findings suggest discourses of generational identity overestimate the power of change, and underestimate that of continuity and stability, in self-definition. Data was collected through open-ended interviews with twenty-four young adult Mexicans.

This research theorises the lack of millennial distinctiveness in the participants’ accounts as attributable to the popular discourse’s over-reliance on a ‘digital native’ portrayal (Prensky, 2001), one not supported by academic research. Secondly, it conceptualises the participants’ emerging leader identity in terms of micro and macro processes of identity construction and not solely in terms of dominant leader discourses. It recognises the participants undertaking identity work to adapt and mould dominant discourses into more nuanced leader portrayals. Thirdly, it theorises an alternative portrayal of emerging identity in young adulthood characterised by information search (Berzonsky, 1989) and the continual refinement of ideas of selfhood.

Business School, The University of Hull
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