Identity through the built environment

Collins, Hilary (2006). Identity through the built environment. In: British Academy of Management Conference 2006, Sep 2006, Belfast, UK.


As Rafaeli & Vilnai-Yavetz (2004) have shown, there is a relationship between physical artefacts and emotion and this emotion arises from three conceptually distinct aspects of the physical artefacts; instrumentality, aesthetics and symbolism.

Within this paper, furthering this line of research, I describe how organizational actors within three educational institutes, undergoing change to their physical and managerial environment, interpreted that built environment and the physical artefacts within it. This description was used to create a model, developed from Rafaeli & Vilnai-Yavetz (2004), and suggests that the emotion which is created as a result of interpreting physical artefacts is used to affirm/influence and/or create our workplace identities. Using Hatch, M.J. & Schultz, M., (2001) identity model as a base I examine how physical artefacts are using in the expressing, reflecting, mirroring and impressing processes, establishing whether or not each factor uses physical artifacts. I go on to suggest that our interpretation of physical artefacts, when meaning is constructed from physical symbolic artefacts, can be the basis of a language.

This work develops the constructs of workplace identity and image and uses them to link ideas for examining changing organizational relationships and the impact of the design of the organizational built environment on its occupants and stakeholders.

‘If you are in a poorer position in relation to people who are the same grade as you then everyone thinks you have done something wrong. Why have you been given this workstation? We can’t choose our own work area, sometimes there is a bit of negotiation but essentially it’s allocated to us, so if we’re allocated one for example with a position next to the printer then we are in a less favour able position, especially if someone who is essentially doing the same job has a better one. It also makes me wonder if I’ve done something wrong to be allocated a work station like this. Is something happening that I don’t know about? Is something happening within my group?’ (Faculty staff member, ABC, 2004)

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