‘Never call me a mercenary’: Identity work, stigma management and the private security contractor

Brewis, Joanna and Godfrey, Richard (2018). ‘Never call me a mercenary’: Identity work, stigma management and the private security contractor. Organization, 25(3) pp. 335–353.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508417710830


Organisation studies has paid little attention to the contemporary private security industry, despite its enormous recent growth as a supplement to or replacement for state military services in theatres of conflict. To address this neglect, we investigate the workers at the heart of the industry: private security employees or contractors. Amidst widespread and extremely critical media coverage of their activities, we consider the individual contractor as a central agent of contemporary conflict, identifying three main objections to their deployment: a lack of just cause, virtue and professional legitimacy. Using scholarship on identity work and stigma management more specifically, we analyse contractors’ accounts of their employment to identify the communicative strategies they employ to challenge the stigma attributed to their occupation and/or to them as incumbents. Our data set is memoirs written by five British contractors, published between 2006 and 2011. We also suggest that data such as these are under-utilised in organisation studies’ treatment of identity work, because they represent a distinctive form of this work which we label identity writing.

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