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Agile Identities: Fragile Humans?

Coupland, Christine; Spedale Latimer, Simona

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Christine Coupland

Simona Spedale Latimer


Andrew D. Brown


Recent growth in interest in identities is linked to societal changes, including an unprecedented degree of freedom in the industrialized West (Bauman, 1988; Ritzer, 1999; Sennett, 1998). Choice suggests autonomy but it also burdens us with responsibility and anxiety. Our aim is to explore how the ‘capitalistic’ conception of freedom associated with agile identities affects life at work. Agility implies that individuals are able, indeed are deemed responsible for becoming – or failing to become – the ‘right’ type of employee/organization member. The notion of ‘agile identity’ proposed here, with its emphasis on the fragile obverse of the agility coin and its reminder that identity is not simply a linguistic phenomenon, but is fundamentally embodied, allows us to explore these tensions critically. We problematize the nature of current demands for agility at work, and invite reflection on issues of power and resistance. We ask, ‘how can the exploitative ideology of the new spirit of capitalism, surreptitiously operating through overtly benign and humanistic mantras such as ‘liberation management’, effectively be resisted?’ We suggest that the notion of identity - with its ambiguous and fluid character - has become the ideological prop of the new spirit of capitalism. Thus, we need to be vigilant in how we ‘talk’ about identity in scholarly debates and strive to articulate concepts that help understand the workplace while also supporting critique. ‘Agile identity’ is our contribution to these efforts.


Coupland, C., & Spedale Latimer, S. (2020). Agile Identities: Fragile Humans?. In A. D. Brown (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Identities in Organizations (833-847). Oxford University Press.

Acceptance Date Oct 5, 2018
Online Publication Date Jan 16, 2020
Publication Date Mar 16, 2020
Deposit Date Feb 26, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 17, 2022
Publisher Oxford University Press
Pages 833-847
Book Title Oxford Handbook of Identities in Organizations
Chapter Number 51
ISBN 9780198827115
Keywords Identity, agency, agility, ideology, new capitalism, precarity
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