In search of the otherness of self : an empirical exploration of employees’ passage to emotional autonomy in the context of organisational change

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2021
Thesis identifier
  • T16021
Person Identifier (Local)
  • 201388808
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This thesis examines employee’s pursuit of emotional autonomy as a desire in the context of organisational change. In subjecting the employees to its dictates, organisational change demands them to be a certain way and act in certain prescribed manners (Fotaki, 2009, Driver, 2009a, Glynos, 2010). This impelled reformation of the employees’ subjectivity at the dint of the organisation has been problematised for its assumption that the employee will and can invest her sense of self to the former (Essers, Böhm and Contu, 2009). This thesis addresses this problematic by examining how employees pursue a distinct sense of self that can act and decide for themselves – through the concept of emotional autonomy (Noom, Marc and Meuss, 1999). The concept of emotional autonomy is rooted in adolescent developmental psychology (Steinberg and Silverberg, 1986, Ryan and Lynch, 1989) and suffers from the individualistic assumptions characteristic of the discipline. Yet, the concept's utility has been recognised for adults and the complex network of relationships that is the hallmark of their lives as intersubjective beings (McBride, 1990, Carrigan and Szmigin, 2006, Bekin, Carrigan and Szmigin, 2006). Therefore, one of the principal objectives of this thesis is to absolve the concept of emotional autonomy from its individualistic underpinnings and re-theorise it through a Lacanian psychoanalytic perspective within the context of organisational change. From a psychoanalytic perspective as well, autonomy has also been problematised for the impossibility of its attainment (Roberts, 2005, Stavrakakis, 2008). The author contends that despite the impossibility of attainment, the desire for a distinct sense of self is recognisable and worthy of examination. Therefore, this thesis approaches emotional autonomy not as an outcome of the employee’s struggle with the demands of organisational change; but as a pursuit of desire that is riveted with its own lacks, fantasies and indeterminacies (Kenny, 2009, Costas and Taheri, 2012). This thesis upholds a focus on the fragmentation of self that happens at the dint of the master signifier of change, which subjects the employee and impels her to transition from the self that is not subjected to the master signifier. Hence, the striving for emotional autonomy for an employee is about pursuing a distinct sense of self and navigating and coping with her fragments of selves. To this end, this thesis draws upon Lacan’s theories of discourse to examine how the employees signify to others from whom they seek autonomy (Lacan, 2007a, Fink, 1995, Bracher, 1993), and of alienation and separation that theorises the subject’s transition across her fragmented being (Verhaeghe, 2019, Moati, 2014, Lacan, 1998d). The empirical investigation of this research was conducted in a UK based multinational insurance organisation, Aegis, that was introducing a new methodology for software development – Agile – within its digital transformation project of building a new software platform for underwriting. To fully appreciate the subtle intricacies and complexities of the context and the employee’s struggles in it, the study integrated the methods of non participant observation and interviews (conducted longitudinally) that lasted over four months (Sköld, 2010). The data gathered from this study amounted to observational notes from 181 meetings and 40.2 hours of recorded data from 58 interviews with 36 participants. The analysis surfaced a range of subject positions that the participants assumed and shifted across to signify a new sense of self through their articulations of what it meant to be Agile. The examination of the significations of this right approach for the participants, implicit with the need to act and decide the way they deem fit, unpacked several complexities. These entailed the struggles to signify articulately and impel identification from others or subject others to specific positions towards defining their own self. The evidence of emotional autonomy is found in the participants’ addressing the needs of the organisation, its demand for change and the relational others in alignment with their own desire for doing the right thing (Moati, 2014, Vanheule, Lievrouw and Verhaeghe, 2003, Driver, 2017a). Such serving of the needs of others through the pursuit of one’s own desire is theorised as the discourse of the reflective. This discursive position is founded on the dialectization of the authority of the master signifier with new signifiers that addresses the lack in the master signifier, the others and the organisation at large (Fink, 1995). The conceptualisation of this position points to the interdiscursive spaces in Lacan’s typology of discourse and emphasises the need to examine those. This thesis contributes to the literature on organisational change and subjectivity by bringing into its fold a Lacanian interpretation of emotional autonomy that firstly builds a framework for analysing the intersubjective relationships of the participants. Secondly, it offers a perspective for analysing the employee’s relationship with change and how the former copes with the demands and onslaughts of the latter. Finally, with this study, the author hopes to bring to the mainstream literature of organisation studies the significance of researching project methodologies such as Agile, which have a far-reaching impact on how the employees act and identify with themselves, others and the organisation.
Advisor / supervisor
  • McInnes, Peter
Resource Type