A discursive analysis of organizational age inequality and older worker identity
This thesis argues that whilst a critical mass of age and employment literature is developing, research has centred on the work/non-work interface, or focussed on the experience of ‘older workers’ as classified through chronological markers. As a result, it has overlooked how the terms themselves that are used within policy, academia and organizations to conceptualise and refer to age inequality are interrelated and shape our understanding of this phenomenon. In order to further investigate how language and power affect the reproduction of organizational age inequality, this study takes a discursive approach to examine ‘ageism’, ‘age discrimination’ and ‘older worker’ as socially constructed phenomena. The discursive approach develops the work of Pierre Bourdieu to argue that whilst action may be shaped and understood through larger collective ideological processes, power and domination are never absolute, since the constitution of the individual is created through the interaction between the self and social in different spaces and at different times. Thus, in order to understand the reproduction of age inequalities, one must not only consider what ideological discourses are drawn upon and the strategies or techniques used to legitimize them, but also analyze the relationship between these constructions and how they are related to an individual’s own identity work. Using data collected from 33 interviews with human resource managers, the findings show that whilst managers discuss their own organizations as upholding age diversity, their interpretation of what constitutes ageism and age discrimination allows for a high degree of variability in their practices. By negotiating between the margins of what constitutes equal and unequal practice, a number of ideas can be justified which may equally be construed as discriminatory. These discourses are then analysed in relation to their own ageing identity work, where the ‘older worker’ is constructed through a complex negotiation between the reproduction of an ‘ideal type’ and the individual’s own ageing identity project.