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Disappointment is common in many organizations. Yet little is known about how individuals’ talk about their workplace disappointment shapes their identification with organizations. We conducted an analysis of 104 academics in a prestigious British university to make two contributions to our understanding of the discursive constitution of organizational identification (OID). First, we show how individuals used different types of disappointment-talk to narrate and respond to identification dilemmas in distinct ways. Our findings extend existing research by showing that discourses of emotion do not simply delimit agency but also enable individuals to resist and reject organizational discourses that attempt to anchor them to specific identity positions. Second, we identify a novel way in which individuals can configure the multiple discourses that can be in tension and generate disappointment – unravelling. Here, individuals draw upon one among the multiple discourses in conflict (in our case, prestige) to ‘unravel’ the knotting between the various discourses that constituted their OID dilemmas. We also consider the implications of our study for academic labour in universities.

Original publication




Journal article


Human Relations

Publication Date





398 - 425