Chapter | Advances in Group Processes | 2011

Changing Identity, Changing Language

by Kathleen L. McGinn and Jeffrey T. Polzer


Environmental jolts and shifting membership challenge a group's efficacy and survival. Group identity is critical for a shared interpretation of and response to these challenges, but external and internal changes may require corresponding changes in a group's core identity. In a qualitative study of longshoremen in San Pedro, California, we observe an evolution in group identity as we track communication spoken and printed in the hiring halls, on the docks, and during casual social interactions. The emphasis in the shared language gradually shifts from safety and solidarity to safety, collaboration, and economic power. The newly developed language supports and shapes the longshoremen's identity and provides an interpretive guide for how to react to and benefit from disruptive external events.

Keywords: Change; Spoken Communication; Performance Efficiency; Problems and Challenges; Safety; Identity; California;


McGinn, Kathleen L., and Jeffrey T. Polzer. "Changing Identity, Changing Language." In Advances in Group Processes. Vol. 28, edited by Shane R. Thye and Edward Lawler, 125–145. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing, 2011.