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Understanding Cultural Capital for Impression Management in Senior Executives

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posted on 30.04.2021, 12:16 authored by Connie Kwan Yiu Mak
While most consumer studies rely on a cross-sectional approach and focus predominantly on leisure and home settings, this thesis adopts a processual view to understand what and how cultural capital for impression management is acquired and changes over the career trajectories of senior executives. Specifically, this study positions the workplace as a ‘site of consumption’ and advances the work of Erving Goffman and Pierre Bourdieu by revealing mutability as key to understanding the work habitus as a malleable structuring-structure that is intimately entwined with the ongoing construction of the self.
Using narrative interviewing and walking-with methods, the study finds that cultural resources and practices for impression management evolve over the career of professionals. Junior executives are found to predominantly rely on ‘socially conspicuous sign-vehicles’ while senior executives deploy more ‘subtle embodied capital’ to differentiate their ingrained habitus. While field-specificity continue to prevail in the workplace, this study reveals a new dimension to Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital, which is found to transcend field boundaries in a more ‘superior’ and resilient manner among senior executives. By synchronising competences of ‘self-knowing’ and ‘field-sensing’, they attain ‘self-field symbiosis’ in optimal fields that provide a cultural fit for their habitus. Premises on the assumption that ‘habitus shapes and enables impression management’, this study also advances the current theory of symbolic consumption in a way that goes beyond conceptualising possessions as signifiers of the self. Rather the thesis gives primacy to understanding how consumption practices reveal competences in mobilising resources that project a gestalt performance of the self.
While Bourdieu focuses mainly on primary socialisation, this study demonstrates that the workplace, including the to-and-from work routes, is in itself a potent ground for appropriating embodied dispositions. Through various sources of socialisation, executives acquire and consume diverse forms of cultural capital and overtime come to embody idiosyncratic changes to their workplace habitus in a way that straddle the duality between production and consumption.



Andrea Davies; Christiana Tsaousi; Ai-ling Lai

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School of Business

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University of Leicester

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