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Construction of the Sense of Meaning and Identity

Introduction

Working context has always had a considerable effect on the person’s achievements and social behaviour. There are a number of factors that affect the way a person behaves or acts in a definite situation. All these factors account for the formation of a person’s identity and his/her attitude towards the outside world. I had a great opportunity to trace the connection between the environment and the construction of meaning and identity in this module. I have learned through my personal experiences that the working context can drastically change the behaviour of a person and reveal the facets of the character that an individual has never known before. The matter is that individuals and context constantly influence each other and, consequently, change each other (Kindermann & Valsiner, 1995). At this, I have noticed that the working context has a more powerful effect on the individual than vice versa. This supports the idea that the construction of meaning and identity is largely dependent on the working context (Jensen & Westenholz, 2004). Besides, this helped me to understand how different working contexts or systems contribute into the change of a person’s identity. It would be weird if a system or working context adapted to the identity of each person, this is why “the processes of enactment and interpretation enable actors to intervene in creating and re-creating their identities” (Axford, 1995, p. 82). My personal experiences and behaviour in this module have been much influenced by such relational processes between person, group and context as the establishment of leadership, maintaining individual and group motivation, participating in group decision-making, and contributing into the improvement of group performance; under the influence of these processes, as well as affected by certain cognitive, social, and political processes, people construct meaning and identity in relation to their working context, and I, since I am not an exception, have constructed my own sense of meaning and identity under the influence of all these processes.

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Relational Processes Between Person, Group And Context

Establishment of Leadership. Working for any kind of a group, team, or organization presupposes either being a leader or being managed by a leader. In those cases when a leader has to be selected, any member of the organization has a chance to decide whether he/she has a talent for leadership. Any individual has the potential to be a leader, but not everyone can be an effective leader. A leader has a power to influence the construction of the sense of meaning and identity of other group-members and his/herself as well because “leadership is the reciprocal learning process that enables participants in community to construct meaning leading toward a shared purpose” (Davies & West-Burnham, 2003, p. 13). As soon as a person becomes a leader in a particular working context, the construction of his/her new identity starts taking place. At the same time, certain changes take place in the construction of the group-members’ identities for the reason that they get under the influence of a new leader who affects the construction of their sense of meaning because he/she is of certain authority to them (Morril, 2007). This is why leadership is one of the most important relational processes between people, group and context and perceiving it as such process “can add to our understanding of how it came into being in the first place” (Marturano & Gosling, 2007, p. 135). One should never forget that a group without a leader is hardly able to become effective because group activities have to be properly coordinated and directed at the achievement of a common goal. No matter how talented the members of the group are, they will never be able to achieve the goal if their actions are not controlled by a particular authority. Besides, a leader is the one who is responsible for other relational processes between person, group and context, such as individual and group motivation, group decision-making and overall group performance.

Maintaining Individual and Group Motivation. This relation process is also quite important for carrying it out properly and guarantees that not only the main objectives will be achieved, but every member of the group will be satisfied with the work done and with his/her individual contribution into the group success. As stated by Marquis and Huston (2008), “Managers cannot intrinsically motivate people, because motivation comes from within the person. The humanistic manager can, however, create an environment in which the development of human potential can be maximized” (p. 434). This creates an idea that group motivation can only then be reinforced when individual motivation of every group member is strong enough and the task of an effective leader is to ensure that it is so. Motivation as a relational process is goal-directed (Volet & Jarvela, 2001) this is why maintaining it easy if every member of the group is interested in achieving the goal. The task of the leader here is to use the most efficient ways to maintain motivation, both individual and group. This can be done with the introduction of rewards and incentives on the individual and group levels. On the individual level, for instance, the rewards may consist in extra time off (Thorpe & Homan, 2000), while, on the group level, the members may be motivated by material rewards that will be obtained when the ultimate goal of the project is reached. The importance of this relational process consists in the ability of each member of the group to contribute into it. For instance, the leader can create a working context which the members will be comfortable to work in; every person within the group can focus on the achievement of the personal and group goals; and the entire group can sustain the relations in which each group member will fully disclose his/her potential. In this way, individual and group motivation will be maintained.

Improvement of the Group Performance. It is a common knowledge that individual and group motivation has a direct influence on the group performance (DeLucia-Waack, 2004). The principle is simple: the stronger the motivation of each group member and the entire group, the better is group performance. In order to find out on which level the group performs, performance appraisal is usually carried out. At this, the most important is a feedback that the group members obtain after the appraisal is carried out. A number of studies have revealed that objective feedback has been quite effective in the improvement of the group performance: “In field studies where performance feedback contained behaviour-specific information, median performance improvements were over 47%; when the feedback concerned less specific information, median performance improvements were over 33%” (Cummings & Worley, 2008, p. 431). This means that feedback (desirably positive) acts as a reward increasing group motivation and, consequently, group performance. This is why group performance as a relational process between person, group and context can be successful only if each group member pays due attention to his/her responsibilities and strives to contribute into the achievement of the common goal.

Contributing into Group Decision-Making. Group decision-making is a vital relational process in the course of which the members of the group are united in the pursuit of one goal, namely, working out of a decision to a particular problem. In most of the cases, group decision-making as a relational process takes place with a help of discussion, rather than using definite decision-making techniques (DuBrin, 2008). Depending on who exactly is involved into discussion and what character this discussion has, there exist four main groups of decision-making processes, namely, consultative, consensus, democratic, and delegative decision-making (Schwarz, 2002). Each of these types has its own approaches to solving group problems. For instance, in consultative decision-making, the leader is responsible for making final decision; the rest of the group only participates in the discussion of the problem with the members offering possible solutions to it. A direct opposition to this type is delegative decision-making where all the powers with regards to decision-making process are in the hands of the leader who only informs the group how the problem will be solved and gives directions to each of the group members. Democratic decision-making, in its turn, requires the agreement of a certain percentage of the group members on a particular decision; this percentage is usually achieved through voting. Finally, consensus decision-making is, perhaps, the most beneficial for each of the group members, but the least effective for the entire group. The matter is that in this type of decision-making, the final decision is taken only if all the group members agree on it; if at least one of the members does not support it, the problem remains unsolved. Again, which of the types to follow, depends of the group leader. Consequently, the contribution of every group member into the group decision-making depends on the privilege of each group member.

Social processes in construction of meaning and identity

Relational processes mentioned above influence much personal experiences and behaviour of a person who works in a group. However, there are a number of other processes that contribute into the construction of the person’s sense of meaning and identity. The most important of them are social, cognitive, and political processes to which a person is exposed to in the working context. Irrespective of the kind of such context, the influence is produced primarily on the person’s identity formation because even insignificant changes in the working context can trigger corresponding changes in the person’s identity and sense of meaning.

It is worth stating that social processes are the most powerful in constructing the person’s sense of meaning and identity. As stated by Castells (2009), “identity is people’s source of meaning and experience” (p. 6) and this source gets more abundant in the course of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge, in its turn, is achieved through participation in the social processes. With regards to this module, such a social process was group work that contributed greatly into the construction of each student’s sense of meaning and identity. Any individual has a social (or collective) and a personal identity and group work is able to change these two identities: “Social group membership influences both how individuals perceive themselves and how others perceive them, which means that identity can be imposed (ascribed by others) and consciously assumed (achieved by self-identification)” (Kirton & Greene, 2005, p. 7). Since most people pursue only changes for good, they aim to involve into the groups that are able to enhance their self-esteem and avoid those groups that are esteem-damaging. Besides, working in a group involves social interaction in the course of which the group members collaborate and negotiate meaning (Knowlon, 2005). In this way, social processes help people establish their identities by means of interaction with their colleagues, as well as construct meaning together with constructing knowledge (Salmon, 2003; Barab & Daffy, 2000).

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Engagement into cognitive and political processes is no less important for constructing a person’s sense of meaning and identity. Information processing is one of the most effective processes for constructing the sense of meaning:

The brain selectively attends to or ignores information in the environment and then constructs meaning from prior experience, which it stores by connecting it to existing schema in long-term memory. The conscious construction of meaning occurs in short-term or working memory where information is being drawn both from long-term memory and the environment. (Dills & Romiszowski, 1997, p. 261)

In this way, with the use of prior knowledge and experience, the meaning is constructed as a result of interaction between a person and the working context. In learning environment, meaning can be constructed during the creation of “paraphrases, analogies, explanations, inferences, outlines, summaries, creative interpretations, images, cognitive maps, diagrams, drawings, relevant examples, titles and headings, and questions” (Dills & Romiszowski, 1997, p. 262). Another cognitive process is mental representation of physical objects and events. In case with this process, mental representation of a person’s own personality helps to construct his/her identity because, during such representation, a person compares him/herself with other physical objects in his/her memory that have been shaped through prior experience (Berkowitz, 2000). This module was quite successful in utilizing both these processes for the construction of students’ sense of meaning and identity.

Finally, political processes also contribute to the construction of a person’s sense of meaning and identity. For instance, political campaigns are a powerful means of constructing human sense of meaning and identity. Depending on whether a person is a supporter or an opponent of such campaigns, he/she realizes his/her particular social role or status within the society (Scherer, 2008). The meaning, in its turn, is created by means of media (journals, newspapers, news releases, etc). All these items appeal to the readers’, listeners’, or viewers’ prior knowledge and use new information to construct new knowledge. In the course of this process, new meaning is created, as well as the political identity of a person is gradually constructed. Therefore, influenced by political processes, a person realizes his/her place in the world, as well as acquires his/her own attitude towards the events that take place in the society; this occurs owing to the construction of this person’s sense of meaning and identity through different political processes.

The construction of my own sense of meaning and identity during the module

The majority of social and relational processes discussed above have been, to some extent, present in the module under consideration, contributing greatly in the construction of my sense of meaning and identity. Of course, social processes and relational processes between person, group and context were the most numerous and the most contributing. Group work as a social process was, perhaps, the most beneficial for me. Owing mainly to the group work, I got familiarized with such relational processes as leadership, individual and group motivation, group decision-making, and group performance. Working in groups not only significantly enhanced my knowledge and self-esteem, but gave me a sense of belonging and made me more responsible, thus significantly affecting the construction of my identity (Griffin & Moorhead, 2009). This does not mean that I was irresponsible earlier; the matter is simply that I learnt to set priorities and dealing with the tasks related to the group work became my number one priority. I felt that the common goal will not be reached if I, as one of the constituents of the group, do not contribute to the improvement of the group performance (Tomlinson, 2001).

Besides, it was extremely important for the enhancement of my self-esteem to know that my opinion is valuable for group decision-making. I can state for sure that group-work has tangibly influenced the formation of my identity. Earlier, I used to have problems when communicating with other people; in particular, the problems consisted in my inability to express my opinion and to prove to the others that my ideas are worth considering them. In the course of the group work, I got convinced that any idea is valued by the group members, especially when the tasks to fulfill are complicated and the entire group is at a loss. This is when I used to make my ideas clear to other people and understood that, by keeping them to myself, I will never be able to contribute into the development of society. Thus, group work not only influenced the construction of my identity, but changed the meaning of learning for me modifying my attitude towards life and people who surround me. Group work significantly affected the way I perceive myself; other people have also noticed my potential and understood that I can do more than it seems at first glance. This made me a more active group member and, consequently, more successful learner.

Furthermore, there were hardly any political processes under the influence of which I fell in this module, but there were some cognitive processes that have also affected my sense of meaning and identity. Among a number of means to construct meaning mentioned by Dills & Romiszowski (1997), there was one that this module has utilized most efficiently. For example, more than once, journal articles were given for analysis in the class. The analysis, apart from other tasks, included summary of the article which is a powerful means of constructing meanings. The matter is that, to create a good summary of the article, one is supposed to understand its meaning well, which requires utilization of prior knowledge on the topic (Hahn & Stoness, 1999). The construction of meaning takes place through the interaction between a reader and a text (Guthrie, Wigfield, & Perencevich, 2004) and, in the course of this interaction I have realized where I had gaps in my knowledge and, correspondingly, bridged these gaps.

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Finally, this module used one more important cognitive process that affected significantly my sense of meaning. During the module, we were asked to do several individual presentations the creation of which demanded mental representation of a situation. These presentations were quite important for meaning construction because “every transformation of a sensory stimulus into a mental representation is an instance of meaning construction, which is rooted in the interaction of human beings with their environment” (Radden, 2007, p. 1). Therefore, preparing these individual presentations made the environment meaningful for me because it enabled me to identify and categorize certain elements of the environment (situations and events that had to be highlighted in the presentations).

Conclusion

As it has been discovered, there are a number of processes that are involved in the construction of human sense of meaning and identity. The most contributing factors to this are relational processes between person, group and context, as well as different social, cognitive, and political processes. This module successfully used most of this processes, which was more than beneficial for the students. For me personally, the most beneficial were group work during which I got under the influence of such relational processes as the establishment of leadership, maintaining of individual and group motivation, participating in group decision-making, and contributing into group performance each of which had a considerable effect on the construction of my sense of identity, and such cognitive processes as creating article summaries and preparing individual presentations, which have significantly affected the construction of my sense of meaning.

Reference

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