Women's narratives about identity, power and agency within a mining organisation in South Africa.
The purpose of this study was to examine the complexities that constitute women’s narratives within a mining organisation in South Africa. A review of the literature suggests that social constructions about gender influence the way in which individuals construct narratives and meaning in their lives, which inform their ways of being. This research draws upon two main schools of thought, that is, post-modern social constructionism and post-structuralism. Based on these world views, a qualitative analysis was selected as the most appropriate research design. This research examined the narratives of nine women in senior positions from a single mining organisation, in the form of semi-structured in depth interviews carried out in September 2011. An ethnographic research design was selected, in line with the theoretical framework of this study. A thematic analysis was conducted, and the results revealed two central themes, viz. Navigating the interceptions between occupational and multiple identities; and negotiating a space for women in mining. The nature of identity that emerged from participant’s narratives was viewed as an act of weaving together the multiple strands of the self, where participants recognise the points at which these multiple strands intercept and where they diverge. So rather than merging these strands into a unified (and essentialist) self, participants seemed to recognise the fluid, dynamic and contextual sense of self and in-so-doing, participants began to, in their narrative, construct an authentic sense of self. At each interception participants are faced with (i) contradictions and ambiguity, or (ii) congruency of the self between roles, which emerged as ‘identity salience’. Interceptions were interpreted as an illustration of the micro-physics of power, as postulated by Foucault (1979). In some cases, participants internalise normative and ‘masculine’ prescriptions of the self, resulting in the reification of gendered norms and the subsequent ‘disciplining’ of the self to embody such norms. However, participants also exercise individual and collective agency in resisting dominant ideology, thereby driving shifts in the power dynamics of society and negotiating an authentic and egalitarian self, and space for women in mining.