Crystallized self

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The crystallized self is a theory that refers to the idea that individual selves are neither “real” nor “fake,” but rather “crystallized” with multiple facets.

Theory behind the metaphor[edit]

There are many theories that explain the evolution of identity. The identity is something that is not set in stone, but rather it is something that is constantly re-purposing itself and changing.[1] According to the skeptical post-modern theories, the self cannot be based off a foundation of mere experiences because a constant flow of information is streaming through the mind and changing the very way people identify with themselves and their environment. To remedy this, post-structuralist theorists expanded on this because of the infinite way significance can be perceived by way of knowledge in language.[2] The relationship between words and what they symbolize is constantly evolving which creates the notion that identity and the self is "a product and effect of competing, fragmentary and contradictory discourses."[1] This leads to the comparison of the self to a crystal. Crystals are multidimensional much like identity. No matter the condition, crystals are still able to exist in different states, sizes, and colors. The more the crystal endures throughout its existence, the more complex and unique it becomes. Identity, on the other hand, becomes more complex and unique by way of discourse and language-base, thus leading to the metaphor known as the "crystallized self".

Alternative metaphor[edit]

An alternative metaphor is the “crystallized self,” a notion that pulls from Laurel Richardson’s (2001) epistemological notion of "crystallization". The “crystallized self” is considered a positive term that helps people to experience and talk about the self in more appropriately politicized and layered ways. Tracy and Tretheway say: “The crystallized self is neither real nor fake…. The crystallized self is multidimensional; the more facets, the more beautiful and complex. Certainly crystals may feel solid, stable, and fixed. But just as crystals have differing forms, depending upon whether they grow rapidly or slowly, under constant or fluctuating conditions, or from highly variable or remarkably uniform fluids or gasses, crystallized selves have different shapes depending on the various discourses through which they are constructed and constrained”.[1] Viewing the self as crystallized moves away from ideas of which parts of the self are more “authentic” and rather suggests that the self is constructed through context and communication. Multiple facets can be “real” and competing simultaneously.

In Practice[edit]

To better realize a crystallized self, individuals might consider the following:

  1. Rather than privileging work as the only productive realm of everyday experience, individuals should begin to elevate their nonprofessional selves alongside those that intersect with work
  2. Play with language. Next time you’re at a party and asked what you do, rather than responding with your job title, consider playing with the answer. You could say, for instance, “I play with my child. I volunteer. I do yoga.”
  3. Place yourself in various situations in which you are not comfortable or an expert, and in this way, inch closer to the edges in your life.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Tracy & Trethewey, 2005, p. 186
  2. ^ Williams, J. (2014). Understanding Poststructuralism. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  • Deetz, S. (1998). Discursive formations, strategized subordination and self-surveillance. In A. McKinley & K. Starkey (Eds.), Foucault, management and organizational theory (pp. 151–172). London: Sage.
  • Foucault, M. (1980b). Power/knowledge. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Jackson, N., & Carter, P. (1998). Labour as dressage. In A. McKinley & K. Starkey (Eds.), Foucault, Management and organizational theory (pp. 49–64). London: Sage.
  • Mumby, D. K. (1997a). Modernism, poststructuralistism, and communication studies: A rereading of an ongoing debate. Communication Theory, 7, 1–28.
  • Mumby, D. K. (1997b). The problem of hegemony: Rereading Gramsci for organizational communication studies. Western Journal of Communication, 61, 343–375.
  • Richardson, L. (2000). Writing: A method of inquiry. In. N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 923–948). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Trethewey, A. (1997). Resistance, identity, and empowerment: A poststructuralist feminist analysis of a human service organization. Communication Monographs, 64, 281–301.
  • Tracy, S. J. (2005). Locking up Emotion: Moving Beyond Dissonance for Understanding Emotion Labor Discomfort. Communication Monographs, 72, 261-283.
  • Tracy, S. J., & Trethewey, A. (2005). Fracturing the Real-Self-Fake-Self Dichotomy: Moving Toward Crystallized Organizational Identities. Communication Theory, 15, 168-195.

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