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Identity laboratories: experiencing transitional space

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The author attempts to contribute to our understanding of identity dynamics by looking at the phenomenon of identity laboratories or environments that create opportunities for identity experimentation, discovery and rediscovery, and a search for a new self by combining the features of a psychodynamic concept of transitional space and an anthropological concept of liminality. With transitional, or liminal, space being characterized by a feeling of being between identities, being suspended, or being in no man's land, there are opportunities for people to imagine new alternatives to their current situation, and failure to do so is often the biggest stumbling block on the road to personal and professional transformation. Although there have been some suggestions about what may be the conditions conducive to creating an experimentation and learning environment, the literature still remains fragmented and incomplete with regard to the features of such liminal spaces. Moreover, the process of experiencing identity dynamics by individuals remains largely unknown to researchers. In this paper, the author attempts to contribute to closing the gap with a look at identity laboratories created within the framework of an executive education course. His research deals with the experiences of thirty executives going through personal self-discovery and transformation during a year-long part-time educational program in a leading business school. A model of the process of going through transitional experience is suggested. Individuals in an identity laboratory go through pre-entry and expectations formation, surprise and coping, identity exploration, sense-making, identity experimentation, and, finally, development of a metacompetency of identity learning.

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