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Identity after death: how legacy organizational identity and death form each other

Anna Gerstrøm (Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)

Management Research Review

ISSN: 2040-8269

Article publication date: 19 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to explore how legacy organizational identity and death relate to each other and, thereby, contribute to closing the gap in knowledge on organizational identity constructions in times of death.


The paper opted for an exploratory study relying on primary data from in-depth narrative interviews with 20 organizational members of a bank that went bankrupt. The primary data, as well as documents like websites, newspapers, magazines, booklets, minutes, and reports, were complemented by secondary interviews with other members of the financial industry.


The paper finds that members of a dead organization construct a bankruptcy narrative that is also a legacy organizational identity narrative including a legacy organizational identity transformation and several identities that have positive and negative aspects and are conflicting but integrated into a coherent narrative. Furthermore, the paper provides empirical insights on how members of a dead organization draw upon their legacy organizational identity to justify their (lack of) past interpretations and responses to an unfolding bankruptcy. Finally, it provides empirical evidence on ways that legacy organizational identity from a dead organization play a substantial role in a living organization.

Research limitations/implications

Because of the chosen research approach, the research results may lack generalizability.

Practical implications

The paper holds insight that can help practitioners understand members of a dying organization – including the ways they come to form and perform in a new organizational context; an understanding that is a prerequisite for helping and supporting these members in coming to perform satisfyingly in the new organization.


This paper addresses an apparent gap in the literature on identity and death; exploring identity narratives in a bankrupted bank, the paper considers constructions of legacy organizational identities in times of disruptive death.



The first version of this paper was presented at the European Academy of Management (EURAM) Conference in Rotterdam, 2012 where it was selected as Winner in a Competitive Paper Session. An improved version of the paper was presented at the Academy of Management (AoM) Conference in Orlando, 2013 where it was selected as Best Doctoral Student Paper on behalf of the ODC division. The author is thankful to participants at all occasions for helpful feedback. The author is especially grateful to Roger Dunbar for providing valuable comments and suggestions on several versions of the paper.


Gerstrøm, A. (2015), "Identity after death: how legacy organizational identity and death form each other", Management Research Review, Vol. 38 No. 1, pp. 89-123.



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