4 Identity in reflection: Developing a bicameral orientation

We will now reflect on how we can use this idea of identity being built upon difference, developing ourselves so that we can be more effective collaborators. In a nutshell, what we are aiming for is a parallel process of reflection where we come to recognise better:

  • a.the identity that we passionately hold dear
  • b.that which is different to our identity
  • c.what might enable our own identities to adapt and grow as a result of noticing their partiality and dependence on others’ (equally partial) identities.

This process of reflection and recognition is what Connolly (2005) referred to as a bicameral orientation.

There are two key points to be made. First, we need to recognise that all of our identities are highly dependent on others for their everyday functioning: we are connected to others, whether we like it or not. This recognition should spark the realisation that our identities in isolation are incapable of fully understanding the world and its problems. Second, because our identities are so relational and partial, we should try to maintain an openness and generosity to the identities of others: to really understand how they see the world and their beliefs, which are as dearly held – and as partial – as our own.

Developing a bicameral reflective approach enables us to know our own identities more rigorously. It also helps us cultivate a generosity that opens up possibilities for new conversations with colleagues. We become genuinely inquisitive of their perspectives, seeking out differences as they offer interesting and valuable possibilities for future collaboration.

Through developing an appreciation of the difference our identities are rooted within, we might also begin to develop what Connolly (2005) refers to as ‘critical responsiveness’. By this he means an appreciation and awareness of alternative views of the world and a sensitivity to other, emerging identities and perspectives.

Being attuned to difference means that we can be more open to noticing certain movements and causes outside our regular view of the world. Being critically responsive means being open to the emerging concerns of our communities. It also means developing an understanding of the work of others and how such work may find common cause with our organisations.

Now it is time for you to test this thinking in relation to yourselves and your organisations.

Activity 1 Your values and the voluntary sector

Timing: (50 minutes)

Spend 10 minutes thinking carefully about why you decided to work in the voluntary sector. Do you still feel passionately about these identifications and values? How does this identification translate into the way you see and approach your work? Spend 20 minutes making a note of your answers in your learning journal [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Make sure you title the post with the week number and the number of this activity, Week 3 Activity 1.

Now spend 10 minutes thinking about the differences your professional, organisational and/or sector identities are rooted in: what are your identities defined against? Spend about 20 minutes to make a note of these in your learning journal. Does thinking about this difference offer you any clues to the kinds of groups or people you might seek out in order to better understand certain problems or issues facing your organisation or community?


We will build on this activity later this week. Thinking of our identities as rooted in difference helps to open them up to growth and should enable you to see some interesting possibilities for collaborative leadership, or at least to indicate some specific people or groups you might seek out for further conversations. Returning to the local government example provided earlier in Ellen’s story, what might have happened had our two groups with opposing views of leadership reflected more deeply on how and why they thought of leadership in certain ways? It might have opened the way for a constructive set of discussions about where each was coming from – what people valued and the kind of problems they saw leadership as tackling.

3 Identity and difference

5 Identity, difference and the voluntary sector