“We’re Dirtbags and Proud of It”: Discursively Constructing Identity as an Adventure Worker

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How we talk about things familiar to us shapes who we are, and discourses influence how we present ourselves to the world. Through sensemaking, individuals draw on discourses to construct their preferred identities. As an increasing number of American workers seek nontraditional employment, it is integral to examine how individuals interpret and frame dominant and longstanding societal discourses. Adventure workers are a prime example of individuals who align with or push against normative discourses that either reflect or conflict with how they envision their identities. Through 14 in-depth, semi-structured interviews, we discovered tensions adventure workers experience between normative discourses and the adventure worker identity. Adventure workers communicatively reframed ideal worker norms and the real/fake-self dichotomy surrounding consistent availability, conventional measures of success, and sacrificing time and freedom to unsatisfactory work experiences. In doing so, our participants generated a new form of currency – experience – which they used to legitimize the ways they both resisted and perpetuated normative discourses. This work contributes to communication scholarship by illuminating the far-reaching influence of macro discourses in sensemaking and identity construction by extending the notion of the crystallized self and the traditional “work now, life later” ideology.