Sumati is an academic with an impressive background of working in industry for over 25 years and teaching in both undergraduate and postgraduate programs for 10 years. She has held senior positions at internationally renowned architectural firms. Sumati moved to full time academic role in 2018 after completing her PhD in Management from UTS Business School. Her PhD focused on the changing nature of professional work and how professionals respond to changes in the way their services are procured and delivered. The future of work continues to be Sumati's research interest with a focus on how technologies are transforming the work of human experts.
Co-ordinator Major Digital Creative Enterprise
Member EGOS (European Group of Organization Studies)
Winner Best published paper award, Journal of Professions and Organizations (2017)
Can supervise: YES
Professions and Occupations
Future of work
Professional Service Firms
Core areas: Digital creative enterprise, Creative industries in the collaborative economy, Digital strategy and governace
Other areas: Design, Architectural practice, Structures and Construction, Executive education
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Large-scale construction projects increasingly have powerful and knowledgeable clients as project owners with whom professionals, such as architects, must interact. In such contexts, clients may have a significant impact on the constitution of a coherent and stable professional identity. Based on qualitative interviews with 50 architects across four large multidisciplinary professional service firms (PSFs) located in Sydney, Australia, supplemented by ethnographic observations, this article explores how architects constitute their identity in interactions with clients. The findings led us to conceptualise professional–client interactions in terms of two overarching discursive strategies deployed by architects in attempts to manage clients that are powerful and knowledgeable: best for client and best for project. We illustrate the anxieties that architects experience and suggest that attempts to secure professional identity may result in (re)producing an enduring sense of anxiety with unintended consequences for project outcomes and organisational performance.
Ahuja, S, Heizmann, H & Clegg, SR 2019, 'Emotions and identity work: Emotions as discursive resources in the constitution of junior professionals’ identities', Human Relations, vol. 72, no. 5, pp. 988-1009.View/Download from: Publisher's site
For junior professionals, notions of professional identity established during their education are often called into question in the early stages of their professional careers. The workplace gives rise to identity challenges that manifest in significant emotional struggles. However, although extant literature highlights how emotions trigger and accompany identity work, the constitutive role of emotions in identity work is under-researched. In this article, we analyse how junior professionals mobilize emotions as discursive resources for identity work. Drawing on an empirical study of junior architects employed in professional service firms, we examine how professional identities, imbued with varying forms of discipline and agency, are discursively represented. The study makes two contributions to the literature on emotions and identity work. First, we identify three key identity work strategies (idealizing, reframing and distancing) that are bound up in junior architects’ emotion talk. We suggest that these strategies act simultaneously as a coping mechanism and as a disciplinary force in junior architects’ efforts to constitute themselves as professionals. Second, we argue that identity work may not always lead to the accomplishment of a positive sense of self but can express a sense of disillusionment that leads to the constitution of dejected professional identities.
Ahuja, S, Nikolova, N & Clegg, SR 2017, 'Paradoxical Identity: The changing nature of architectural work and its relation to architects' identity', Journal of Professions and Organization, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 2-19.View/Download from: Publisher's site
In this article, we explore what happens in professional formation when the locus of its meaning, as it has been formed, is increasingly contradicted by professional practice. Specifically, we explore the problematic nature of architects' professional identity that is constituted in terms of the primacy of design aesthetics, in contexts where practice denies this identification. We highlight the tensions between identity and practices and suggest that while architects' traditional self-identification enables perpetuation of the profession's identity, it challenges the profession's standing in its relations with other professions and occupations. We refer to this as a paradox of identity. Although much has been written about the profound changes occurring in professional practices and professional jurisdictions, scant attention has been given to the ways in which professionals shape their identities in the context of changing practices. We conducted a year-long ethnography of contemporary architects engaged in large and complex projects in order to examine both the architects' and the profession's identity. Our contributions are threefold. First, we conceptualize misalignments between professional identity and professional practice as identity paradox that has consequences for identity work among professionals. Second, we highlight how professional identity construction is organized around competing and paradoxical identification. Third, the article contributes to sociological studies of architecture by generating insights about the identity work of architects engaged in large multi-organizational projects.
Ahuja, S, Nikolova, N & Clegg, SR 2020, 'Identities, Digital Nomads and Liquid Modernity' in Brown, AD (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Identities in Organizations, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 864-880.View/Download from: Publisher's site
This chapter explores the identity implications for people who inhabit the liquid world of organizations. It draws upon Zygmunt Bauman's notion of liquid modernity and suggests that traditional conceptions may constrain new ways of thinking about identity and identity tensions in increasingly liquidly modern organizational contexts. The authors focus on literature that discusses identity tensions in the workplace and the responses of individuals as they seek to negotiate and/or manage these tensions. In so doing, the authors draw attention to how the nature of liquid modernity challenges existing conceptions of identity work and raise issues and questions for further research.
Clegg, S, Ahuja, S & Nikolova, N 2020, 'Identities, Digital Nomads and Liquid Modernity' in The Oxford Handbook of Identities in Organizations, Oxford University Press.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Yet as the chapters in this Handbook demonstrate, there are considerable grounds for optimism that identity, as root metaphor, nexus concept, and means to bridge levels of analysis has significant potential to generate multiple compelling ...
Weatherall, R & Ahuja, S 2020, 'Learn or Die: An Autoethnography of ECR Identities in Queer Time', Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism, Copenghagen.
Queer time speaks to those who live in different rhythms. As ECRs (early career researchers), who are, by turns, too feminist, too queer, too old, too young, or too brown for normative conceptualisations of the ECR; queer time may help us understand, and reimagine, the performative, political and pedagogical possibilities of being an ECR. The increasingly used category of ‘early career researcher’ has an evolutionist ring to it. An ECR is typically conceptualised as a specific career phase, usually extending to 5 years post-doctorate, during which ‘new’ academics learn what it means to be part of the academy. The identity of ECR is thus conceptualised with a particularly salient temporal dimension and positioned as a becoming; an identity that new academics will, through progress and development, transcend in time. These seemingly neutral notions of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ toward some other (assumed) more ‘ideal’ academic identity (Lund, 2012), however, erase or marginalise the ways in which ‘different’ or non-normative identities are targeted with institutional and personal violence because of racism, sexism, or heterosexism. In order to both understand the pain of erasure for non-normative ECRs and the political possibilities of being ‘different’ in the academy, we turn to queer time.
Temporality and time have been continual and intimate concerns of queer theory, that help to understand the experiences of those whose identities are lived in different rhythms. Queer identities have long been positioned as ‘backwards’; as a ‘drag on civilisation’ (Love, 2009: 6) and positioned outside “the quotidian temporal rhythms” of family (McCallum & Tuhkanen, 2011: 8) and capitalism (Freeman, 2010). Queer time, therefore, is often positioned in opposition to “the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction” (Halberstam, 2006: 1). Alternatively, queer time is characterised by lives that disrupt norms of gender and sexuality and are indeterminate, unfixed...
This paper presents an exploratory account of how patent attorneys understand the relationship between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and their professional identity. Drawing on observations supplemented by interview data with patent attorneys working in a large Australian Intellectual property (IP) firm, we draw attention to how patent attorneys assert their professional identities in ways that maintain their expert status alongside specific AI
tools. In particular, we expose talk of ‘feelings’ as a form of identity work that allows patent attorneys to claim continued relevance and cope with the introduction of AI and changes to the situated practices of professionals in professional service firms (PSFs). The aim of our research is (1) to nuance extant understandings of the influence of AI technologies on professional identity and (2) build on emerging discussions that AI can be designed to augment the work of human experts rather than replacing the professional.
Ahuja, S, Mastio, E & Heizmann, H 2020, 'Identities and Technology: AI and the Disruption of Patent Attorneys' Practices and Identities', Oxford Said Annual Conference on Professional Service Firms, Oxford, UK.
AI and machine learning have been considered as the most disruptive force in the once exclusive province of human professionals (Susskind and Susskind 2015). Our study examines the introduction of AI for improving patent drafting in an Australian professional service firm (PSF) that specializes in Intellectual Property (IP). This project is part of a larger
research project to study the digital transformation of the firm. In this empirical paper, we examine the data deploying an interpretive discursive perspective (Heracleous 2004) to produce a rich account of ‘what is actually going on’ from an attorney’s perspective. Drawing on observations supplemented by interview data with patent attorneys working in a
large Australian Intellectual property (IP) firm, we conceptualize talk of ‘feelings’ as an identity work strategy that enables attorneys to: (1) feel relevant and (2) cope with the disruption to their practices by AI in the patent drafting process.
Ahuja, S & Nikolova, N 2019, ''This boys club world is finally getting to me': Gendered professional identity in elite architecture firms.', European Group for Organization Studies, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Ahuja, S, Nikolova, N & Clegg, SR 2017, 'Expertise and professional identity in client-professional interactions: A case of architectural firms', Professional Service Firms Annual Conference, Stockholm, Sweden.
Ahuja, S, Nikolova, N & Clegg, SR 1970, 'Self-identification as a resistance strategy: The changing nature of architectural work and its relation to architects' identity', European Group for Organization Studies, Naples, Italy.
Ahuja, S 2015, 'Performative Practice: Rethinking architecture-as-practice', Asia Pacific Researchers for Organization Studies, Sydney, Australia.