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abstract  Promoting participation is an accepted and expected component of managerial activity, reflecting current management ideology and practice. This paper explores how one particular group of supervisors, within the same UK manufacturing organization, experience and make sense of participation practices and the role of identity in that process. Our findings show that whilst supervisors may utilize the managerial discourse in formal settings they also draw upon three alternative responses. Thus contrary to much of the literature they do not represent a homogenous or univocal grouping. Our study highlights the importance of the competing bases of identity formation that supervisors draw from, and the complexity and contradiction inherent in both the managerial discourse and in supervisors' responses to it.