Managing the ambiguous and conflicting identities of ‘upline’ and ‘downline’ in a network marketing firm

Kenneth C C KONG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


This is a study of how ambiguous identities are interactionally managed in network marketing discourse. Network marketing, as an enterprise ‘using’ friendship to promote products, has been notorious for its exploitative use of interpersonal meaning. In this study, the interactions between supervisors (known as ‘uplines’) and subordinates (known as ‘downlines’) in network marketing firms have been studied and their relationship was found to be ambiguous and conflicting. On the one hand, they are ‘friends’ because of the strong emphasis on rapport and harmony in the philosophy of network marketing; on the other hand, the supervisors have to regulate their downlines, which unfortunately lacks the legitimacy found in traditional business firms, as neither of them is an employee of their company. These ambiguous and conflicting identities motivate the participants to mobilize pertinent identities so as to manage conflicts, justify themselves and resume control. Previous research has shown that identities are both interactionally and retrospectively constructed. This study adds to our understanding that identities are not only products of interactions but that they are also interactional resources, which can be mobilized by participants to achieve their goals, although the identity mobilization does not always result in harmony owing to the inherent incompatiblity of the identities invoked. Implications for identity formation in contemporary firms are also drawn.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-74
Number of pages26
JournalDiscourse Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2002

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • co-construction
  • conflict management
  • identity
  • network marketing
  • organizational discourse
  • talk organization


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