For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Writing Organizational Analysis into Foucault"

by Knights, David (2002)


In certain areas of social science and the humanities, Foucault has had an enormous influence in recent years. In particular, history, feminist and gender research, literary studies, philosophy, politics, psychiatry, and sociology have not been able to ignore the radical interventions of Foucault's attempts to think the unthought. Organization theory has not been immune to Foucault's constant challenge to what is taken for granted and his skeptical views of the work of what he named `universal intellectuals', who claim to speak on behalf of individuals, groups or populations. Foucault's skepticism about historicist and totalizing systems of thought and practice fits the era. His demand is that we question conventional thinking not because it is necessarily wrong but because it is dangerous. Contrasted with the way that much organization theory simply uses Foucault as a convenient resource, this article attempts to push organizational analysis toward Foucault until the pips squeak.

Key Passage

Throughout his intellectual career, Foucault was concerned with the epistemological rules of disciplines formation, the disciplining of populations and subjects through power–knowledge relations and the selfformation of the ethical subject. However, it does not constitute too great a violation to perceive his work as having been broadly about how human life organizes itself and is organized. Similarly, once we reject the notion of perceiving the subject matter of organization theory exclusively as the bounded entity that commonly attracts the label ‘organization’,3 the two forms of study can be seen as having parallel, if not identical, concerns. In this sense, organization analysis focuses on the principles and processes of organizing wherever it occurs. By contrast, Foucault was concerned with the organization of knowledge, power and subjectivity. But no matter what the focus for the activists of organizing, power, knowledge and subjectivity are involved. It makes little difference to these three concepts whether the organizing activity is concerned directly with the idea (i.e. conception/design) or its implementation and, thereby, realization in practice. From the organization of production through distribution to consumption, knowledge is mobilized and modified, subjectivity is secured and sustained, power is exercised in more or less effective ways and ethical discourses formed and reformed. Of course, equally knowledge can be displaced or destroyed, subjectivity ridiculed or resisted, power undermined or undone and moral relations exhausted or emasculated. While these concepts may not be exhaustive of the content of organizing, other aspects can readily be accommodated within their remit. This idea that the central concepts of Foucault— power, knowledge and subjectivity—parallel the principles and processes involved in all forms of organizing social and economic relations provides the basic rationale for writing organization analysis into Foucault. (p.576)


Foucault, Organisational Analysis, Universal Intellectuals, Feminism, Sociology, Psychiatry, Organisational Theory


On Foucault, Foucault, Critical Management Studies, Organisation and Management Studies

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