For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Foucault and History in Organization Studies"

by Rowlinson, Michael; Carter, Chris (2002)


There is an increasing call for an historical perspective in organization studies. Clegg, Jacques and Burrell in particular combine this call with a Foucauldian reformulation of organization studies. But Foucauldians in organization studies have largely ignored the criticisms of Foucault from historians. We rehearse six main criticisms of Foucault from historians: (1) impenetrable style; (2) avoidance of narrative; (3) ambivalence to truth; (4) errors in historical facts; (5) neglect of relevant historiography; and (6) questionable historical explanations. We then apply these criticisms to the work of Clegg, Jacques, and Burrell. Clegg makes serious historical errors, and neglects criticisms of labour process historiography. The historical sources and historiography cited by Jacques are insufficient. Burrell's interpretation of the connection between modernity and the Holocaust is questionable in the light of recent historiography. We conclude that so far, the invocation of Foucault has exacerbated the problematic treatment of history in organization studies.

Key Passage

For English-speaking Foucauldians, any questioning of Foucault or his influence is ‘demonstrative of the worst excesses of Anglo-Saxon empiricist small-mindedness’ (O’Farrell, 1989: 20). In assessing Foucault’s influence on the treatment of history in organization studies we knowingly court accusations of an excessive commitment to empiricism. But our argument is that the invocation of Foucault has exacerbated the separation of organization studies from history, both as empirical research using documentary traces from the past, and as historiography. (p.527)


Foucault, Organisational Studies, Discipline And Punish, Burrell, Organisational Analysis


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

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