For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Working at a Cynical Distance: Implications for Power, Subjectivity and Resistance"

by Fleming, Peter; Spicer, Andre (2003)


Subjectivity and power are important concepts for understanding corporate culture engineering in critical organization studies. Although recent research indicates that many workers do identify with the organization as a result of these management strategies, they have also shown that some workers resist through dis-identification, in particular cynicism. Managerialist literature views cynicism as a psychological defect that needs to be `corrected', while a radical humanist approach constructs cynicism as a defence mechanism, a way of blocking the colonization of a pre-given self. We highlight a third and increasingly dominant perspective that suggests cynicism is a process through which employees dis-identify with cultural prescriptions, yet often still perform them. Cynical employees have the impression that they are autonomous, but they still practice the corporate rituals nonetheless. We label this the `ideology' interpretation because in dis-identifying with power, it is inadvertently reproduced at the same time. We argue that this approach to cynicism raises significant implications for key concepts in organization studies: those of power, subjectivity and resistance. The implications we pursue are that cultural power may work through dis-identification (rather than just identification), subjectivity may be radically `external' (rather than something `within') and thus what counts as disruptive resistance must be re-evaluated.

Key Passage



Organisation Studies, Resistance, Subjectivity, Biopower, Management Studies, Managerialism, Self


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