For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Foucault beyond Fairclough: From Transcendental to Immanent Critique in Organization Studies"

by Curtis, Rowland (2014)


This article presents the case that while Foucault?s ideas have been the subject of much debate, the distinctive transformative potentials of his immanent thought have tended to have been overlooked in the field to date. In making this case, critical realism provides an important counter-example, as a transcendental orientation to critical practice with significant influence in contemporary organization studies. In drawing out the difference between these contrasting orientations to critique, Norman Fairclough?s critical discourse analytic (CDA) framework is evaluated here as an approach to organization studies that took early inspiration from Foucault?s work, while having looked towards critical realist ideas in recent years. Fairclough?s writings on discourse and university ?marketization? provide a useful empirical focus to explore the distinctive styles of problem-posing that follow from these different critical orientations; contrasting the distanced normativity of critical realist-informed transcendentalism with the situated, transformative potentials of Foucault?s immanent thought. Through these investigations, the article offers a reappraisal of existing lines of debate on Foucault and critical realism in organization studies, and of the value of Foucault?s ideas to the field more broadly.

Key Passage

Since having been formally introduced to the field of organization studies by Cooper and Burrell in this journal (1988; Burrell, 1988), Foucault’s ideas – or rather what we might call various ‘Foucauldianisms’ – have been among the most significant and oft-cited intellectual influences in the field (see Carter, McKinlay, & Rowlinson, 2002, pp. 515–16). This was originally most notable with regard to innovations within labour process studies, and in particular the work of Knights, Willmott and associates (especially Knights & Willmott, 1989; see also Jermier, Knights, & Nord, 1994). These studies took early inspiration from Foucault as part of attempts to develop a richer theorization of dimensions of identity and subjectivity in the ‘hidden abode’ of capitalist labour process (see also Collinson, 2003; O’Doherty & Willmott, 2001). This early reception of Foucault’s work subsequently informed a number of empirical projects which attempted to trace and map these ‘power-knowledge’ relations and their significance for dimensions of resistance and control in organization (e.g. Ezzamel & Willmott 2008; Ezzamel, Willmott, & Worthington, 2001; Grey, 1994; Knights & McCabe, 2000; Knights & Morgan, 1991). These have also been accompanied by contributions in specialist areas of the field such as critical accounting (e.g. Hoskin & Macve, 1986; Miller & O’Leary, 1987), organizational history (see Carter et al., 2002) and HRM (e.g. Townley, 1993, 1997). Foucault’s wider influence through this period was marked by McKinlay and Starkey’s (1997) edited collection, and its lasting presence is in clear evidence from a review of more recent Foucauldian contributions to the field (see Munro, 2012).  (p.1755)


Foucault, Fairclough, Organisation Studies, Critical Realism, Discourse Analysis, Critical Discourse Analytic Framework


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

Links to Reference



How to contribute.