For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"“I Shot the Sheriff”: Irony, Sarcasm and the Changing Nature of Workplace Resistance"

by Alcadipani, R; Hassard, J; Islam, G (2018)


The spread of Lean management has fuelled debates over the changing nature of workplace domination. While Lean discourses often espouse a ‘human relations’ approach, research has suggested the proliferation of coercion systems and questioned whether Lean is instead shorthand for cost-cutting and new forms of domination. The varied interpretations of Lean have explained the heterogeneity of worker responses, including forms of resistance. Our ethnography explores this heterogeneity by examining the implementation of Lean in a printing factory and tracing the emergence of shopfloor opposition. Various tactics were devised by workers, ranging from tangible procedures such as sabotage and working-to-rule to more subtle forms reflecting irony and contempt. We argue that the distinctive manifestations of domination emerging during the Lean programme stimulated particular forms of worker reaction, which are explained through fieldwork illustrations. Overall, we produce a theoretical explanation of domination and resistance that builds upon and extends the extant scholarship.

Key Passage

Stemming in part from interest in post-structuralist perspectives, researchers have noted how Foucault’s focus on the production of domination and resistance at the level of micro-practices (e.g., Foucault, 2004, 1980 ) requires us to reconceptualize traditional views of worker resistance (Knights, 2016; Thomas et al., 2011; Vallas and Hill, 2012). Hodson’s (1995) work, for example, illustrated how organizational resistance depends on how members experience forms of domination. Studying resistance thus involves understanding the bottom-up interpretations of the subjects of domination (Jermier et al., 1994). Domination and resistance are, therefore, considered emergent properties of groups, rather than forms or types of domination systems existing outside of micro-relations. (p.1454)


Lean Management, Sabotage, Resistance, Worker Resistance, Domination, Foucault, Ethnography, Organisational Change


On Foucault, Foucault

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