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"The Foucault Effect in Organization Studies"

by Raffnsøe, Sverre; Mennicken, Andrea; Miller, Peter (2019)


Since the establishment of Organization Studies in 1980, Michel Foucault?s oeuvre has had a remarkable and continuing influence on its field. This article traces the different ways in which organizational scholars have engaged with Foucault?s writings over the past thirty years or so. We identify four overlapping waves of influence. Drawing on Foucault?s Discipline and Punish, the first wave focused on the impact of discipline, and techniques of surveillance and subjugation, on organizational practices and power relations. Part of a much wider ?linguistic? turn in the second half of the twentieth century, the second wave led to a focus on discourses as intermediaries that condition ways of viewing and acting. This wave drew mainly on Foucault?s early writings on language and discourse. The third wave was inspired by Foucault?s seminal lectures on governmentality towards the end of the 1970s. Here, an important body of international research investigating governmental technologies operating on subjects as free persons in sites such as education, accounting, medicine and psychiatry emerged. The fourth and last wave arose out of a critical engagement with earlier Foucauldian organizational scholarship and sought to develop a more positive conception of subjectivity. This wave draws in particular on Foucault?s work on asceticism and techniques of the self towards the end of his life. Drawing on Deleuze and Butler, the article conceives the Foucault effect in organization studies as an immanent cause and a performative effect. We argue for the need to move beyond the tired dichotomies between discipline and autonomy, compliance and resistance, power and freedom that, at least to some extent, still hamper organization studies. We seek to overcome such dichotomies by further pursuing newly emerging lines of Foucauldian research that investigate processes of organizing, calculating and economizing characterized by a differential structuring of freedom, performative and indirect agency.

Key Passage

Since the establishment of Organization Studies in 1980, organizational scholars have drawn inspiration from the writings of Michel Foucault. Across the subsequent decades, his oeuvre has had a remarkable and continuing influence on the field. This influence has certainly not been uniform. Nor has it been a simple matter of ‘applying’ Foucault’s concepts and analyses to the domain of organization studies. For Foucault is in many respects a nuisance for scholars of organizations (Mennicken & Miller, 2014). Indeed, he had little interest in formal organizations, even though he was deeply concerned throughout his lifetime with the administering and organizing of lives. We term this influence ‘the Foucault effect in organization studies’ (see G. Burchell, Gordon, & Miller, 1991; Gordon, 1991; Mennicken & Miller, 2014). We trace the different ways in which organizational scholars have taken up, worked with, and engaged with Foucault’s writings over the past thirty years or so. This diverse and still ongoing set of encounters has been much remarked on by scholars in the field (see for example Carter, McKinlay, & Rowlinson, 2002; Välikangas & Seeck, 2011). Published close to fifteen years ago, the introduction to a special issue of the journal Organization entitled ‘Foucault, Management and History’ underlined the decisive influence of Foucault’s writings even at that time, while making it plain that ‘there are a number of different readings of Foucault within organization studies’, and that ‘to be a Foucauldian can mean very different things and have different implications for research’ (Carter et al., 2002, pp. 515–516). (p.156)


Foucault, Surveillance, Subjugation, Power Relations, Linguistic Turn, Discipline, Punishment, Organisational Studies


On Foucault, Foucault, Organisation and Management Studies

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