Discourse analysis comes to organization studies

1. Situating discourse analysis

Discourse analysis was prefigured to a great extent by the concerns of ethno- methodology (see especially Zimmerman 1971) but these were barely institutional- ized within the canon of organization theory. One significant British author did some early work using a discursive approach (for instance, Silverman 1974, which provides a good review of approaches to that point) but it seemed to be largely over- looked. The late Deidre Boden (1994; Boden and Zimmerman 1991) developed the ethnomethodological direction in her work and that which she edited, some of which we shall discuss below. Subsequently, discourse analysis has proven a useful and increasingly popular theoretical framework for understanding the social pro- duction of organizational and inter-organizational phenomena (e.g. Alvesson and Kärreman 2000; Grant et al. 1998; 2004; Hardy and Phillips 1999; Morgan and Sturdy 2000; Mumby and Clair 1997; Phillips and Hardy 1997; 2002). In fact, as Mumby (2004: 237) suggests, it has become a ‘veritable cottage industry’ with its own specialized conference, special issues in journals, several edited books, and a handbook. It explores how the socially produced ideas and objects that comprise organizations, institutions, and the social world more generally are created and maintained through the relationships among discourse, text and action. Accordingly, it involves not just ‘practices of data collection and analysis, but also a set of metatheoretical and theoretical assumptions and a body of research claims and studies’ (Wood and Kroger 2000: x) that not only emphasize the importance of linguistic processes, but also understand language as fundamental to the construc- tion of organizational reality (Chia 2000; Gergen 1999; Phillips and Hardy 2002).

2. Organizational discourse as a field of study

In this section, we will introduce the notion of organizational discourse as a spe- cific area of study and then examine two of the more important areas of investiga- tion that have been initiated using a discourse analytic methodology. Our intention here is not to provide a comprehensive overview of discourse analysis broadly defined (see Mumby and Clair (1997) for a broader view), but to focus on areas of inquiry that fit the narrower view of discourse analysis described above and that have the potential to include a critical consideration of the dynamics of power.

The effect of the linguistic turn in the study of organization has been substan- tial. The broad range of methods that have been developed to explore the role of language in social interaction in social science more broadly has been reflected, if sometimes with a substantial delay, in organization studies. For example, as we have discussed one of the earliest contributions was by Clegg (1975) who went into the empirical world of a construction site armed with a tape recorder and came back with an analysis of management in practice constituted in power terms. Although he began from ethnomethodological auspices it is clear that he ended up in what would today be called discourse analysis. Gephart (1978) used an ethno- methodological approach to study one of the most political of all organizational events, an organizational succession. The work of Frost (1980) is representative of a stream of work that coalesced around a set of conferences held in Vancouver, BC in the 1970s and 1980s and which was concerned with a range of issues from an interpretive perspective. Clegg (1989), in Frameworks of power, considers the con- tribution of several linguistically oriented approaches, including the work of Foucault, and connects them explicitly to power in organizations. Phillips and Brown (1993) investigated the management of corporate identity using a critical hermeneutic approach.

In one of the most influential works in this tradition, Boden (1994), in her fas- cinating book on talk in organizations, introduced the notion of ‘lamination’ as a way of understanding the way in which everyday talk produces macro-structures like organizations. As Oswick and Richards describe it, ‘the term “lamination” implies that “parts” (local conversations) (or what Boden also called “minor moves”) are brought together, or layered upon each other, to form an unproblem- atic and relatively coherent “whole” (an organization)’ (2004: 108). In describing the everyday micro-interactions that produce organizations through lamination, Boden provided a detailed and nuanced argument for the importance of everyday ‘talk’ in the production of organizations.

At the same time, it is only somewhat more recently that this broad stream of work has coalesced into something self-consciously referred to as organizational discourse analysis. Organizational discourse analysis, much like Boden’s work on lamination, focuses on how discursive production leads to the construction of organizations and all the bits and pieces that make them up. As Boden argues, ‘It is through the telephone calls, meetings, planning sessions, sales talks, and corridor conversations that people inform, amuse, update, gossip, review, reassess, reason, instruct, revise, argue, debate, contest, and actually constitute the moments, myths and, through time, the very structuring of organization’ (1994: 8). Where it differs, of course, is in the primary position given to discourse as social practice. Grant and Hardy argue that

The term ‘discourse’ has been defined as sets of statements that bring social objects into being (Parker, 1992). In using the term ‘organizational discourse’, we refer to the struc- tured collections of texts embodied in the practices of talking and writing … that bring organizationally related objects into being as those texts are produced, disseminated, and consumed … Consequently, texts can be considered to be a manifestation of dis- course and the distinctive unit … on which the researcher focuses. (2004: 6)

Organizational discourse analysis, then, is the systematic study of the discourses and discursive practices that constitute organizations. It posits the organization as being discursively constituted, and scholars working from this perspective investigate organizational phenomena through the examination of discourse. Discourse is not, of course, directly accessible, but can only be researched through the study of the texts that constitute it. Therefore organizational discourse analysis is about system- atically studying sets of texts that are implicated in the production of organizational phenomena. The point is well made by Mumby and Clair when they argue

that organizations exist only in so far as their members create them through discourse. This is not to claim that organizations are ‘nothing but’ discourse, but rather that dis- course is the principal means by which organization members create a coherent social reality that frames their sense of who they are. (1997: 181)

Organizations are largely produced and made sense of through discourse as a social practice. Furthermore, as we argued above, discourse is both a source of stability and a source of change. The actual role played by discourse in any actual situation is therefore an empirical question. At its extreme, this perspective leads to a view of organizations as a text. From this strong social constructivist position, the organi- zation has no existence, no reality, outside of the discourses that constitute it. The organization is an unstable and constantly shifting achievement held in place by the constant discursive efforts of its members and other outside actors. Westwood and Linstead summarize this position succinctly:

Organization has no autonomous, stable or structural status outside of the text that constitutes it. The text of organization itself consists of a shifting network of signifiers in dynamic relations of difference. Text does not have an entitive status either; it is a process, a process in which meanings are emergent, deferred and dispersed … The notion of structure is illusionary, representing only an ideological practice that pretends to stand in the place of the flux of shifting and seamless textual relationships … Organization is a structure, but only when structure is recognized to be an effect of language, a tropological achievement. (2001: 4–5)

It is worth pointing out that this extreme position has received significant criticism for what is perceived as its nihilism and its collapse of epistemology into ontology (Fairclough 2005). Opponents have pointed to what they see as the internal con- tradictions of this strong form of social construction as well as the loss of an appre- ciation of the ontological reality of organizations and the value of the tension between structure and process. Proponents, on the other hand, argue that under- standing discourse as a source both of stability and of pressures for change has the same effect, leaving two distinct camps and no resolution in sight. From our per- spective, both camps have real potential in the quest more readily to understand power in organizations.

Setting aside this issue for the moment, one branch of organizational discourse analysis that is of particular interest here is the stream of research that has adopted a critical discourse perspective in the investigation of organizational phenomena (e.g. Orly and Gloclaw 2005; Hardy et al. 2000; Hardy and Phillips 1999; Thomas 2003; Vaara et al. 2004). These researchers have examined a range of organizational phenomena using a critical discourse perspective to highlight the dynamics of power in which the discursive activity is implicated. Given our interest in organi- zational power, this stream of research is particularly relevant and provides some initial examples of how effective this approach can be in exploring the linguistic nature of organizations combined with an explication of the dynamics of power. At the same time, this stream of research remains underdeveloped. Work from this perspective remains a rarity in a field that is itself marginal. For this perspective to begin to make the sort of contribution that it has the potential to make, much more research needs to be done.

To sum up, organizational discourse is a rapidly growing area of organizational studies with the potential to provide additional insight into our understanding of organizational phenomena. Interestingly, discourse analytic approaches are applic- able to any traditional area of study but require a change in focus and method. At the same time, there are deep divisions in organizational discourse reflected par- ticularly in the ongoing argument over the relation between ontology and episte- mology in discourse studies. In any case, from the perspective of power in organizations there is great promise in the early application of critical discourse analysis to the study of power in organizations. While this method is being applied to a whole range of different substantive topics, it brings a welcome concern for power and politics to their investigation.

3. Themes in organizational discourse

In these final subsections, we will discuss some important themes that have been examined from the perspective of organizational discourse. While there are many others that have received attention, these topics have been particularly central to the developing literature and are important topics in their own right. They are also all areas where the research to date has dealt explicitly with power. They therefore act as important examples of the potential contribution of organizational discourse to our understanding of power in organizations.

4. Gender themes

The connection between gender and discourse broadly defined has been discussed for at least 100 years.1 However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that, stimulated by the new wave of the women’s movement, gender and discourse emerged as a recognized field of inquiry (e.g. Cameron 1990; 1992; Kramarae et al. 1983; Roman et al. 1994; Spender 1980; Thorne et al. 1983). Since that time, ‘the study of gender and dis- course has achieved not only recognition as a full fledged field of inquiry, but one that is growing by leaps and bounds’ (West et al. 1997). In the process, gender has become one of the central concerns of discourse analysis and a very significant literature on the topic has developed.

It is, therefore, not surprising that it was not long until the topic of gender and discourse emerged in organization studies. In her comprehensive review of gender, discourse, and organization, Ashcraft (2004) has identified four ways in which the relationship between these domains has been explored.2 First, this connection has been explored in the literature by treating discourse as an outcome or a reflection of gender identity. By gender identity, Ashcraft refers to ‘a socialized or relatively fixed identity or cultural membership, which is organized around biological sex and which fosters fairly predictable communication habits’ (2004: 276). The earli- est literature in this area focused on variation related to biological sex differences but this gave way to literature more focused on gender and which began to see the differences as the result of processes of socialization. Much of this latter literature focuses on feminine styles of communication and the ramifications of the differ- ences in interaction between men and women (e.g. Tannen 1990; 1994). At an organizational level, this analysis led to a concern with the barriers that these dif- ferences create for women (e.g. Wilkins and Andersen 1991) and a parallel concern with women as leaders (e.g. Bass and Avolio 1994). However, this approach has also been the subject of much critique given the substantial variations in speech patterns across genders as well as between them. Furthermore, this perspective fails to really deal with the role of the organization in the complex relation between gender, discourse, and organization.

The second approach conceptualizes discourse as the performance of gender identities. From this perspective, discourse is constitutive of gender identities, but also can act to undermine them. Scholars working from this perspective adopt a performance metaphor (Goffman 1976) and understand actors as performing gen- der roles in the production of their everyday lives (Weedon 1987). The influence of this conceptual shift – from discourse as reflective of identity to discourse as con- stitutive of identity – can be seen in the stream of work that considers gender in everyday life as a provisional accomplishment (e.g. Alvesson and Billing 1992; Butler 1990; Kondo 1990; West and Zimmerman 1987). In an organizational setting, this research focuses on how gender is accomplished within the constraints of the organizational stage. That is, it is concerned with how organizational members ‘craft’ (Kondo 1990) gendered selves through discursive practices in organizations.

From the third perspective, the discursive constitution of the organization takes center stage. This perspective adopts the radical position that organizations them- selves can be gendered. The discursive constitution of organizations results in particular constellations of power and gender relations, constellations that disad- vantage women (e.g. Acker and Van Houten 1974; Kanter 1977; Mills and Tancred- Sheriff 1992). From this perspective, the challenge for discourse analysts is to analyze the gendered nature of organizations and to attempt to develop alternative organizational forms that are not characterized by the oppressive aspects of current organizational forms.

Finally, the last approach to discourse, gender, and organizations focuses on broad, societal-level discourses and the role of these discourses in organizational life. These researchers see societal-level discourses as framing the constitution of both organization and gender. From this perspective, then, what is interesting is how organizations and gender are understood, communicated, and constituted at a societal level. Researchers have, to date, focused primarily on popular culture (e.g. Ashcraft and Flores 2003) and on organizational studies itself (e.g. Mills and Tancred-Sheriff 1992) with intriguing, if somewhat limited, results. It is clear that discourse analysis has much more to contribute as this literature develops.

Combined, the literature on discourse, organization, and gender constitutes one of the most developed areas within organizational discourse. While there is still sig- nificant work to be done in developing this stream of research, it is clear that dis- course analysis provides important insight into the politics of gender that would not be available using more traditional methods. Seeing gender as constituted in discourse allows the politics of gender to be explored and critiqued in a powerful and convincing way.

5. Identity themes

A second empirical topic where discourse analysis has played a key role is in ongo- ing discussions of identity. Somewhat surprisingly there is little apparent reference to Goffman’s (1961; 1963) path breaking work in this field. Recent examples of the application of discourse analysis to questions of identity range from studies in social identity (e.g. Phillips and Hardy 1997) to studies in occupational identity (e.g. Watson and Bargiela-Chiappina 1998), corporate identity (e.g. Salzer-Mörling 1998), and individual identity (e.g. Holmer-Nadeson 1996).

Identity has become a key concept in organization studies and one where there has been significant change over the last two decades. The effect of the linguistic turn has been felt very strongly as the traditional view of identity as a stable, essen- tial characteristic has been replaced by a conceptualization of identity as frag- mented, fluid and ambiguous as well as situated in time and space (e.g. Baak and Prasch 1997). Identity is no longer something that we are born with, or at least forms early in life, but rather a situated accomplishment that depends on time, place and circumstances.

The topic of identity is of central interest to researchers in organization studies due to the dual role of the concept of identity in the study of organizations. On the one hand, identities are linked to organizations in that organizations are one important location for their construction (Antaki and Widdicombe 1998). Individual identities are deeply affected by the work organizations of which the individual is a part (or by the fact that the individual is not part of any work orga- nization and so is ‘unemployed’). On the other hand, organizations also have col- lective identities, the shared beliefs that members have about the enduring and distinctive attributes of their organizations (Albert and Whetten 1985).

At both levels, the connection between identity and organization is a discursive one. At an individual level, individual identity is a product of discourse. It is in dis- course that individual identity is constituted. At an organizational level, the dis- cursive approach, ‘by situating collective identity in the language in use among members, shifts attention from the intentions and attitudes of individuals to their observable linguistic practices and the effects of those practices on social relation- ships and action’ (Ainsworth and Hardy 2004: 155).

As an example, consider Phillips and Hardy’s (1997) study of refugee determina- tion in the UK. Refugee determination is often presented as a quasi-legal process during which the available evidence is examined to ‘reveal’ whether an individual is a refugee or not. From a discourse analytic perspective, however, Phillips and Hardy (1997) argue that things look very different. Rather than being the focus of a highly rational process that separated ‘real’ and ‘fraudulent’ refugees, the identity of a refugee was contested, unstable, and discursively constructed. Furthermore, they found that actors in the refugee system had a stake in these different identities and acted discursively to support them. For example, the government juxtaposed ‘polit- ical refugees’ against the ‘economic migrants’ that had to be unmasked by their determination procedures. The white-led NGOs that spoke on behalf of refugees defined refugees as needy ‘clients’ to whom they, as professionals, could dispense ser- vices. The refugee-based organizations constructed refugees as fully functioning and equal ‘members’ of society who were willing and able to organize themselves.

By using discourse analysis to ‘unpack’ these competing refugee identities, Phillips and Hardy (1997) were able to provide insight into a number of aspects of the refugee determination system. First, in discursively evoking and drawing on particular refugee identities, organizational identities were also constructed. The government’s role was to protect the public and stop the arrival of illegal refugees. One NGO viewed its mission as dispensing services to needy clients, while another saw itself as providing services but also representing a refugee constituency. A refugee organization saw itself as fighting against these other organizations to empower its members. These identities shaped organizational practice. So, for example, the service provider found it very difficult to engage in meaningful con- sultation with its ‘clients’ since its procedures for dealing with refugees were pred- icated on them being a passive recipient, not equal partners. The second NGO, on the other hand, introduced a series of mechanisms to give voice to its constituency, which were then used by refugees to influence and shape the organization and its policies. The refugee organization simply refused to cooperate with the NGOs, much to their frustration and amazement. The former was small and impover- ished, and the larger and better-resourced NGOs could not understand why it did not take advantage of the opportunity to cooperate with them. However, an orga- nizational identity that sees refugees not as silent clients, but as a vocal and capa- ble constituency that is being marginalized, leads to an organization that is not going to collaborate with established agencies, regardless of how their interests might appear to overlap.

Second, in highlighting the discursive struggle around identities, Phillips and Hardy (1997) were also able to provide a better understanding of power. Traditional views of power – as derived from resource dependencies or formal authority – would suggest that the government was the dominant stakeholder and the refugee organization was virtually powerless. However, a discursive view reveals that power can be exercised by creating meaning for social objects and that certain identities are able to have an influence, even organizations that lack traditional power. So, the refugee-based organization, through its construction of an identity as the only legit- imate voice for refugees as well as its confrontational relations with NGOs that tried to usurp its role, was able to secure a legitimate voice. It had a profound influence in pushing more established NGOs to change their practices and increase refugee participation. An organization almost devoid of traditional power resources had a significant impact on other organizations through its use of discursive power.

A discursive view of identity therefore provides a very different view of the dynamics of power and identity than a more traditional view. It also provides a use- ful frame for understanding the connection between individual and organizational identity and the complex processes of mutual constitution that exist between the two. It further provides important insight into the dynamics of power that sur- round the constitution of identity. Interested actors work hard to ensure that their interests are represented in the outcome of the discursive struggle, carried out through discursive practice as we discussed above.3

6. Deconstruction and translation themes

Following Foucault’s (1980) idea of the truth effect, language does not naively mirror or innocently represent the world but actively creates and powerfully shapes it. Hardy et al. (2000) question this view by recognizing that discourse can have important positive effects and consequences in organizational contexts. They demonstrate that talk is far from ‘ethereal’, less an abstract entity and more a dis- course mobilized by agents in order to act as a ‘strategic resource’ for the realm of management practice.

Discourse enacts and actively creates organizational reality (Hatch 1997: 368). According to Foucault (1972), language and power are bound together through the order of discourse. New discourses that have the power to enact new realities always imply a deferring of power relations (in terms of ‘Who speaks?’, ‘What is an argu- ment?’, ‘What creates truth effects?’). Often these do find expression through relatively dominant forms, as Clegg (1975) argued was the case in the construction site we encountered earlier. Where the analyst finds such closure then an appropri- ate theoretical stance to take to the discourse may be that of deconstruction.

Deconstruction focuses on procedures that subvert taken-for-granted realities and ways of world making (Derrida 1986; Chia 1996). Deconstruction is a form of intervention through maximum intensification of a transformation in progress (Derrida 1992: 8). It questions the taken for granted in order to demonstrate that it has an institutionalized history (Kallinikos and Cooper 1996: 5). Deconstruction makes us aware that the stories through which managers organize their own and others’ thinking, which make organization thinkable, are a sum of human relations rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, which, after long usage, appear to be fixed, canonical, and binding. They are metaphors whose metaphori- cality we have forgotten to remember. Deconstruction questions ‘truths’ split off from the conditions and context of their production. It tries ‘to identify internal con- tradictions in systems, to exploit the conflicts and absences present in the interplay between representations, using nominally stated arguments of those with voice … to create openings for those without’ (Jacques 1999: 216). In questioning the limits it allows the possibility of enacting different discourses that open up strange and ambivalent spaces not yet defined by the present ‘texture of organizing’ (Cooper and Fox 1990). Willmott suggests that deconstruction is a ‘subversion of closure rather than providing an authoritative means of resolving ethical dilemmas’ (1997: 211).

Narratives and stories constitute organizations; they guide the lives within them, and speak to those identities they constitute. Organization constantly talks itself into existence and we make sense of its experience through narratives and stories (Weick 1995; Boden 1994). These discourses shape organization through their ‘truth effects’ at the deepest levels (Foucault 1972). Practically, deconstruction is a means that allows one to question these truth effects and to analyze the language games that shape reality, opening up space for different concepts and perceptions. Deconstruction shows how the world is accomplished linguistically and its status quo maintained dis- cursively. Even more important, it provides the space for things being different. As organizations are powerfully constituted and constantly enacted through languages, deconstruction is thus the precondition of change as it melts all necessities and shows that they were established at a very particular moment in history.

Deconstruction is something done by analysts, although it can be done by prac-titioners as well. In practice, at least, in complex organizations where the dynamics are more positive than negative, the opposite of the construction site that Clegg (1975) wrote about, the key practitioner skill will be that of translation. Translation is a term that has had a long and peripheral relationship with the social sciences as a topic of enquiry, as well as a practice of knowledge dissemination. While transla- tion, as an analytic practice, was a central focus of Benjamin’s (1982) contributions to the Frankfurt School in the 1930s, it lapsed into marginality, at least until the development of actor network theory. In the seminal paper titled ‘Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fisherman of St Brieuc Bay’, Callon (1986) tells the story of a group of three researchers who worked in St Brieuc, a small fishing community near Brest in France, to repopulate the dwindling resources of scallops. The paper identifies three key agents of concern in determining the success or failure of the study. These included the researchers themselves, the fishermen, and the scallops. The focus is on the translation and non- translation of the needs of each of these into the terms of the others. Law (1996: 300) explains the complex interrelationship, described as translation, which occurs between the subject and the object, the non-living and the living.

Subjects endlessly turn themselves into objects, perhaps by creating rules and procedures which, for instance, assume the form of the standing orders or conven- tions that are performed at meetings, while at the same time objects are similarly turning themselves constantly back into subjects so that – in this case – they may judge whether or not the rules have been properly followed. Such syntax is a mode of accounting that is told and performed in documents such as agendas and min- utes. And it is something that demands the performance of a constant weaving to and fro between subjectivity and objectivity. The former is not distant, strategic, and occasional. Rather, together with its interventions, it is continuous, reflexive, iterative, unfolding and tactical, distributed across time in ways that cannot be predicted or told in any detail at a single time or place.

Given that organizations are constituted through different language games – including the language game legitimated by top management as only one of them – no single language can be identified that could cope with the complexities emerging from them all. Drawing on philosophical (Benjamin 1982; Deleuze 1994) and socio- logical (Latour 1983) sources, we suggest using the concept of translation as an ade- quate means of understanding and conceptualizing management. Translation is concerned not with one language but with the differences between languages; it con- cerns not the elaboration of one single language but a moving from one to the other; it is not about speaking in one’s own tongue but about understanding the other.

Translation, at root, is a process, a becoming rather than a being (Chia 1996).

Translation will always be a temporary, imperfect and somehow improvised process. It cannot smooth over differences but tries to work with them, creating a resonance between languages, and can be understood as a form of mediation between different and contradicting languages and the realities they constitute. Following the current interest of organization theory in the space between (Cooper 1990; Bradbury and Lichtenstein 2000), the gaps, the interstices (Gherardi 1999), and the therein-unfolding in-tensions (Cooper and Law 1995), the process of translation focuses on the ‘what is between’ as ‘where the real action is’ (1995: 245). Translation explores ‘the space between’ different sensemaking; it explores the actual space where organizing occurs (Cooper 1990: 168). Translation becomes the process of linking, netting, connecting different language games through the use of stories and metaphors that display one as having rhetorical skill.

As actor network theory has demonstrated (Law and Hassard 1999), translation is a powerful process, especially where it involves enrolling others as relays in strate- gic agency. It is, of course, a fallacy of translation ever to think that others might be the passive beings that the notion of strategic relays suggests. Once others have been delegated to become relays then they are acknowledged as autonomous and have opportunities for the exercise of their autonomy in the pursuit of whatever action has been authorized. Here, the term ‘authorized’ bears a dual sense, referring both to the textual originator and to the legitimacy that is construed as the context within which any action will unfold. Delegates are empowered to speak and act as legates or envoys of those who represent authority. And in this role it is a rare del- egate who is effective by sticking solely to the script and eschewing opportunities for improvisation and creativity. And it is in often-necessary improvisation that the most creative, the most powerful, and the most authentic moments will occur. Thus, translation is far more than a pure repetition of the same in the words of the other. Rather, translation always combines difference and repetition at one and the same time (Deleuze 1994). According to Benjamin, the ‘essential quality’ of trans- lation ‘is not statement or the imparting of information. Yet any form of transla- tion which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information – hence something inessential’ (1982: 69).

Translation does not imply speaking on behalf of other people. Speaking for others implies defining common ground and identifying a common perspective. Such a strategy obviously implies exercising power since differences can get lost when some- one claims to represent an issue better than the people who are directly affected by it. Translation works on a different level. It does not identify or unify, but takes the dif- ferences between languages and tries to deal with them in a constructive way. It does not speak for someone else, but repeats what someone said in a different language.

The translator does not become the author, but stays in the background. Translation is still a powerful process, of course, but rather than claiming to represent a standpoint for others, the translator has to explore different ways of linking lan- guages between different people. Whereas speaking for someone else implies know- ing their position and expressing it accurately, translation is much more of a hesitant and improvisational process. There can never be anything like a perfect translation; it is always a ‘provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of languages’ (1982: 75). The language of translation never fits perfectly; rather, it moves, folding and unfolding, enveloping and developing, and, with every single move, there (dis)appears a new but as yet hidden reality. Far from transporting a clear-cut mes- sage from one point to another, translation creates a bridge between differing lan- guage games that shape organizational reality, deferring to both of them.

It is through translation between different language games that positive power operates. Rather than just seeking the ‘form of life’ of an organization or a singular mode of rationality, contemporary discourse analysts can seek out the skilled uses of translation by managers who are oriented to the creative and positive use of power, at least, those managers influenced by teaching that adopts some of the strategies of positive power. Where there is less in the way of translation occurring, where there are blockages to the expression of positive power, then the analysis can focus on deconstruction.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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