The Futures of Power- Shrinking space: eclipsing time

1. Extending business globally

What made contemporary globalization possible, in part, was the virtual capillar- ies of instantaneous communication and trade embedded in the Internet. By the 1990s much of the focus of organization theories had shifted to the emancipatory possibilities of new virtual technologies potentially rendering hierarchy and bureaucracy redundant (see Clarke and Clegg 1998). Optimistically, as we sug- gested in Chapter 5, there is good reason to think that, however slowly, imperative coordination may be giving way to responsible autonomy and heterarchy; new forms of polyarchy as suggested in Chapter 12. There are now technologies avail- able that can handle more distributed authority relations, through the use of digi- tal and virtual communication. The Internet allows for far less centralized modes of organization – and, indeed, in the present state of anxiety in society about ter- rorist attacks, we are likely to see many organizations adopting more distributed and network structures, with responsible autonomy in each of their nodal points, if only to be sure that the organization can survive a cataclysmic event such as 9/11. It is evident that organizations that have distributed systems and networked lead- ership will better survive catastrophe. After all, that is precisely what the Internet was designed to do.4

While the optimistic scenarios envisage a world in which small and local busi-ness, offering unique products, will be globally connected by the Internet, there are more pessimistic aspects of globalization to contend with that are likely to have an impact on organizational power relations. Pessimistically, the times in which we live have grown more troubled in many respects and the necessity of imperative coordination is seemingly ever more pressing. As a result of digital capabilities, Western postmodern society not only surrounds those who live within its borders; its global media project images of it to the rest of the world, intensifying the powers of the market enormously.

2. Resisting globally?

In the past the major challenge to market power was the state (Clegg et al. 1983) or the organized labor movement. After the failure of Eurocommunism in the 1970s, and the rapprochement of social democracy with the neoliberal agenda from the 1980s, challenge from the state declined. The decline in left politics was paralleled in the industrial sphere as well. Today, the international organization of capital con- fronts national labor movements. When one considers the new global conditions of production it is evident that trade unions face a new reality.

Organized labor has had to match the learning trajectory of that capital in whose employ it is globally arraigned. The literature addressing the use of IT in business and administration, and its consequences for social and industrial organization (e.g. Sprague and McNurlin 1986; 1997), provides an archive of the learning process involved in these changes as organizations better manage the supply and value change in an increasingly complex business environment.

Significant global campaigns have emerged from within the trade union move- ment and from the critics of globalization to confront the new global realities (Hogan and Green 2002). However, trade unions remain, for the present, largely nationally institutionalized, and they do not afford much of a threat to existing organization of the relations of production, especially as their recruitment and penetration of the post-industrial services economy is far lower than was the case in the era of indus- trial labor and society. Also, they are increasingly irrelevant because their leadership is largely male and the domain of their traditional membership is female. Thus, the biggest issues that unions face today on the membership front are low female and ethnic minority participation rates such that the people doing the representing rarely share either gender or ethnicity with those they represent.

Inter-union coordination in response to the globalization of value chains was taken forward by the UK Liverpool docks dispute, which took place between 1995 and 1998. Extensive mobilization of support from within and beyond the labor movement was achieved through the use of the web in concert with more tradi- tional forms of mobilization (Carter et al. 2003). Following the defeat of the union, the skills developed in the struggle have been carried forward to archive the dispute and to develop a sustainable skills base within the community.5 Within 48 hours of the settlement of the UK dispute an identical dispute broke out in Australia, a locus of support for the Liverpool workers and, at that time, a regulated labor environ- ment (Clegg 1999).6 Of critical significance was the role of the federal Australian government in planning the dispute, involving overseas training of serving members of the Australian armed services.7

Clearly learning and counter-coordination are taking place globally on all sides –unions, employers and governments – and new forms of power and resistance can be expected (Little and Clegg 2005). The emerging global system is far from com- plete and far from determined, but it is having a profound impact on social and working life in the regions included within and excluded from it. Of course, the speed of change in markets, competition and technology means that there is a socio-institutional lag, something that occurs when any new techno-economic par- adigm emerges (Perez 1983). It is information and communication technologies that are driving the distributed processes of globalization and providing new forms of cultural and political indexicality, as well as new forms of counter-coordination for excluded constituencies (Little and Clegg 2005).

3. Anticipating resistance? Simulation and identity in the electronic Panopticon

US federal legislation, which predates 9/11, requires GPS transmitters to be fitted to all US cell phones.8 Organizations, not just in government, are increasingly making use of available surveillance technologies to seek enhanced supervision and con- trol. The electronic Panopticon is going global in an increasingly insecure world, offering opportunities not only for hypersurveillance but also for a new kind of organizational simulation that is hyperreal, a world where we can ‘simulate a space of control, project an indefinite number of courses of action, train for each possi- bility, and react immediately with preprogrammed responses to the “actual” course of events (which is already over and through a simulacrum)’ (Bogard 1996: 76). Organizations increasingly need neither to handle power via a political economy of bodies, nor to embed it in a moral economy of the soul through extensive surveil- lance. Instead, they project information in a mode that has been described as ‘the purest form of anticipation’ (1996: 76).

Almost all large scale organizations of any sophistication are increasingly premised on work whose doing is simultaneously subject to hypersurveillance of its being done, characteristic of both managerial work and work more generally. The traces of data that all information-laden actions leave automatically as they are enacted become the objects for analysis, for the speeding up of processes, for erad- icating porosity through which some effort, time or work might seep, for eradicat- ing the gap between the action and its accounts, the work and its record, the deed and the sign. The loop between being, doing and becoming tightens irrevocably on the terms of those elites that can channel and funnel information, closing down the unaccountable moments in the programmed loop between employees and tech- nologies reporting data that managers have to act on.

Ideally, managers become adjuncts of expert systems, which will instil opera-tional definitions of shareholder value as the highest ethic imaginable. In short, ordinary organizations have capabilities for power that would have been but a dream for a Honecker or a Ford, running a state or a production plant. The trajec- tory of power has spiraled out from a political economy of the body, has transcended the moral economy of the soul, and now is lodged everywhere and nowhere in a multiplicity of scanning and simulation.

Hundreds of thousands of workers in both government and private industry are subjected to drug tests, have their prior work records scanned, are diagnosed for general health, intelligence, loyalty, family values, economic and psychological stability (through matches generated in searches of other databases), fitted to job profiles, placed on career tracks – or unemployment tracks – all in addition to routine, rigorous monitoring on the job … The virtual scene of work is one where the end of work – who the worker will have been, what the worker will have produced, what path his or her career will have taken – governs the entire process before it begins. (Bogard 1996: 117)

Such information is not confined to the gathering of data from the physical spaces controlled, nor is it premised on the crude forms of spying characteristic of the Ford Sociological Department and the Stasi. ‘Increasingly virtual realities, artificial intelligence, expert systems, sever us from older forms of control and project that control – refashioned, smoothed and streamlined – onto the plane of simulation … The god of surveillance is a virtual reality technician’s cyborg dream’ (1996: 77, 57). It is not only the security apparatuses and the legislative assemblies that multi- ply dreams within which identities that are constructs of the profiler, the psycho- logical tester, and the human resources manager become crucial. All large organizations, equipped with the foresight of simulation, can screen out potential deviance from the organization as easily as the society at large. It is the reality of how, increasingly, organizations use informatics’ virtual worlds as they construct identities within which our lives will be lived. Our identity, more than ever, will be a social construction, but not necessarily one made under conditions of our own choosing. Organizations will increasingly adopt bio-surveillance technologies, such as retina, fingerprint, and face scanning, and use these to monitor, restrict and govern access. Such data, together with those identities that are coded from market- based information, credit records, credit cards, and other forms of transactions, will ensure that some elements of identity become less negotiable. Given the likely direction and speed of development of genetics, organizational capabilities will increasingly be prefigurative rather than retrospective; as Bogard puts it, ‘genetic technology offers the fantastic possibilities of pre-identification, i.e., identities assigned in advance, profiles that we have seen can be used to target bodies for all kinds of future interventions and diversions’ (1996: 9). Potential pathologies for organizations – such as prediction of earlier than required executive demise due to genetic codes or lifestyle triggers – can be problems eliminated in advance. Normalization will no longer be remedial or therapeutic, will no longer require the counseling interview as its major device, but will be anticipatory. Bio-psychological screening is becoming ever more closely intertwined with genetic and security screening. Organizational elites will be able not only to reproduce themselves bio- logically but also to clone themselves socially, with ever more precise simulations.9

4. Expanding identities filling space

If the previous section has presented a pessimistic view of identity politics, the technological dystopian view, there is a more optimistic scenario. Much of the pol- itics that surrounded debates about power in the recent past centered on issues of interests and identity, as we saw in Chapter 8. These politics focused on the inde- termination of both interests and identities. However, these debates were only possible in both a theory and a practice informed by postmodernism (Castells 1997) in which a switch occurred from a society that articulated around relations of pro- ductive and domestic labor to one whose center of gravity was increasingly rela- tions of consumption. Identities founded in the spheres of work and the traditional family and household became unsettled, rendering the idea of objective interests problematic.

In theory, it was postmodernism that deconstructed the stable identities provided by the great cleavages inherent to the master nineteenth-century narrative of class, which articulated around the relations of production, and the late-twentieth- century narrative of feminism, which centered on the relations of gender. Laclau and Mouffe (1985) made a considerable difference to the saliency of these debates with their theoretical intervention, analytically sidestepping all the orthodoxies that wanted to ascribe real interests to others on the basis of big-T theory, whether Marxism, feminism, or whatever.

The theoretical moves were in part a result of reflection on changing realities as well as changing priorities. In the political theory sphere, Laclau and Mouffe could proclaim as they did, in a Lacanian move, that there was no such thing as society because there is no transcendent signified subject; what we take to be reality is a discursive construct (see Roudinesco (1999) for an introduction to Lacan). In the sphere of political practice Prime Minister Thatcher could and did say the same thing, albeit that she meant it in a different way. For her, as with her close colleague in arms President Reagan, there should be only real individuals exercising their freedoms as sovereign consumers. They were remarkably successful in constructing this as a model of society that was widely emulated in the West. The governmental projects inspired by Thatcher and Reagan clearly valued efficiency and economy over civility and society.

One theoretical response to these changing politics was that an excessively ego-tistical and narcissistic subjectivity became celebrated as postmodern, as a possi- bility tied into consumption rather than production. In many respects it was the material environment of Reaganomics and Thatcherism that framed these late 1980s debates (Gamble 1988) as much as debates in poststructuralism and femi- nism, although it is evident that they were in fact interdependent, as leftist intel- lectuals struggled to come to terms with the new neoliberal conditions of existence. The debates had effects that trickled into the analysis of organizations, as for example in Clegg’s (1989) work, largely in terms of a critique of the notion that there are unambiguous identities that possess real, if unknown, unarticulated, or repressed interests. While the main thrust of critique was in terms of a stress on the fragmentation and ambiguity of identities, the frame of reference was very much that of the sophisticated employee in organizations in the advanced sectors of the advanced economies: immaterial labor producing immaterial goods such as a service or a cultural or symbolic product (Hardt and Negri 2000). Integral to this immateriality is the production of new identities – creative knowledge workers and symbolic analysts – for whom work is essentially tied up with their identity and the successful positioning of their identity as a presence in the competitive market of enterprising subjects. Like workers of old they sell themselves, their time, but the point of sale occurs through the successful presentation of their identity as a pres- ence that makes a difference.

Often, these notions of identity are glossed as postmodern, to signify the fluid-ity and lack of structural determination by relations of production which are taken to be a hallmark of modern identities. The modern was seen to be passing away and the postmodern coming to be. Thus, when Clegg (1989) wrote Frameworks of power, much as nearly everyone else, he did not dwell on the possibility that conceptions of identity, based neither on modern relations of production nor on post modern relations of consumption, but instead on fundamental assumptions about the nature of men, women and their relation to a transcendent God, would sprout in the midst of modernity.10 We now know that this was a peculiar blindness.

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

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