Wittgenstein and the linguistic turn

In earlier chapters we have seen the gradual expansion of the subject of power from the person conceived as a body, with a soul, to one with a mind. In discourse analy- ses we see the mind reconceptualized in terms of a speaking, writing, spoken and written subject that discourses through public language. The breakthrough conceptualization was most evidently that of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical investiga- tions, with its notion of meaning being embedded in ‘language games’. Over several decades this view moved across the social sciences leading to new methods of systemically examining the social, including social semiotics (e.g. Hodge and Kress 1988), critical hermeneutics (e.g. Phillips and Brown 1993), narrative analysis (e.g. Czarniawska 1998), conversation analysis (e.g. Psathas 1995), ethnomethodology (e.g. Garfinkel 1967; Gephart 1978), and discourse analysis (e.g. Fairclough 1992; Phillips and Hardy 2002). All of these approaches share an interest in meaningful social action and its role in the construction of social reality; they differ in their level of analysis, the object of study upon which they focus, and their varied approaches to power. Combined, they extend the boundaries of social studies in a number of important directions to include a broad appreciation of the role of language in the production of social phenomena.

While this repositioning of language as the centerpoint of the study of the social world drove the development of this family of new approaches, the result was anything but a cohesive stream of research. Instead, what resulted was more like water spreading across a broad delta, with many small and intertwined rivulets that touched here and there only to separate again as researchers explored the many and complex ramifications of the linguistic turn. Our focus here will be primarily on one of the broader streams of this work, discourse analysis. We will, however, occa- sionally stray into other related approaches as we explore this complex topic.

Our specific focus on discourse analysis as an appropriate topic for a chapter in this volume grows out of the fact that other interpretive approaches have often failed to grapple directly with questions of power. Many of the methodologies that have arisen from the linguistic turn take for granted the power dynamics that frame the social world that they are seeking to explain, and work to explain the nature and constitution of social action and structure without any real interest in the dynam- ics of power that underlie their social construction. While this work has, in many cases, been highly insightful, it has little to say about the questions of power and organizations that concern us in this volume and we will not deal with them here. Furthermore, looking forward, we believe discourse analysis is the area with the clearest potential for further development in studying organizations, making it all the more appropriate as a focus of interest here.

While the development of a discursive approach took some time to appear in the quiet cul-de-sac of organization studies, it has slowly taken hold as a significant approach to understanding organizational phenomena. It is not without its detrac- tors, as we will see, but it is an area of increasing significance which has culminated in the publication of a handbook on the topic of organizational discourse whose editors argue that organizational discourse is now an established approach to orga- nization studies: ‘Discourse analytic approaches therefore allow the researcher to identify and analyze the key organizational discourses by which ideas are formulated and articulated and to show how, via a variety of discursive interactions and prac- tices, they go on to shape and influence the attitudes and behaviour of an organi- zation’s members’ (Grant et al. 2004: 25). In other words, the editors argue for the delineation of a field of study focusing specifically on the discursive foundations of organizational phenomena. One of our tasks here, then, is to examine this propo- sition and see if, in fact, organizational discourse has become as established as the existence of this handbook suggests.

Accepting the existence of organizational discourse as an established area of study does little to solve the obvious problem of theoretical fragmentation. Within discourse analysis there remain broad divergences in approach and foundational assumptions that make much of the work incommensurable (see Putnam and Fairhust (2001) and Kaiser and Muller (2003) for two accounts of this diversity). Our challenge here, then, will be to draw together these disparate strands and show the common threads that bind together what is often seen as a bewildering array of work only connected by the term ‘discourse analysis’!

In this chapter, we will examine the contours of discourse analysis as an approach to the study of power in organizations. As we mentioned, our task is complicated by the diversity of approaches and the more or less obvious ways in which power appears in this growing body of work. We will begin by examining the roots of discourse analysis in the work of linguistic philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Winch. Building on this foundation, we will then move on to trace the history of discourse analysis, focusing on the work of Foucault and Fairclough and their explicit interest in power. We will then focus more closely on the development of organizational discursive analysis driven by an explicit interest in the dynamics of power in organizations; in other words, we will present a discourse analytic for the study of power in organizations drawing on the growing literature in the area.

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

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