Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Defacing the Corporate Body, Or: Why HRM Deserves a Kick in the Teeth

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Defacing the Corporate Body, Or: Why HRM Deserves a Kick in the Teeth

Article excerpt

A horror story. The face is a horror story.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus


In a late text titled 'Postscript on the Societies of Control', Gilles Deleuze performs an imaginative reading of Michel Foucault's account of disciplinary societies (Deleuze, 1992). According to Deleuze, modernity, conceived as a form of society based on disciplinary power, is currently being intensified in the direction of control, a mode of ordering central to capitalism. Control is manifest in integrated and infinite expanding circuits of flows and constitutes the development of the immanent rules of capitalism, its axiomatic.

The passage towards societies of control is a proliferation of the disciplinary biopower Foucault epitomizes as characteristic of modernity; now power is exercised directly upon the molecular materiality of being, through communications systems and surveillance technology, as well as directly on the body in the production of various, but programmed, subjectivities, sensing inclusion and exclusion on an ever deeper

and less perceptible level: retina recognition, DNA archives, and GPS monitoring.

Foucault's work on discipline, the production of docile bodies and subjugated subjects, has had a considerable impact on organization theory, not least on the varied discourses of human resource management (see especially Townley, 1994; Legge, 1995; Hjorth, 2003). The present paper, however, takes Deleuze's construction of passage towards the societies of control as its point of departure, and asks how such a premise might enrich our perception of 'the human' as a resource: how is the human integrated and deployed within labour market practices in control societies?

The paper sets out to problematize a common construction of the human that happens to be isomorphic with the way industrialism conceived of the natural resources it deployed in production: a layered sedimentation of material, with finite characteristics befitted for programmed exploitation (one of the images of the human identified by Legge, 1999). As will be argued, control societies do anything but annul the logic of industrialism: they further implement the rules of this logic, yet transgress its boundaries. Industrialism, on its side, incorporated a notion of human capital unproblematically into the motley assemblage of exploitable resources: land, capital and material. This was accomplished, first, in terms of bodies, second, in terms of hours spent at work and, third, more recently, in terms of knowledge possessed. The society of control - which in a sense is the age of Deleuze's dark vision of a knowledge society gone awry - reconfigures this incorporation in a variety of ways, most notably via what the organization theorist Soshana Zuboff calls 'automatization' and 'informatization' (Zuboff, 1988). The automatization is well known as the takeover from the hands of the worker to the domain of the machine in a very mechanical sense. Informatization, on the other hand, has a reciprocal character, as industrial activity becomes infused with information, figures, graphs and texts, that replace the work of the hands, or more precisely, resituates it in the cognitive and communicative capabilities of the worker. The human resource now becomes available through advanced software programmes like data mining, to mention just one widespread HRM technology.

This process will here be traced to and through an advisory pamphlet intended to enlighten unemployed individuals who apply for unemployment benefits in the Danish Employment Service (DES). The DES presently uses this particular pamphlet to outline what is just as much a code of correct feeling as a code of correct conduct. It tells you how you must behave if you are to obtain unemployment benefits.

The analytical point to be maintained here is that while industrialism still seemed to make possible a critique from an outside, any critique of control societies must be immanent. …

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