Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Organizational Control: Restrictive or Productive?

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Organizational Control: Restrictive or Productive?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Organizational control is conventionally - from a critical stance - viewed as a negative and restrictive phenomenon, which in one way or another subjugates workers. In this theoretical paper, we argue that organizational control is often based on a particular understanding of power; an understanding that views power as repressive, equating it with domination and subjugation while paying little attention to its productive function. We question what the implications for understanding organizational control would be if we were also to see power as productive. We contend that the Foucauldian notions of pastoral power, disciplinary power, and governmentality can be used together through the concept of regime of practices to enrich our understanding of the workings of organizational control. We thus delineate an analytical framework for the study of organizational control based on an open-ended investigation of the regimes of control in local settings.

Keywords: Foucault, governmentality, organizational control, disciplinary power, pastoral power, subject

INTRODUCTION

Organizational control is conventionally - from a critical stance - viewed as a negative and restrictive phenomenon, which in one way or another subjugates workers (Jermier, Knights & Nord 1994: 1-24; Clegg 1994; Collinson 1993). To put it bluntly, accounts of organizational control often examine the constitution of a resistant subject and declare a need for the emancipation and liberation of this intrinsically alienated and repressed working subject (Marx 1884, 1976; Clegg 1994: 274-325). It is proposed that organizational control is often based on a particular understanding of power; an understanding that views power as negative and repressive (Jermier et al. 1994: 1-24). We suggest this is because power is equated with domination and subjugation (Daudi 1986; Burrell 1998).

From our viewpoint, it appears that the accounts of organizational control are often based upon negative conceptualizations of power, and this conceptualization of organizational control seems to be taken as a fact that is seldom questioned in the critical organizational literature. Our question is: What happens to this understanding of organizational control if we reconceptualize power as regimes of practices consisting of negative as well as productive forms of power and subjectivity? We strive for an openended research process where a particular regime of control is analyzed in its local setting, and suggest that Foucault's ideas on pastoral and disciplinary power and governmentality can be used as conceptual tools for enlarging our understanding of the workings of the organizational control. We contend that studies of organizational control should at the same time depict and analyze the systems of control as well as their consequences and outcomes at the subjective level.

The theme of power was both a persistent and contradictory one for Foucault. Although he never wrote a book on power, he touched on the issue of power and approached it from various angles throughout his work. Consequently, there is no single 'Foucauldian' conceptualization of power, but rather a prolific mass of works and writings approaching power from multiple viewpoints (Foucault 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982a,b, 1988, 1991a,b, 1997, 1998a,b, 2000, 2003, 2004a,b). In his work, Foucault did not develop an overriding model of power, but rather examined the various forms of modern power. For this reason, discussion of a 'Foucauldian' notion of power or subjectivity (see e.g. Newton 1998) become problematic and not very fruitful if they presume a consistent and overriding notion of subject or power presented by Foucault, when in fact this was a writer who tested and developed his ideas in a prolific way, changed his thinking, and did not aim to construct a coherent theoretical system.

Foucault is, however, important in studying power, because he dispels some misconceptions that are inherent in the labor process debate (Jermier & Clegg 1994: 4). …

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