Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Rationalities in Trade Union Practices: A Discourse Analytic Perspective on the Strategies of Three Danish Trade Unions for Professionals

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Rationalities in Trade Union Practices: A Discourse Analytic Perspective on the Strategies of Three Danish Trade Unions for Professionals

Article excerpt


In this paper, we wish to investigate the discursive practices of three academic trade unions in Denmark-The Danish Society of Engineers (IDA), The Danish Association of Lawyers and Economists (DJØF), and The Danish Association of Masters and PhD's (DM)-as found in their strategy and position papers. The overall objective of the paper is thus to analyze the strategy and position papers of the three trade unions in order to investigate the problematizations (Bacchi, 2009; Foucault, 1984) by which the policies, visions, and goals of the unions manifest themselves as what can and ought to be considered about their practices. We thus understand "strategy" as an "activity" that is performed by actors and that can be discerned through the study of the materialdiscursive practices of the actors (Jarzabkowski, 2005; Whittington, 2006). The purpose of this paper is not to evaluate the strategies or to make judgments about the proposed objectives of the strategies. Neither are we looking for objective, causal explanations for the success or failure of the strategies of the unions. The objective of the paper is to investigate and describe the dominant logics and rationalities that have shaped the strategies and point to their limits and bounds. In this archaeological endeavor (Foucault, 1984; Bacchi, 2009), we wish to position a critical voice that can point to the implicit and often tacit presuppositions and granted assumptions of the strategies. The exposure of the dominant rationalities in the strategies will potentially contribute to a disclosure and destabilization of the discursive practices. The analysis thus bears the putative promise of establishing resources that can transform the strategic work of the unions, or at least point to the obstacles for developing alternative avenues.

The argument of the paper will be put in five subsequent sections. Firstly, we will develop the theoretical and methodological perspective of the paper and thus position ourselves as researchers and trade union activists. We will identify and delimit our perspective within the practice theoretical, discourse analytic, and the govermentality traditions in order to stress the perspectival and partial character of our research. Secondly, a brief description of the context of the research production will be established. Thirdly, we present our reading of the strategies of the three unions in order to describe their discursive positions and explicate the rationalities and technologies by which the strategies are informed and oriented. Fourthly, we will reflect on our findings in relation to the wider societal development informed by the governmentality perspective. Fifthly, we conclude our discussion and point toward further research.

The ambition of the discourse analytic perspective is to describe how the strategies are produced. It is not an ambition to explain why the strategies are produced in specific ways given specific historic and societal conditions. We will, however, discuss the strategies in relation to a societal diagnosis of the development of "advanced liberal societies" (Miller & Rose, 2008) in order to situate them within broader discursive frameworks. In concluding remarks, we will reflect on our research and its potential for (re)introducing silenced agendas about solidarity, identity, inclusion/exclusion, political ambitions, and activism in trade unions strategies.

Research perspectives and theoretical/methodological outlook

One of the authors of this paper has worked as an executive officer in academic trade unions over the last two decades. He has been involved with the development of the unions' policies and strategies and has advised a process of setting new visions for the development of The Danish Society of Engineers. Thus, he has been an actor in the strategic work of the academic trade unions1. On the one hand, his position as a trade union officer gives us privileged first-hand access and valuable background information about the unions' strategy work, but on the other hand, it can prove to be problematic according to traditional scientific standards of impartiality, detachment, neutrality, and objectivity on behalf of the researcher. …

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