Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Campus Bitch & White Trash: Pardoning the Injury of Language Acts in Participatory Contexts[1]

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Campus Bitch & White Trash: Pardoning the Injury of Language Acts in Participatory Contexts[1]

Article excerpt


Campus Bitch and White Trash are the kind of appellations that can draw one into the dark heart of a world where words wound, images enrage, and speech is haunted by hate. One need look only as far as the latest outbreak of violence in the workplace or on the schoolyard to find examples of how name-calling and bullying can erupt in rage.

The issue of injurious speech and our vulnerability to words is a critical management issue. In her book Excitable Speech, a politics of the performative, Judith Butler raises the questions: What establishes the performative character of injurious labels? And what makes the force of an utterance injurious?

Our vulnerability to words is a consequence of our being constituted by them. As linguistic beings we have to use words to form reason. We cannot create meaning without structuring our thoughts and feelings with words. According to Althusser, ideology hails or interpolates or concretizes individuals as subjects according to the functioning of the category of the subject (1971, 162). Thus we are called upon by our names. Being called a name is one of the examples Althusser uses to explain "interpolation." When an ideology hails us, it alters who we are, and, so the argument goes, we recognize who or what we have become.


Appellations like 'campus bitch,' and 'white trash' are interpreted personally and according to each individual's unique history. In an increasingly diverse workplace, this can only add to the complexity of making sense of injurious utterances in an organizational context.

We can label ourselves or be labeled by others. If, in fact, we are formed by language, then the formative power of interpolations will precede and precondition whom we become. Any linguistic interaction can be injurious to an individual depending on the nature of the term, its prior power and meaning, the way the term is interpreted and received and the intention of the user. Injurious appellations then, limit our possibilities.

Word sequences like 'campus bitch' and 'white trash' are ideologically-based representations of meaning that exist as a reified structure of relationships that a speaker intends when using a particular sign sequence. The interpolation then, becomes what the signs represent. For Althusser, the subject is the individual made concrete after interpolation. That is to say, the person, as the object of interpolation, becomes the subject of interpolation or in these examples, the narrators become White Trash and Campus Bitch. The individual, so called, experiences a sort of ideological alteration or reincarnation. The individuals so named are "interrupted in their (cognitive) tasks and called into account by the other's ideology" (Althusser).

Does the power of language as an act or deed, come from its interpolative power? Or does it come from its ability to subjectify us and transform us against our wills? Do we accept and adopt the ideological assumptions and beliefs that spawned the interpolation? Are we 'persuaded' that that which is presented to us actually represents our inner identity or self? Or do we protest? Whom or what controls our identity?

These are the issues we explore in this paper. Our data consists of narrative accounts of two "novel communication episodes" in which the individual narrators recount what it felt like to discover that one had been labeled, what it felt like to be called a name and how the hurt caused by these injurious acts was dealt with.

From the interpretive analysis of the data we have developed a theoretical framework to explain the mechanism of injurious speech and we propose a model for moving beyond the injury. The model can be used as a management tool or strategy that can help individuals and managers overcome the pain caused by hateful and injurious speech. Throughout the paper we insert excerpts from the data in italics to connect the personal accounts of the victims of interpolation to the theories we are developing. …

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