Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Environmental and Social Responsibility Rhetoric of Nike and Reebok

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Environmental and Social Responsibility Rhetoric of Nike and Reebok

Article excerpt


Using the play Tamara as a metaphor, this paper shows how the sharing of stories helps construct an image of what is happening in the athletic apparel industry. We review the rhetoric of Nike and Reebok from their letters to shareholders found in their annual reports to discern their strategy and the image they are projecting. Nike primarily uses Denial as their rhetorical stance regarding environmental and social responsibility while Reebok primarily uses Flagship Implementation as their rhetorical stance. These findings lend support to research showing a negative correlation between corporate social responsibility and profitability.


We are witness to the metamorphosis of late capitalism, the interpenetration of postindustrialism with postmodern culture. Spectators (consumers and investors) are given only narrative fragments to construct worker and ecological stories from the vantage points of entry authored by corporate public relations. Corporate authorial-power becomes hegemonic as narrative plots script actions and perception in ways unseen or taken for granted. Consumers in the first world cannot see the ecological or work conditions because these locations are kept as strategic "secrets." All one ever hears are stories directly authored by corporate interests acting as gatekeeper, authoring ventriloquist stories on behalf of workers and ecology.

What is the relevance of this to Tamara?The play, Tamara, written by John Krizanc (1981, 1989) entraps us as spectators in a maze of story and character choices where our own complicity in civic responsibility stares back at us. Some characters have a voice and access to many spectators; others have either a weak voice or limited access. In Tamara Manifesto (Boje, 2001), there was a call to heed the interpenetration of postindustrialism and postmodern culture, the intertextuality of production, distribution, and consumption. Manguel (1988:1-2) gives us a starting definition of traditional theatrics:

Theater, the representation of events "as if they happened before your

eyes" begins with the convention of all spectacle: a division of reality. One

space allotted to the audience, the passive viewer, seated to observe;

another to the play, the actors, moving to perform.

In "one space" theater, spectators and performers must follow the linear storyline of authorial authority and view the performance from the viewpoint the playwright has determined will be seen by the spectators. In Tamara, the barrier between spectator and actor spaces has been breeched; the spaces co-mingle and spectators become actors on many stages.

My theory is that there are three divided spaces with narrators telling stories that connect them operating in a kind of "Tamara" interconnecting three theatrical spaces:

1.First, a consumptive space of spectators, the consumers and investors from the first world;

2. Second, a distributive space is reserved for performing executives, PR managers, and consultants, who mediate stories performed to the first space on behalf of those in a third space;

3. Third, a productive and ecological space, of the Third World where mostly

young women toil and where environmental laws are more lax; workers and forests can not be seen or heard by those in the first space (and maybe not the second).

We will look to see how in one industry (athletic apparel) spectators are given a few more choices, in what we call the Athletic Apparel Industry Tamara, to accompany whatever character and story they choose, masters or servants from country to country (or factory to showroom), knowing that there are simultaneous performances and they can not be in every place at one time. In short, consumers and investors rely upon the sharing of stories to construct their image of what is going on.

Past examinations of the connection of storytelling and corporate strategy have focused on content analysis and a recent call has been to examine events or texts from a storytelling perspective (Barry & Elmes, 1997). …

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