Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Illness, Work and Organization: Postmodern Perspectives, Antenarratives and Chaos Narratives for the Reinstatement of Voice

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Illness, Work and Organization: Postmodern Perspectives, Antenarratives and Chaos Narratives for the Reinstatement of Voice

Article excerpt


This paper explores the possibilities that exist when the affirming aspects of a postmodern perspective are utilized to reinstate the voice of marginalized organizational members. Stories, specifically antenarratives (Boje 2001), are shared as fragments depicting difficult and disordered lives of working people with unseen chronic illness. Heideggerian phenomenology is introduced as the methodological and philosophical vantage point for a study where antenarratives have been sought to illustrate the postmodern working life of sick people. Boje's (2001) work with antenarratives, Frank's (1995) work with Chaos Narratives and Baudrillard's reflections on the simulucrum and the end of reality are drawn upon to illustrate the postmodern existence of life and work with an unseen chronic illness. It is hoped that Flax's (1990) ideas about thinking in fragments, and the need to stay engaged with the difficult questions, will allow organizations to move toward being places of acceptance of diversity, openness to multiple voices, inclusion, flexibility and respect - the just workplace.


The aim of this paper is to give voice to an "invisible" and marginalized group in the workplace in an effort to improve understanding and seek organizational justice. I attempt to reinstate voice using the postmodern recognition of disorganization, untidiness and fragmentation to try and interpret, understand and respect these people's experiences. While it is acknowledged that not all aspects of the postmodern turn are useful or positive, like Boje (1995, p. 1004), I believe that some of the affirming postmodernist assumptions enable us to move beyond exploitation, discrimination and abuse, by framing conceptions of organizations in non-patriarchal terms so that we may shift the focus back to equality, democracy and multiplicity.

The "invisible" group of people I speak of are those with unseen chronic illness (Vickers 2001). A chronic illness is an ongoing condition, which may be physical, emotional or cognitive. It may or may not be treatable or curable (Vickers 1995; 1997; 1999; 2001). An unseen chronic illness is one that entails all of the above characteristics but also combines the attributes that Goffman (1963 p. 65) ascribed to invisible stigma: a condition that is not perceptible, not noticeable or evident to others. In short, it is a condition unseen by others that may arise from disease, disability or injury (Vickers 1995; 1997; 1999; 2001), and one that may result in profound problems for the bearer. Examples may include various forms of cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, depression or heart disease. There are many more.

A postmodernist perspective offers much to one concerned with multiple voices, multiple realities and one endeavouring to somehow incorporate and understand multiple positions (Gergen 1991, p. 85). The postmodernist sensibility of disorganization, untidiness and flexibility (Hassard 1993, p. 115) lends itself well to endless unanswered questions and lives filled with "wicked" problems (Rittel and Webber 1973, p. 160; Harmon and Mayer 1986, p. 9). I am reminded of 'the existentialist view [where] there are always loose ends' (Macquarrie 1972, p. 13), lives that are incomplete and fragmentary. These are work lives that are not easily contained or containable with the usual universal and normalizing categories of "being" an organizational member.

'Critical postmodernism' (Agger 1992; Boje, Fitzgibbons and Steingard 1996, p. 64) provides a useful vantage point and an anchor for analysis of dissonant voices and endless, unanswerable questions. Aspects of the critical postmodernist standpoint (Boje, Fitzgibbons and Steingard 1996, p. 64), particularly the recognition of heterogeneity and multi-dimensionality, prove helpful when interpreting stories replete with ambiguity, conflict and discontinuity. Critical postmodernism begins with everyday experience and discourse, including its own (Agger 1992, p. …

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