Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: International Perspectives in Research and Practice

By Ståle Einarsen; Helge Hoel et al. | Go to book overview

12

Bullying at work

A postmodern experience

Paul McCarthy


Introduction

What follows is an exploration of the potential of a postmodern approach to the concept of 'bullying' to extend our explanatory frameworks for this new and highly salient concept. The chapter proceeds by examining the rise of the concept as a new way of giving meaning to experiences of distress at work. In this manner, 'bullying' is treated as a new signifier that emerges from a wider discourse that attributes distress in contemporary workplaces to unacceptable behaviours. Postmodern signifiers can be recognised as concepts or names that are formed out of projections of everyday life experiences and emotions. As a new signifier, 'bullying at work' gives expression to a variety of anxieties, fears, and resentments, and it indicts perpetrators.

A key aim of the following discussion is to demonstrate that mapping the construction of 'bullying' as a signifier can provide a richer explanatory texture. The approach of treating 'bullying' as a postmodern signifier foregrounds difficulties in deciding between differing explanations of the phenomenon (Lyotard, 1988; Catley and Jones, 2001). However, while the potential of postmodernism to produce critical and innovative insights is recognised (Bauman, 1993), its multidimensionality does not fit neatly within accepted social scientific conventions.

The approach of mapping is considered a useful way of exploring the interaction of several dimensions of experience, knowledge and interest in the emergence of 'bullying' as a signifier. The process of mapping illustrates how understandings of bullying are a product of shifting alignments and tensions amongst diverse individual, organisational, professional and institutional interests (Liefooghe and Olafsson, 1999; McCarthy, 1999; Lewis, 2000). Appreciation that 'bullying at work' has emerged as a new signifier in a force-field of tensions also makes us aware that its meanings have been shaped by pre-existing meanings and by more or less powerful interests aligned to them (Foucault, 1972).

In these terms, 'bullying at work' emerges from power relations across several levels. Notably, the concept has arisen in a contest over

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Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: International Perspectives in Research and Practice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Part 1 - The Problem 1
  • 1 - The European Tradition 3
  • 2 - American Perspectives on Workplace Bullying 31
  • 3 - Basic Facts and an Effective Intervention Programme 62
  • 4 - What is Sexual Harassment? 79
  • Part 2 - The Evidence 101
  • 5 - Introduction 103
  • 6 - Introduction 127
  • 7 - Introduction 145
  • Part 3 - Explaining the Problem 163
  • 8 - Victims and Perpetrators 165
  • 9 - A Social Interactionist Perspective 185
  • 10 - Introduction 203
  • 11 - Why Should We Listen to Employee Accounts? 219
  • 12 - A Postmodern Experience 231
  • 13 - Development, Implementation and Monitoring 247
  • 14 - Introduction 259
  • 15 - Introduction 270
  • 16 - The Role of Occupational Health Services 285
  • 17 - A Systematic Approach Model 299
  • 18 - The Example of South Africa 312
  • 19 - Introduction 327
  • 20 - Introduction 339
  • 21 - Introduction 359
  • 22 - A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing? 370
  • 23 - The Collective Dimension 383
  • 24 - Towards a Transnational Consensus? 399
  • 25 - The Way Forward 412
  • Subject Index 417
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