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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 10 Numbers 1 and 2, 2000

Cultured Bodies


Angela Trethewey
Arizona State University

    Abstract. In this essay, I briefly review how organizational culture research has encouraged us to view communication as constitutive of organizational reality. I suggest that recent post-structuralist trends in organizational communication scholarship further enhance our understanding of communication as constitutive not only of particular cultures but of members’ very bodies. I argue that turning our attention to the ways in which communication constitutes our organizational bodies provides exciting possibilities for reinvigorating and appropriately politicizing organizational culture research. A theoretical and empirical exploration of embodiment in organizational culture requires two simultaneous foci. The first is a focus on the social discourses, such as gender, managerialism, and entrepreneurialism, which structure organizational cultures. The second focus demands careful attention to the "micropractices" of power in organizational cultures that literally take hold of members’ bodies. The (always performative) body is the site where larger discourses of power are exacted upon individual organizational members (Foucault, 1979). A theoretical turn to embodiment moves us away from treating organizational culture as a self-contained unit of analysis or a reality housed exclusively in members’ minds, in shared meanings. Instead, we can begin to explore "cultured bodies." The body is, seemingly, the most real and material aspect of our identity. The notion of "cultured bodies" indicates that our bodies, like organizational cultures, are communicatively constituted. Thus, a turn to embodiment or "cultured bodies" would require us to examine how specific organizational cultures appropriate and/or transform socio-political discourses of power through everyday communicative micropractices in ways that enable and constrain members’ bodies.


In the late 1970s and into the 1980s a strand of organizational communication research emerged which, in many ways, changed the way we think of organizational communication and organizational life. That voluminous body of research investigated organizational culture. In the intervening years, culture research has taken a number of different twists and turns, and has moved in and out of several different approaches, orientations, methodologies, and epistemologies (Martin, 1992; Putnam & Pacanowsky, 1983). Those varied approaches, particularly the interpretive and critical approaches, have resulted in a much richer understanding of how communication constitutes organizational realities [1]. Interpretive and critical organizational culture researchers have forcefully demonstrated that organizational reality is socially constructed or constituted, and that the goal of research is to understand, provide insight into, and/or critique humanly constructed phenomena. These scholars effectively heralded a new metaphor that many now routinely use to describe organizations, namely culture (Morgan, 1997).

Indeed, the term culture has been widely used to describe organizations over the course of the past decade. To describe the term merely as a buzz word diminishes the widespread impact that culture has had on the study of and practices in organizational life. The concept of organizational culture has served several diverse purposes among academics and practitioners alike. Managerially biased scholars and practitioners have treated culture as a variable to be manipulated by individual managers to create a strong, effective, and competitive organization (Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Ouchi, 1981; Peters & Waterman, 1982). Others have treated organizational cultures as shared systems of symbols and meanings that must be described and interpreted in order to be understood. The value of this approach rests in its ability to "demonstrate how symbols are intertwined in meaningful relationships and how they emanate from the activities of people in a particular [organizational] setting" (Smircich & Calás, 1987, p. 241). Still other critically oriented thinkers view organizational cultures with often well-founded skepticism. For them, organizational cultures, which are always constituted through power-laden communication, are potentially oppressive and, therefore, need to be understood, critiqued, and ultimately changed (Deetz & Kersten, 1983; Mumby, 1987). This multi-layered treatment of culture has been developed in interesting and provocative ways over the past few decades. I will not belabor this point here, as there are several authoritative reviews of the topic currently available (Alvesson & Berg, 1992; Czarniawska-Joerges, 1992; Frost, Moore, Louis, Lundberg & Martin, 1991; Linstead & Grafton-Small; 1992) Martin & Frost, 1999; Smircich & Calás, 1987; Trethewey, 1997b). Rather, I will first point to some of the more useful traditions that we have inherited from early culture research. These traditions point to the constitutive power of communication for organizational cultures. Then, I will focus the remainder of this essay on how organizational culture studies might be fruitfully developed to center our attention on the bodily practices through which organizational cultures are materialized, enacted, and resisted.

Looking Back on Organizational Culture

Over the past twenty years, we have learned much about the cultures of particular organizations and the consequences of unique sense-making or reality-constituting practices for those organizational members. While space limitations prohibit a full treatment of these "thick" descriptions, I mention just three studies here as exemplars. First, Pacanowsky (1983) provides an example of how the interpretive approach can provide a fuller understanding of organizational culture and forecasts the postmodern concern with representational practices. Rather than reporting his findings in traditional social scientific forms, Pacanowsky’s "A Small-Town Cop" uses the genre of fiction to display the detail, richness, and complexities of a policeman’s organizational life. His ethnographic focus is on "symbolic processes, a central concern for the social construction of meanings in organizational life, an aim to understand how organizational life is constituted, and the use of methods consistent with inquiry from the inside" (p. 261). In this study, Pacanowsky describes, among other things, a police officer’s reaction when his partner is shot. His artful interpretive analysis "heightens our sensitivities to the excitement, depression, agony, and boredom of modern organizations" and captures "the complexities and richness of organizing by allowing readers to vicariously experience the emotional dilemmas of organizational actors" in ways that traditional, functionalist accounts of organizational life cannot (p. 261). His early experimental study also reminds us of the power of authority and representational practices. Pacanowsky’s fictional account of cop culture paves the way for future more explicitly reflexive accounts of how scholars’ rhetorical and representational devices, quite literally, constitute the culture for our reader (Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Holman-Jones, 1998; Van Maanen, 1988). Organizational cultures are not often experienced as seamless wholes. It is the researcher who imposes order and meaning on cultures, bringing them to life through their representational "tales" (Van Maanen, 1988).

Second, Smith and Eisenberg’s (1987) metaphorical analysis of Disneyland’s organizational culture suggests that members’ understandings and experiences are not the same across the organization; instead, consensus emerges only within subcultures. "At the organizational level of analysis, differentiated subcultures may co-exist in harmony, conflict, or in indifference to each other. . . subcultures are islands of clarity; ambiguity is channeled outside their boundaries" (Frost et al., 1991, p. 8). In the case of Disneyland, the employees and management reached consensus regarding what it meant to be a member of that organization within their own subcultures. The ambiguity and conflict emerged between the two groups’ cultural boundaries. The authors assert that a change in emphasis of root metaphors from drama to family reflected fundamental differences in the employees’ and management’s world view. The managerial use of the drama or "business of show business" metaphor constituted a reality that centered on structure, conformity, and a bottom-line orientation. This metaphor was in opposition to the employees’ emphasis on family that suggested uncritical support of fellow employees. The employees’ use of the family metaphor grew out of Walt Disney’s desire to build an organization that provided family entertainment and friendly employee-customer relations. After Walt’s death, employees began to interpret the family metaphor to mean that relations among Disney employees and management were friendly, uncritical, and supportive. The employees’ interpretation of family was one that Walt Disney might not have intended or embraced. The conflicting metaphors and attendant conflicting realities created by both groups ultimately led to a strike. Smith and Eisenberg’s (1987) study points to the very real and material consequences of communicatively and symbolically constructed realities.

Finally, Kunda’s (1992) Engineering Culture points to the dark side of organizational culture in a high-tech corporation. Kunda’s (1992) ethnography shows how corporate rituals, public and private modes of communication, and symbols cohere to create a culture saturated by power. His study is a compelling account of the normative control that undergirds organizational cultures. According to Kunda (1992):

Normative control is the attempt to elicit and direct the required efforts of members by controlling the underlying experiences, thoughts, and feelings that guide their actions. Under normative control, members act in the best interest of the company not because they are physically coerced, nor purely from an instrumental concern with economic rewards and sanctions. It is not just their behaviors and activities that are specified, evaluated, and rewarded or punished. Rather, they are driven by internal commitment, strong identification with company goals, intrinsic satisfaction from work. These are elicited by a variety of managerial appeals, exhortations, and actions. Thus . . . a member role is fashioned and imposed that includes not only behavioral rules but articulated guidelines for experience. In short, under normative control it is the employee’s self -- that ineffable source of subjective experience -- that is claimed in the name of corporate interest. (p. 11)

Through a variety of cultural practices, including public and private rituals, employees are enlisted to perform particular member roles and continuously to reinforce adherence to the prescribed member role. The managerially defined version of organizational reality and member identity is rarely resisted. Thus, members become agents of control, ensuring that their own identities are defined by corporate interests (see also Barker, 1993). The end result, says Kunda, is that employees, particularly those with high status, are subject to normative control which threatens their own personal autonomy. They are left continuously to attempt to balance the prescribed organizational roles with their "real" selves. The central experience for members is not only what ideology seeks to instill, but also their experience of struggle with that ideology. The private self becomes a contested terrain, a self whose authenticity is constantly cast in doubt. The corporation does not "capture the soul," but it does undermine its foundations (p. 159). As members attempt to dramatize and perform the appropriate, prescribed cultural role (Pacanowsky & O’Donnell-Trujillo, 1983), their ability to establish an identity independent of the corporation and its interests is woefully diminished. Kunda’s (1992) extended exploration of normative control at a high tech firm demonstrates how members’ experiences, and perhaps selves, are created and constrained by particular organizational cultures.

These three illustrations, chosen somewhat arbitrarily from the many that might have been chosen as exemplars, make clear that much can be learned about contemporary organizational life through interpretive analyses. Indeed, each points out unique qualities of organizational cultures and our theorizing about them. Pacanowsky (1983) was among the first to call our attention to the power, importance, and richness of representational practices. Smith and Eisenberg (1987) powerfully demonstrated that cultures or realities are not monolithic, but often differentiated and conflictual. Finally, Kunda (1992) articulates the very real power of organizational cultures and their ability to undermine our own freely chosen selves in favor of those reflecting the corporate image. These are certainly important contributions, ones that do, in fact, help us to understand better "the subjective, intersubjective and socially constructed meanings of organizational actors" (Putnam, 1983, p. 44). Additionally each piece highlights how communication constitutes organizational cultures, and also members’ attitudes, feelings, and identities.

Expanding our View of Organizational Culture

Early organizational communication scholarship powerfully demonstrates that communication constitutes meanings, values, and modes of thinking. What is underdeveloped in the organizational culture literature, though, is an understanding and analysis of organizational culture as embodied practice. After all, communication steers the normative body of ideas and the corporeal bodies of employees. Post-structuralist and feminist accounts of the relation between individualized ‘micropractices’ and larger social discourses of power point to the myriad ways in which bodies are positioned and subject-ed, disciplined, and made docile (Corey, 1996; Foucault, 1979; Murphy, 1998; Sawicki, 1991). Yet, their accounts fail to address how organizational cultures can and do mediate between social discourses (e.g., gender) and everyday micropractices of power (e.g., dress, comportment, and style). I will argue that future organizational culture scholarship should look to continue to integrate "macro" and "micro" analyses by centering on embodiment in organizational cultures.

Social Discourses of Power

While early organizational culture research largely ignored the political and power-laden environment in which organizational cultures are located, recent post-structuralist scholarship has encouraged us to theorize how larger socio-historical discourses impinge upon organizational cultures and their members (Deetz, 1995; Foucault, 1979). We turn now to a discussion of three of the larger socio-historical discourses of power that infuse organizational cultures, namely gender, enterprise or entrepreneurialism, and managerialism. The research on gendered organizational cultures provides a paradigm case for studying other social discourses and their consequences for members. Gender research is (relatively) well-developed and enables us to envision how we may begin to theorize how other discourses (e.g., race, class, sexuality, and others) constitute organizational life. Two such discourses – entrepreneurialism and managerialism – have been theorized by organizational scholars as contributing to contemporary organizational life and members’ embodied identities, but have yet to be empirically studied by communication scholars (see Deetz, 1998; Nadesan, 1998; Nadesan & Trethewey, 2000 for exceptions). Thus, they are included here in hopes of stimulating further analyses.

Gendering Organizational Culture. Perhaps the greatest strides in connecting organizational culture with larger social discourses of power have been in terms of gendered discourses. Social discourses, like patriarchy, that ascribe meaning to "masculinity" and "femininity" are inextricably related to everyday organizing practices. Many studies suggest that organizations are gendered in ways that reinscribe patriarchy (Acker, 1990; Ashcraft & Pacanowsky, 1996; Ferguson, 1984; Fine, 1993; Gherardi, 1995; Hearn, Sheppard, Tancred-Sheriff, & Burrell, 1989; Mumby & Putnam, 1992). While traditional conceptions of organizations seem to suggest that organizations are rule-governed, rational, and gender-neutral, an increasing number of communication scholars argue that "the prevailing [organizational] context within which women and men communicate is dominated by male values and forms" (Marshall, 1993, p. 126). In a very real sense, organizations valorize traits and characteristics that are stereotypically masculine, including an emphasis on rationality, long-range and abstract concerns, assertiveness and the drive for individual success. In contrast, the traits that are typically attributed to women, such as an emphasis on feeling or emotion, devotion to detail, and an orientation toward affiliative relationships, are often denied legitimacy in organizational life. When organizational cultures, however unintentionally, privilege that which has been constructed as masculine and marginalize that which has been constructed as feminine, problematic gender stereotypes are reproduced and reified (Fine, 1993; Hearn et. al., 1989; Martin, 1990; Mumby & Putnam, 1992; Pringle, 1988; Trethewey, 1997a, 1999).

"Gendering" organizational culture means that all kinds of organizational processes and structures can be seen as "carriers of cultural meaning, drawing upon and producing gendered ideas, values, and assumptions" ( Alvesson & Billing, 1997, p. 106). Indeed, many organizational communication scholars have demonstrated how social constructions of gender are further reinforced and articulated in the context of organizational life (Cockburn, 1991; Martin, 1994; Trethewey, 1999). Ashcraft and Pacanowsky’s (1996) study of Office, Inc. is particularly instructive. The point of entry in this study is the organization and its ‘female’ (as defined by the members) culture. Ashcraft and Pacanowsky provide us with a fairly rich representation of life at Office, Inc., including its history, its participants, and important cultural practices such as diagnostic meetings designed to seek out the causes of and offer solutions to organizational conflicts. The authors then move to describe how gender is quite literally organized at Office, Inc. More specifically, the members defined particular organizational practices as revealatory of larger discourses of gender. For example, the organizational culture practice of taking "people’s individual feelings and concerns into account" is explained by members as uniquely "female." Similarly, the organization’s distaste for conflict is treated as a gendered practice by members. Yet, that same relational orientation is simultaneously the basis of many criticisms of Office Inc. on the part of members. More specifically, the members attribute "pettiness," "cattiness," "intense defensiveness," and other equally disturbing features of organizational life to Office, Inc.’s "female" style. Ashcraft and Pacanowsky’s (1996) feminist analysis suggests that:

As participants described their desire to see ‘catty’ others ‘keep personal issues at home,’ or their aims to achieve a more ‘healthy brand of impersonal competition like guys do,’ they spoke of their struggle to synchronize the unique contributions of ‘women’s ways’ with the demands and values of the ‘masculine’ business environment that defined their wokplace yet denounced their ways. . . Rather than challenge the social stereotypes that set expectations for female action but devalue these modes of action, participants appropriated these images to interpret themselves, accepting confining notions of what it means to be ‘female’ and (implicitly) ‘male.’ (p. 233)

Cultural appropriations/reproductions of gender in this organizational context have clear consequences for individual members in terms of the identity positions that are open, and closed, to them. The narrative of female identity told and practiced at Office Inc. "may have aided in the construction and maintenance of images that confine and marginalize the ‘female.’ Their tale of collective self-perception [or identity] provides an example of how women may participate in their own subordination" (Ashcraft & Pacanowsky, 1996, p. 233). While the individual-level analysis is not fully developed, in that we know little of how gendered constructions of identity enable and/or constrain particular embodied selves, it is certainly provocative and provides a useful move toward revitalized, politicized accounts of organizational culture.

We must continue to explore how gender is organized by culture and how cultures constitute gender. However, there are other larger social discourses of power that are as yet underdeveloped in terms of empirical analyses of organizational life. Entrepreneurialism (Du Gay, 1996, 1997; Miller & Rose, 1990, 1995) and managerialism (Deetz, 1992, 1998) and are two such discourses.

Entrepreneurialism. A new form of subjectivity, the "enterprising subject" (Du Gay, 1996) or the "entrepreneurial self" (Miller & Rose, 1990), is a subject position that has its roots in two related social discourses – consumerism and psychotherapy. This form of subjectivity appears to be an increasingly pervasive one in contemporary organizational life, yet few communication scholars have explored the effects of the intersecting discourses of consumption and psychotherapy in organizational life. Such a move is an important one for organizational scholars as entrepreneurialism now shapes the available subject positions for contemporary workers at every level of the organization.

The enterprising subject arose during the 1980s when Reaganomics began to promote consumer sovereignty as the link between freedom and change or growth. Soon the "language of freedom and the language of consumer choice became virtually identical" (Slater, 1997, p. 37). As Western cultures began to embrace market demand as the ultimate indicator of social needs/desires, producers and increasingly consumers began to demonstrate the properties of enterprise including "initiative, energy, independence, boldness, self-reliance, a willingness to take risks and to accept responsibility for one’s actions" (Keat & Abercrombie, 1991, p. 3). Here consumerism becomes an active form of citizenship and consumer goods become the means through which the enterprise of the self, organization, and even family are maximized. The enterprise culture, then, holds up the "active, self-motivated individual, accepting responsibility for its own fate, keen to identify clearly its aims and desires, to remove barriers from its fulfillment, to monitor success in realizing them" as the model subject (Keat & Abercrombie, 1991, p. 11). In other words, a successful identity is assumed through the "artful assembly of a ‘life-style’ put together through the world of goods" (Miller & Rose, 1990, p. 25). In organizational contexts, specifically, one is able to become a better self though the consumption of "innumerable training courses and seminars" that develop the "values of self-realization, the skills of self-presentation, self-direction and self-management" (Miller & Rose, 1990, pp. 26-27). Through consuming such technologies, organizational members create for themselves identities that are believed to guarantee economic and social success.

Consumerism is just one of the discourses at work to position the "enterprising subject." The other, of course, is the discourse of psychotherapy, more specifically, the psychological theories of motivation (Nadesan, 1997). The notion that workers seek to self-actualize or to fulfill themselves through work did not emerge in the 1980s. Indeed, for the last several decades organizational theorists have urged managers to "empower" workers to align their own goals with organizational goals, to fulfill themselves while fulfilling their organizational obligations (Argyris, 1964; Herzberg, 1966; Likert, 1961; McGregor, 1960). Thus, the idea of becoming a better self in and through work in organizational contexts is not new. What was new in the 1980s, however, was the way in which the entrepreneurial subject became central to the "new political problematization of work" (Miller & Rose, 1995, p. 454). More specifically:

Doctrines of management constructed within this problem space sought to overcome organizational problems, and to ensure dynamism, excellence, and innovation by activating and engaging the self-fulfilling aspirations of the individuals who make up the workplace. . . The worker was depicted as an enterprising individual in search of meaning, responsibility, and a sense of personal achievement in life, and hence in work. (Miller & Rose, 1995, p. 454)

Success and failure at work were to "figure integrally in the self-evaluation, self-judgment, and self-improvement techniques of the individual, whether the office worker, factory manager, or potential management high-flyer" (Miller & Rose, 1995, p. 456). In this context, it is not surprising that we witnessed the proliferation of training workshops, self-help manuals, and autobiographies of successful entrepreneurs emerging in droves as aids to the potential, and always consuming, enterprising subject.

The discourses of consumerism and psychotherapy combine to position a subject who is always already responsible for his or her own personal, professional and economic success. It becomes the individual’s responsibility to conduct the business of their lives. Du Gay (1997) makes clear the troubling political implications of the enterprising subject. He argues that some individuals are and will continue to be marginalized because they can not or will not conduct themselves in an entrepreneurial or "responsible" manner. As a case in point, "pathologies that were until recently represented and acted upon ‘socially’ – homelessness, unemployment and so forth – have become re-individualized through their positioning within entrepreneurial discourse and hence subject to new, often, more intense forms of surveillance and control" (p. 210). Martin (1995) makes a similar claim, arguing that organizational members are increasingly being asked to develop flexible, adaptable attitudes and bodies to fit the requirements of an increasingly entrepreneurial workplace. She warns that a new social Darwinism may emerge as a result. Some employees may have fit enough bodies or personalities to survive corporate downsizing or to be promoted, others may be deemed unfit and found wanting. Particular social groups such as the "aging baby boomers" may soon be seen as having unfit selves and bodies (Gullette, 1997).

While few organizational communication scholars have used the enterprising or entrepreneurial subject as a theoretical sensitizing concept for examining particular organizational cultures, two recent analyses of how entrpreneurial discourse positions professional women suggest interesting directions that future analyses of organizational cultures might take. Nadesan (1998) analyzed the new popular success literature aimed at professional readers. She argues that the new popular success literature, with its therapeutic, "self-help" orientation, is a prime example of the discourse of enterprise. Moreover, she suggests that in the context of the popular success literature the enterprising self is gendered. She argues that the specific identity articulated in the literature promotes an "aestheticized masculinity" which combines the (seemingly) male values of individual achievement, competitiveness, and self-discipline with an aestheticized concern with self-presentation. This aestheticized professional image, with its heightened attention to communication, etiquette, and physical appearance requires that the subject mirror particular cultural codes (e.g., organizational mission statements) and general codes of professionalism such as those found within the popular media (e.g., Fortune magazine) (Nadesan, 1998).

Nadesan and Trethewey (2000) extend Nadesan’s analysis in their study of the relationship between the popular success literature’s advisements for entrepreneurial success and real women’s discussions and performances of professional personas. They analyzed both the popular success literature and professional women’s articulations of their own processes of professional identity construction. More specifically, their analysis of the literature involved analyzing books and articles targeted to women that promote strategies for career success. Included in the analysis were articles published in the 1990s from women’s magazines such as Working Woman, Cosmopolitan, and Mademoiselle and professionally oriented trade publications that address occupational fields dominated by women such as Personnel Journal andSupervisory Management. Finally, they examined books published in the 1990s that offer women advice on professional advancement. The authors read those texts using the "enterprising subject" as a sensitizing concept.

To determine whether and how women take up the prescriptions in these texts when fashioning and performing their identities, the second author interviewed twenty enterprising, professional women. The participants were all members of a chamber-of-commerce women’s association located in a large southwestern metropolitan city in the United States. The participants represented a variety of professions including management consulting, mediation, auto repair, sales, banking, and human resources. Many interviewees own their own businesses or are in management or leadership positions. All women described themselves as professional. Two participants were Latinas, the rest Caucasian. Their ages ranged from the mid-twenties to early sixties. In-depth, semi-structured interviews that explored participants' definitions of "professionalism" and their strategies for displaying professionalism served as the primary method of data collection for this portion of the study.

Nadesan and Trethewey (2000) found that, although it is primarily constructed in relief, the entrepreneurial ideal to which women should aspire emerges as "masculine." Thus, the impossibility of professional women’s actualization of such an ideal becomes the unresolved tension around which the popular success literature pivots. Both the literature and the professional women intimate that women can never become the enterprising ideal because their efforts to perform the (ultimately) masculine identity will cause them to be negatively evaluated by others – particularly masculine others. The literature admonishes women that in giving up their "feminine" behaviors they must avoid hyper-masculinization (e.g., the "iron-maiden or bitch") and be simultaneously vigilant against inadvertent female displays or leakages (e.g., sexualized bodies, menstrual bleeding, and "emotional" displays). In short, the discourse suggests that women who assume and perform masculine strategies for enhanced success risk denying their seemingly essential femininity, thereby transforming themselves into either the spectacle of the female transvestite or a militant hysteric.

Unfortunately, the professional women’s own language echoes that of the popular success literature and its articulation of the enterprising subject. For example, Ann, a marketing executive, discussed the difficulties that come from navigating between femininity and professionalism and revealed that the two are dichotomous terms. She said:

The feminine side, unfortunately, really had to go. Uh, I’ve been doing this for fifteen years in my own industry, and am currently at the top of my field. I would not have gotten here if I had not looked more of a male type role. Definitely. And there’s very few of us women who make it this far. And they unfortunately either had to go overboard in being the tough scenario, a bitchy, rude, type person. I do it a slightly different way. Um, I do it in a very quiet tone, I do it in a very controlled tone, but I’m very persistent. So, either you go overboard and become the raving maniac that they think women turn into, or you do it the shifty evil way, which is me, and I very quietly get my way. There really isn’t [another way]. (Nadesan & Trethewey, 2000, p. 15)

Ann, as well as the discourse of enterprise as represented in the popular success literature, makes clear that success is contingent upon realizing an entrepreneurial ideal that is ultimately held to be unattainable because of unsightly (feminine) leakages that always already reveal professional women’s performances as charades. While Nadesan and Trethewey’s (2000) analysis articulates some of the pitfalls of enterprising discourse for professional women generally, it fails to address how the discourse of enterprise positions members of particular organizational cultures. Such empirical studies are sorely needed to tease out the ways in which larger social discourses, such as the discourse of enterprise, are reproduced, reconstituted, and perhaps resisted in the context of specific cultures through members’ embodied practice.

Managerialism. In like manner, we would do well to conduct careful empirical analyses of the impact of managerialism on its subjects. Deetz (1992) provides us with a powerful theoretical lens for examining how disciplinary power constitutes members’ identities at work, yet there remains much empirical work to be done to discern how managerialism shapes and is in turn shaped by organizational cultures. Managerialism is:

a kind of systemic logic, a set of routine practices, and an ideology . . . But it is more than an expressive system; it entails a set of routine practices, real structures of rewards, and a code of representation. It is a way of doing and being in corporations that partially structures all groups and conflicts with, and at times suppresses, each group’s other modes of thinking. [Finally,] the logic of managerialism can be articulated by anyone – owners, workers, or society – and defines a place for each of these groups. (Deetz, 1992, p. 222)

Managerialism, then, is a discourse that defines not only managers, but all those in relations with managers. It is characterized by an imaginary identification between the organization and management, a desire for control, and instrumental rationality. Money is its primary code or expressive modality. Thus, says Deetz (1992), "money, power, and control operate as an invisible steering mechanism encroaching further into each stakeholder’s conception of self and world" (p. 237, emphasis original).

While managerialism "rewards" managers with money and power, managers’ lives become generally devoid of pleasure as they suffer the burdens of power, trying to make their value visible in a system that renders managers’ contributions largely invisible. The irony of managerialism is that alternatives to money and power such as enjoying production or helping people are rarely ascribed to management. Managers themselves are trapped in the discourse of managerialism, with rather unfortunate consequences. Deetz (1992) states the point succinctly:

Given management’s actual ability to make decisions on allocation of resources, it is significant that they give themselves money and symbols of power, rather than free time, autonomy, and flexibility. And it is significant how much of the money they earn is spent on further symbols of money and power that are often seen as essential for a corporate image for the sake of . . . [and the cycle continues unfettered] (p. 234).

In short, managerialism, a discourses that crosses and intersects all contemporary organizations, claims Deetz, often effectively colonizes the individual’s self in the name of the corporation.

Deetz’s (1998) case study, while not explicitly focused on the effects of managerialism, speaks more generally to the ways domination is played out in contemporary "knowledge-intensive" industries (p. 151). His work also serves as an exemplar of how we might further explore managerialism in contemporary organizational cultures. Deetz analyzes the "relations among corporate cultural features, communication processes, and methods of coordination and control" at a "consultancy style" group (AIMS) at a large, multinational telecommunications corporation. He suggests that discipline and self-surveillance are tightly connected to members’ identities (p.153). More precisely, organizational discourses like managerialism are literally integrated into the self. "In this logic, work is not supposed to be for body sustenance and support of external relations. Rather the reverse: the body and social relations are positive only in so far as they support work" (p.166). At AIMS, discipline is dangerous because:

Competing identities and needs are suppressed and are considered, to the extent that they are considered at all, as intrusive and leading to inefficiencies. The body is medicated (with caffeine, cold and stomach medications) to mask the symptoms of stress and fatigue, and the heart and home are replaced with the consumption and hope of what we will have. All other institutions and their demands are conceptualized as constraints on employees' work success and their personal moves for identity, order, and money. . . The employee colonizes the home, community, educational institutions, state and church. The managers in the name of the corporation need not do so. (Deetz, 1998, p. 166)

Deetz’s study highlights the extraordinary power of discipline and the almost frightening degree to which employees willingly monitor themselves and their bodies in the name of the organization. "The self," says Deetz, "is seen as a confused, imperfect rendition of the [organizational] model. Effort is put not into maintaining a front, but into self-surveillance and social technologies of control in order to get the self to behave" (1998, p. 169).

The ability of the subject to form an alternative identity is constrained when organizational discourse constitutes the subject in the corporation’s image. Disciplinary power may undermine the foundations of collective action when members respond to family, community, and the body politic in the way that corporate discourse demands. Without alternative discourses through which members can choose various subject positions, disciplinary power may ultimately "narrow the human character" (Deetz, 1992, p. 43).

The discourses of gender, managerialism, and enterprise are just three examples of the many social discourses that structure organizations. Many others have yet to be explored systematically in our discipline (e.g., race, sexuality, class). I contend that what is important about these social discourses is their ability to harness organizational members’ very bodies in service to organizational interests. Philosopher and social critic Michel Foucault contends that "power seeps into the very grain of individuals, reaches right into their bodies, permeates their gestures, their posture, what they say, how they learn to live and work with other people" (cited in Martin, 1988, p. 6). "Micropractices," then, provide the mechanism for inscribing social discourses of power on to members’ bodies.

Micropractices of (Disciplinary) Power and Resistance

Following Foucault, I argue that what is particularly important about organizational communication practices and their inherent power relations is their effects on individuals' embodied identities. Unfortunately, few communication scholars have explored how specific communication practices are quite literally written upon the body. In other words, we have failed to analyze how our very bodies are shaped and constituted by communication (for an exception, see Corey, 1996). Much of the extant organizational culture literature often treats culture as something that operates exclusively on the minds and attitudes of employees, not on their bodies. This is a glaring omission. In Foucault's terms, "we must pay closer attention to the ‘micropractices’ that discipline social actors at the most mundane level," the level of the body (Mumby, 1993, p. 22).

Micropractices are employed and deployed in and through the organizational body. Here the "body is not a closed and sealed entitity, but a relational ‘thing’ that is created, sustained, and ultimately dissolved in a spatio-temporal flux of multiple processes" (Harvey, 1997). The body is a product of organizational culture and a site of cultural processes (Oberweis, 1996). The body is thus a fecund locus for postructuralist organizational culture analyses.

Foucault provides a framework for examining the ways in which organizational discourses have material/bodily consequences for members’ identities. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault (1979) explains how over the course of history the discourse of penal institutions has succeeded in defining both its delinquent and law-abiding "subjects" through a pervasive, impersonal system of surveillance. The Panopticon (an architectural structure that creates a situation of perpetual visibility for its inmates) captures the essence of contemporary disciplinary societies. The effect of the Panopticon is:

to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if discontinuous in its action . . . in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they themselves are the bearers. (Foucault, 1979, p. 201)

In modern organizations there are both significant similarities and substantial differences in how disciplinary power is manifested at different hierarchical levels. Those in the lower levels of bureaucracies are more directly controlled and supervised by their superiors, their peers, and themselves. For instance, remnants of the Panopticon can be seen in the vast, open expanses of desks and files called clerical factories where each employee can be seen and each has the others under constant surveillance (Ferguson, 1984). At higher levels, unobtrusive disciplinary controls characterize the work environment. For example, team-based work groups exhibit increasing levels of surveillance, thus reducing the need for direct supervision (Barker, 1993; Barker & Cheney, 1994). "The most powerful and powerless in traditional terms are equally subjected [to discipline], though there is no doubt who is advantaged" (Deetz, 1992, p. 42).

Frederick Corey’s (1996) study of young male prisoners’ identities makes exceeding clear that the Panopticon’s insistence on self-surveillance still resonates throughout society. What is most interesting about this study is its insightful analysis of how one young man literally inscribed (an historically-situated) penal discourse, yet another social discourse of power, on his own body. According to Foucault (1979), the body has, historically, been the locus of punishment. The criminal’s body has been the site of public spectacle. "Crowds [used to] gather to witness the flogging, or the scaffold, and the pain upon the body [was] something of a theatrical event" (Corey, 1996, p. 69). Today, however, punishment is "not an exercise in pain upon the body, but instead a limitation of the body’s privileges" (p. 69). When Corey witnessed a young prisoner inflicting pain on his own body by rubbing an eraser on the underside of his forearm, Corey recognized that the prisoner’s body had literally become "the instrument of the social narrative of crime and punishment" (pp. 69-70). Corey observes (1996):

In American prisons, juvenile offenders are not to be beaten, but the forces of their bodies are to be rearranged, redirected, refocused, ‘corrected.’ They are made docile so that they can be ‘helped.’ But the history of body-punishment relations do not escape the criminals. They know the story well; they know the stories in their bodies, and as they punish their bodies, they complete the social narrative with whatever means they have, including erasers. (p. 69)

Corey’s (1996) young male prisoners provide a vivid and rather horrific example of how disciplinary power is literally inscribed on the body. In many ways the self-disciplining practices of the young prisoners are not too far afield from the practices in which many organizational actors – employees, managers, executives – participate on a regular basis.

Micropractices or disciplinary forms of power operate not through force or coercion, nor necessarily through consent. Rather, they operate "most effectively by way of practices, techniques, and methods which infiltrate minds and bodies, cultural practices which cultivate behaviors and beliefs, tastes, desires, and needs as seemingly naturally occurring qualities embodied in the psychic and physical reality (or ‘truth’) of the subject" (Smart, 1986, p. 160). The critical Foucauldian move to examine micropractices, or the capillary and normalizing forms of power, is a natural extension of the earlier work on organizational culture that legitimated the study of the symbolic, the everyday, and the taken-for-granted.

Much organizational literature focuses on the reproduction of disciplinary forms of power (e.g., Barker, 1993). Yet, "such reproduction is never complete and hence not a given. [Power] is a continuous struggle enacted by the organizational members" (Murphy, 1998, p. 502). Where there is power and domination, there is at least the potential for resistance (Foucault, 1980). Yet fewer empirical studies have focused on members’ (always complex and ambiguous forms of) resistance to organizational domination and power (Gottfried, 1994; Murphy, 1998; Trethewey, 1997a). Exploring employee member resistance to power and domination is an important task if we wish to understand fully organizational culture and its consequences for members’ bodies.

Murphy’s (1998) analysis of flight attendants’ forms of resistance in the face of a disciplining and normalizing culture is precisely the sort of analysis that underscores the micropractices of resistance in organizational life. Airline flight attendants work in panoptic cultures where professional appearance, particularly for female employees, is regulated and enforced at the level of the body. These women are suveilled by organizational disciplinarians, customers, and themselves. Specifically, female flight attendants are required to wear make-up, high heels, and conform to airline weight standards. Yet flight attendants find a variety of private strategies to resist these constraining requirements, and in so doing create a more enabling organizational reality. For example, one flight attendant wears the "required" make up only during annual "appearance checks" (Murphy, 1998, p. 521). Flight attendants have also discovered "high risk areas" where they are more susceptible to control and may be disciplined for breaking organizational rules. So, they "pass this information on to other flight attendants through their hidden transcripts, limiting the power of the panotpic gaze" (Murphy, 1998, p. 522). Thus, attendants know to wear their high-heeled shoes only when they fly through a city in which supervisors are located. Finally, while many attendants appreciate and are compliant with the airlines weight restrictions because, as one woman explained, "without them I might blow up like a balloon," others have learned how to "beat" the system, losing weight temporarily by ingesting laxatives and diuretics (p. 524). The harmful consequences of this resistance strategy notwithstanding, these women have found "private" ways to resist gendered organizational discourses and adopt alternative embodied identities. Thus, "they enact fantasies of reversals, gain social support, and prepare themselves for possible entrance into the public realm" (Murphy, 1998, p. 525). Indeed, flight attendants’ resistance ultimately led to a public challenge to and change in the airline’s weight standard policy (Murphy, 1998). Murphy’s (1998) analysis suggests that embodied resistance practices can create a (literally and figuratively) wider range of subject positions available to professional women in particular organizational cultures.

Cultured Bodies: The Communicative Constitution of Members’ Embodied Identities

The two themes described above, social discourses of power and micropractices, are not distinct research lines; rather, they are parallel streams that course through many postructuralist studies simultaneously. Micropractices, such as "erasing" one’s own body (Corey, 1996) or resisting the panoptical gaze of management (Murphy, 1998) are effects of social discourses of power. Social discourses, from a Foucauldian perspective, are inscribed on the body through everyday communicative practices, thereby constituting particular embodied identities (e.g., women who strive, but can never achieve the entrepreneurial ideal) (Nadesan & Trethewey, 2000). These two interrelated directions are important, timely, and still in need of empirical development. Specifically, the extant poststructuralist scholarship too often overlooks the actual organizing processes and practices of particular organizations. Through poststructuralist organization studies we learn much about social discourses of power (e.g., gender, race) and their effects on individuals (e.g., identity), but we know little about how organizing practices mediate the social discourses of power with particular consequences for individual members.

Thus, I argue that what is needed is a re-visioned return to organizational culture as the point of entry for future studies. More specifically, we must begin to explore how particular organizational practices and processes quite literally organize discourses of power, and the consequences of that organizing for members’ embodied selves. Metaphorically, the shift is from treating organizational culture as a self-contained unit to "cultured bodies," or exploring how specific organizations appropriate, reproduce, and/or transform social discourses in and through everyday communicative processes that enable and/or constrain how members enact identities. We must understand and critique the processes through which the bodies of organizational members are cultured. For example, Bordo (1989) argues that many professional cultures place contradictory demands on women’s bodies.

‘Upwardly mobile’ women today continue to be taught traditionally ‘feminine’ virtues, to the degree that the professional arena has opened up to them, they must also learn to embody the ‘masculine’ language and values of that arena – self-control, determination, cool emotional discipline, mastery and so on. Female bodies now speak symbolically of this necessity in their slender spare shape and the currently fashionable menswear look. Our bodies are becoming more practiced at the ‘male’ virtues of control and self mastery. (Bordo, 1989, p. 19, emphasis mine)

The desire to master or control feminine bodies can lead to very real problems for professional women, including eating disorders, stress, and lowered self-esteem (Tavris, 1992, p. 32). Women often literally embody a double bind between the competing discourses of professionalism and femininity.

I argue that particular organizational cultures can mediate between the larger social discourses of power and members’ embodied enactments of that power. In terms of gender, for example, organizational cultures (recognizing here, of course, that cultures are never finally singular or unified), provide discursive boundaries for the enactment of both professionalism and femininity. More specifically, some organizational cultures may make it possible for women to enact a wider range of embodied identities, while others may further confine and limit women’s identities. In fact, there is reason to believe that organizations inspired by feminism or a feminist orientation may provide women with a broader range of possible subject positions, rather than the narrow range offered by traditional, "masculine" organizations (Buzzanell, 1994). These musing are not merely speculative. There is some empirical research to suggest that organizations driven by the feminist construct "bounded emotionality" do provide their (all-female) members with more freeing modes of displaying their identities. In such cultures, no one body has to "be a carbon copy" of another organizational body; rather, each body is rewarded for her own "sense of style and flair" (Gayle, 1994, p. 11).

If we are interested exploring how bodies are cultured through organizing practices, then we must begin asking questions such as, "How do particular cultures organize gender?", "What are the consequences of cultural organizing processes for members’ embodied identities?", and "How do members enact and resist culture in and through their bodies?" Ashcraft and Pacanowsky’s (1996) analysis of Office Inc. demonstrates how that culture organizes gender through communicative practices such as language choice and an informal, "feminine" conflict style. The question remains, however, as to how women’s bodies are positioned and disciplined by those cultural practices. The "feminine" conflict style at Office Inc. may, in fact, limit female members’ ability to display, feel, and embody appropriate emotions or "work feelings" (Mumby & Putnam, 1992). "Work feelings emerge from the ongoing process of task and social activities rather than from organizational control" (Mumby & Putnam, 1992, p. 477). Moreover, work feelings "are [the] spontaneous and emergent" result of relationships and interpretive schema (Mumby & Putnam, 1992, p.477). Work feelings would allow professionals to cry when a project fails, to get angry when they suffer abuses at work, or to deal directly with conflict without having their "femaleness" cast into doubt.

Similarly, others have suggested that some organizational cultures prevent African American women from embodying meaningful, self-selected identities. Dominant, white- (in every sense of the term) collar cultures demand that African American women downplay their ethnicity, and they do so by embodying a less "ethnic" self through a variety of presentational strategies, from hairstyles to speaking styles (Spellers, 1998). "For members of marginalized groups, constructing identity in a racist environment can be a complex and difficult task" (Spellers, 1998, p. 11). Finally, some organizational cultures may appropriate or organize homophobia in ways that devalue their gay and lesbian members. Denying same-sex partner benefits or perpetuating anti-gay jokes are just of a few of the everyday sorts of communicative practices that can constitute hostile environments for gays and lesbians. Some organizational cultures clearly support, however implicitly or unwittingly, a variety of practices that demand their gay and lesbian members to "pass" as heterosexual or face discrimination, even bodily harm (Melia, 1995; Spradlin, 1998). Passing is an embodied performance achieved, largely, through personal style and appearance (Melia, 1995). While passing may provide material benefits and advantages to gays and lesbians, it is also a way of being in the world that is not a valid choice for many because it further reinforces and normalizes heteronormativity and marginalizes alternatives. In short, those organizational cultures that reinforce heteronormativity impose a form of violence on their gay and lesbian members (Warner, 1993), while those organizational cultures that challenge heteronormativity may enable more "honest" embodied identities (Melia, 1995). Yet, we know little of the ways that specific organizational cultures enable or constrain their gay and lesbian members. Again, empirical work here is sorely needed.

In pursuing this work, we must remember that organizational members are not, as we have seen, passive recipients of power or culture. Members may resist organizing practices that limit their ability to perform a meaningful identity. Resistance is, in many instances, an embodied practice. As a case and point, Melia’s (1995) study of lesbian resistance reveals that lesbian professionals "enjoy their bodies, their clothes, their hair, make-up, and expose the lies of compulsory heterosexuality in their everyday lives. . . [they] continue to use their bodies to resist" (p. 356). These acts of resistance may begin to challenge heterosexist assumptions at places of work and reshape organizational cultures. The consequences of local, embodied resistance practices are hard to measure and predict. Sometimes they may grow or cascade upward into something larger, perhaps ultimately transforming social discourses of power. "It is not possible to predict when or where that ‘something larger’ will blow up, what it will be about or what its outcome will be" (Pringle, 1988, p. 266). In future organizational culture research, each form of resistance must be examined for its effects in a particular context. "Focusing our attention on specific situations may lead to more concrete analyses of particular struggles and thus to a better understanding of social change" (Sawicki, 1991, p. 27).

In short, our challenge is to understand how we quite literally come to be in and through our organizational lives. Increasingly, members of society identify with and derive meanings from corporate organizations in place of family, community, church, and state. Although we are often unaware of the centrality of organizations, it is in the everyday practices of organizations that much of our political life takes place (Deetz, 1992; Mumby, 1993). More precisely, it is in and through organizational communication that culture and our selves are produced (Deetz, 1992). As organizational communication scholars, we can make important contributions by explaining how discourses of power are organized through cultural practices, and the consequences of those communicative practices for members’ bodily selves. In so doing, we may be able to suggest ways in which members may fully participate in organizations in ways that do not compromise the self, but, rather, contribute to its development and growth.

Author's Note:

An earlier version of this essay was presented at the 1998 National Communication Association convention in New York. The author wishes to thank her two reviewers and the editor for their helpful criticism and advice.


[1]. While the functionalist perspective has gained some purchase among many managers and practitioners, it is not included here as it does not treat communication as constitutive of organizational reality. Rather, the functionalist perspective assumes culture is just one of a number of "variables" or tools that can be managed and manipulated by adept symbolic managers (Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Peters & Waterman, 1982).



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