Organization theory in turbulent times: The traces of Foucault's ethics

Andrew Chan, John Garrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Criticisms of postmodernism are examined in the context of social theory and its sub-field, organization theory. Criticisms centre on claims that postmodern organization theorists are preoccupied with indeterminancy of meaning, linguistic relativism and the 'minutiae' of everyday life; and further, that Foucault-inspired postmodern organization theorists reject culture, history, and reason, and have little to offer in terms of ethics, action and change. We contest these criticisms as they apply to organizational analyses. The criticisms miss key elements of postmodern contributions to organization theory. We identify several fruitful seams, particularly in Foucault's later works, that contribute to a valuable ethos for postmodern organization theory. This article subjects this ethos to the same level of deconstruction to which it subjects its opponents. We argue that Foucault's insights on ethical action relate to institutional bases of discourses, and the effects of disciplinary knowledge on subjects. We link these insights to Bauman's 'postmodern ethics' and to Sennett's research on the effects of 'flexible capitalism', corporate restructuring, and ongoing institutional changes. Such connections bring a kind of analysis to organization studies that enables us to practically reassess our structures of recognition that constitute subjectivity and identity at work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-701
Number of pages19
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2002
Externally publishedYes


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