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Mumby and Stohl: "Power and Discourse in Organizational Studies"

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 3 months ago

Dennis K. Mumby and Cynthia Stohl suggest a postmodern approach to understanding power and discourse within organizations. Many researchers have attempted to understand power and discourse, but have done so separately or with very little connection. Mumby and Stohl believe that discourse is one of the main ways that power is maintained and replicated, and for this reason, power and discourse should be examined together. This article calls for researchers to move beyond looking at power restrictively through decisions made within entities being studied. A close examination of organizational texts (this term defines a diverse set of data to be explained later) is necessary to understand how discourse structures help shape identity. "This paper systematically integrates these two concerns through a conception of power which is premised on the importance of discursive practices in the production and reproduction of relations of domination in organizations. In brief, discourse is viewed as the primary vehicle through which social relations are producecd and reproduced." (p. 315) Discourse can be represented through numerous forms.


"Power is not simply a question of decision-making and resource control, nor is it structurally imposed on people; rather it is more fundamentally both the medium and outcome of the ways in which structures of discourse shape organizational reality. (Mumby, Stohl, 1991, p.330). The authors argue that power "must be viewed as constructed through and instantiated in the discursive practices which structure organizational life (p. 317). On page 318, the author go on to point out that, "the dominant social group is therefore that which is best able to create an ideological meaning system which serves its own intersts." Power is interpreted and socially constructed, and its meaning is not fixed. Power is often exercised and reformed by those that are perceived to have very little of it.


This article provides some examples of how discourse can be interpreted using a few research studies to illustrate this exercise. The analysis is based on meaning being relational and the notion of presence and absence. Additionally, these concepts are integrated into regular practices in an organization. (Hall, 1985). "Meaning is never fully present, but is a function of the system of presence and absence (inclusion and exclusion) that makes up text."(p. ) These text should be deconstructed to expose the oppositional pairs that they depend on for their stability.


The first example discusses the team concept through deconstructing the discourse around this concept and its implications for worker identity. Power instead of being seen as “power to or power over” is viewed as practices of an organizational structure. Mumby and Stohl argue that the discourse surrounding issues of presence and absence in team situations "positions workers in relation to each other and the organization (p.324). For example, if a team member is absent from work to care for a sick child, his/her absence can be questioned in relationship to their "loyalty, responsibility, and commitment to the organization" (p.324) rather than focusing on the workplaces' responsibility to getting another worker to take over during this time. Additionally, they point out that a workers absence and productivity can position them in an organization indicating their “ worth, equality, dignity and identity.” ( pg 320)


The second example focuses on the "question of gender identity in the workplace, and attempts to show how discursive practices can function to construct ideologically relations of power which are rooted in gender difference (p.324). One story is told from the perspective of a male secretary and how his work colleagues used various communicative practices to deal with the contradiction of having a male in what is perceived as a female role. The other story is told from the perspective of a female secretary who describes what she perceives as a "caste system" (p. 325) in which females could never be seen as an equal to men. Both examples display a potential practice that if disrupted could change their organizational structure and order. Discourse in this example displays that individuals are placed based on social practices and constructs and these constructs continually become reproduced in organizations and society.


Mumby and Stohl argue that future research on power must also be looked at from the organizational discourse perspective.

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