The foundations of organization power

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Journal Article
The Journal of Power, 2009, 2 (1), pp. 35 - 64
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I shall argue that the foundations of organization power were laid down in practice through theories of power - in the sense that they sought to explain power - but through quite pragmatic practices that were not necessarily regarded as embodying a theory of power, which I shall maintain they most assuredly did. Thus, in a second move, I shall argue that while these practices began with a focus on the body of the employee they moved on to consider their consciousness and soul. Third, I shall briefly consider the main themes in organization theories' treatment of power, organized around notions of system rationality and uncertainty. These have an implicit idealism attached to them, I shall suggest. Fourth, I shall switch focus to the broader canvass of social theory in the post-war era and suggest that this has also displayed a strongly idealist streak, focusing especially on the celebrated structuralist account of power as a matter of layered dimension that Steven Lukes (1974, 2005) produced. Fifth, I shall contrast the idealism of this approach with a more pragmatic conception of power, one that can be found in the perspectives with which I opened the paper, perspectives that derive from more Foucauldian-influenced currents of contemporary social theory. Drawing on these, I will suggest a different way of understanding Lukes' radical third dimension of power as a means of organizing and rationalizing innovations in power relations, drawing on the literature of the 'dominant ideology thesis' (Abercrombie et al. 1980) to do so. Finally, I shall suggest switching from the structuralist metaphors of dimensions to an imagery of flows as a more appropriate model for understanding power relations.
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