Playing the Game: Strategies of Resistance and Co-optation in Diversity Work

Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Gender, Work and Organization, 2010, 17 (5), pp. 567 - 589
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The article addresses diversity work as a specific form of management work that involves complex micro-political strategies of resistance. Diversity work stems from an activist agenda that has been adopted by mainstream management practice, especially new public sector management. But in being adopted, it has been critiqued for also being co-opted, and as a result de-radicalized. The article seeks to examine this critique. First, we examine the politics of diversity, discussing critiques of diversity work from political theory and referencing femocrats, an earlier movement affecting women in management. Secondly, we recognize that the ambivalence of diversity work can be understood in terms of co-optation and resistance. Here our central contribution is to understand these two processes in a much more nuanced way, drawing on our own and other organizational studies of diversity work in practice. We locate this more nuanced analysis of diversity work in the emergent context of new public sector management. We draw attention to three micro-practices that help to exhibit a complex understanding of co-optation and resistance: (a) discursive resources, (b) embodied resources and (c) management technologies as resources. Finally, we conclude by outlining the article's contribution: extending Meyerson and Scully's notion of the tempered radical in four key ways. We do this by emphasizing the importance of the specificities of occupational resources of resistance, arguing that resources of resistance move beyond the discursive, emphasizing the gendered, classed and racialized variegated nature of insider/outsider dynamics and finally, stressing that co-optation and resistance are temporal, dynamic, intermingled processes in diversity work.
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