Rethinking Resistance as an Act of Improvisation: Lessons from the 1914 Christmas Truce

SAGE Publications
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Organization Studies, 2020
Issue Date:
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We examine the historical phenomenon of truces, as these occurred during a period of intense warfare during World War I, around Christmas 1914. These were processes of resistance that could not have been planned (otherwise they would obviously have been thwarted by authority) and that occurred in a setting with continuously changing conditions. Our purpose in making this analysis is to identify the micro-foundations and behaviours of enacting resistance and forming a truce under conditions where planning and executing cannot be assumed to be orderly and linear. We discuss the battlefield context of intense competition and mutual suffering as an organizational setting in order to provide a more precise explanation of how rules and structures can be (at least) temporarily suspended in the workplace. We rethink the construct of resistance as an act of improvisation; we do so by developing a framework that explains how resistance can emerge and be quashed in workplace settings that might appear at first sight to be immune. Therefore, we combine two themes that have largely been separated in theory: resistance and improvisation. Doing so opens new ground in three ways. First, we contribute to literature about resistance by explaining how it was constructed as action suspending rules and structures in hostile contexts. Second, we show the political-motivational dimension of improvisation. Third, we extend the notion of truce as not an end in itself (a temporary settlement) but as an avenue to achieve a real objective (e.g. to change the course of history for the better).
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