The game of exemplarity: Subjectivity, work and the impossible politics of purity

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Journal Article
Scandinavian Journal of Management, 2003, 19 (4), pp. 403 - 423
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This paper develops and problematises the notion of the 'exemplary worker'-an idealised worker who is automated, compliant and mechanical. We suggest that the identity of such a worker emerges historically in a range of organisational, social and cultural discourses and provides a norm against which real workers are to be judged. Most recently, this includes the discourse of organisational culture; where worker commitment and managerial control are directed at people's values and beliefs. Our discussion starts with a review of Herman Melville's short story Bartleby the Scrivener and uses this story to begin to tease out the logic of exemplarity and non-exemplarity. From there we examine other models for exemplary workers and then relate these insights to more contemporary discussions of knowledge work, empowerment, organisational culture and self-direction. We argue that despite these changes, there is much continuity in terms of worker exemplarity. © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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