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Agency and change: re-evaluating Foucault’s legacy

Caldwell, Raymond (2007) Agency and change: re-evaluating Foucault’s legacy. Organization 14 (6), pp. 769-791. ISSN 1350-5084.

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Michel Foucault’s work marks an important break with conventional ontological dualism, epistemological realism and rationalist and intentional notions of individual action and human agency. In these respects his ideas have had an enormous influence on postmodern organization theory and analysis, as well as related forms of social constructionism. In particular, Foucault’s ideas have lead to a rejection of agency-structure dichotomies and a move towards process-based ontologies of ‘organizing/changing’ that create new problematics of agency as discourse, talk, text or conversation. While this ontological shift toward nominalism has often provoked a counter-reaction against the ‘death of the subject’ and the corrosive infl uence of postmodernism, there have been few attempts to explore how Foucault’s decentring of agency is related to new, more positive and potentially emancipatory discourses that redefine the relationship between agency and change, resistance and power in organizations and society. Here it will be argued that Foucault’s legacy can be re-conceptualized as a theorization of the decentring of agency consisting of four key components: discourse, power/knowledge, embodiment and self-reflexivity. Redefi ned within Foucauldian organizational discourses, decentred agency can lead to new possibilities for the exploration of agency as discourse and the broader dispersal of agency in organizations. It will be concluded, however, that Foucault’s concept of agency fails as a theorization of change: it breaks the link between the voluntary choice or desire to ‘act otherwise’ and the moral, political and practical possibilities of ‘making a difference’.

Item Type: Article
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): autonomy; de-centred agency; discourse; embodiment; identity; reflexitivity
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Business, Economics & Informatics > Organizational Psychology
Depositing User: Raymond Caldwell
Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2010 09:29
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:17

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