Within the field of communication, scholars have argued that the work organization has become the central institution in modern society, often eclipsing the state, family, church, and community in power. Organizations pervade modern life by providing personal identity, structuring time and experience, influencing education and knowledge production, and directing news and entertainment. In the work context of the early 21st century, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between our public and private lives, work and family, labor and leisure. Work—and its related institutions—has come to dominate our lived experiences as employees, family members, and citizens. Scholars who focus on the relationship between labor, culture, and communication explore how organizations significantly influence our lives in ways that often go unnoticed or, at the least, are taken for granted. They have studied how, over time, workers have developed naturalized assumptions about how work should function and what role it should play in our lives. For example, many of our cultural institutions—and related public policies—are organized around logics that prioritize work over other realms of life (e.g., developing welfare to work programs, rehabilitating prisoners to be “productive” citizens, shifting university education to job-related training, reducing unemployment insurance to motivate workers). At the same time, a broader consideration of work’s significance is particularly relevant when scholars take into account the values associated with what counts as productive activity. Culturally, the public has developed a range of discursive colloquialisms such as a “real job” to account for legitimate/illegitimate forms of work and have also created presumed claims like “It’s just a job” to justify a range of actions at/through work. Historically, a wide range of scholars have sought to come to terms with cultural understandings and practices of work. While some scholars have explored the discursive manifestations of work, others have studied its material conditions. Only recently, however, have scholars attempted to integrate the seeming bifurcation of these two realms of work-related research. Scholars now seek to reconcile the ways in which broader, cultural discourses that shape an understanding of work are interdependent with the concrete, specific material experience of labor.
Steven K. May
Dennis K. Mumby
In the last 30 years or so, the relationship between power and resistance has been theorized as a defining feature of organizations and organizing. While there is little consensus around its definition, a useful starting point for thinking about the organization–power–resistance relationship is to view organizations as political sites of contestation where various stakeholder groups compete for resources—economic, political, and symbolic. Much of the research on power, resistance, and organizations has emerged out of a critical tradition that draws on numerous theoretical and philosophical threads, including Marxism, neo-Marxism, critical theory, poststructuralism, and feminism. Common to these threads are various efforts to link power and resistance to issues of meaning, identity, and discourse processes. In this sense—and particularly in the last 30 years—there have been multiple efforts to theorize power as intimately connected to communication. This connection has become particularly important with the shift from Fordist (bureaucratic, hierarchical, centralized, deskilled) organizational forms to post-Fordist (flexible, flat, dispersed, knowledge-based) organizations that place a premium on decentralized, “consensual” forms of power and control (as opposed to the coercive methods of Fordist regimes). Exploring communicative conceptions of power and resistance shows how these phenomena are closely tied to the regulation of meaning and identities in the contemporary workplace.
Yannis Stavrakakis and Antonis Galanopoulos
Arguably one of the most important political theorists of our time, Ernesto Laclau has produced an extremely influential theoretical corpus involving a multitude of methodological and political implications. His contribution is mainly focused on three fields; discourse, hegemony, and populism, all of them highly connected with communication and mediation processes. In particular, Ernesto Laclau has introduced, throughout his career, a complex conceptual apparatus (comprising concepts like articulation, the nodal point, dislocation, the empty signifier, etc.) as a result of the radicalization and re-elaboration of the Gramscian conceptualization of hegemony. According to this framework, elaborated for the first time in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, co-authored with Chantal Mouffe (first published in 1985), discourse is a social practice that performatively shapes the social world. Human reality is thus articulated through discourse and obtains its meaning precisely through this discursive mediation. All social practices are therefore understood as discursive ones. To the extent, however, that processes of articulation are never taking place in a vacuum and are bound to involve different or antagonistic political orientations, the field of discursivity comes to be seen as a field marked throughout by the primacy of the political. As a result, any hegemony will be contingent, partial, and temporary. In addition, Laclau is one of the most well known analysts of populism, to which he has (partly) devoted two of his books, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (1977) and On Populist Reason (2005). Populism, for Laclau, is designated, as expected, as discourse, as a specific way to articulate and communicate social demands as well as to form popular identities, to construct “the people.” His elaborations of populism are surely critical for the analysis of a pervasive political phenomenon of our era. All in all, the thought of Ernesto Laclau remains influential in the sphere of theory and political practice, and his theoretical arsenal will be an extremely helpful tool for academics and researchers of discourse theory and political communication.
Stuart Hall was a Jamaican-born, British-based theorist, critic, and activist, who flourished between the late 1950s and his death in 2014. Known both for his theoretical and empirical work on culture and communication and for his role as a public intellectual, Hall produced scholarly writings and charismatic teaching that were matched by his columns and interviews in magazines and newspapers and appearances on television and radio.