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Campbell Jones University of Leicester Management Centre University Road Leicester LE 7RH firstname.lastname@example.org
Paper presented at the 7th International Conference on Organizational Discourse, Amsterdam, 26-28 July 2006.
the dissolution of the subject. of the concept of ‘ hegemony’ which brings with it a radical critique of all . 1 . contested struggles towards temporary closure of the forever open wound that is the social. (Laclau and Mouffe. on the contrary. overdetermination. and suspect the idea that the encounter with that objectivity would impose itself upon organizational discourse analysis with the force of necessity. If this is the landscape we now inhabit. 1985: 152) One of the central efforts in the first half of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy is a radical critique of the categories of objectivity and necessity. impossibility. articulation. seems to us to be the fundamental bases from which a new political imaginary can be constructed. And in this paper. I propose that this also applies to Laclau and to Laclau and Mouffe.That objectivity called Laclau The rejection of privileged points of rupture and the confluence of struggles into a unified political space. and the acceptance. or if you prefer the creation. Thus we find in the emergence. we put on hold – or at the very least recognise as partial political attempts to suture or hegemonise a field – any appeal to necessity. antagonism. difference. Against the tendency towards objectivism. I propose to inquire into that purported objectivity and wholeness that is Ernesto Laclau. essentialisms and in their place categories of contingency. plurality and heterogeneity. homogenisation and determinism that they argue has characterised the Marxist tradition. Laclau and Mouffe outline the emergence of a new logic of the political and with this the need for a new analytic of the political. then in what sense can we speak of objectivity or necessity? These are now cast as results of hegemonic articulation. In this case. of the plurality and indeterminacy of the social.
But what does it mean to refuse? To refuse is to break with a fusion. ‘ “Society” is not a valid object of discourse’ (Laclau and Mouffe. refusal splits apart things that have been mistakenly conjoined. As will hopefully become clear. which Laclau designates as antagonism. such as the subject or the economy. ‘ there is no single locus of great Refusal. Because I hope that we will soon be able to see that. Laclau argues that ‘ Society never manages fully to be society’(Laclau and Mouffe. While confusion is mistakenly joining two things together. Laclau never fully manages to be Laclau. It might be to shift the grounds for asking what it might mean to refuse him. or pure law of the revolutionary’(1976: 95-96). moreover constitutive nature of antagonism. 2 . refusal does not come from a single privileged point. As we will see shortly.One might rightly ask what agency it is that will do this inquiring and suspecting. We reject categories of thought. 1990: 90). and just as importantly the social is caught in a multiplicity of refusals. so too we will find that ‘ Laclau’ is not a valid object of discourse. as much as society is not a valid object of discourse. my intention here is not to refuse Laclau. refusal is crucially important for Laclau. or later in New Reflections on the Revolution of our Time as ‘ dislocation’ Due to the fundamental and . ‘ “society’as a unitary an intelligible object which grounds its own particular processes is an impossibility’(Laclau. and we must refuse. Within the terms we inherit from Laclau. As Foucault puts it. But still we do. as we might put it. 1985: 111). 1985: 127). to disjoin from a presumed or hoped for connection. and that. or to join with him too quickly. source of all rebellions.
But further. Laclau’ discourse theory ‘ s departs radically from contemporary social science’(p. For Alessia Contu. We find similar claims in the work of other proponents of Laclau. While other competing positions such as critical realism remain fixated with science and are guilty of dualism. 2006. 753). And Orlikowski and Yates concur that ‘ The discursive approach proposed by Bridgman and Willmott is a welcome addition to the theoretical toolkit available to organizational scholars’(2006: 132). and try to propose a fresh view of political struggle and social change’(2002: 160-161). according to Willmott. ‘ Laclau and Mouffe offer a political answer to the crisis of dominant. 2005: 748). presumably without inconsistency or contradiction. 3 . forthcoming). 763) and ‘ offers something new and challenging – an innovative approach’(p. ‘ refuse dualism’(p. 750) which ‘ guided by a self-consciously ethicois political project’(p.To Market Perhaps the most persistent effort to bring the discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau into organizational analysis can be found in the work of Hugh Willmott and his colleagues (see also the important work of Böhm. one benefit of Laclau’ discourse s theory is that we can now. which is assessed elsewhere. The claims made by Willmott on behalf of Laclau are far from modest: Laclau’ discourse theory ‘ s presents a rich source of inspiration and guidance for interrogating and changing social relations that are unthinkable within orthodox analyses and prescriptions for change’(Willmott. 762ff). According to Todd Bridgman we find in Laclau insights that are ‘ fresh’and ‘ novel’and that ‘ This approach is useful for understanding processes of identity struggles and change within organizations’ (2005: 17). rationalistic narrative[s] of the social. see Jones.
and also in the interests of making some more general comments on organizational discourse analysis I propose a somewhat more conceptual and also more polemical set of considerations. But we do not have time for this here today. as I have tried to show elsewhere in my analyses of the reception of Foucault in organizational analysis. it might be important to locate Laclau within the various traditions out of which his work emerges. has developments with which the XXth century started’(2005: 1). For this reason. and if we had more time then we might unpick these line by line. Obviously this is going to be difficult. These all relate to a critique of 4 . before introducing his novelty. first of all because of the partiality of his own efforts to locate himself and second because he locates himself differently on different occasions. in ‘ Philosophical Roots of Discourse Theory’ where Laclau suggests that his work ‘ its roots in the three main philosophical . Laclau and Mouffe (2001: xi) locate their work as drawing principally on deconstruction (Derrida) and psychoanalysis (Lacan). resolution and messianism. I will organize my discussion around three themes that can be extracted from this language promoting Laclau.There are particular tropes at play in this language. To start. let us consider some of these attempts to locate Laclau. This is a common strategy in the promotion of a new theorist. themes relating to tradition. in the introduction to the second edition of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. 2002). Tradition The first remark relates to the division of Laclau from tradition and from existing work. This is later expanded. in a way that exaggerated the distance between him and earlier writers in order to maximise the benefits of this new thinker (Jones. Recognising the impossibility of our task. This is what is required of any discourse analysis and of theoretical discourse that is attentive to the complexity of language and thinking.
we might recall Žižek’ famous rejection of the ‘ s poststructuralist’reading of Laclau and Mouffe. Laclau and Mouffe have. 5 . the sociosymbolic field is conceived as structured around a certain traumatic impossibility. and his argument that: The real achievement of Hegemony is crystallised in the concept of “social antagonism”: far from reducing all reality to a kind of language game. around a certain fissure which cannot be symbolised. the illusion of the referent (analytical philosophy). that is. and as a third attempt at positioning Laclau. this breakthrough is of such novelty that it was usually not even perceived in most responses to Hegemony. the deconstruction of Marxist tradition.the illusion of immediacy. Derrida. As a final effort to locate Laclau. 1990: 179). 1990: 55). and that ‘ far as I our as am concerned. we might also speak of the complex and often contested relationships between Laclau and the Marxist tradition. and his own claims that ‘ analysis keeps within the field of Marxism’(Laclau. 1990: 249). Simple as it may sound. reinvented the Lacanian notion of the Real as impossible. Lacan). In short. 1990). Here we must deal with the wellknown charges of anti-Marxism and ex-Marxism put to Laclau (Geras. so to speak. phenomenology (Heidegger) and structuralism (Barthes. In case these positionings bring comfort. and on the other hand his innovative readings of Althusser and in particular Gramsci. not its mere abandonment. In the movement away from these positions Laclau draws on the critique of analytical philosophy (late Wittgenstein). the phenomenon (phenomenology) and the sign (structuralism). they have made it useful as a tool for social and ideological analysis. is what proves important’(Laclau. (Žižek.
discourse theory enables us to bridge the gap between the material and the meaningful. Lacan and Marxism. Heidegger. we can ‘ refuse dualism’(2005: 762ff).If Laclau is set in (admittedly complex) relations with all of these strands of thinking. for example. On this view. and require not the addition of one more theorist but a wholesale reconstruction of the theoretical grounds of a project of organizational discourse analysis. in the recent Handbook of Organizational Discourse (Grant et al. then one might start to wonder how it is that all of this is somehow radically foreign to organizational analysis and in particular to organizational discourse analysis. or between the physical and the social (Bridgman and Willmott. This apparently enables us to sidestep dualism altogether. Or alternatively. which relates to the casting of Laclau as one that will bring solutions or resolutions to problems. or will he cause them? We see the idea of resolution. which run from late Wittgenstein. then this might be read as a sign for the need to read Laclau. in the way that Willmott proposes that. This is not to defend organizational discourse analysis. which has of course shown an incredible negligence in dealing with theory. whether this be the dualism of agency and structure (Willmott. 2004). Derrida. Resolution Which leads me to the second set of concerns. 2006: 113). it might more radically call into question the very grounds of organizational discourse analysis and its ignorances. 6 . as is shown by the decontextualisation and superficiality of theoretical work appearing. for example.. by conceiving of discourse as material practice. will Laclau solve our problems. In short. following Laclau. has distorted structuralism and poststructuralism beyond recognition and has all but ignored Marxist thought altogether. 2005: 763). If organizational discourse analysis has failed so incredibly to take seriously the major advances in philosophical reflection on signification.
and as we know this talk of the need to s escape dualism is widespread in organization studies (see Knights. Bridgman and Willmott are concerned to avoid the ‘ commonsense. Let us take one example. and controversially. the the “language game” ’(1953: 5. The particularly strange thing in of this talk of refusing dualism is the recurrence and reinstatement. this is one of the bolder claims of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. of dualism. which is whether or not Laclau is actually able to provide a solution to the kind of difficulties that Willmott and others have. The famous example here is taken from Wittgenstein who conceives. 1985: 108). consisting of the language and the actions into which it is woven. In Willmott we face the odd idea that it might make sense to speak of ‘ refusing’dualism. This peculiarity is expressed in Willmott’ very language of refusal. cf. to refuse or to eradicate dualism (Knights. naturalized differentiation of the materiality of 7 . see also Laclau and Mouffe. we have the other question. 2004). who reminds us again and again of the dangers of the enclosure of dualism (and other things) but at the same time reminds us that the effort to leap out of. and here I am thinking of course of Derrida. This is a difficulty that the best thinkers of dualism have been aware of. where Laclau and Mouffe write that ‘ Our analysis rejects the distinction between discursive and non-discursive practices’(1985: 107). In their analysis of an information and communication technologies outsourcing contract. relating to the ontological status of linguistic construction. 1997. at the start of the Philosophical Investigations. 2001. Relatedly. Borgerson and Rehn. This is a crucial strategy in Willmott’ argumentation. of not being s joined with dualism. of breaking with. of a language game as ‘ whole. often at a higher level. Beech and Cairns.Famously. 1997). 2001. leads not to the escape from metaphysics but its reinstatement.
I do not want to conclude that this is an isolated contradiction. 2005a: 110) But why. Given this opposition to idealism perhaps we should be surprised when we find. would we find s discomfort in this inconsistency between his professed anti-idealism and the recurrent textual and conceptual idealism? Why would be need to find. which might be excusable or punishable in its isolation. for example. Note that Laclau has emphasised again and again that. a final formulae that will resolve and complete thinking? This is not to excuse these inconsistencies in Laclau’ work and in those who have and will apply his work in s 8 . constitute the anatomy of the social world’(Laclau. as I have asserted from the beginning of this book. Then. but the main philosophical approach it is opposed to is idealism’(in Laclau and Bhaskar.technology and the discursive field’(2006: 110). positions recognisable as textual and conceptual idealism. if we accept Laclau’ positions on antagonism and heterogeneity. they write that ‘ s Laclau and Mouffe are “anti-constructionist” insofar as they understand objects to exist independently of language and thought’(Bridgman and Willmott. this is not so much a failure of the effort to apply Laclau’ s resolution of the ideal/real division as it is a failure that recurs in Laclau. 1998: 9). Rather. throughout his work. whether conceived as “affordances” or instantiated capabilities. About half way through his most recent book. 2006: 122). and to demonstrate the superiority of Laclau’ discourse theory over institutional theory. do not exist independently of the discursive field through which they are constituted’(Bridgman and Willmott. 2006: 115). in this thinker of the incomplete and the impossible. six pages later we learn that ‘ discourse theoretic conceptualization of technology and institutions as discursive A structures recognizes that the material properties assigned to ICTs. as he puts it in the debate with Bhaskar ‘ discourse theory is opposed to various forms of ontology and epistemology. In doing so. he finds that ‘ rhetorical mechanisms.
for what he says to be true (see Brown. perhaps the effort to apply his work will be stronger not by glossing over these difficulties and contradictions in the Laclau’ text. 1994). in for example the efforts to introduce Foucault into organizational analysis and to defend him. Rather. forthcoming). but often – to a thoroughgoing critique of the cult of the individual (Jones. the formation of concepts and the formation of strategies. beyond all reason. enunciative modalities. This messianism echoes throughout the claims that Willmott makes in the name of Laclau’ arrival. This language of messianism bears the mark of the evangelism of the good 9 . Messianism This brings me to my third and final remark. as much as they issue from a subject (Foucault. against whatever the charge (see Knights and Vurdubakis. part II). This setup reads as a form of messianism. but s rather by traversing them. all of which participate in producing. then is Laclau the new messiah? As I indicated above. We have heard these announcements s before. and here in the figure of the coming of the messiah who breaks with the past and brings redemption. or has simply passed his use-by date. in which the table is set for the arrival of the one who will redeem. 1972.organizational discourse analysis. one of the great ironies surrounding the celebration of Foucault is the fact that Foucault was so committed – not always. But still there is a desire to insist on the originality of Foucault rather than the radical contexualism and socialisation of discourse that he call us to. If Foucault is now found wanting. This relates to the previous remarks on tradition and resolution. The point here being that one of the key lessons of Foucault is that any statement (enoncé) is ordered and coordinated within complex rules of discursive formation. 2002). on messianism. and to want.
Historical materialists are aware of that. found in Benjamin. a power to which the past has a claim. This theme is taken up in Laclau’ (1996) review of Specters of Marx. of a ‘ weak messianic power’ Benjamin writes: . Laclau writes: the messianism we are speaking about is one without eschatology. 10 . Like every generation that preceded us. Our coming was expected on earth. It is simply the structure of promise which is inherent in all experience and whose lack of content – resulting from a radical opening to the event. a certain experience of the emancipatory promise’ (1994: 59). what remains as undeconstructible as the possibility of deconstruction is. without a pre-given promised land. perhaps. 1996: 74). Here Laclau follows Derrida’ s s deconstruction of the objectivist. we have been endowed with a weak messianic power. 1968: 254) Derrida therefore speaks of a ‘ messianicity without messianism’(1994: 181). This is the messianicity without messianism. determinist and eschatological aspects of the Marxist tradition while refusing to abandon the promise of emancipation. (Laclau. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. to the other – is the very possibility of justice that gives its meaning to the democracy to come. ‘ What remains irreducible to any deconstruction. Against this language of messianism. That claim cannot be settled cheaply. (Benjamin. ontological. without determinate content. For Derrida. Derrida counterpoises the image.news of the predicted end of history. which in Specters of Marx Derrida notes ‘ essentially a is Christian eschatology’(1994: 60).
Without this we persist in messianism. In the name of absolute hospitality we must also recognise the possibility. As Derrida writes: ‘ Without the possibility of radical evil. The journals are full of organizational 11 . one fine day. flaws and failures in his work. We cannot do without promise. 1997: 219). we cannot do without hope. once and for all. but let us not think that. This involves the need for critical responses such as those we have just heard from Armin Beverungen (2006).This all might make us pause at the moment that ‘ Laclau’become the determinate content that has. We are now at the 7th International Conference of Organizational Discourse. This is why I want to insist on a certain undecidability about the prospects of Laclau which is notably absent in the work of Willmott and colleagues. In a way. and well attended it is. the crisis of organizational discourse analysis! In the previous paper presented in this stream. But if the other as event arrives. Which is perhaps unavoidable. At last. that the other as Other may wreak havoc. first of all in demonstrating the existence of this crisis. There are many outward signs that suggest that organizational discourse analysis is far from crisis. there is no responsibility. and of absolute crime. of perjury. Spicer and Cederstrom (2006) spoke of the contribution that Laclau can make in responding to what they call the crisis of the organizational discourse analysis. as Derrida has reminded us. will break with tradition. the messiah will come. then all will not be as was planned. arrive. will bring resolution and will redeem us. The messiah will not come. but moreover we might remind ourselves of the dangers of imagining his arrival. although I do not imagine that Laclau would call for balanced assessment. no freedom. or will soon. We carry under our arms a weighty Handbook of Organizational Discourse. no decision’(Derrida. Rather it is a matter of recognition of the inconsistencies. they have a bit of explaining to do. but must come. Perhaps we cannot not want this arrival. the liberal weighing the good and the bad in his work.
What will it be called: Organizational Discourse Analysis or Discourse and Organization? Beyond these institutional signs and artefacts. there is a remarkable consistency in the language that is currently circulating in the name of organizational discourse analysis. There is almost always – but not always. Third. through to the contingency of the articulation of demands in the construction of populism. Laclau is a thinker who has argued again and again against necessity. Second.discourse analysis. very quickly. Things might be in the way we hope. This is expressed in the early critique of essentialism. sensing the materiality of signification. the privilege of the signifier and the ease of movement from the signifier to the signified. then. note. organizational discourse analysis would embark on a thoroughgoing critique of idealism. If the title of this paper needs any explaining. but they could also turn out differently. But it might chose to take him on. the force of the ‘ extradiscursive’and the determinations of economy. If it did then. Does this conference propose to radically change the way organizational discourse analysis is done? It will be applied to new areas – this time identity. Organizational discourse analysis doesn’ need Laclau. and it will only be a matter of time until the launch of the journal. it would limp away from the 12 . Laclau’ is an s inconsistent and fractured text – a recognition that things do not have to turn out this way or that. organizational discourse analysis would definitively break with any idea of the transparency of communication. it is in that there is something comically implausible in suggesting the need for someone who has worked so far to distance himself from the idea of necessity. t what might happen to organizational discourse analysis? First. what next? – but is change on the programme? One might legitimately ask: what crisis? Let me therefore conclude somewhat polemically.
not as something that is to be done away with but as basic to the deepening and broadening of democracy. None of this is necessary. ‘ moment when language invaded the universal the problematic’and when ‘ everything became discourse’(1978: 280).anti-theoreticism that has all but crippled it. It would recognise that discourse is not simply a matter of exchanging signs but is shattered by the ‘ bone in the throat’of impossibility of expression that Lacan designates the Real. Fifth. Fourth. As a corollary to the second and third points. 13 . and attempt some credibility as a project engaged with the theoretical debates of our times. it would overcome its ignorance of Marxism. antagonism and political contestation would be recognised as basic and constitutive of the social. organizational discourse analysis would sense the absolute and radical limits of discourse. organizational discourse analysis would be called to radically revise its careless misplacement and underestimation of poststructuralism and begin to see that poststructuralism implies not the valorisation but the radical critique of. by which I do not mean cheap talk about polyphony or plurivocality. Sixth. But it certainly is possible. as Derrida puts it. and perhaps as a result.
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This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?