Strategic Practice, Discourse and Eveyrday Interactional Consttution of 'Power Effects' by Samra-Fredericks (2005

Strategic Practice, 'Discourse' and the Everyday Interactional Constitution of 'Power Effects'
Dalvir Samra-Fredericks Organization 2005 12: 803 DOI: 10.1177/1350508405057472
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Volume 12(6): 803–841 ISSN 1350–5084 Copyright © 2005 SAGE (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)
Strategic Practice, ‘Discourse’ and the Everyday Interactional Constitution of ‘Power Effects’
Dalvir Samra-Fredericks
Nottingham Trent University, UK
Abstract. This paper responds to the empirical and analytical challenge that surrounds tracing the constitution of ‘power effects of corporate strategy discourse’ notably documented in Knights and Morgan’s seminal contribution. To meet the empirical challenge, interaction is centralized and ethnographies of strategists at-work are extended to include audio- recording their naturally occurring talk-based interactive routines over time/space. To meet the analytical challenge, the paper turns to two distinct social science traditions—Habermas’ critical social theory and ethnostudies set against the stance of ‘supplementation’. Habermas’ schema suggests a re-conceptualization of strategic practice as a process where strategists routinely draw upon four forms of knowledge, which arguably ‘makes-up’ any ‘Discourse’. These knowledges concern the external, social and subjective domain with the overarching knowledge being language use. Each also raises associated validity claims. While brief, the ethnomethodological perspective provides the fundamental methodology and indicates the ways further analytical texture is yielded to strategizing processes. Taken together, the paper paves the way for fine-grained studies of the everyday interactional constitution of power effects yielding that ‘capillary image’ of power relations. Two brief transcribed strips of interaction are reproduced from an earlier ethno- graphy to illustrate theoretical, conceptual and analytical possibilities for critical analyses. A complexified notion of ‘competence’ constituting practice is maintained with the conclusion touching upon how this approach also potentially contributes to critical management educa- tion. Key words. competence; critical study; discourse; power effects; strategic practice; talk/ethno-approaches; validity claims
DOI: 10.1177/1350508405057472
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When thinking of strategy, ‘discourse’ and critical study, then Knights and Morgan’s (1991; see also Knights and Morgan, 1995) seminal paper drawing on Foucault is rightfully acknowledged. Critiquing conceptions of strategy as a set of neutral or ‘rational techniques’, Knights and Morgan (1991) state that their interest in corporate strategy is not in determining the ‘truth’ of strategy but the consequences of it being defined as ‘true’. This generates a series of issues for empirical research. In particular, Knights and Morgan (1991: 262) highlight the need for an ‘analysis of its reproduction’ in particular ‘settings by the application of knowledge and technologies of power to social relations’ and the ways an ‘expert knowledge’ comes to ‘define problems and solutions for organizations’.
The research message of such analysis is that wherever in organizational practice a solution is being offered, it is important to investigate the problems to which it relates for evidence of its power to create or reconstitute them. (Knights and Morgan, 1991: 270)
This paper makes a contribution through taking up the empirical and analytical challenge their work gives rise to. First, to respond to the empirical challenge, the paper further substantiates earlier moves to place interaction centre-stage and, in this case, the need for ethnographic research into managerial elites’ (defined as senior managers, directors, CEOs, etc. by Pettigrew, 1992) everyday routines. These elites were collectively termed ‘strategists’ when undertaking the ‘task’ of stra- tegizing (Samra-Fredericks, 2003a—hereafter also ‘strategists’). Moreover, these ethnographies have been purposefully extended to include audio- recording their everyday encounters. The original intellectual infra- structure informing this move was ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967) and one sub-branch known as conversation analysis (Sacks et al., 1974; Sacks, 1992; Psathas, 1995; see also Boden, 1994). Clegg et al. (2004) and Clark (2004) also recently proposed a turn to the ethnographic and ethnomethodological traditions in order to examine ‘strategy as practice’ (hereafter, termed SasP1). This paper now aims to extend this field of interest further through adding a critical overlay to an earlier ethnog- raphy (Samra-Fredericks, 2003a) while also demonstrating the value of a ‘reflexive approach’ through turning to alternative theoretical/analytical resources to extend our understanding of SasP.2
In the original ethnography, Habermas’ schema, together with attempts to undertake a critical analysis as proposed here in terms of the everyday constitution of seven power effects, was absent. Yet, it was not devoid of a critical sensitivity altogether because, ultimately, it was a fine-grained study of ‘power-at-work’. However, strategists’ ‘assembly of a viable identity’ as ‘another interesting avenue [was] purposefully skirted around’ (Samra-Fredericks, 2003a: 169), alongside other features. Instead, analytical effort on that occasion was focused on how one strategist amongst a group of six constituted two organizational weaknesses.
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Through returning to this ethnography, this paper makes a further con- tribution which revolves around taking up the analytical challenge which Knights and Morgan’s (1991) paper gives rise to in terms of the constitution of power effects. Moreover, the paper proposes that when the gaze is turned to tracing the everyday constitution of ’power effects’, an alternative intellectual schema is called for. While Knights and Morgan (1991) drew upon Foucault given their objectives, this paper turns to two alternative social science traditions. They are Habermas’ (1979, 1984) Theory of Communicative Action (hereafter, TCA3) and studies of ‘social praxis’ of the sort undertaken within ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967; Heritage 1984), pragmatics (Levinson, 1983) and conversation analysis (Sacks, 1992; see also Boden 1994; Boden and Zimmerman, 1991; Drew and Heritage, 1992). Clearly, there is much that divides these two traditions, not least the starting point for explicating social ‘order’ or statements around what should be arising from critique (Jayyusi, 1991; Mchoul, 1994).
For this researcher, the essential foundation arises from the ethnome- thodological stance where social order is not conceptualized as a ‘general theoretic viewpoint’ but one that is accomplished ‘in and through details of on-going, irremediably situated production of order in particular settings’ (Jayyusi, 1991: 235), something which the Conversation Ana- lytic (CA) tradition foundered by Sacks and colleagues (Sacks, 1992; Sacks et al., 1974) attend to with amazing patience. Equally, from an ethnomethodological perspective, Habermas’ TCA is criticized as missing the ‘very how by which they [abstract principles] are orientated to, and made operative’ (Jayyusi, 1991: 240) during everyday interaction, prompting some to translate his ‘universal pragmatics’ into an empirical pragmatics as undertaken here (Forester, 1992; Harris, 1995; also Alves- son, 1996). Bogen (1989: 69) also points to the ‘radical indexicality of expression and the dependence of ‘meaning’ upon the contingent back- ground knowledge of the life world’ which he feels explains the ‘meth- odological rift’ between Habermas’ enterprise and ethnomethodological ‘investigations’. Hence, the:
possibility that there is an indefinite number of practical–hermeneutic methods already at work in the social world seems to escape him [Haber- mas]. Were he to take this possibility seriously, it would allow him to exploit the objectivating features of social praxis (what participants take to be universal). (Bogen, 1989: 56)
This is the starting point for Garfinkel’s (1967: 33) ethnomethodology and subsequent efforts across a spectrum of ethno-approaches. Yet, Habermas (1984: 100–1) does acknowledge that a ‘more realistic picture is that drawn by ethnomethodologists’ in terms of everyday ‘communicative practice’. This paper, then, also begins a ‘dialogue’(Bogen, 1989) between Habermas’ TCA and ‘detailed investigations of social praxis’ set against empirical materials.
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Today, there is a growing interest in ethnomethodology within the organization/management studies field.4 Tsoukas (2001: 7, 10) also observes ethnomethodology’s contribution which would assist that ‘shift’ to exploring the ‘situated accommodations, the mutual adjustments and the on-going acts of improvisations that characterize most of life in organized contexts’. Similar, albeit brief points are surfacing in relation to ethnomethodology and SasP (Clegg et al., 2004; Clark, 2004). One branch of ethnomethodology, CA, was also briefly mentioned by Hendry (2000: 973) for studies of strategic practice and ‘its instrumental and commu- nicative aspects’. Yet, empirical studies remain rare (Samra-Fredericks, 1994–2004). Moreover, what is particularly significant and yet routinely overlooked is Knights and Morgan’s (1991: 254) original referral to Heritage (1987) and the tradition of ethnomethodology where:
social order is contingently accomplished through the skilled actions of subjects who coordinate their relationships with others through various tactics which establish or confirm the grounds of the communicative exchange.
Simply stated for our purposes at this stage, it is during human ‘coordina- tion’ that ‘discourses’ are (selectively) invoked by ‘knowledgeable’ (Garfinkel, 1967) participants who, in complicated and elusive ways, routinely reproduce and/or resist aspects of their lived world constituting a range of intended and unintended ‘power effects’. For Habermas, these ‘grounds’ are divided up into four components (elaborated shortly) and, for ethno-scholars, the interest revolves around the ‘methods’/resources and practical reasoning procedures for the reproduction of social orders. When these two traditions are woven together as proposed here, an insightful and critical approach for ‘un-picking’ the basis of strategic (management) practices and the everyday constitution of power effects is possible. Importantly, though, the stance adopted here is that of supple- mentation and not integration.
Jayyusi (1991; see also Miller, 1997) also argues that when ethnometho- dological analyses are supplemented with critique, a ‘political prag- matics’ is possible whilst also attempting to grapple with the principle of ‘ethnomethodological indifference’. Arguably, such a move may merge into ‘critical discourse studies’ where the interest is in language and society and ‘relations between discourse, power, dominance’ (van Dijk, 1993: 249, as cited in Mckenna, 2004: 10). These are also core ‘concepts’ within critical management studies (Alvesson and Willmott, 1992; 1996).5 In terms of this paper, the key point is that each of the two social science traditions—Habermas and ethno-approaches—provide a way for opening up theoretical, conceptual and analytical routes to generate a critical understanding of everyday strategic practice and the interactional constitution of ’power effects’. This is the prime contribution here— having ’researched differently’ as argued elsewhere (Samra-Fredericks, 2003b; see also Samra-Fredericks, 1994, 1996, 2000, 1998, 2004a). Hence, while recognizing the immense problems, concerns and debates that
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Habermas and ethno-scholars such as Garfinkel/Sacks and their key proponents have generated (see Alvesson, 1996; Button, 1991; Giddens, 1977; Heritage, 1984; Reed, 1992; Thompson, 1982; Turner, 1988), this paper remains focused upon outlining how each may supplement the other to provide penetrating and critical lenses on SasP.
What this means in relation to Habermas’ (1979, 1984) theoretical enterprise is that the paper centralizes just one ‘important idea’—that ‘communication involves more than words, grammar, and syntax’, it also involves ‘validity claims’ (Turner 1988: 99). Simply stated, speakers are deemed to routinely raise four types of pragmatic validity claims (VCs) on listeners. These VCs deal with truth (and facts), correctness, truthful- ness (being sincere, for example) and intelligibility. In taking a ‘pragmatic empirical turn’ (Forester, 1992), this schema is shown to provide one broad analytical frame against which to elaborate a ‘discourse of strat- egy’. It also suggests that strategic practice is re-conceptualized as the speaking of four forms of knowledge which ‘make-up’ any ‘discourse’ alongside integral efforts to redeem associated VCs. Furthermore, the inherent defining role for language-use acutely sensitizes us to speakers ‘rhetorical and representational capacities’ to assemble plausible claims in the first place (Forester, 1992; Giddens, 1977; Thompson, 1982). This alone substantiates a turn to ethno-approaches to shed further light on such processes, notwithstanding their own foundational contribution in terms of a methodology generating incisive studies of ‘objectivity’, ‘truth’, ‘moral accountability’, etc.
The paper also aims to maintain a complexified notion of ‘competence’ constituting or instantiating practice and avoids simple prescriptions. Indeed, as Sharrock and Button (1991: 141, 173; but see also Silverman, 2000) observe, Garfinkel’s stance highlights the pointlessness of efforts to ‘codify the supposed constituents of the actor’s “competence”’. SasP is a contingent accomplishment where a complex mosaic of knowledges are subtly and skillfully invoked and demonstrably orientated to by partici- pants. In scrutinizing this accomplishment, we can, though, develop insight into SasP and expose the ways a taken-for-granted mundane social/political order is reproduced. Furthermore, this can assist efforts for developing a critical pedagogy which is foundered upon:
[a]t a minimum . . . [strategic] management . . . taught in ways that expli- citly acknowledge the political, ethical, and philosophical nature of its practice. (Grey, 2004: 180)
This is touched upon in the concluding section of the paper.
It is, of course, recognized that talk-based ethnographic studies of
situated strategic practice happening do give rise to a number of prob- lems and issues. Indeed, notwithstanding the length of time spent in the field or listening to the audio-tapes and then generating detailed tran- scripts to undertake fine-grained analysis, efforts to then condense this analysis and the accompanying broader ethnographic account and the methodological ‘reasonings’ into one research paper can be debilitating
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(Samra-Fredericks, 1994, 1996; 2003a; see also Alvesson and Karreman, 2000a). Decisions have to be taken. Here, details of the methodology and the practical issues arising from being in the field over a period of time are available elsewhere (Samra-Fredericks, 1998; 2004a). Second, given this paper’s objectives, it cannot do justice to Habermas’ theoretical enterprise, nor to the ethnomethodological/conversation analytic ‘stance’, the latter in terms of methodology and analytical rigour (which is also the case in Samra-Fredericks, 2003a). And, third, only two illustrative extracts are reproduced here from an extensive corpus of empirical materials with further extracts and ethnographic detailing accessible elsewhere, although not essential for this paper (Samra- Fredericks, 2003a).
The paper is structured as follows. First, a selective summary is provided of what a critical study of SasP entails—noting definitions and linkages between talk, language use and ‘discourse’, which then leads onto highlighting key points from Knights and Morgan’s contribution. Next, Habermas’ schema and an overview of ethno-approaches estab- lishes the parameters of a move to an ‘empirical pragmatics’ and how this meets aspects of the ‘critical turn’. Then, given this paper’s objectives, just two brief transcribed strips of strategists’ talk-in-interaction where competing VCs were being made are reproduced from an earlier ethnog- raphy and revisited in light of Habermas’ schema. This is followed by a brief exposition of what a fine-grained analysis of language use adds with the focus confined to adding further texture to any ‘capillary’ (Deetz and Mumby 1995: 477) image of power relations and, ultimately, the constitu- tion of seven power effects. Finally, the conclusion touches upon devel- oping a critical pedagogy and notes some future research possibilities.
Strategic Practice, Talk-in-Interaction, Language Use, ‘Discourse’ and Critical Study
Since the publication of Knights and Morgan’s (1991) work, a number of scholars have continued to develop critiques of rational and objectivist accounts of strategy processes (see for example, Ezzamel and Willmott, 2004; Hendry, 2000; Lilley, 2001; Pye, 1995; see also a review by Jones 1998; as well as Samra-Fredericks, 1996). Today, we are in the midst of a turn to ‘practice’, or SasP, and extending this field into the realms of critical study occupies this paper. So what does this entail? Three relevant aspects are concisely noted here. First, Ezzamel and Willmott (2004: 44) suggest the need for an ‘attentiveness to culture and politics’ and warn us that an interest in what strategists ‘do’ within the SasP field may actually lead to a ‘preoccupation with the identification of skills, the tools and techniques that are used’ while displacing this essential aspect. Indeed, critical study more generally aims to expose the taken- for-grantedness that surrounds management/strategic practice (e.g. Alvesson and Willmott, 1992, 1996) and how power ‘works’ (Knights
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and Vurdubakis, 1994). Second, it embraces a stance that ‘profitability should be set alongside other values, such as justice and ecological well-being’ (Grey, 2004: 180). This latter aspect is touched upon in the conclusion.
Third, Ezzamel and Willmott (2004: 45) argue that we need to move beyond a ‘dualistic conception of the language-reality relationship’. Here, they specifically cite Foucault (1982: 49) where language use should be treated as ‘practices’ which ‘systematically form the objects of which they speak’, hence elevating languages’ ‘constitutive force’ but one routinely neutralized in ‘rational and processual models of strategy’. This point is also echoed by Clegg et al. (2004) who identify language and five other aspects—power, professional identity, non-human actors, ethics and institution—which critical studies of SasP would examine.6 Not wishing to rehearse arguments made elsewhere (nor having the space here), one essential pre-requisite is to place talk-in-interaction centre-stage. We also need to clarify definitions and linkages between talk, language and ‘discourse’.
Talk, Language and Discourse
This paper employs the common-sensical term ‘talk’ (Goffman, 1974; Giddens, 1984; elsewhere noted in CA terms as talk-in-interaction, Samra-Fredericks, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2003a, 2004a) when referring to the actual talk or conversations of strategists which are recorded and then transcribed to generate the core empirical materials. This focus does not neglect matters beyond talk, as we shall see. When we talk, we use ‘language’ (words, terms, jargon, etc.) which is conceptualized as ‘both constituting and constitutive’ (epistemology and ontology are social constructionist) and, through language use, inanimate objects such as written reports (etc.) are animated and made meaningful and consequen- tial. ‘Discourse’ is a term which can mean many different ‘things’ and is even employed by Habermas in a particular way (Thompson, 1982; for additional perspectives, see also Alvesson and Karreman, 2000b; Fair- clough et al, 2004; van Dijk, 1997; Wetherell et al., 2001). One relevant example, given our interest in strategic practice and ‘discourse’, is Hendry (2000: 964) who defines discourse as ‘any body of language based communications, however organized, whether or not these are con- cretized as texts’.
In terms of this paper, though, ‘Discourse’ is purposefully reserved for a more Foucauldian and thus broader line of analysis (Alvesson and Karreman, 2000b; Ezzamel and Willmott, 2004; Reed, 1998). As the definition of Knights and Morgan (1991: 253–4) demonstrates, ‘discourse’ encompasses ‘a set of ideas and practices which condition our ways of relating to, and acting upon particular phenomena . . . [it] is always embedded in social practice which reproduce that way of seeing as the “truth” of the discourse’. Reed (1998: 195, emphasis added) further specifies that a ‘discourse’ ‘must retain the full range of socio-historically
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contingent linguistic, cultural, technical and organizational resources which actively constitute fields of knowledge and the practices they instantiate’. It is where the ‘inseparability of power and knowledge’ is an integral feature. Equally, when we turn to Knights and Morgan’s (1991: 269, emphasis added) conception of ‘power’ drawing upon Foucault (1980: 89), then: ‘power is neither given, nor exchanged, nor recovered, but rather exercised, and that it only exists in action’. Ethno-approaches make this ‘doing’ uniquely available for close scrutiny, as we shall see. But first, the next sub-section summarizes the key points surrounding a discourse of strategy.
Discourse of Strategy
Knights and Morgan (1991: 257) proposed that ‘the central elements of a discourse of strategy’ is ‘the planned relationship between the market and the internal characteristics of the organization’. Hendry (2000: 969, emphasis added) also argues that strategizing is a ‘technological and appropriative social practice’ where the key ability is ‘to turn knowledge [of economics, industries, markets] and resources [financial and individ- uals] to utility’: the latter being the creation of ‘economic value and wealth’. He notes that discourse ‘turn[s] knowledge’ to ‘utility’ yet how this is accomplished by managers as they do their everyday tasks remains an elusive process. An added complication is that a ‘discourse of strategy’ can be conceptualized as intertwined or embedded within other ‘dis- courses’ such as that of ‘capitalism’ and ‘masculinity’. This lattice-type effect is also discernible in Knights and Morgan (1991). For example, the core ‘idea’ of financial profit or returns on investment—the capitalist ethos—demands efficiencies essential to the ‘idea’ of competitive advan- tage and for fueling growth or market expansion, and so on and so forth, which a discourse of strategy encompasses. Equally, the way that this is routinely expressed has strong masculine tones which Knights and Morgan locate through language-use/jargon such as ‘market penetration’, etc. Clegg et al. (2004: 26) make similar points on ‘phallocentric’ thinking (here, talking) and mention war metaphors which potentially constitute a social reality along particular lines (illustrated shortly). Knights and Morgan also specifically identify seven power effects which a discourse of strategy ‘exerts’ (hereafter, the numbers in [square brackets] will refer to the ‘effect’ noted here):
[1] It provides managers with a rationalization of their successes and failures . . . [2] It sustains and enhances the prerogatives of management and negates alternative perspectives on organizations . . . [3] It generates a sense of personal and organizational security for managers ... [4] It reflects and sustains a strong sense of gendered masculinity for male management . . . [5] It demonstrates managerial rationality to colleagues, customers, competitors, government . . . [6] It facilitates and legitimates the exercise of power . . . [7] It constitutes the subjectivity of organiza- tional members as particular categories of persons who secure their sense
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of reality through engaging in strategic discourse and practice. (Knights and Morgan, 1991: 262–3)
For this researcher, the basic starting point was simply that during their everyday interactional routines strategists realize/perform their ‘practice’ of which language use is central and through which they routinely and intricately invoke and make meaningful and consequential the inter- related discourses of capitalism (ideas/knowledge of profit, efficiency, commodification, etc.), of strategy (ideas/knowledge of competitive advantage through linking perceptions of ‘markets’ to internal charac- teristics, growth, wining, etc.) and of masculinity (efforts to ‘control’, the ‘idea’ of macho action and aggressiveness) and so on and so forth together with a constellation of ostensibly neutral tools and techniques which Knights and Morgan also sensitize us to (e.g. Porter’s five forces; see also Barry and Elmes, 1997).
To embark upon a study of the ways organizational members observe/ invoke a constellation of discourses to ‘instantiate’ strategic practice which exert ‘effects’ is an empirical and analytically ambitious under- taking. To meet the empirical challenge, ethnographic research which is extended to include audio-recording naturally occurring ‘interaction’ over time/space is crucial, especially if we aim to render the full import of a conception of power as relational and ‘exercised in action’ to detailed analysis. Then, recourse to an intellectual schema which prises open the ways taken-for-granted ‘values’, forms of talking/doing (etc.) saturate practice constituting ‘effects’ is another requirement. Knights and Morgan’s (1991) overlooked referral to ethnomethodology and com- municative exchange is suggestive of how we can meet this immense analytical challenge. Two distinct social science traditions are summa- rized next prior to embarking on an illustration of how they provide for analysis of the constitution of effects as an everyday phenomena.
Theoretical, Conceptual and Analytical Schema for Critical Studies of SasP
Habermas’ Schema
While recognizing that Habermas’ proposal for an ‘ideal speech situation’ to facilitate rational discourse (communication) is problematic (also prompting numerous criticisms7), this paper remains focused upon his typology of VCs. Figure 1 provides one ‘representation’ of interaction and the main theoretical components of Habermas’ (1979, 1984) TCA.
The far left feedback arrow is based upon the notion that the ‘use, reinforcement, and augmentation of [shared] stocks of knowledge (Schutz, 1932/1967) not only facilitate interaction’, but also that these same interactive processes ‘maintain’ those stocks of knowledge ‘so essential to the production and reproduction of the macrostructures’ (Turner, 1988: 101). Within Giddens’ (1976, 1984) theory of structuration, this is also one broad representation of the ‘duality of structure’. It also
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Figure 1. Habermas’ implicit model of claiming, discourse and interaction
Capacity for speech
Making of validity claims
and discourse
Shared stocks of knowledge
Capacity for deliberation
Acceptance or challenge and/or counterclaim-making by other(s)
Capacity for indexical interpretation
Taking of claims and/or counterclaims
Reproduce or change:
Adjudication of claims and counterclaims augments:
Source: Turner (1988: 100)
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indicates that while attention is ostensibly focused upon the micro- level—the everyday making and taking of VCs—the (re)production of a wider institutional or political/economic and cultural domain is inher- ently embraced. The shared stocks of knowledge are also deemed to provide (through socialization processes) for three fundamental capaci- ties: speech and discourse; deliberation; and indexical interpretation. This schema alone begins to point us towards a complexified and relationally embedded notion of competence for effective (or not) prac- tice. One aspect of this broad notion of ‘stocks of knowledge’ is further refined into four types with associated VCs.
Four Forms of Knowledge and Associated VCs
Drawing upon ‘speech act theory’ (Austin 1962; Serle, 1969), Habermas divided ‘performative verbs’ into four classes (column 3 in Table 1) which Thompson (1982) suggested offered ‘a general model of linguistic communication’, where the first three ‘classes’ (re)produce three ‘worlds of action’—the objective/external, the social and the subjective/internal ‘world’. Hence, Habermas’ theoretical enterprise is rooted in a pluralist (three ‘worlds’) and dynamic social constructionist ontology. Table 1 links these ‘worlds’ or domains of reality with types of speech acts (column 3) and VCs (column 5).
While, for Habermas, whenever we speak, all four validity claims are raised, a speaker may ‘thematize’ (column four in Table 1) a particular claim by ‘employing a speech-act’ from one of the four classes of performative verbs. This then emphasizes that ‘domain of reality’ (for a useful critique, see also Thompson, 1982). Given our present purposes, each ‘domain’ and its links to a discourse of strategy is briefly considered next.
First, the external world is deemed to encompass established ideas and knowledges which are asserted or described in a way so that they are ‘taken’ as natural—as facts. However, these are historically and culturally derived and may have been subjected to much contestation during prior moments (e.g. the genealogical analysis of Knights and Morgan, 1991). Relevant examples from the ‘discourse of strategy’ would include estab- lished forms of conventional wisdom such as the pursuit of ‘competitive advantage’ through ‘outsourcing’ various functions or building up inter- nal capability because they are critical success factors constituting a ‘core competence’ or forming alliances, etc. It is through taken-for-granted forms of language use/jargon and employment of tools/techniques that complex ideas or ‘truths’ (VC1) and ‘facts’ are established which render the external world knowable and, hence, ostensibly controllable along particular lines. For Habermas, in the ideal case, what should happen is that in making (emphasizing or ‘thematizing’) a claim about the first domain where there is a routine referral to ‘facts’ or statements of ‘what is’, the need is to verify that this is the case—that is, the truth (VC1). Notwithstanding those problems already noted7, a further complication
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Table 1. Typology of validity claims and the three worlds of action (Thompson, 1982: 123; citing adaptation from Habermas, 1979: 58, 68. Further minor adaptation of column 3 undertaken here)
Domains of reality
Modes of communication
Types of speech-act
Validity claims Truth
General functions of speech
‘The’ world of external nature
Cognitive: objectivating attitude
Propositional content
Representation of facts
(‘to assert, to describe, etc.’)
‘Our’ world of society
Interactive: conformative attitude
Interpersonal relation
Establishment of legitimate social relations
(‘norms that can be followed or broken’)
‘My’ world of internal nature
Expressive: expressive attitude
Speakers intention
Disclousre of speakers subjectivity
(‘to admit, to conceal, etc.’)
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arises when there are close linkages to norms/protocols seemingly gov- erning behaviour and needing to meet the correctness VC2—the second domain.
In particular situations, what has been historically and culturally defined as ‘correct behaviour’ (VC2) may also severely curb the question- ing of ‘facts’ (VC1), and one obvious example is the courtroom. Harris’ (1995) pragmatics-based study of the naturally occurring talk between a magistrate/defendant also drew upon Habermas’ VCs 1 and 2 to examine the ways that the ‘adjacency pair’ (Sacks et al., 1974) of the question (basic speech act) and answer sequence (and typical of courtroom/ institutional talk) was invoked as ‘correct’ behaviour (VC2) by institu- tional representatives. Consequently, ‘accusations which a defendant might want to challenge explicitly on the basis of a truth claim (VC1), were often posed as questions’ by magistrates and this patterning of speech acts then ‘obliged’ the witness or defendant to supply an answer. While the speaker signals that he or she is versed in being able to ‘go on’ (Giddens, 1984) through doing so, the impossibility of questioning the ‘truth’ of a proposition also means that aspects of the ‘outer world’(VC1) are routinely legitimated in favour of the institutional representative. Clearly, ‘differential access’ to everyday speech acts such as ‘questions’ and associated ‘rights and obligations’ (the social norms—VC2) were not formally enshrined or skewed in favour of one individual within the company from which the two illustrations are drawn. The only exception was the managing director’s role as ‘chair’ during formal meetings which, as occasioned obligation, ‘bestowed’ additional ‘rights’ (Samra- Fredericks, 1998, 2004a). Beyond this, all the strategists had equal access to all types of speech acts and thus efforts to frame attention to advantage was fluid and open to contestation. Yet, asymmetry was nevertheless intricately accomplished by one strategist, as we shall see.
The analytical ‘value’ in separating the two domains and associated VCs is to prise open the subtle linkages between displaying correct behaviour and what comes to be taken as a ‘truth’ (thus ‘facts’) in terms of an external/objective world. This is an important feature if the interest is in the interactional constitution of power effects. Indeed, in terms of this paper, when competing VCs concerning the external world were being made, our strategists continued to observe established protocols (VC2) for maintaining ‘face’ issues (Goffman, 1967) and, in this way, sought to facilitate their representation of truths (VC1) and hence ‘facts’. There is, then, both a general orientation to correctness—for example, the noted prerogative of management [2] to ‘speak’ strategy alongside a more fundamental orientation to correctness in terms of the locally observed protocols of human interaction where protection of ‘face’ during argu- ment called for ‘mitigating’ linguistic resources, glimpsed shortly.
Argument arising from making competing VCs 1 and 2 also inevitably activates the emotional realm (and evident in both extracts, reproduced shortly). Expression of ‘inner disposition’ or subjective states is the third
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domain within Habermas’ schema and, in thematizing this claim, the speaker discloses aspects of their subjectivity in terms of their attitudes, feelings/emotions. The associated VC3 deals with issues of sincerity which can be verified or questioned. While, on the surface, this may seem to displace rational accounts of managerial work, emotional displays can be pressed into the service of an instrumental rationality (Samra- Fredericks, 2004b). Indeed, as we shall see, for emotional displays to be taken as legitimate (redeeming VC3), they needed to be skillfully tied to the external/objective realm (and meet VC1) as well as meeting his- torically and culturally derived notions of correctness VC. While aware of a gross generalization here, conceptions of what strategists/managers should be ‘like’ appear to encompass ideas of someone who is analytical, rational, decisive, forceful or even aggressive. The latter two descriptors are easily suggestive of emotions such as impatience or anger which connotes ‘masculinity’ and this correspondingly can be problematic for women.8 This third domain, then, brings to our attention another key analytical thread assisting the interactional constitution of power effects. Giddens (1977: 145) also makes a crucial point which has implications for empirical analysis of this third domain and the associated VC3. He suggests that it can be ‘separated’ from the prior two claims since this is ‘resolved in actual conduct: genuineness of intention has to be demon- strated in how one actually behaves’. This suggests the need for ethno- graphic research which tracks talk-in-interaction over time so that judgements regarding anothers’ demonstrable efforts at ‘genuineness’ or sincerity can be discerned. The obvious point here is that we trust (or not) another’s expression of their subjective state through consistent demonstrations yielding, perhaps, the ‘label’ that he or she is sincere.
The fourth type of claim deals with linguistic representation which Forester (1992: 60) suggests is furnished through previous socialization and training. Here, for example, we can specifically locate the contribu- tory role of business/management schools and educational ‘packages’ known as the MBA. They do furnish a ‘rhetorical and representational’ capacity to managers/strategists and in terms of a ‘discourse of strategy’, the basic vocabulary/jargon and tools for representing, for example, ‘environment’, etc. The inherent VC is to be comprehensible or intelli- gible and deliberation and indexical interpretation are clearly two asso- ciated key capacities.
Overall, this schema points to a re-conceptualization of a ‘discourse’ (here, of strategy) as comprising four forms of knowledge with associated VCs which, when observed/invoked (i.e. during everyday interaction) realize historically/culturally imbued (strategic) practices exerting par- ticular ‘effects’. Moreover, as Giddens (1977: 145, emphasis added; see also Thompson, 1982) asserts, Habermas appears to treat the fourth claim ‘as an overarching category: the other three are elements within commu- nication’. Hence, language use and the issue of intelligibility are crucial and this further substantiates centralizing talk-in-interaction. The next
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subsection provides a highly selective and condensed account of ethno- studies due to both space considerations and given this paper’s prime objective.
The Scope of Contribution of Ethno-Studies
Recognizing that the founder of ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967; Heritage 1984) has ‘generated considerable controversy’ (Turner, 1988: 95), the focus of this paper remains upon a core feature of this per- spective and approaches such as CA (Sacks, 1992; see also Boden, 1994; Boden and Zimmerman, 1991; Silverman, 1998) and those working from within the pragmatics tradition (see Levinson, 1983; Harris, 1995). This concerns a methodology for describing in intricate and fine-grained detail, members everyday ‘ethno’-methods and mundane reasoning pro- cedures or resources for producing ‘social order’. Seminal studies of turn-taking, adjacency pairs, membership categorization devices, use of personal pronouns, and so on and so forth, together with a sensitivity to basic ethnomethods such as ‘knowing’ when to ‘question, gloss, let pass’ (Turner, 1988), do bring into stark view the complex and elusive forms of background knowledges/expectancies which furnish that basic com- petency in terms of knowing how to ‘go on’ (Giddens, 1984). Indeed, even ostensibly trivial forms of language-use such as personal pronouns are shown to be crucial ‘resources’ for indexing and constituting a network of social and political relations (Malone, 1997). Furthermore, the defining feature for a number of these approaches (simply and collectively termed ‘ethno-studies’ here) is audio-recording naturally occurring talk-in-interaction. This is listened to again and again fol- lowed by detailed transcription to yield empirical materials such as the two brief extracts reproduced shortly.
In this paper, only four linguistic features are touched upon. They are purposefully selected because they yield further analytical texture to a ‘capillary’ image of power relations and, ultimately, the constitution of power effects. Numerous issues have had to be set aside here and this includes three long-standing debates. First, whether to remain transcript ‘intrinsic’ (as some branches of CA do) and/or ‘extrinsic’ (embracing ethnographic components arising from observations, etc.) (Nelson, 1994; Moerman, 1992; Samra-Fredericks, 1996, 1998, 2004a); Second, disagree- ments over what differentiates CA from discourse analysis (DA) and/or critical discourse analysis (CDA), especially if one were to extend description to embrace critique (Schegloff 1997, 1998, Wetherell 1998; see also Jayyusi, 1991; Mckenna, 2004). Finally, as linked to this latter issue, the apparent neglect of ‘power’ or an ‘institutional vision’ (Reed, 1992: 155) which leads to the claim that ‘broader structures’ are ‘a significant omission in the collective research pursued by the ethnome- thodologists’. This last issue demands brief comment given that power is one focal ‘concept’ here. One reason why power is seen as neglected may be due to an insistence within some branches of ethno-study (e.g. CA)
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that analysts only attend to those matters which are observable and orientated to by the participants. The question then is—how is power, gender, class and so on observable and demonstrably orientated to?
While it is beyond the scope of this paper to launch into a defense of CA for example, it is also too simple to say that ‘power’ is neglected and to do so ‘misrepresents’ their enterprise (Button, 1991; Heritage, 1997) as recent studies of institutional talk have begun to show. Others have more directly responded to claims that this approach neglects power. For example, Heritage (1997: 179) not only outlines six places to probe the institutionality of talk, he also contends that CA ‘may end up with an affinity with a rather Foucauldian conception of power’:
[the] view that power inheres in institutional knowledge, classifications, knowhow and normative arrangements is compatible with the conversa- tion analytic view that it is created, renewed and operationalized in many disparate but interlocking facets of the organization of interaction.
Silverman (1998: 17) also observes that the founder of CA, Sacks (1992) displayed a sensitivity to the political/motivated nature of interaction and, given the two extracts reproduced here, the point that the ‘categories we use in our descriptions are instruments of social control, and, con- tested categories are one way that one does rebellion’. Overall then, the interest is in how apparently enduring structural/institutional facets which characterize our current epoch (e.g. as discourses) are routinely and mundanely observed/invoked, orientated to and made meaningful and consequential in the here-and-now.
We turn now to the two brief illustrations and explore how the two social science traditions touched upon here assist analytical efforts to prise open how strategists subtly observe/invoke a constellation of discourses and constitute that matrix of ‘effects’. More specifically, a fleeting glimpse of how one strategist (hereafter SpA) exercised power [6] and consolidated his qualification ([4] and [7]) to ‘speak’ a ‘discourse of strategy’ and prohibit another (SpB) from doing so next-time-around is traced.
Illustrating Analytical Possibilities for Critical Studies of Strategic Practice
Ethnographic ‘Background’9
To begin to meet the empirical challenge, it has been suggested that talk- based ethnographies which generate detailed transcriptions of tape- recordings of strategists’ naturally occurring routines over time/space are called for. While only a snapshot (two brief extracts) is possible here, it is also important to note that:
each strip of interaction reproduced here is conceptualized as one layer or ‘minor move’ in a succession shaping or ‘producing’ beliefs, opinions, values, assumptions, feelings, perceptions, meanings and so on. (Samra- Fredericks, 2003a: 152)
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In other words, and given this paper’s particular focus, the analytical claims surrounding the constitution of power effects glimpsed across the two extracts reside upon a complex embeddedness of lived experience which in this instance did ‘laminate’ (Boden, 1994)10 into something more enduring. It was actively accomplished by one strategist (SpA) and both extracts were deemed to be ‘turning points’ given what transpired then-and-there and thereafter. The core group of six white male strate- gists were occupied with an on-going strategic investment programme, as well as exploring future possibilities. As the fieldwork progressed, a series of organizational weaknesses were deemed to exist or rather were constituted as traced in the earlier account. Part of this accomplishment resided upon demonstration that their major competitors were installing sophisticated IT systems which were deemed to yield ‘cost savings’ and secure ‘shorter innovation lead times’. Hence, aspects of ‘mimetic iso- morphism’ (DiMaggio and Powell, 1991) as an interpersonal phenomena was underway. Crucial to this accomplishment were the periodic face-to- face contests which pivoted around the two ‘Es’ of Efficiency and Effectiveness, and this instrumental rationality pervaded their ‘doings’ as discerned across both extracts. Overall:
[i]n very broad descriptive terms . . . a simple ‘top-down’ logic. . .[after-the- event, was] discerned . . . as follows: the espoused/deliberate strategy was one of growth through acquisition (in Europe initially); but, to be in a position to acquire other companies they needed to be competitive (to raise finance and be seen as credible by city investors and the parent company for example); to secure such ‘competitive advantage’ in their sector, one critical success factor was perceived to be a sophisticated and integrated IT infrastructure for cellular manufacturing; so, IT was a core competence; ergo, a weakness in IT capability undermined their strategic ‘intent’. . .This emerging ‘sector’ based knowledge . . . still needed to be invoked and made meaningful. (Samra-Fredericks, 2003a: 149–50)
Alongside a weakness in IT capability, the second was in a lack of strategic thinking. So how did SpA observe/invoke an ‘expert knowledge’ which a discourse of strategy promulgates to define this to be ‘true’? Interestingly too, across both extracts, there is no overt strategy talk as orthodox accounts would suggest—talking/doing SWOT analyses or appraisals of X strategic choices, etc. However, if, as Knights and Morgan (1991: 257) propose, ‘the central elements of a discourse of strategy’ is ‘the planned relationship between the market and the internal charac- teristics of the organization’, then both extracts are fleeting moments of strategists’ everyday efforts to identify, contest, evaluate (and which they then eventually rectify) perceived shortfalls in internal (IT) capability given their perceptions of ‘external’ Markets and Industry norms. It is, though, through speaking as they do that they constitute these weak- nesses (i.e. enact ‘environment’—Weick, 1979). What is also noticeable across both extracts is an observable increase in interpersonal energy (between SpA and SpB) which here, points to the possibility that
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competing VCs were being made. The understanding that shared ‘stocks of knowledge’ provide for the four VCs which constitute the ‘background consensus’, also suggests that this ‘consensus’ can, as both Thompson (1982) and Turner (1988) note, be ‘shaken’ by questioning VCs. Like Garfinkel’s (1967) breaching experiments (and given background expec- tancies), if participants challenge another’s claims and the background consensus is ‘shaken’ (Thompson, 1982), then interaction ‘stalls’ and a subtle cycle of questioning another’s ‘representation of facts’ (VC1) or, aspects of their relational rubrics (VC2), etc., can follow. These moments are analytically rich since the everyday ‘smoothness’ of interaction is disrupted.
Two Fleeting Moments with Some Lasting ‘Effects’—Deploying Habermas’ Schema for Critical Analyses of Strategic Practice
Extract 1
Sp A well in fact I would have argued that cost should never have been a criteria if our strategy and policy was to run cross company modules on mainframe (.) cost should not have entered into the discussion
5 Sp B Sp B
Sp A
w:ell [I think where accountants are making decisions its got [unless unless it not not
=well, I I don’t think accountants cannot make decisions even accountants cannot make decisions which contradict company policy
[See Appendix 1 for simplified transcription conventions]. (reproduced from Samra-Fredericks, 2003a: 157)
As noted in the earlier ethnographic account, strategists A and B are providing competing descriptions of what accountants can and cannot do. In terms of this paper, this is one aspect of their ‘external world’ which they invoke and, through doing so, each raises and looks to redeem VC1 which revolves around whose depiction of facts in this setting are to be legitimated. Closely linked to this are the contextual norms and associated VC2 of what are to be taken as ‘correct’ relations here-and-now. It is also one moment subtly activating interpersonal negotiations around the prerogative of management vis-a-vis strategists and associated efforts to anchor a subjective identity [7]. According to SpB, when accountants are making decisions ‘cost’ should enter the discussion, this is deemed to be correct behaviour and a ‘fact’. Yet this focus on cost was interpreted, that is demonstrably orientated to by SpA given his utterances here (and referral to ‘company policy’ and use of ‘even’, as discussed shortly), as a neglect of a longer-term perspective where investment demands suspension of short-term focus upon costs. It is also interesting to note that an inanimate ‘object’ or artifact which they
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are ostensibly engaged in producing—a strategy/policy—was itself deployed to curb the action possibilities of accountants. It was animated (to advantage as it transpires by SpA) and vested with a ‘power’ which remained undisputed—a taken-for-granted.
While this is one minute illustration of the ways speakers routinely invoke the ‘rights and obligations’ ostensibly tied to organizationally based roles, ethno-scholars would interrogate this exchange in terms of a membership category dispute which allows us to excavate what usually remains implicit/taken-for-granted in terms of cultural knowledges (re)producing social structure. For example, through scrutiny of partici- pants orientations here (and subsequently), their particular (culturally derived) notions of ‘category boundedness’, that is, which sorts of activ- ities can be conventionally tied (category-bound) to ‘accountant’ and, more implicitly here, strategists, can be discerned. Moreover, it is an instance of ‘members routinely topicalis[ing the] moral features of action and discourse’ and, in so doing, ‘politicize’ it (Jayyusi, 1991: 248). In perhaps more obvious terms, a conventional wisdom surrounding the ‘moral duty’ of accountants which inherently elevates cost/finance as the global measure for all things is being claimed by SpB. His assertion raises VC1 and the inherent means-end rationality where cost and notions of effectiveness and efficiency are being suggested as met and that this is correct behaviour (VC2). Furthermore, he arguably asserts his position as a ‘valid knower’ on the basis that the ‘truth’ value he invokes refers to his known world of actions since he originally trained as an accountant himself. This is potentially problematic if others orientate to this utter- ance as inferring a functional positioning on SpB’s part (as SpA skillfully does in his next turn).
At L1–4 and 7–8, SpA articulated a competing representation of facts to praxiologically constitute ‘truths’ and an alternative conception of what are ‘legitimately ordered interpersonal relations’ (VC2). Indeed, he acti- vates another aspect of their ‘external world’—a corporate one—through this apparently simple referral to ‘our strategy and policy’. His declared basis for forwarding himself as the more ‘valid knower’ was subtly signaled here through aligning a ‘self’ to ‘strategy’ through ‘our’ (personal pronouns discussed shortly)—corporate positioning is claimed. Simply, the ‘background consensus’ concerning the (superior) status of ‘strategy’ is observed/invoked and put-to-work. As a taken-for-granted broad form of knowledge characterizing their ‘external’ world, we can speculate it would have proved difficult to dislodge. What transpired was that SpA’s assertions went unchallenged as the subsequent exchanges revealed and, in speaking in this way, he did eventually anchor specific conceptions of the external and social domain of reality. In other words, as this ‘minor move’ laminated onto next minor moves (Boden, 1994; Samra-Fredericks, 2003a: 151–2), SpA constituted a series of ‘effects’ (elaborated shortly). In terms of this paper, he effectively positioned accountants as breaching localized contextual norms and thus VC2 surrounding correctness was
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opened up to inspection and swiftly redeemed in a way which dis- advantaged others—here, SpB given SpA’s demonstrable orientation to an inferred alignment with a functional role by SpB. This first extract also provides a glimpse of SpA’s expression of his ‘inner world’/subjective state, simply ‘labeled’ as ‘frustration’ here and to which we turn to more explicitly in the next extract. In addition, further analytical texture to this and the next extract will be provided when the four linguistic features are discussed shortly.
In this second extract, there is a more overt expression of SpA’s subjective state where ‘frustration’ quickly escalated into anger which is suggestive in this setting of an important issue (to that individual) needing resolution. In terms of this paper, SpA is thematizing the sincerity claim (VC3) while simultaneously investing effort to meet VC2 and redeem the ‘truth’ (VC1) regarding an external/objective realm couched in terms which a ‘discourse of strategy’ promulgates. We do need to remember, though, that VC3 in terms of ‘truthfulness’ or being taken as sincere is redeemed/demonstrated over a period of time. It is also recognized that when considering the emotional realm of human interaction, tone of voice is important yet potentially inaccessible in transcribed accounts. Compared to CA transcription practices, the fol- lowing representation is severely limited but serves our present pur- poses. Here, emotional expressiveness is accounted for through speaker’s emphasis (in italics) and rising intonation (underlined) (Samra- Fredericks, 2003a, 2004b).
Extract 2
MD 5 Sp C
Sp C
but [name of MD] I’m (.) I don’t want
to sound as if I’m always defending [name of IT consultant used] but I I am =

= but you are yeah
he can do in two days what a rookie programmer =
MD = right=
Sp C Sp D
10 Sp C Sp A
= would would take five days = = but for [that argument
[for six to nine months but [not forever! and if [yes
[Sp D]
Sp A
Sp C um
[don’t take the step you’ve got [surname of IT [and thats
consultant] forever
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15 Sp D [yes quite
Sp A [sometime you’ve gotta bite the bullet otherwise

you’re frozen [rigid in time
(reproduced from Samra-Fredericks, 2003a: 163–4)
The opening comment of ‘always defending’ the consultant is itself subsequently defended on the basis of meeting organizational needs. SpC suggests that the proposed line of action is an ‘efficient means for attaining an end’ (VC1)—set against a generalized background consensus or ‘end-points’ such as securing competitive advantage and here, given past conversations, realizing an ostensibly shared strategic intent to grow in Europe. At L5 and L7, he specifically re-asserts the technical compe- tency of the external consultant. He enacts VC1, that is, ‘truths’ evoking specific conceptions of a means-end rationality and the superior compe- tence of the consultant together with VC2—where securing the services of a consultant(cy) is deemed as ‘correct and proper’ behaviour. In sum, he invests effort to constitute an external and social world where the action of maintaining the contract with the IT consultancy is ‘efficient and effective’—our 2 Es pointing to an instrumental rationality—which the managing director seems to acknowledge (L6). These strategists had been periodically exposed to competing ‘ideas’ which may crystallize into conceptions of what strategists should do. Here, it concerns ideas around ‘outsourcing’ as being an effective and efficient route versus the in-house development and protection of key resources which constitute nebulous notions such as ‘critical success factors’ and/or a ‘core compe- tence’. When the early cacophony of ‘voices’ (from business school academics, management gurus, consultants, etc.) do sediment into a convention(al wisdom), then there is a sort-of ‘ready-made’ legitimacy available to these strategists. Here, one critical success factor was deemed to be possessing internal IT capability and we witness here its elusive ‘point of entry’ into their world of practice. Yet, at that specific time they did not know if SpC’s or SpA’s proposed course of action will deliver the sought-after outcomes only the strength of the argument will ‘make it so’ in this here-and-now. But once made so and resources are allocated accordingly, then it can easily become so (unless there is another dispute re-channeling financial and human resources).
Returning to this competing representation and efforts to redeem a claim to ‘truth’ (VC1) and correctness (VC2), SpA contends that it is incorrect behaviour to employ a consultant ‘forever’ but what assisted him in redeeming these VCs was his integral expression of anger (VC3) and use of metaphors which also (aesthetically) aims to meet the VC4 to intelligibility. They face a stark choice: to ‘bite the bullet’ (L16) or ‘otherwise you’re frozen rigid in time’ (L16–17, ‘you’re’-pronoun use is discussed shortly).11 This is a form of ‘language’ they seemingly under- stood given: next utterances; the researcher’s knowledge of them derived
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from fieldwork over a period of time and; a discourse of strategy. Indeed, he integrally invokes what ‘particular sorts of persons’ (strategists) should do here. Once again, from an ethno-perspective, excavating the tacit cultural knowledges being ‘put-to-work’ and demonstrably ori- entated to by the participants is called for. In particular, it concerns the elusive ways that the ‘membership category’ of ‘strategist’ is evoked here and tied to a category boundedness which a discourse of strategy osten- sibly promulgates. It is un-contentious to assert that it is seeped in a particular temporal mode (futures) which evokes particular conceptions of moral accountability for those who endeavor to take up the category ascription—‘strategist’. That is, they should take firm action now and keeping the consultancy is suggestive of a short-term expensive route which may last for ‘forever’. Indeed, is it not a ‘fact’ that strategists are those who take difficult yet decisive forward-looking actions to evade being ‘frozen rigid in time’?
The masculine ‘ring’ of such metaphors is also one mundane illustra- tion of how that elusive link between a discourse of strategy and ‘masculinity’ constituting a gendered identity [4] materializes during spoken interaction. Arguably, this gendered identity is further con- solidated when particular emotions are expressed and effectively tied to the rational/external domain as was the case here. Being angry (extract 2) or impatient/ frustrated (extract 1) (etc.) and once taken as meeting the correctness issue in terms of both an appropriate level and type of emotion (observance of local contextual norms) for ‘people like them’ and when meeting the basic protocols of human interaction (constituted through employing basic mitigating linguistic resources, touched upon shortly) assisted SpA in his efforts to establish his ‘truth’ (VC1) concern- ing the external/objective world and which a discourse of strategy encapsulates (e.g. 2Es, longer term, identifying organizational weak- nesses, etc.). We see then that a ‘capillary’ image of power relations is also one fueled by specific forms of emotional expressiveness when face- meets-face. In this setting for these individuals, such displays are one way to fend off possible challenges to one’s account of truths and hence, representation of ‘facts’.
While recognizably brief, we do begin to discern how further analytical depth to Knights and Morgan’s (1991) observation that a discourse of strategy ‘reflects and sustains a strong sense of gendered masculinity’ for male managers [4] is possible. When attention is turned to their everyday interactive routines, the ways these (male) speakers express ‘hard’ emo- tions such as frustration, anger, impatience, etc., does assist their con- stitution of a gendered masculinity [4]. Furthermore, masculine metaphor-use can consolidate this lived experience. This is also one glimpse of what Clegg et al. (2004) briefly mention as ‘phallocentric thinking’ (or rather ‘talking/doing’) constituting strategic practice. With- out doubt, in speaking in this way, SpA conveyed ‘control’ over a ‘precarious world’ which Knights and Morgan (1991: 263) observe
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instigates an ‘instrumental-purposive model’ of action, and assisting this constitution of effect [4].
At that moment in time (and thereafter as it transpired), interpersonal leverage was granted to SpA. Hence, he did exercise power [6] while simultaneously constituting [4] and [3]. Furthermore, both these moments are glimpses of him actively engaged in ‘demonstrat[ing] a managerial rationality’ [5] to colleagues and which he subsequently consolidates and then demonstrates to more remote others (Factory workers, Parent Company). Equally, in speaking as he does here, SpA invoked and did make meaningful and consequential his conception of those who can take up the subject position of strategist [7]. As a moment- by-moment accomplishment it demanded split-second forms of inter- personal positioning. ‘Pronoun use’ is arguably one basic resource for taking up such ‘positions’. While faced with immense space pressure here, just four basic linguistic resources are touched upon next12 and each are purposefully selected to focus upon the constitution of a relational rubric. In other words, the objective is confined to further indicating how this move to supplementation holds promise of rendering a ‘capillary’ image of power relations and the everyday interactional constitution of ‘power effects’ to further analysis.
Ethno-Studies and Analytical Routes for Critical Analyses of Strategic Practice
First, pronoun use (incidentally also one of Habermas’ ‘pragmatic univer- sals’): at the most basic level this is the noticeable feature of any ‘capillary’ image of power relations since positions are taken up with and/or against others and objects through employment of linguistic forms such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘our’, etc. In this light, they are essential scaffold- ing for the constitution of one pivotal ‘power effect’ a discourse of strategy gives rise to—(inter-)subjectivity as ‘particular sorts of per- sons’[7], in this case, as strategists who accrue status and privilege. In terms of the analyses conducted, personal pronouns pragmatically enabled these strategists to accomplish the following: align and position each other favourably (or not) against issues and even objects (like a ‘strategy’ in extract 1); to index a specific networks of relationships in the here-and-now, and; invoke ‘authority’ (e.g. through ‘our’/‘we’ which ‘works’ to attach speakers to status-inducing others and objects). For example, in extract 1, we witness the assertive use of ‘I’ by SpB (L5) and, whilst echoing the linguistic combination forwarded by him, SpA’s ‘well I don’t think’ (L8) is a combative positioning of claimed institu- tional identities which then unravels against what accountants can and cannot do as discussed earlier. Second, ‘our’, when tied to ‘strategy’ in this here-and-now, not only aligned Sp A with this object, but it also presumed a shared ‘external world’ (and hence, subtly assists re- deeming VC1) to which they then orientated to alongside simultane- ously invoking the issue of joint responsibility (correctness VC2) where,
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once again, a claimed institutional identity—as strategist—is observed/ invoked in such taken-for-granted ways.
A third example revolves around SpA’s ‘you’ve’ (L11 and 16) and ‘you’re’ (L17, both in extract 2). This evokes a generalized ‘other’ in terms of ‘what tends to (or needs to) happen’ or what is normal. Working from a CA and Goffmanian perspective, Malone (1997) illustrates that even simple referrals to ‘you know’ during talk-in-interaction ‘works’ to evoke shared experiences and knowledges which the researcher here proposes can assume a normalizing or disciplinary tendency (Samra-Fredericks, 2003c). On this occasion, usage was also intricately tied to spectres of failure which in Knights and Morgan’s terms assisted the rationalizing of ‘failure’ and which correspondingly pointed to this speaker’s concep- tion of what would constitute success [1] as promulgated by a discourse of strategy (i.e. failure would arise from ignoring internal organizational weaknesses and success comes from taking hard decisions which ‘copy’ strengths ostensibly enabling them to control ‘environment’ or ‘the market’).
Turning to the second feature: across both extracts, mention has already been made of speakers invoking ‘membership categories’. In extract 1, there was explicit referral to ‘accountants’ and, in extract 2, to ‘consultants’ and ‘rookie programmers’ and, more implicitly across both extracts, to the category of ‘strategist’. Whilst space considerations here prevent a full ethnomethodologically informed analysis, through such referrals, forms of tacit cultural knowledges, expertise and know-how is invariably claimed (and disputed). From a CA perspective, Psathas (1999) suggests that types of culturally shared knowledge about social structure are invoked through such category devices (re)producing it and inherent forms of moral obligations and attachment patterns. This is one way that the ostensibly wider/macro and enduring (and when observed, poten- tionally constraining) structural aspect is accounted for without losing the knowledgeable ‘actor’ who ‘makes’ it so. Sacks’ (1992) seminal contribution also incisively noted that ‘category’ descriptions are ‘instru- ments of social control’ and here, the referral to ‘accountant’ and what is to be tied to this category (activities or properties conventionally bound) —did realize both symbolic and material consequences for the two speakers. In swiftly downgrading accountants and given SpA’s demon- strable ‘moves’ to draw particular inferences from SpB’s utterance as an indication of alignment with this category, SpB too was downgraded and eventually displaced altogether as moments laminated onto others over a relatively short period of time. An evaluative element regarding what sort of person would say certain things—around costs and ignoring ‘strategy’ or proposing the expensive employment of IT consultants, became sug- gestive (as made so by SpA) of category ascriptions which were unfavour- able. SpA intricately exercised his prerogative to make such judgments. Indeed, this is one everyday illustration of something which was difficult
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to study first-hand in Mangham and Pye’s (1991: 132) insightful study of executives. As one executive says:
[h]ow the hell do you tell competence? I think its something that people assess in other people, in talking to them and listening to them and studying their performance.
It is through deploying four forms of knowledge which ‘make-up’ a discourse (of strategy, masculinity), that strategists/executives perform and conform to dominant notions of what constitutes competence within their fields of practice.
In making a more explicit link to Habermas’ schema, the use of both pronouns and category descriptions are clearly part of basic language use needing to meet the VC4 of intelligibility but also needing to meet the correctness VC2 in complex ways. This also applies to the third note- worthy feature. This is the use of modalizing terms which facilitate ‘extreme case formulations’ (Pomerantz 1986) and, in terms of this paper, alerts us to the notion of competing claims being raised and efforts to redeem them. It was significant that SpA deployed these formulations during these conflictual moments or, more accurately, it is through deploying these sorts of formulations that he constitutes conflict/dissent and assembles the integral emotional terrain of anger. Examples of such formulations here are: ‘never’ and ‘even’ (extract 1) and ‘forever’ (extract 2) which enabled SpA to accuse and argue and so accomplish distant/dissent (for further details, see Samra-Fredericks, 2003a). Furthermore, interpersonal control is undertaken through such combative terms (which here aims to confine the scope of, or trivialize particular membership categories) while also assisting emotive exaggera- tions and the realization of an aggressiveness which arguably constitutes a gendered masculinity [4].
These formulations can be interpersonally demanding since, for exam- ple, if one were to seek clarification of the use of ‘forever’—perhaps declared upon the basis of ‘exaggeration’, it would almost certainly constitute a ‘breaching experiment’ of the sort undertaken by Garfinkel’s (1967) students. We may imagine a response along the lines of—‘what do you mean asking me about the basis of “forever”’? This would expose the rhetorical nature of talk and more specifically this, as an instance of hyperbole (Nash, 1989; Samra-Fredericks, 2004b). While asking such questions is the route for realizing Habermas’ notion of rational con- sensus, given the reasons noted earlier, this remains problematic. Econ- omy also enters the interpersonal realm (Turner, 1988) as too does the need to avoid extreme forms of interpersonal collision, also echoed in our fourth feature.
In terms of this paper, when competing VCs are being forwarded and contested, then the use of mitigating linguistic forms ‘work’ to maintain a more fundamental relational rubric which points to wider social obliga- tions or established protocols of human interaction (Goffman 1967, Turner 1988; see also Brown and Levinson, 1978). They are clearly
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suggestive of Habermas’ social world where effort to redeem the correct- ness VC2 is called for. Across both these fleeting conflictual moments, we see mitigation undertaken through employment of the discourse markers ‘well’ (extract 1) and ‘but’ (extract 2) (Schiffrin 1987; see also Boden 1995 and further details in Samra-Fredericks, 2003a). There is no intention to repeat points made elsewhere but simply to observe that well fulfilled its pragmatic function in signaling forthcoming dissonance and thus, in this paper’s terms, ‘worked’ to mitigate the spiral of claim and counter-claim. This is also echoed when turning to extract 2 and but. This marker fulfilled its function of ‘speaker return’ to ‘point make’ and, in this case, as each speaker took their turn, they attempted to modify (L1, 3, 4) or to overtly challenge (L8 and 9) the previous speaker’s efforts. The critical overlay here turns our attention to how the employment of such basic mitigating linguistic resources not only ‘work’ to redeem a more funda- mental notion of correctness VC2—assembling reasonableness and observable deference to another’s ‘face’ (Goffman, 1967), they also subtly and intricately assist disputing another’s representation of ‘facts’ and thus potentially facilitate the exercise of power [6]. Hence, even some- thing so ostensibly trivial as ‘well/but’ fuels that capillary image of power relations alongside emotional expressiveness noted earlier. We see, then, that not only do mitigating linguistic features protect ‘face’ and meet basic moral obligations, but also they assist the interpersonal production of ‘argument’ in ways which can eventually consolidate effects [1] and [3] to [7].
While this section has been necessarily brief it does, nevertheless, substantiate the full import of a point made by Ezzamel and Willmott (2004: 45). They argue from a Foucauldian perspective that power effects are realized from ‘language ordering the world in particular ways’. For those who can claim (from being qualified in various ways) legitimate access to a discourse (here, of strategy), then a close study of their simple employment of a word such as ‘strategy’, while potentially dismissed by some as trivial, reveals that it has much symbolic significance and material consequentiality when skillfully spoken/deployed and com- bined with other features at the right time and in the ‘correct’ way. It can provide for momentary interpersonal leverage then-and-there as glimpsed in extract 1 which then yields that vital interpersonal platform for next-time-around-interaction where such leverage is potentially con- solidated further. Indeed, through simply arranging ‘objects’ (‘cost’, ‘strategy’/policy (etc)) and categories of persons (accountants, rookie programmers, IT consultants) and themselves vis-a-vis others (‘I’ in extract 1 and ‘you’ve’ in extract 2) SpA did ‘order’ their world and render it knowable and seemingly controllable (to advantage) [6] while simulta- neously coming to ‘know’ himself as ‘strategist’ [7].
Having researched differently and through employing Habermas’ schema and turning to fine-grained analysis of language-use as under- taken by ethno-approaches, a contingent and complexified notion of
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‘competence’ constituting strategic practice can be examined and retained.
Tracing the Constitution of Power Effects and Complexifying Competence
In this company and following these sorts of encounters, SpA was ‘taken’ as the more ‘valid knower’ (Harris, 1995) in terms of truth/facts and correctness/rightness and thus he effectively redeemed VCs 1 and 2 in ways glimpsed here while also seemingly consolidating VC3—that is being taken as sincere. In terms of extract 1, what happened next was that their talk revolved around establishing the ‘contents’ of their company policy and further identifying how accountants’ practice departed from it and who seemed to condone this departure (i.e. be blamed!). Unfortunately, SpB was aligned with accountants—a potential inference orientated to and made consequential by SpA as glimpsed here. Sub- sequent interactions continued to subtly deprive SpB of the ‘resources’ to characterize Habermas’ external and social world relations and hence he was unable to take-up a viable subject position [7] as ‘strategist’ or maintain his prerogative to strategize [2] next-time-around.
In extract 2, discussions seemingly revolved around whether they should retain a contract with an IT consultancy or build up internal IT capability. Essential to any such evaluation was their perception of the ‘market’ and ‘competitors’. SpA actively projected ‘organization’ into the future in ways which seemed plausible against such perceptions. This plausibility was ‘supplied’ by forms of conventional wisdom which imbue a discourse of strategy with ‘logics’ which are difficult to contest. Indeed, while their efforts purportedly revolved around providing a ‘solution’ to an apparently self-evident ‘problem’, this ‘discourse’ as selectively invoked by speakers (especially SpA) came to constitute the absence of internal IT capability as a ‘weakness’—a problem. Yet, who can say for sure that retaining an external consultancy to deliver IT capability would have been detrimental to long-term organizational survival? But if industry ‘norms’ (as perceived and invoked by SpA) pointed to internal IT capability as a core competence and a means for securing competitive advantage, then to ignore it surely suggests failure? [1]. SpA proceeded to rationalize [1] possibilities for ‘success’ in keeping with this scheme and inherently conveyed a sense of knowing and again ‘control’ over the environment. Hence, as Knights and Morgan (1991: 270) observe, in the ‘process of its formulation, strategy is actively involved in the constitution, or re-definition, of problems in advance of offering itself as a solution to them’.
In so doing, SpA also sustained a ‘strong sense of gendered mascu- linity’ [4] which, when sensitized to Habermas’ schema and from having access to their everyday ‘doings’ is found to be intricately consolidated through particular ‘types’ of emotional displays. Furthermore,
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Table 2. One representation of the scope of Interactional and Institutional Analyses
Habermas’ schema
Domains of reality
(and a Discourse of strategy)
Validity claims (no)
To accomplish or constitute power effects
‘The’ world of external nature
(1) Truth (or facts)
[1] Rationalizing process—Defines success or failure [5] Rationalizing process—Demonstrates to
e.g. Discourse of strategy, forms of objectified knowledge, ideas, tools and techniques
constituencies rational control over environment
[2] Prerogative of management ‘Our’ world of society
(2) Correct (or rightness) establishing social relations
And simultaneously assemble (or not) [3] Existential comfort
e.g. What strategies ‘do’ (expectations) — Norms/conventions
[4] Gendered masculinity [7] Subjective identity
‘My’ world or inner dispostion
(3) Sincerity
And so:
e.g. Expression of ‘hard’ emotions/feelings
(4) Intelligibility
[6] Exercise of power
Generally and e.g. phallocentric talk, jargon, war metaphors, etc.
Scope of ethnomethodologically inspired studies of naturally occuring talk
Recursive interaction processes
Key: [No] Knights and Morgan’s power effects;
scope of ethnomethodologically inspired studies of naturally occurring talk;
supplementing description with critique for a fine-grained route yielding further texture to the constitution of claims-making and ‘Power effects’.
To accomplish or constitute power effects
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ethno-approaches provide further analytical texture to this accomplish- ment (e.g. through speaking ‘extreme case formulations’ and/or mascu- line metaphor use). In this fashion, power was exercised [6] with consequences beyond these moments and immediate colleagues to reach distanced others (the factory and office based employees, the Parent company). This paper could only offer a fleeting glimpse. It is hoped, though, that we begin to see how, for example, a taken-for-granted ‘idea’ or knowledge [2] seemingly attached to people like them (vested with the obligation to ensure the organization’s survival) is invoked in the here- and-now and made meaningful and consequential: one where they should be proactive and take tough decisions and look to the longer term if they are to effectively assume the mantle of ‘strategist’ [7]. The productive aspect of power-in-action is witnessed too.
Even when deprived of resources which furnish productive elements [6] and [7] as SpB was, he still engaged in ‘resistance’ to another’s conception of the external and social worlds. In this way, he too con- stitutes a subjective identity as noted by Knights and Morgan (1991) but not the sought after identity of effective strategist. If similar instances are experienced, as was the case here, then we can speculate that SpB experienced an erosion of personal/existential security [3] and perhaps a weaker ‘sense of gendered masculinity’[4]. What we know is that he eventually left this company. Indeed, an opportunity (made so by SpA here) was seized to redeem VC1 so that ‘truths’ or ‘facts’ were praxio- logical constituted in ways which actually laid the groundwork for the realization of asymmetrical power relations which crystallized over a relatively short period of time. Through seemingly simple efforts to describe and position, for example, the role of accountants and what strategists should do as a discourse of strategy promulgates, a seed was planted but its significance was accomplished and supported through subsequent demonstration (building up) of ‘facts’ which pointed to prior neglect and failure.
Given our focus upon the interactional constitution of effects, analy- tical precision demands that we observe that SpA advantageously and simultaneously constituted those effects concerning the ‘self’ [3], [4] and [7] during moments such as those glimpsed here and when similar moments or ‘moves laminate’ onto the next and the next (etc.) then not only are effects [1] and [5] constituted and made consequential, SpA also keeps intact his prerogative to strategize [2] next-time-around and comes to exercise power [6]. The level and scope of analysis also substantiates why prescriptions for effective practice is problematic and the following tentative visual representation echoes this stance (Table 2).
Effect [2] is located on the left hand side of Table 2 and concerns the way a ‘discourse of strategy’ ‘sustains and enhances the prerogative of management’. It is a taken-for-granted yet historically and culturally derived phenomena which nevertheless needs to be (re)produced in complex ways. In being inextricably intertwined with a normative or
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‘regulative’ aspect, it reproduces particular relational rubrics as normal and, hence, within Habermas’ schema, would encompass both external and social world relations. There is no spatial significance to the right- hand depiction of effects only that they are recursive and interactionally or processually constituted. Table 2 also minimally indicates the scope of ethno-studies (bottom darker shaded area) where the interest revolves around how Habermas’ principles are actually orientated to and ‘made operative’ during everyday routines. When such fine-grained description is allied with forms of critique, then a political pragmatics is more explicitly embraced (the extension and different ‘shading’ on the bottom right hand side).
In taking up the empirical and analytical challenge that Knights and Morgan’s seminal work gave rise to, this paper also sought to provide a critical overlay to an earlier ethnography and, in this way, demonstrate how alternative theoretical/analytical schema generate further under- standings of SasP. Here, it has been suggested that to trace the everyday interactional constitution of effect [1] and [3] to [7], one intervening analytical schema is the typology of four VCs (Table 2). This re- conceptualizes strategic practice as an inter-subjective process of speak- ing the procedural and routine aspects of four types of (contestable) validity claims, themselves rooted in four forms of knowledge which arguably ‘make-up’ any discourse. It is where our strategists are con- ceptualized as firstly ‘knowing individuals’ in a relation to an external world (all told) of events, ideas, things and facts. Second, they are emersed in a social world, interacting with others which necessitates the invoking of norms of interaction (such as broad expectations regarding what strategists’ do) and the inherent elusive relation-building skills and resources (such as personal pronouns). Third, they also express their ‘inner world’ of feelings and emotions tempered by background expec- tancies regarding notions of masculinity and femininity. The associated validity criteria are: that the ‘propositional content’ is true; that the ‘performative component’ is correct; and that one is sincere (Thompson, 1982). Furthermore, as ethno-approaches demonstrate, language use and hence Habermas’ fourth VC (intelligibly) is pivotal.
Here just four linguistic features were touched upon. Due to space considerations, the full import of ethnomethodological and associated approaches were deliberately set aside with effort being confined to indicating avenues which can provide further analytical texture if the interest is in the everyday interactional constitution of power effects or how relational rubrics are intricately constituted in the here-and-now. There was no intention (no space) to undertake a comprehensive analysis and numerous possibilities and issues remain unexplored, especially around investigating the interconnectedness or linkages between the two approaches, for example, in terms of the moral accountability of human
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‘action’ which ethno-scholars pursue with amazing patience. Yet, it is hoped that a sense of their contributory potential is conveyed from this brief incursion and that ethnomethodology’s foundational stance is acknowledged. Overall, these two social science traditions provide a means for examining the ways an essentially fluid and open lived experience becomes fixed to favour some while perpetuating the overall ‘status quo’. In this way too, we can meet the immense analytical challenge which Knights and Morgan’s paper gives rise to while also retaining a complexified notion of competence realizing strategic man- agement practices. The essential pre-requisite remains the need to access practitioners’ everyday world of talking/doing as outlined here if we are to meet the empirical challenge—how else can we research ‘how the discourse [of corporate strategy] is formulated, how resources and cul- tural meanings are drawn into its service and what are its effects’ (Knights and Morgan, 1991: 270) or, those six ‘concepts’ noted by Clegg et al. (2004)?
This research approach and analytical effort can also contribute to developing a critical pedagogy. Arguably, this is even more pressing within strategic management given its immense scope of action and intended/unintended consequences. Today, Grey (2004: 184–5; see also Whittington et al., 2003) argues that:
we find companies more then ever judged in moral and political terms (think of Enron) and managers who deal with issues whose complexity completely defies the abstractions and nostrums of management science, and the fraudulent promise of control they carry.
Grey adds that critical management education (CME) ‘can speak far more effectively to practice, if it can find the voice to do so. In this way, business schools could reinvent themselves . . . [moving from a situation where] business schools purport to be teaching “fact” when they actually teach “value”’. Strategizing and managing are imbued with ‘values’ which Knights and Morgan attend to in terms of a ‘discourse of strategy’. The approach outlined here begins to reveal how particular values are orientated to in ‘the everyday’ to realize an ostensibly objective world of action possibilities and how practitioners themselves constitute truths/ ‘facts’. Furthermore, we have a means for bringing this ‘lived experience’ into the classroom which Grey (2004: 183) argues ‘is a more promising vehicle for the introduction of messy, irrational complexity which is arguably closer to managerial realities’. This echoes an argument made elsewhere (Samra-Fredericks, 2003b). Just imagine developing detailed talk-based ethnographic studies of strategists-at-work which enable us to ‘expose’, examine, critique/question the ways taken-for-granted ‘social, moral, political and ideological ingredients of managerial work’ (Reed and Anthony, 1992: 601, cited in Samra-Fredericks, 2003b: 294) are spoken and made meaningful and consequential. From this ‘base’, we may have a means for:
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[a]t a minimum . . . management . . . [to] be taught in ways that explicitly acknowledge the political, ethical, and philosophical nature of its practice. (Grey, 2004: 180)
At the same time, we cannot assume that those who participate in (and instantiate) strategic/management practices want quick/simple ‘fixes’ and/or are purely driven by an instrumental rationality or narrow inter- ests and associated identity-needs. In the company from which the two illustrations here were drawn, at that time and amongst those individ- uals, there was no dispute, hesitation or questioning around what they were doing or why—hence, the inter-related discourses of strategy, capi- talism and masculinity were unreflexively observed/invoked, which then transformed them with ease into subjects who, as Knights and Morgan observe, derived their ‘sense of meaning, identity and reality’ through ‘participation’ in strategy practices. Ezzamel and Willmott (2004: 46) echo this too. Yet, approximately ten years later in one of two recently completed organizational ethnographies in a company employing ‘tens of thousands’ of employees, a Director of Strategy sought to observe/invoke other, still marginal, discourses. In this particular case, it was the ‘discourses’ of citizenship, family and a corporate social responsibility which took Grey’s (2004) notion of ‘justice and ecological well-being’ seriously. It demanded a sophisticated reflexivity on this Director’s part as he actively sought to resist the ‘disciplinary’ tendencies of a discourse of strategy (Samra-Fredericks, 2002; see also Knights and Samra- Fredericks, 2003). Equally, it was difficult to dismiss his efforts as careful moments of impression management given the fieldwork across time- space. But can such alternative discourses ‘take hold’? If, as Knights and Morgan (1991) argue, current notions of a discourse of strategy crystal- lized from the activities of a range of actors across different ‘sites’, then surely there are possibilities for change? (for recursiveness and theorizing possible points for disruption, see Figure 1 and Table 1).
It seems fitting then for this Director to have the last ‘say’ and to do so in a way which is suggestive of various analytical routes being currently pursued. Here, he and a colleague (senior strategic planner—SSP) are engaged in the ‘task’ of refining a formal strategy document which will be presented to the CEO who in turn will present it to the PLC Board. It is a humorous and yet also a serious investment of effort to avert ‘failure’. As a fleeting moment capturing efforts which constituted effects [1] and [5], alongside integral efforts to come off as plausible strategists [3]/[7] before superiors, they characterize ‘slow take up’ as being due to the ‘vagaries of the market’ which a ‘discourse of strategy’ promulgates (Knights and Morgan, 1991: 263):
right (.) principle reason for the slow take up (.) would never be price ‘cause that would make it look as if its our fault
oh you’re right it couldn’t be price = =[writes as he says >] ‘its the’=
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= lack of demand [laughs]
thats it its the stupid customers’ fault thats it [it
if our pri if our [solutions] doesn’t fit their [problem] [they’ve got

the wrong [problem]
A few minutes later, the Director amends the document to ‘read’: “there- fore (.) we are considering (.) options to look at cost and on prices to encourage (.) take up”—it seems we just cannot get away from that pervasive pair, problems/solutions!
In terms of the analytical avenues arising from this fieldwork, one revolves around how the inter-related discourses of capitalism and strategy, while saturated with particular conceptions of a moral order, and hence ‘values’, were subtly resisted by senior strategists. From an ethnomethodological perspective, the ways by which this Director sought to ‘topicalize’ the ‘moral features of action and discourse’ and, in so doing, ‘politicize’ it (see Jayyusi, 1991: 248) currently occupies the researcher. Second, from deploying Habermas’ schema, analytical inter- est revolves around how he ‘shakes’ the background consensus to ‘stall interaction’ and question fundamental claims to truth (VC1) without breaching the correctness VC2. Here, humour proves to be the ‘cutting’ resource (as fleetingly glimpsed here). A third avenue concerns how the processes of ‘making, taking’ and ‘reconciling’ VCs enabled some strate- gists to increase their stocks of knowledge and their capacity for inter- active discourse. This opens up a route for theorizing the everyday acquisition of social or cultural capital much of which is tacit in nature and which embraces interpersonal and institutional domains (variously represented in Figure 1 and Table 2). Fourth, and from turning to the second recently completed ethnography, the ways a female Vice Presi- dent sought to ‘take up’ the category ascription of ‘strategist’ proves fruitful for understanding how she anchored, made meaningful (and tolerable) and lived those complex linkages between the ‘discourses of strategy’ and ‘masculinity’.
Overall, in continuing to scrutinize aspects of the theoretical/ conceptual/analytical resources depicted across Tables 1 and 2 and Figure 1 against these sorts of detailed empirical materials, the researcher hopes others too will ‘plunge more deeply’ (Geertz 1973: 25) into practi- tioners’ everyday talk-in-interaction. In this way, we will complexify and move nearer to reflecting/preserving strategic practice as a lived phenom- ena. Furthermore, we will reveal not only the ways they intricately constitute their world(s) of action possibilities and that matrix of ‘power effects’ to advantage (or not), but also how it could be otherwise when we take such detailed studies into the classroom and engage in dialogue with
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both current and future practitioners. Could this become a different sort of ‘ideal speech situation’?
Appendix 1–Transcription Symbols (Simplified)
[ signals interruption
[ signals interruption
(.) signals a brief pause
[square brackets] contain references to names of people, financial figures, products etc.
or transcriber is unsure of exact word spoken
E::longated sound

= signals immediate latching on Italic signals emphasis
underlining signals rising intonation

This paper has taken the usual ‘twists and turns’ over the years and some of the people who I would like to thank may not recognize it in its present form! Nevertheless, I appreciate the encouraging words on an earlier draft provided by David Knights, Terry McNulty, David O’Donnell and Hugh Willmott. I am especially indebted to Glenn Morgan for his comments on this version and for expressing such confidence. Many thanks also to the anonymous reviewers for their comments
  1. 1  A Special Issue of Journal of Management Studies (2003) was devoted to the theme of ‘Micro-strategy and Strategizing’ and develops an agenda to exam- ine SasP ‘close-up’ (Johnson et al., 2003).
  2. 2  See Alvesson (2003: 25 also Alvesson and Skoldberg, 2000) for issues around a reflexive approach and ‘opening up and acknowledging the uncertainty of all empirical material and knowledge claims . . . [and] offering alternative lines of interpretation for how to use the [] material in thoughtful and creative ways’.
  3. 3  Both Habermas and Foucault attend to communication, power and the critical tradition (Deetz and Mumby 1990; see also Alvesson, 1996; Deetz and Mumby, 1995).
  4. 4  For example, a conference on ‘Garfinkel—a critical celebration’ (2002) held at Essex Management School.
  5. 5  Two examples of critical studies of ‘practical discourse’ within the manage- ment studies field are Alvesson (1996) and Forester (1992). The latter examined twelve turns-at-talk employing Habermas’ schema to indicate the ways social and political relations were collaboratively constituted.
  6. 6  The only ‘concept’ purposefully set aside in this paper is ‘non-human actors’ (whiteboards, laptops, etc.), although we will glimpse the way an apparently inanimate ‘object’—strategy—was deployed to discipline another (extract 1).
  7. 7  Habermas’ proposed ‘discursive justification of the validity claims’ is prob- lematic as Alvesson (1996) notes. It is where speakers may not be able to support and/or contest VCs concerning truth, correctness, sincerity and intelligibility because there is ‘genuine difference of interests; asymmetrical relations of power’—which, whilst realized during interaction can be
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severely weighted in favour of one individual against another. For example, institutional representatives such as magistrates speaking to witnesses (Harris 1995); ‘desires’ which are not ‘responsive to good arguments’; and the ‘competence of the individual, i.e., his or her reflective ability’.
  1. 8  During one of two recently completed ethnographies, the researcher work- shadowed and recorded the interpersonal routines of a female Vice President and one analytical route being pursued is her performance of masculinity and the issues that surrounded her displays of anger.
  2. 9  Summary derived from Samra-Fredericks (2003a).
  3. 10  For a theoretical discussion of this concept ‘laminate’ allied with micro–
    macro linkages, see, Samra-Fredericks (2003a: 151–52).
  4. 11  The perfomative aspect of metaphor use and rhetoric as emotion has been
    examined within other empirical materials (Samra-Fredericks, 2004b).
  5. 12  Further discussion of these and two other features are to be found in the original ethnography and each could easily consume a whole paper/
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Dalvir Samra-Fredericks is a lecturer at Nottingham Business School at The Nottingham Trent University. Her research interest is in managerial elites/strategists’ ‘real- time’ and everyday talk-based interactive routines constituting tasks, self/other and that entity commonly known as ‘organization’. She has published in Corpo- rate Governance, Journal of Management Studies, Management Learning, Culture and Organization and Human Relations. Her current research is exploring the inter-personal construction of identities, humour and ‘magic’. Address: Notting- ham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, Burton Street, Nottingham, NG1 4BU, UK. [email:]
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