Discourse and control

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Julian Barg https://jbarg.net

The currently dominating Maguire and Hardy school of discourse has a strong focus on the “officially sanctioned” version of discourse–conferences, dockets, and official comments. They have made invaluable contributions to the literature. There are now established methods for discourse analysis. The theory of institutional processes has advanced significantly since their early contributions (Hardy and Phillips 1999). We now understand that institutions limit what actors can say in a discourse (Maguire and Hardy 2013)–conversely, it could be said that exactly this limitation constitutes the institution (Maguire and Hardy 2006). Their contributions have illuminated the “wiggle room” that exists with regard to what can be said by whom, and how it allows for institutional entrepreneurship (Hardy and Maguire 2010) or deinstitutionalization (Maguire and Hardy 2009).

And yet when we inverse the central question, we are none the wiser: what cannot be said by whom, and why? Taken-for-grantedness is not exclusively a passive process–it is often actively enforced–albeit in a subtle manner (Steele 2021). Where we rely on the official version of discourse, we miss out on this facets: the processes that keep unsanctioned statements out of the official discourse; state-sanctioned actions to suppress statements; and efforts to shape the official discourse before it has even begun.

The following are some examples for illustration. (1) In an official meeting of the Nebraska Natural Resource Committee between the legislature, TransCanada, and the Sierra Club, the participants celebrate the latest decision to reroute Keystone XL and conduct a state-funded Environmental Impact Assessment. Senator Mark Christensen presses for Ken Winston of the Sierra Club to abide by the new status quo and cease resistance against the new route, since the demands of the Sierra Club were met (NRC 2011). (2) A public hearing on Keystone XL in Nebraska. A majority of participants seems concerned about the issue of pipeline safety. All questions concerning pipeline safety are rejected, since it is a matter for a national agency (PHSMA). (3) Following the President’s decision to revoke the permit for Keystone XL, TransCanada files a claim with the NAFTA arbitration in the amount of $15 billion. (4) Although indigenous groups make for some of the most persistent opponents of Keystone XL, their voice is rarely heard in the official discourse. Many of their claims revolve around treaty rights–the relevant authority is the national government. (5) Ahead of planned protests in Montana, governmental agencies create a “joint terrorism task force.” A police department vows to stop the protesters “by any means.”

The last example might seem far removed from the current debate on discourse and institutions–yet it is ironically the closest to Foucault’s original work (Foucault 1977). The control of the body is one of the central motives of his works–it is what constitutes the power in discourse. Discourse without the power to enforce is not discourse–it is just words that will probably vanish. The literature on discourse needs to consider what cannot be said by whom and why.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1st American ed. New York: Pantheon Books.
Hardy, Cynthia, and Steve Maguire. 2010. “Discourse, Field-Configuring Events, and Change in Organizations and Institutional Fields: Narratives of DDT and the Stockholm Convention.” Academy of Management Journal 53 (6): 1365–92. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2010.57318384.
Hardy, Cynthia, and Nelson Phillips. 1999. “No Joking Matter: Discursive Struggle in the Canadian Refugee System.” Organization Studies 20 (1): 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840699201001.
Maguire, Steve, and Cynthia Hardy. 2006. “The Emergence of New Global Institutions: A Discursive Perspective.” Organization Studies 27 (1): 7–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840606061807.
———. 2009. “Discourse and Deinstitutionalization: The Decline of DDT.” Academy of Management Journal 52 (1): 148–78. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2009.36461993.
———. 2013. “Organizing Processes and the Construction of Risk: A Discursive Approach.” Academy of Management Journal 56 (1): 231–55. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2010.0714.
NRC. 2011. “Transcript.” Lincoln, NE: Natural Resource Committee of the Nebraska Legislature. https://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/102/PDF/Transcripts/Natural/2011-11-15.pdf.
Steele, Christopher W. J. 2021. “When Things Get Odd: Exploring the Interactional Choreography of Taken-for-Grantedness.” Academy of Management Review 46 (2): 341–61. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2017.0392.



For attribution, please cite this work as

Barg (2021, Aug. 16). Julian Barg: Discourse and control. Retrieved from https://www.jbarg.net/posts/2021-08-16-discourse-and-control/

BibTeX citation

  author = {Barg, Julian},
  title = {Julian Barg: Discourse and control},
  url = {https://www.jbarg.net/posts/2021-08-16-discourse-and-control/},
  year = {2021}