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Human Relations

DOI: 10.1177/0018726706064179
Volume 59(3): 351–377
Copyright © 2006
The Tavistock Institute ®
SAGE Publications
London, Thousand Oaks CA,
New Delhi
www.sagepublications.com

Organizational discourse and


subjectivity: Subjectification during
processes of recruitment
Ola Bergström and David Knights

A B S T R AC T This article seeks to contribute to the debate on the relationship


between organizational discourses and subjectivity, revolving around
whether organizational discourses determine individual subjectivity
and the extent to which there is room for human agency. It does so
by providing empirical illustrations of how organizational discourses
constitute subjectivity during processes of recruitment in a large
American consultancy firm operating in Sweden. The analysis illus-
trates how interviewers, by various discursive moves, initiate,
support, control and follow up candidates’ decision to join the
company, as if it was an independent choice to join. Findings suggest
that to the extent that subjectification takes place during the recruit-
ment process it is dependent on the candidate’s use and acceptance
of organizational discourses as expressions of their own motives for
working at the company. These findings have implications for the
understanding of the relationship between organizational discourses
and individual subjectivity and how subjectification processes may be
studied in other practices and organizations. It argues that sub-
jectification is an effect of the interaction between human agency
and organizational discourses rather than in the determination of
one to the other. Any attempt to analyse the impact of organizational
discourse on individual subjectivity must take into account the possi-
bility that subjects actively take part in their own self-construction
and that this construction is produced in social interaction.

351

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352 Human Relations 59(3)

K E Y WO R D S organizational discourse  recruitment  subjectification 

subjectivity

Introduction

The relationship between organizational discourses and subjects is a


contested terrain (Hardy, 2001) largely revolving around the comparative
weight that is given to discourse in relation to the construction or consti-
tution of subjectivity. While there is great variability in the literature, some
are concerned that there may be a too ‘high powered and muscular view on
the capacity of discourse’ (Alvesson & Kärreman, 2000: 1140) to constitute
subjectivity. They address the ‘tendency to ascribe too much power to
discourse over, for example, fragile subjects and discourse driven social
reality’ (p. 1145). This tendency is believed to derive from following a
Foucauldian analysis where there seems to be little room for human agency
(Newton, 1998). In contrast to what is seen as Foucault’s deterministic view
of subjectivity as constituted by discourse, these authors want to focus more
on the power of human agency and other elements such as ‘emotions, convic-
tions and beliefs’ (Alvesson & Kärreman, 2000: 1132).
Here the notion of discourse provides theorists with the opportunity to
reformulate an old and perhaps worn-out debate postulating a dualism
between agency and structure or voluntarist and deterministic perspectives
(Giddens, 1979; Knights, 1997; Reed, 2000b). For example, discourse may
be seen, on the one hand, as so dominant as to leave little space for subjects
to influence its effects on them (Anderson-Gough et al., 2000; Ten Bos &
Rhodes, 2003) or, on the other hand, it may be open to agential intervention
(Hardy et al., 2000; Hodgson, 2000; Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2003). Thus,
subjects are seen either as determined or controlled by, or they are perceived
primarily as producers of, organizational discourses (Collinson, 2003).
While all these authors engage in empirical research, neither side in this
debate provide much empirical evidence of how and when organizational
discourses and subjectivity are integral to one another and mutually rein-
forcing, that is, how subjectification takes place in practice. This shortcom-
ing, we argue, is substantial. Relying upon a tradition of critical discourse
analysis that gives primacy to the relations between agency and structure
(Fairclough, 2005), this article argues that subjectification is an effect of the
interaction between human agency and organizational discourses rather than
a determinant of one or the other. Any attempt to analyse the impact of
organizational discourse on individuals must be cognizant of the way that
subjects often actively participate in the production of the self-same subjec-
tivity that constrains them.

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 353

This article offers empirical evidence in support of this claim from an


in-depth case study of one of the most common forms of organizational inter-
actions: recruitment interviews. Specifically, it draws upon field data
collected during the recruitment processes of a Swedish subsidiary of a large
American consultancy firm (hereafter given the pseudonym Amcon), aiming
at producing a match between the culture of the firm and the norms and
values of the individual, thus, a practice that may be regarded as an instance
of subjectification. Responding to McKinlay and Starkey (1998), we seek to
contribute to a better understanding of the process of subjectification.
This article consists of five sections. It begins by reviewing the debates
in studies of organizations that speak of organizational discourse and subjec-
tivity. It continues with a brief examination of how subjectification may be
studied empirically in the context of recruitment and then introduces the
empirical case study from which the data were drawn. After this, in section
four we turn to the findings of the empirical analysis of the recruitment inter-
views, discussing how they consist of a series of discursive moves where inter-
viewers initiate, support, control and follow up the candidates’ own concern
to work for the organization. It concludes by discussing the implications of
the study for furthering the understanding of the relationship between
organizational discourse and subjectivity and the critical analysis of
power/knowledge relations in organizations.

Subjectivity, organizational discourse and subjectification

The concept of subjectivity is important in studies of organizational discourse


(Phillips & Hardy, 2002). Since the introduction of Foucault to organiz-
ational studies (Knights & Collinson, 1987; Burrell, 1988; Cooper & Burrell,
1988; Miller & Rose, 1988; Rose, 1989; Townley, 1993, 1994; McKinlay &
Starkey, 1998) more attention has been given to subjectivity. There is a broad
literature theorizing identity (e.g. Gergen, 1991; Giddens, 1991; Gabriel,
1995; Hetherington, 1998), but it has been argued that organization studies
have an ‘underdeveloped theory of subjectivity’ (van Krieken, 1996: 198). In
particular, Newton (1998) has argued that we still appear to be looking for
a means to arrive at an understanding of subjectivity and organization, which
attends to agency and ‘materialism’ yet avoids dualism, essentialism and
reductionism. For Foucault subjectivity relates to the condition of being
subjected to, or a target of, power through power/knowledge relations
(Foucault, 1980, 1982). Individuals are then transformed into subjects that
secure a sense of their own meaning, purpose, and reality through partici-
pating in the discursive practices that are a condition and consequence of

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354 Human Relations 59(3)

power/knowledge relations (Knights & Morgan, 1991). The notion of the


individual as simply a biological or even psychological organism, of course,
is no more than an analytical device constructed for the purposes of under-
standing how human beings are continually becoming social. For Foucault
(1975: 115) the subject ‘is not the speaking consciousness, not the author of
the formulation, but a position that might be filled in certain conditions by
various individuals’. As Weedon (1987: 31) suggested, ‘the crucial point . . .
is that in taking on a subject position, the individual assumes that she is the
author of the ideology or discourse which she is speaking.’ We see subjec-
tivity as a transitory point in the unending process of individuals being trans-
formed into subjects. It is the result of an interaction between discourse and
human agency that constitutes the individual as a subject occupying a
particular subject position within discourse. Yet organizational discourses
are not always immediate in their impact on subjectivity; they may be drawn
out over long periods and incremental in their effects on their subjects.
However, it is in the immediate context of conversations that this process
may be illustrated empirically.
While subscribing to a Foucauldian view that sees subjects as consti-
tuted through discourse, we are fully aware of how easy it is for critics
coming from opposite ends of the epistemological and ontological spectrum
such as the labour process theorists Thompson and Ackroyd (1995) and the
critical realist Reed (2000a, 2000b), on the one side, and those such as
Newton (1998) that are seeking more space for an analysis of agency but
one that does not neglect material conditions, on the other, to charge
Foucault with adopting a deterministic perspective. McNay (1992: 47)
argues that treating the subject in terms of a passive or ‘docile body’ is the
most problematic aspect of Foucault’s work. The usual defence of Foucault
is that such critique is based on a reading of his earlier work, while later
writings provide a more elaborate understanding of agency and resistance
(see, for example, Dean, 1994; Barratt, 2003a). Newton (1998) does not
accept this defence, arguing that while Foucault returns to the active subject
in his later writings, the mode of his analysis tends to be ‘overly individual-
ized and decontextualized’ (1998: 437). In this article, we are attempting to
avoid this individualized and decontextualized analysis through exploring
the discursive practices that contribute to the construction of subjectivity for
our student recruits.
Foucault understands subjectivity to be constructed through
power/knowledge relations, but he fails to detail the discursive practices
through which it occurs. As Potter (1996) has argued, the relation of
Foucault’s notion of discourse to any particular instance of talk or writing
is not always well specified. Insofar as he speaks about how the constitution

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 355

of subjects occurs, Foucault (1975: 30) concentrates primarily on the


materiality of the body and how it serves as a target for a ‘whole technology
of power’. He does not focus his attention on the detail of the social inter-
actions and how they produce and reproduce subjects. In addition, the
absence of a detailed analysis of how subjectification occurs makes an
analysis of resistance difficult.1 Only by examining organizational discourses
in action so to speak; that is, in the immediate contexts of their production
and reproduction can we see how human agency and organizational
discourses interact. An analysis of situated organizational interactions may
help us avoid the trap of determinism-voluntarism (Conrad, 2004) and
provide a better understanding of the role of discourse and agency in consti-
tuting organizations (Fairhurst, 2004).
The term discourse generally refers to practices of talking and writing,
but is also used in social theory and analysis to refer to different ways of
structuring areas of knowledge and social practice (Fairclough, 1992). There
are several approaches to discourse, which have been used to investigate a
variety of social phenomena and contexts, including organizations (Oswick
et al., 2000). As Chia (2000) has argued, organizational discourse must be
understood in its wider ontological sense as the bringing into existence of an
‘organized’ or stabilized state. According to Fairclough (2005) analysis of
organizational discourse should include detailed analysis of texts in a broad
sense, both written texts and spoken interaction.2 For the purposes of our
study, it is important to make a distinction between discourse as an analyti-
cal concept and discourse as an empirical phenomenon. It is primarily this
empirical usage that is drawn upon in our study of recruitment although we
trust that our discussion of organizational discourse and subjectivity
contributes also to their analytical meaning. In this article, we define organiz-
ational discourses as those instances of talk, text and conversations that take
place within organizational ‘boundaries’. Thus, subjectification may be
defined as the process of interaction contributing to the production of a
subject. Hollway (1991), with reference to Foucault, defines subjectification
as follows:

How do you ensure change without imposing it? You convince the indi-
vidual who is the object of change that they are choosing it. This is
what I mean by subjectification.
(Hollway, 1991: 95)

In order to illustrate how processes of subjectification take place in practice,


and therefore also how organizational discourses relate to subjectivity, we
draw upon ethnographic data of the recruitment practices collected by the

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356 Human Relations 59(3)

first author during a year-long study of a Swedish subsidiary of a large


American consultancy firm, from now on given the pseudonym Amcon.
Recruitment and selection is one practice where the processes of subjec-
tification may be illustrated in practice. It is also an organizational practice
often referred to as an example of the discursive construction of subjectivity
(see, for example, Hollway, 1991; Grey, 1994; Newton, 1994; Townley,
1994; Anderson-Gough et al., 2000; Barratt, 2003b). However, there is some
disagreement in these studies as to how subjectification in recruitment takes
place. On the one hand, there are those who view the impact of discourse as
a form of socialization that shapes the behaviour of individuals over long
periods of time. Here the emphasis is on the process through which indi-
viduals are exposed to and internalize particular discourses, such as client
priority (Anderson-Gough et al., 2000) or personal career (Grey, 1994;
Peltonen, 1999). This implies that for subjectification to take place it is
enough to expose subjects to discursive material, texts and talk. When
regarding subjectification as a form of socialization, organizational
discourses are privileged over human agency.
In an analysis of the texts and images presented to candidates applying
for jobs in the UK banking sector, for example, Barratt (2003b) argues that
the realistic representations of the working environment invites readers to a
particular world in which their selves can be fully realized. On the other
hand, as Townley (1993) acknowledges, the practices of recruitment and
selection, such as personality tests and selection interviews, may have a more
immediate impact. This occurs through both the examination, which consti-
tutes the individual as an object of knowledge, and the confession, which ties
the individual to self-knowledge as an important aspect of their own subjec-
tivity (Townley, 1993). While acknowledging that there may be varying
degrees of individual engagement and participation, it is not possible to
examine fully how subjectification takes place in practice because Townley’s
analysis is based only on archival material. Furthermore, as Newton (1994)
points out, such analyses are largely dependent on whether the technologies
when applied in practice actually follow the prescriptions of the literature.
Many Foucauldian studies of recruitment and selection seem to assume prac-
tices directly reflect the prescribed techniques (Collinson et al., 1990).
Moreover, even where empirical investigations are conducted, the restricted
methods of interviewing (cf. Grey, 1994) deprive research of extending
beyond respondents’ stories about recruitment and selection. In this sense,
they reproduce the discourses of personnel psychology and human resource
management, rather than providing an investigation of how these technolo-
gies have particular effects in practice. Thus, in such research active partici-
pation and/or modes of resistance from the point of view of the candidate

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 357

are hard to take into account. They therefore appear deterministic concern-
ing the capacity of recruitment practices and organizational discourses to
produce subjectivity.
However, the construction of subjectivity may also depend on the kind
of practices that are implemented. Indeed, most recruitment practices imply
processes of objectification and examination to evaluate whether candidates
should be offered a post or not. At the same time, as suggested by researchers
proposing a different approach to recruitment and selection (Wanous, 1991),
candidates are seeking to find a job that suits their personal needs and inter-
ests, assuming that recruitment is a mutual matching process between
organization and the individual recruit. Such practices, it has been argued,
would provide both the individual and the organization better opportunities
to find a match between individual values and the corporate culture, greater
productivity (Wanous, 1991) and also to allow for the integrity of the subject
by recognizing the importance of the ‘other’ as an equivalent to the self in
terms of status and respect (Townley, 1994). This aspect of recruitment fits
well with the ambitions of the company that forms our case study, as the
recruitment manager expresses it:

The most important thing is . . . we have such a strong culture in


this company that there must be a match – a cultural match – in order
to be able to work here. It is as simple as that. Otherwise you are
pushed out.
(Recruitment Manager)

Cultural match signifies a merger between organizational discourses and


individual subjectivity. Thus, the recruitment practice of Amcon seems
appropriate for a study of subjectification. The next two sections will discuss
the characteristics of the firm’s recruitment practices and outline the
discourse analytical methods that were used.

Setting

At the time of the study Amcon was going through a period of substantial
expansion. It was also one of the most popular firms among Swedish under-
graduate students. Amcon is a career-oriented company with around 300
consultants, based on the notion of ‘up-or-out’, which means that initial
advancement is fast and dramatic for the individual. There are four basic
levels: assistant, senior, manager and partner. New entrants typically start as
assistants.

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358 Human Relations 59(3)

The recruitment process consists of a number of activities designed to


attract and sift candidates to achieve 70 new recruits per year. The nature of
the business and organizational structure of Amcon puts particular demands
on the recruitment activities. First, the positions vacated due to personnel
turnover need to be filled. The so-called ‘up-or-out’-process creates a continu-
ous need for new entrants. Second, there is a need to hire new workers to
fill the demand from new consultancy projects with clients. Due to the labour
intensity of consultancy work, expansion of the business is dependent on the
supply of new recruits. Third, there is a need for continuity and long-term
planning in order to be able to plan for introductory training for new
employees. The popularity of the firm means that they receive on average 85
applications every month. Applications are examined, ranked and graded
according to a preset grid. About a third of them are invited to a first screen-
ing interview. This first selection is based strictly on the principle of qualifi-
cations and relevant experience. Since there are no personality tests or
assessment centres, the selection interview is the event where recruiters decide
about whether or not to offer the candidate a job.
The recruitment practices at Amcon are characterized by a chain of
interviews beginning with a one-hour screening, which is held by a Manager.
The candidate may progress to another round of interviews on condition that
the result of the first interview is favourable, and this process selects out
about half of the candidates. The second stage involves a chain of three inter-
views, one hour each, where the candidate talks to Amcon staff at higher
levels of the corporate hierarchy (Senior, Manager and Partner). The process
from screening interviews to a job offer takes from three to five weeks.
After each interview the recruiter takes notes of his/her observations
of the candidate on a form. The form is constructed as a grid ranking the
candidate in terms of ‘outstanding’, ‘above average’, ‘satisfactory’ or ‘does
not meet requirements’ in terms of personal skills (e.g. personality, verbal
communication, self-confidence) and professional skills (e.g. leadership
potential, understanding of the company; and interest in career with our
firm). The form is concluded by an overall assessment of the ‘probability of
the applicant accepting an offer’ and the ‘probability of the applicant staying
for more than 2 years’. A central objective of the recruitment interviews,
however, was to assess whether a candidate would fit the ‘organizational
culture’ – or what was termed achieving a cultural match.
The recruitment manager emphasized the importance of providing
applicants with ‘honest’ and ‘correct’ information, in order for them to make
an independent, well-grounded choice to work for the company. The essence
of such processes is to deflate any unrealistic expectations of potential
employees (Townley, 1994). It is premised on the view that individuals have

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 359

fewer regrets making a decision if they can anticipate its probable negative
consequences (Townley, 1994). Amcon representatives explicitly claim to do
this by establishing a friendly atmosphere and a ‘mutual dialogue’ during the
recruitment interviews.
To establish a mutual dialogue in this chain of interviews, however, is
more complicated than might be expected. This ordinarily only occurs in
conversations between close friends. It presumes that both participants have
equal opportunity to influence the topic of speech and engage in what is
described as ‘symmetrical and co-operative’ interaction where ‘speakers both
respond to what their partners have just said and introduce something new
for them to respond to’ (Linell, 1990: 169). Mutual dialogues also presume
that there is no judgement or control of the utterances of the other (Linell,
1990). Most conversations held in institutional contexts diverge from this
ideal since they are most often task oriented, that is, they have more or less
predetermined objectives. In recruitment interviews, the recruiter controls the
interaction (Linell & Gustavsson, 1987) and, in so doing, clearly exercises
power. By analysing the interaction that takes place during recruitment inter-
views, our concern is to reveal how candidates are made into subjects of
organizational discourses, that is, how subjectification takes place in practice.
We are not suggesting that by being transformed into subjects, their agency
is denied them because much of our argument is concerned with how they
participate in the construction of their own subjectivity and sometimes this
involves refusing to be constituted in this way.

Method

The article reports on an in-depth case study of the recruitment practices in


the Stockholm subsidiary of a large American consulting firm operating in
Sweden. The data for this in-depth case study of Amcon were collected
through various fieldwork techniques. These included participant observa-
tions of job fairs at universities, textual analyses of recruitment brochures,
and observations of the day-to-day work of recruitment managers and
recruitment assistants, who administer applications and handle all communi-
cation with candidates. Above all, participant observations of the personal
encounters of candidates and organizational members in recruitment inter-
views were conducted. In total 21 recruitment interviews (six screening inter-
views and 15 second interviews) were tape-recorded and transcribed. The
interviews usually began with a promise of anonymity and an assurance by
the interviewer that the research would not affect the outcome of the recruit-
ment process.

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360 Human Relations 59(3)

In addition, 36 in-depth and unstructured tape-recorded interviews


were held with both recruiters and candidates after the recruitment inter-
views had taken place. These were aimed at recording the experience of both
sides in the recruitment interviews prior to job offers being made. The candi-
dates were both men and women graduates between 23 and 26 years old,
without significant work experience. By the end of the research process a
large dataset had been accumulated. The analysis began by studying the
interviews conducted with candidates, after they had gone through recruit-
ment interviews. The analysis revealed that candidates were divided into two
subgroups – those who expressed negative and critical views of the company,
questioning the professionality of the interviewers, and those who were
highly sympathetic, describing the interviewers as friendly, giving them an
opportunity to ask questions, while acknowledging the status differences
among the different interviewers. The second group also described the inter-
view situation and the company as in line with their own preferences: ‘I feel
at home’, ‘it feels completely right for me’; ‘it feels like a step further’. Maybe,
most importantly, they described the interview situation as informative,
enabling them to make a well-informed choice to work for the company.
Thus, the interviews with candidates showed examples of both active resist-
ance and active subjection to the company and its recruitment practices. The
last group were those who were offered a job at the company; however, it
should be noted that candidates were not given any notification of a job offer
during the interviews.
The analysis continued by identifying the recruitment interviews in
further detail, aiming at identifying the pattern of interaction between candi-
dates and interviewers. The analysis of recruitment interviews consisted of
three main stages. The first stage involved transcription of interviews, coding
and close reading of the material. The first impression was that interviewers
dominated the conversation by talking more than interviewees, as if they had
switched roles. In order to check this observation the number of words
spoken by interviewers and interviewees respectively was calculated. It
turned out that the interviewer dominated the conversation in 16 of the 21
interviews. The relevant question was then to analyse how interviewers
created and retained this dominance during the course of the conversation.
All interviews were then again carefully coded and analysed according to the
scheme suggested by Adelswärd (1988), elucidating the structure and phases
of the conversation: how agendas were set, turn-taking, change of topic and
how interviews were ended (Fairclough, 1992). This analysis revealed three
types of interaction – discursive moves – that seemed to characterize all the
interviews with some variation. These were then interpreted through the
conceptual framework of Linell and Gustavsson (1987) in terms of how they

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 361

contributed to controlling, supporting and/or circumventing candidate


responses as a part of the social practice in which recruitment interviews took
place. Finally, the interpretations were validated, discarded, or modified
through repeated rereading of the material in search of examples, counter-
examples, evidence and exceptions.

Findings

The analysis of recruitment interviews at Amcon provided evidence that


subjectivity was constructed in the interaction between candidates and inter-
viewers through three subsequent and systematically recurrent discursive
moves. These were, first, response-control (where interviewers set the agenda
to have a ‘mutual’ dialogue). Second, the enunciation of organizational
discourses (where interviewers describe the organization as being honest, fair
and realistic), and, third, various housekeeping moves (to control and
confirm that the candidates’ subjective expression of organizational
discourses were ‘genuine’). Each of these were found in all the interviews
analysed and all three of them supported the impression for candidates that
they could actively participate in, and influence, the decision to secure a job
offer. Thus, these discursive moves may be regarded as examples of how
subjectification was constructed – the process contributing to the production
of a subject. The following three subsections will map out the characteristics
and dynamics of these discursive moves in further detail.

Invitation to a dialogue
The way that recruitment interviews are initiated at Amcon follows a similar
pattern. The interviewer informs the candidate that this is an occasion for
an ‘open and mutual dialogue’, where the participating parties should ‘get
to know each other’. In particular they emphasize the importance of provid-
ing the candidate with: ‘an honest and realistic image of the company’,
‘personal information from people from all hierarchical levels’, ‘a possibility
to ask questions’, ‘to feel completely confident about what you buy yourself
into’ and ‘a job that you really want’. Thus, this setting of the agenda could
be seen as a ‘distribution of communicative responsibility’ (Linell & Gustavs-
son, 1987: 27). When a participant takes the initiative to communicate, a
pattern of expectations, rights and obligations are generated. The initiation
of the interview includes the expression of a number of expectations (that
the candidates should actively engage in seeking information, to form an
opinion and an understanding of the job). Furthermore, it includes the

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362 Human Relations 59(3)

establishment of rights (to ask questions and to obtain all the necessary infor-
mation to make a decision) and obligations (that the interviewers should
contribute with all the required information and be honest). Thus, the distri-
bution of responsibility implies that the candidate is made responsible for
gathering information, evaluation and assessment and decision-making,
while the interviewers are expected to be passive transmitters of the infor-
mation required by the candidate to make his or her decision.
However, the distribution of responsibility between participants in the
conversation actually takes the form of, what Linell and Gustavsson (1987:
37) call, response control – ‘an expression of initiative that limits the freedom
of the respondent to vary his/her answer’. At the outset, the interviewers
generally present their version of what the conversation is about, and thereby
set the agenda without explicitly requesting any response from the candidates.

Manager: OK, Christian, I thought we should take up a few things. I


can start by describing a little about myself, then I want you to tell me
as much as you know about our company, so that I can get a picture
of what you know about us. People’s understanding about us varies
considerably. It may be dependent on who you know or don’t know,
if you have been to information events and so on. Then, when you have
said that, I can go in and tell you more about us, to complement your
image. I want you to get as good an image as you could possibly get,
or as realistic an image as possible. It is good with a fair and realistic
image, and then we talk more about you.

As this example shows, the interviewer provides a rather detailed descrip-


tion of what will happen during the interview. He gives clear instructions
of who should speak, what should be talked about and in what order this
should take place. The interviewer addresses the candidate with his first
name, thereby indicating a personal tone for the conversation. Two aspects
are emphasized. First, the interviewer seeks to discover the candidate’s
knowledge about the company. Second, the interviewer provides infor-
mation complementary to what the candidate already knows about the
company – so they have a ‘fair’ and ‘realistic image’. The interviewer’s
interest in obtaining information about candidates is limited to their knowl-
edge of the company and is mentioned in a subordinate clause. Thus, the
interview is not first of all structured as a way to extract information about
the candidate. Instead, it is focused on providing candidates with a sound
basis for their eventual decision as to whether to accept the job if offered
to them.

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 363

Partner: This conversation is really about trying to straighten out those


question marks you, in the worst case would have and make them into
exclamation marks and try to fill all gaps that you have. So when you
walk out from here you have access to the basic material or knowledge
to be able to think over and make your decision.

In some cases the interviewers end their declaration of the distribution of


responsibility in the conversation by asking an encouraging question to the
candidate: ‘is this OK?’, ‘what do you think about this?’ or ‘is that alright?’
Such questions do not provide room for a varied response. The candidates’
responses to the initiatives of the interviewers are limited to short notices of
agreement or approval: ‘Mm’, ‘Yes’, ‘of course’.
Despite a few exceptions, in most interviews there was no room for the
candidates to express any opinions, let alone requests concerning what would
be best for him or her. In this sense, candidates’ opportunity to influence the
agenda is extremely limited, if not non-existent. Thus, even if the interviews
are introduced in terms of an open and mutual dialogue, there is no space
for negotiation or openness for variation regarding the distribution of
responsibility during the interview.
In sum, the beginning of the interview is an occasion, where the inter-
viewers make use of particular discursive moves to initiate and direct the
conversation towards an open dialogue, in which the interviewer and the
candidate negotiate whether the candidate should take the job or not.
However, the initiative undermines its own ambition. Even if it is possible to
interpret the candidate’s approval of the interviewer’s initiative as an accep-
tance of mutual responsibility for fulfilling the objectives and content of the
conversation, the way in which the initiative is introduced contradicts the
interviewers’ description of the conversation as an open dialogue. In the next
section we will take a closer look at the different topics introduced during
the interview, how the agenda is held, controlled, and how it takes shape.

Providing a realistic image


The analysis of the recruitment interviews shows that the promised mutual
dialogue actually takes the shape of a monologue. The interviewers’ descrip-
tions follow a structure similar to other documents and brochures presented
to the candidates. Instead of assuming that the statements of the inter-
viewers represent a true description of the ‘real’ working conditions at the
company, the analysis in this section assumes that the statements have a
particular meaning in the situation where they are uttered, that is, that they

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364 Human Relations 59(3)

construct the conditions for the applicant to arrive at a decision whether he


or she wants to work there.
The organizational discourse at Amcon is structured in terms of what
may be regarded as advantages to the candidate (e.g. development, continu-
ous change, variation, career, possibility to work in different industries,
learning and training) and disadvantages (programming, heavy workload,
travel requirements, overtime and difficulties to combine the work with
private and family life). According to Amcon representatives, the presen-
tation of disadvantages was regarded as a way to provide a realistic image.
‘They should know what they embark upon! They must like all aspects of
it!’ – one of the managers, who claims to have a clear understanding of what
the interviews are all about, said. It was argued that the reason for provid-
ing the applicants with an abundance of information about the company
was the experience of having ‘newcomers leaving the company because they
lacked an understanding of what the company stands for, and such mistakes
are expensive’. Thus, from the company’s perspective it is important that
the applicant not only has a positive image of the company. They should
also be aware of the dark side of consulting. The interviewer needs to make
sure that the applicant does not have any delusions about what it means to
be a consultant.
The aspects the applicant is informed about are the travelling require-
ments, overtime, that the job is difficult to combine with having children and
that the job, to a large extent, is about programming and coding. The inter-
viewers also inform candidates about the assessment programs, internal
training, business plans, the competitive situation in the industry, oppor-
tunities for advancement in the firm and what it means to work in a project
team. It is also emphasized that working as a consultant means you can work
in different industries and build up experience over time. Instead of describ-
ing the working conditions in further detail, interviewers talk about the
possibility of making a career. The consultancy career is described as exciting,
with opportunities to move and change jobs on condition that you are
‘happy’. This message is conveyed both explicitly and by the interviewers
talking about their own career as a living evidence of what is said.
To a large extent the stories told by interviewers are repetitions of the
same stories that the candidates could obtain in previous contacts with the
company or through brochures. It may also be argued that the discourses
candidates are exposed to are similar to those analysed by Grey (1994).
However, the analysis of the situated interaction in which the discourses are
presented reveal important differences. During the interviews, a more
detailed image of the working conditions is presented. As an example, one
interviewer specifies what the travel requirements mean:

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 365

Manager: This thing about travelling. To travel, no I don’t mean


travelling to Hawaii or to France, rather I mean Skövde or Vinslöv or
Göteborg and to live there.

Candidate: I have travelled quite a lot and I’m very flexible in that way.
I have moved almost every sixth months, if you say so, but this here it
is no question about that, only to go to companies, but I’m not afraid
of that.

Manager: Commuting every week?

Candidate: No, I guess that’s alright.

Manager: Or, as when you are in the Scandinavian countries or Europe,


then you are half commuting, commuting every second week. If it is
other parts of the world, then it is around every third month. Count
on that. During the first five years it is outside Stockholm for one and
a half years, so you are not disappointed in any way. It’s like that.

Candidate: I’m not afraid of that.


[Interview 2:3]

The more or less glamorous expectations that the candidate may have regard-
ing what travelling means are effectively discounted. Travelling to Skövde or
Vinslöv (small towns in Sweden) are presented as a threat. The negative
aspects of travelling were described as something you should ‘count on’.
Above all it was emphasized how they were associated with the first period
of employment.
The interview situation provides the interviewers with a possibility to
make reference to their own experiences of working at Amcon. The candi-
dates are invited to ask questions to facilitate a ‘better’ understanding of the
company. These interactions may be regarded as producing a particular
‘truth effect’. It may appear that candidates have ‘perfect’ opportunities to
secure a clear and realistic image of the company and its working conditions.
On the other hand, the way the working conditions are presented means that
the opposite might equally be the case.
First, the working conditions are described in terms of positively and
negatively loaded opposites: disadvantages (overtime, travelling, hierarchy,
programming, difficulties of combining work, children, family and leisure)
in contrast to advantages (a spirit of community, youth, training, personal
development, change and the opportunity to work in different companies

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366 Human Relations 59(3)

and industries). As isolated phenomena, each of these is relatively simple to


take a stand in favour of or against. By directing attention to separated
decisions and a given number of alternatives, attention is diverted from the
more general choice that is made at the point of each single decision. This
means that it is difficult for the candidate to foresee the consequences of the
decision on the basis of the information that is provided by the interviewers.
Second, the description of opposites is subdivided in a time dimension.
Disadvantages are tied to the present (‘the first two years’; ‘the first time’; ‘a
certain time’ or ‘concern the newly employed’), and advantages are pushed
forward to the future (‘increases the longer you work’; ‘happens when you
are Senior’; ‘small chances during the first year’). The disadvantages then are
presented as if they are merely of a temporary and superficial nature, whereas
the positive aspects of the job are what candidates can look forward to and
enjoy later, assuming they commit themselves to the company. This way of
describing the job has the effect of making the choice to work at the company
comparatively simple. However, the descriptions do not include any guar-
antees that the advantages will be realized nor that additional disadvantages
might not appear. This means that the future consequences of a choice to join
the organization, based on the information provided, are uncertain despite
the clarity, transparency and ‘realistic’ image provided by the interviewers.
Third, the descriptions are expressions of a division of responsibility
between employer and employee. The positive aspects are those that the indi-
vidual employee has responsibility to take advantage of (‘it’s up to you’;
things that are ‘individual’) or dependent on factors that are beyond the
influence of the employer (‘clients needs and demands’; ‘what kind of clients
we have at the moment’). The negative aspects are, however, what the candi-
date ‘should count on’, ‘be aware of’, ‘need to accept’, ‘important that you
approve of’, ‘to be in agreement with’ or ‘be clear of’. Thus, the individual
is held responsible for any possible consequences of a decision. The responsi-
bility of the employer is less clearly defined. This means that any decision
based on this information only has consequences (both negative and positive)
for the individual (the one who decides) and nobody else.
In sum, despite the interviewers’ ambition to provide candidates with
fair, honest and realistic information, the way it is presented implies a
particular truth effect, providing an impression of having access to infor-
mation that would facilitate a well-informed choice of working for the
company. The interviewer conducts the discourse as if the images of the
working conditions presented were perfectly transparent and fair, but they
were really prescriptions or imperatives regarding how the working
conditions should be understood and interpreted. In the next section we will
take a closer look at how the interviewers make sure that the candidates have

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 367

understood what the company’s version of the working conditions means so


that there are no doubts about this when the candidate has gone through all
the recruitment interviews.

Vaccination from doubt


As we have seen previously, it is most often the interviewers who introduce
new topics and ask questions of the candidate. Even if the candidate is reluc-
tant or has no intention of making a decision, the interviewers put pressure
on candidates to take a stand in relation to the information that is presented
during the recruitment interviews. This is accomplished in several ways.
First, the interviewers ask questions largely about candidates’ under-
standing of the company not about the candidates themselves. They seek to
find out the candidate’s knowledge and impressions of the company: ‘what
do you know about us?’; ‘what is our business idea?’; ‘have you heard about
our hierarchy?’; ‘what do you think that you get to do during the first
years?’. The opportunity for candidates to be really challenging in response
to these questions is limited, partly due to the asymmetry in the relations
but also because of the tendency of the interviewer to counter any criticism
(see below).
Second, most of the interviewers’ questions are about the candidate’s
relationship to the company: ‘how come you applied to us?’; ‘what other
jobs did you apply for?’; ‘do you know anybody who works here?’; ‘how did
you get into contact with us?’ It is the commitment and interest in the job
and the company that is the object of the conversation rather than the candi-
date as a person or a unique individual. This means that the candidate’s
description of him/herself is limited to his/her relationship to the company,
rather than anything else.
Third, the questions posed to the candidates are often a request for the
candidate’s standpoint in relation to specific information: ‘but you are
convinced that it is Change Management, that’s what you feel like now?’;
‘what’s your opinion about the company now, in terms of the advantages
and disadvantages?’; ‘what do you think is most interesting in these talks
that we have had, and what is most negative?’. During this interaction
sequence, it is evident that the candidate should answer in a way that shows
that he or she has an interest in the company: ‘yes, I’m very interested’; ‘Mm,
I have made up my mind for Change Management’; ‘It feels like a step
further’; ‘Well there were a number of things that made me go here’; ‘Many
of the things that you have brought forward as advantages, I really thought
so from the beginning. That’s why I applied’. But there are also candidates
who are less specific and may even appear vague.

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368 Human Relations 59(3)

During the interviews there is also a kind of discursive move that Linell
and Gustavsson (1987: 72) would call ‘third move remarks’: – a reply that
evaluates a response, given on the speaker’s own initiative, marks that the
response satisfies the initiative of the speaker and settles something import-
ant which has been brought up by the previous response. The third move
remark does not contribute anything new to the conversation. It rather
contributes by regulating the interaction.
The interviewers describe this as a way to ‘fill all gaps’. The inter-
viewers encourage the candidates to evaluate the information provided, as
for example in one interview between a partner and a candidate:

Partner: What do you think, in these conversations, in what you have


heard now? What do you think is most interesting and what sounds
most negative, so to say?

Candidate: Well, you could say that what you have put forward as
positive and negative sides . . . what you have put forward as positive,
all of you, it is this thing about a demanding, flexible job and that that
you have this possibility for development. This is a broad area, young
people, community, nice to work here. What is negative or what you
put forward as negative is working overtime and that you may have to
travel a lot. All of you have said exactly the same thing, so I have been
somewhat coloured by that. Many of those things you have put
forward as positive, I already had in the beginning. That’s why I
applied here. The negative things you of course . . . You have to weigh
advantages against disadvantages and then you simply will see what
has the heaviest weight. I still think that the advantages clearly carry
a greater weight. I’m aware of that working as a consultant means to
accept that you sometimes have to work overtime and this thing about
travelling I don’t think is . . . It doesn’t have to be negative. Of course,
if it is too much then it might be hard, but yes . . .

Partner: Well I think . . . The reason why we put forward this thing
with overtime – I really think it is important. It sometimes sounds as
if it is some kind of scaremongering or that we want to appear as if
we are working and working, but it is just because you at least should
have had the possibility to know this before.
[Interview 3:4]

The candidate answers the question by repeating the motivational repertoire


of the company. He admits that he has been influenced by the argumentation

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 369

of the interviewers, but has some difficulties in accepting working overtime.


In the third move the interviewer confirms the candidate’s views and signals
that his understanding is correct.
In the recruitment interviews, the follow up of the candidates’
responses fill several functions: (1) They signal to the candidate what is the
right kind of answer, give a hint of how the next initiative should be answered
and support the decision-making of the candidate: ‘I think that’s best, really’;
‘I believe that if you should start working for us, that’s probably what is least
in line with what you’ve been doing so far.’ (2) They evaluate and deepen
the standpoints made by the candidate in order to guarantee that it is the
‘right’ motives that drive him or her: ‘that’s rather broad’; ‘that’s a little un-
focused’; ‘But do you buy into this? Because that’s a really difficult question.’
(3) The third move remarks also fill the function of denying, correcting or
softening understandings that the candidates have achieved during previous
interviews, as in the following case when the interviewer asks whether there
is anything else the candidate wonders about:

Candidate: Eh, not really, I guess I had some doubts when I came here.
But I think that I have received many good answers. What I have tried
to figure out so far has been more about, if I now get the chance to
work with you, what kind of people I will meet and what kind of
people I will work together with? How large groups for example? How
does this . . . work? The organization is quite permeated by American
thinking and I have had several hierarchical pictures drawn for me,
huh, and then you would like to know how cooperation works in this
hierarchy. You may look at it and get scared to death and think – this
is how it is going to be! Do you have to make an appointment to talk
to your closest boss? Are you sure about having another five, six, ten
other people as well? But now I have been told that it doesn’t really
work like that, rather . . .

Partner: No, we often draw these hierarchies. But it doesn’t really work
like that, so to say. It is rather so that it is a little messy and it might
as well be a way to get some structure in our existence. It is very mixed
really. It is important to look at how both formal and informal
communication channels work out here at the company. It is very cosy
to work here.
[Interview 3:4]

When the candidate asks questions about things that worry him or her,
the interviewer plays down or corrects the misunderstandings. What the

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370 Human Relations 59(3)

candidate regards as worrying is turned into something that may be regarded


as an advantage. For example, the hierarchy is described as a way ‘to get
some structure in our existence’, which otherwise is quite messy. In other
words, the interviewers make sure that it is the company’s version of reality
that forms the basis for the decision of the candidate: ‘No, we often draw
these hierarchies, but it does not really work in that way’; ‘You could get a
feeling that there is a one-to-one competition between individuals, but it’s
not really like that.’
The result of the interviewers’ third move remarks on the responses of
the candidates is that those who enter the organization do not have any
doubts about the advantages of the company. It is rather the other way
around, as one Partner expressed it; ‘all question marks are made into excla-
mation marks’. Thus, the discursive moves of the interviewers contribute to
what Deetz (1992) calls discursive closure – the establishment of normalized,
conflict-free experiences and social relationships. The company is guaranteed
that those who are recruited do not have any ‘incorrect understandings of
how it is. We simply do not want any wrongful recruitments’, as one of the
Managers put it. The organization is, so to say, vaccinated from doubts.

Conclusion and implications

This article has sought to illustrate and explore some of the ways that subjec-
tivity is constructed in the context of a recruitment process where there was
an ambition to recruit candidates that match the culture of the firm. Drawing
upon recruitment interview data collected in a Swedish subsidiary of an
American consultancy firm, it challenges widespread assumptions about the
relationship between organizational discourse and subjectivity by revealing
some of the ways that individual subjectivity was constructed through social
interaction. The story of Amcon, we argue, suggests that the relationship
between organizational discourses and subjectivity cannot be captured
adequately either through determinist or voluntarist theoretical approaches.
In short, subjectivity is neither wholly determined by organizational
discourses nor simply a product of human agency. Rather, the research indi-
cates that subjectification is a complex condition and consequence of the
mutually interdependent relations of agency and discourse, not a determi-
nant of either.
More specifically, the analysis of data collected at Amcon provided three
examples of how human agency and organizational discourse interacted in
the construction of subjectivity in this specific context. First, subjectification
revealed itself through the process of candidates’ expressing their acceptance

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 371

of the working conditions presented by the interviewers, spontaneously or


through their independent careful consideration. Second, subjectification was
illustrated through the candidates’ active subjection to organizational
discourses, describing the interview situation and the company as in line with
their own preferences: ‘I feel at home’, ‘it feels completely right for me’. Third,
it indicated that those candidates who displayed resistance or were reluctant
to accept the organizational discourse failed to secure a job offer, while the
successful were made to believe that they were making active autonomous
choices. This is a major aspect of their subjectification since it appeals to more
universal meta-narratives of human autonomy that are a legacy of the
Enlightenment (Knights & Willmott, 2002). Subjectification, in sum, included
both elements of active participation and resistance from the point of view of
the candidates.
Subjectification, it was further argued, was shaped and fixed through
the interaction between recruiter and candidate but this was largely inspired
by the concern to provide ‘honest’, ‘realistic’ and ‘fair’ information and to
engage in an open dialogue. Since it seems plausible to assume that
power/knowledge relations are prevalent in any recruitment process, the
uniqueness of this particular setting lies not in the effect on subjectivity so
much as in how it is accomplished. Interviewers sought to influence not only
what information candidates’ use as a basis for their decision, but also how
this should be evaluated and judged in relation to other information. This
was achieved through a number of discursive moves such as distributing
communicative responsibility, controlling candidate responses, and through
various housekeeping moves. According to researchers of institutionalized
conversations (Linell & Gustavsson, 1987), such discursive moves are readily
available in recruitment interviews and are not so much outcomes of asym-
metrical power relations as examples of how power relations are constructed.
Thus, subjectification was constructed through systematic control of candi-
date expressions but with their full support given that candidates were led
to believe they were making autonomous choices. Butler (2004) has referred
to this as the paradox of seeking recognition while feeling impelled to reject
the social norms through which that recognition is conferred. As a conse-
quence the ‘I’ that bears an identity may be undone precisely by that identity
but resistance will depend on the personal or social costs of the constraints.
In the sphere of gender and sexual subjectivity, these constraints may be a
price too high for the recognition that is accorded and may indeed produce
a life that is ‘unlivable’3 (Butler, 2004: 4). Our research subjects, by contrast,
rarely found the constraints too extensive but where this was so, they simply
remained outside of the norms that could ensure their being recruited to the
job for which they had applied.

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372 Human Relations 59(3)

The finding that, at Amcon, subjectification was constructed in the


interaction between organizational members and candidates raises questions
about the work of those who treat Foucault deterministically in their critiques
of management (e.g. Knights & Willmott, 1989; Sewell & Wilkinson, 1992).
For the assumption of some of these Foucauldians is that management and
organizational discourses constitute subjectivity directly as if subjects were
‘cultural dopes’ (Garfinkel, 1967) rather than active participants in the
construction of their own self-identity. Candidates themselves reproduced
organizational discourses as a part of their own self-understanding, continu-
ally recreating rather than being passively determined by the discourse. But
they were also indirectly influenced to take on these descriptions through the
interviewers’ control of the agenda, presentation of organizational discourses
and the way that candidates’ responses were managed.
The notion of interaction does not only raise questions about certain
Foucauldian analyses of work organizations, but equally also some of the
critics of these approaches. For example, it is argued that some Foucauldians
underestimate the power of human agency to avoid or resist the impact of
organizational discourses and, therefore, overestimate the power of discourse
to determine individual subjectivity (see, for example, Sosteric, 1996;
Newton, 1998). This critique has been very important in identifying the limi-
tations of applying a Foucauldian analysis to organizational contexts, and
we have sought through detailed empirical analysis to avoid those limitations
and show how subjectivity is a complex outcome of the co-related practices
of self-managed agency and discourses of power/knowledge. The tendency
for Foucault to come across as a determinist and for some theorists (e.g.
Sewell & Wilkinson, 1992; Fernie & Metcalf, 1998) to use him in this way
is partly because he failed to spell out the social processes of subjectification
– how we come to be constituted through power – through our own agency
in the context of discourses and their interdependent co-production of
subjectivity and power/knowledge relations. Our study points to an alterna-
tive that privileges neither discourse nor agency but sees them as in a complex
intermediation. As Newton (1998) suggests, to emphasize such agency is not
to posit some essential subject, but rather to argue that understanding how
the subject is constituted in discourse requires attention to the social
processes through which people actively manoeuvre in relation to discursive
practices (p. 426). This we believe provides a stronger and more elaborated
critique of power/knowledge relations in organizations.
It should be noted, however, that while the end of exposing
power/knowledge relations in organizational contexts is ‘relevant’, it should
not be confused with its means. The critique of industrial or commercial
organizational discourses and practices with reference to their parallel with

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Bergström & Knights Organizational discourse and subjectivity 373

those practices of hospital and prison discipline and surveillance analysed by


Foucault (1967, 1975) may well have critical potential, but it does so merely
by analogy. The empirical detail still needs to be documented in order to
show how subjects are vulnerable to the power effects of management and
organizational discourse and practice. One problem with Foucauldians is
that they often assume that the disciplinary technologies within organiz-
ational practices (or discourses) simply constitute subjectivity. In principle,
they claim that organizational discourses and practices are problematic
because of their disciplinary effects on subjectivity, but seldom are they clear
about how this occurs. In the absence of a disclosure of how the processes
of subjectification occur, we cannot further critical analysis of organizational
discourses and delimit when, where and how they have their effects.
Insofar as critical organizational analysis concentrates so much on the
object of its critique as to neglect the means it uses, there is a risk that it
undermines its own criticality. Not all organizational discourses have the
effect of subjectifying individuals. Equally, far from all instances of subjectifi-
cation are to be seen as negative or problematic. As Foucault (1980) argues,
power/knowledge relations also have a positive and productive side. It would
be rare, for example, to question the subjection of medical doctors to
discourses of medicine in their practice to save human lives, but sometimes
medical discipline can be counterproductive in rendering the profession
impotent to respond adequately to patients (Gleeson & Knights, 2006). It
should also be noted that we are not simply encouraging more scientific
rigour and empiricism in critical research, but in order for critical research
to realize its potential, it should be more explicit about the conditions under
which its critique applies. By identifying when, where and how discourses
have their effects on individuals, for example, a more constructive critique
of managerial and organizational discourses may be upheld. This study has
sought to illustrate the claim that a particular organizational discourse
constitutes the subjectivity of candidates through providing a detailed
analysis of the particular social interactions of the recruitment processes
where subjectification took place.
Since our case study is limited to one particular kind of interaction,
that is, recruitment practices, more research is clearly in order. As a means
of realizing more fully how and when organizational discourses constitute
subjectivity, there is a need to complement this study with studies of other
kinds of interaction and in other contexts. More specifically, since recruit-
ment is an occasion where subjectification takes place, there is clearly a need
to study how subjectivities are reproduced when subjects have entered the
organization. Furthermore, since subjects are continuously exposed to
organizational discourses, there also seems to be a need to examine how

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374 Human Relations 59(3)

subjectivity is constituted in less formal interactions of everyday life, before


candidates have entered a particular organizational context, where inter-
action is more distant and less direct. In examining the micro-practices of
communication between organizational members and subjects, such studies
may help organizational theorists further the understanding of the relation-
ship between organizational discourses and subjectivity in contemporary
organizational life. This study, we trust, is a case in point.

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the helpful critical comments of the anonymous reviewers and


the associate editor, Barbara Townley.

Notes

1 We are aware that Foucault sought to avoid theorizing resistance on the basis that
he believed it only provided those at whom it was targeted with the information
that could be used to deflect or incorporate such resistance (Foucault, 1980, 1982).
2 As one of the reviewers pointed out to us, since writing our first draft of this article,
Fairclough (2005) has declared himself a critical realist. We resist following his
critical realist ontology and his support for Reed’s claim that critics of critical realism
collapse ontology into epistemology. Unless we have God-like metaphysical powers,
how else would we know anything about ontology except through our epistemo-
logical reasoning or sensemaking? In our article we are trying to avoid the meta-
physics of ontological debate since this would be difficult to resolve even in an article
that was entirely theoretical. While aware of the tensions between Foucault and
critical realism, we avoid following the extreme position of some constructivists (e.g.
Grint & Woolgar, 1992) or that of critical realists (e.g. Reed, 2000b). We therefore
stay with epistemology – what it is possible to know even though such knowing is
invariably transient, transitory and precarious.
3 When gays or lesbians demand the same kinship rights as heterosexuals through
marriage, for example, they reproduce social norms through which they have
traditionally been oppressed (see Butler, 2004).

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Ola Bergström (PhD) is Assistant Professor at the Department of


Business Administration at the School of Business, Economics and Law,
University of Göteborg, Sweden. He obtained his doctorate at Göteborg
University in 1998. His research interests include changes in labour
markets, institutionalization, work organization and forms of control.
Since 2002 he has been appointed as a Malmsten Foundation post doc
researcher at the School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg
University. His most recent book is Contingent employment in Europe and
the United States, with D. Storrie.
[Email: ola.bergstrom@handels.gu.se]

David Knights is Professor of Organisational Analysis in the School of


Economic and Management Studies at Keele University. He previously
held chairs in Manchester, Nottingham and Exeter Universities. He is a
founding and continuing editor of the journal Gender, Work and Organisa-
tion and his most recent books include: Management lives: Power and
identity in work organisation (with H. Willmott) and Organization and inno-
vation: Gurus schemes and American dreams (with D. McCabe). He has
written for the Journal of Management Studies, Gender, Work and Organiz-
ation, Time and Society and Sociology.
[Email: david.knights@exeter.ac.uk]

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