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Organisational Aesthetics and Subjectivity: A Lacanian Discourse Analysis

Fani, M. (2020) Organisational Aesthetics and Subjectivity: A Lacanian Discourse Analysis. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00095648


This thesis addresses the questions of subjectivity and aesthetics as two aspects of identity-centred new work practices. To date, they have not been convincingly integrated due to the incompatibility of the dominant conceptualisations in these two literatures. Drawing on Lacan’s theory of discourse, this thesis attempts to address these two questions within an integrative conceptual framework. The literature on identity work and organisational aesthetics dominantly considers new work practices as a subtler system of control which relies on the logic of identification; that is, controlling from within by rendering an idealised image with which employees identify. This thesis, however, goes beyond this logic to interrogate subjectivity and aesthetics from a structural point of view. Drawing on Lacan’s conception of discourse as the structure of the social bond, this thesis exposes the discursive formation of subjectivity in one bureaucratic and two post-bureaucratic cases. Furthermore, in this thesis the question of aesthetics is considered as part of the dominant discursive formation in the case studies. Thus, this thesis uses Lacan’s graph of discourse as an ontological foundation, or a gravitational force, within which the questions of subjectivity and aesthetics can be addressed. This thesis approaches post-bureaucracies as part of the neo-liberalist agenda where the subject is under increasing pressure to construct a self-governing and thus employable self. Post-bureaucracies, according to my analysis, are identity workspaces where work becomes a stage to actualise self-potential. Putting desire and enjoyment at the centre, this thesis unravels the focal position of desire in this process. The subjects’ desire to actualise self-potential leads to the formation of a subjectivity apparatus that produces self-governing subjects who desire work since they consider work as the primary stage for self-actualisation. Therefore, desire becomes a crucial productive element since actualising self-potential (through work) indicates the subjects’ higher investment in work. This also intensifies the accumulation of capital (knowledge, aesthetics, and a subjectivity apparatus) within the organisation. This thesis, also, questions aesthetics within this broader picture by uncovering its function as the mise-en-scene of the politics of selfactualisation. This study contributes to critical organisational studies by introducing Lacan’s theory of discourse as the ontological foundation as well as a powerful methodological tool to interrogate the structure of subjectivity and the formation and functioning of aesthetics in post-bureaucracy. Drawing on the late Lacan’s teaching, this study uncovers a more nuanced picture of post-bureaucracies, its impact on workers and management, and their implications for ethics at work. The key point in this regard is the contribution of a fresh Lacanian perspective to expose how power relations are increasingly concealed behind the seemingly pleasant working environment. This leads to a vicious self-criticising circle in which the subject takes full responsibility for collective dysfunctions. It, also, contributes to critical studies as an emancipatory project by revealing the truth of the seemingly win-win situation of trust-based and employee-oriented workspaces as the truth of exploitation.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Fenton, E. and Bicknell, M.
Thesis/Report Department:Henley Business School
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Henley Business School > Leadership, Organisations and Behaviour
ID Code:95648
Date on Title Page:December 2019

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