This paper examines narrative strategies of writing the feminine in work environments defined as post-bureaucratic, and which are characterized by a decrease in the employer's formal control, organisational flexibility and adaptability, and high degree of employee autonomy (see e.g. Johnson et al. 2009; Grey and Garsten 2001; Alvesson and Thompson 2005). Feminists have directed critique towards the bureaucratic organisation, which they view as gendered and associated with masculine traits (e.g. Ferguson, 1984). By contrast, post-bureaucratic work ideals broadly tend to converge with what is characterized as a feminine ethos of management and organizations, such as working in teams (social competence, cooperation, compromise), and empathy, rather than with the traditional managerial focus on control, authority relations, and conservatism (Tomlinson et al. 1997; see also Keerfoot and Knights 1993; Fondas 1997; Maier 2012). The question we raise here concerns how to write the feminine in these seemingly fatherless and post-patriarchal organisations characterised by the ideal of autonomy. Could post-bureaucratic modes of organisation open up for alternative ways of writing the feminine in an organisational context? When ‘absent fathers’ outnumber authoritarian patriarchs, what discursive strategies are needed to write the feminine in relation to dominant forms of male autonomy?
Researchers have raised concerns in relation to the supposed gender-neutrality of this form of organising. For example, Anderson (2000) observes that autonomy – central to the post-bureaucratic mode of organisation – historically has excluded women from positions of rational authority. She argues that because women have traditionally been in relations of subordination and dependency wherein they have lacked rights and identity, they have not been able to make narrative sense of their lives in a coherent way. The challenge for women, as Anderson sees it, is how to find a unique singular self that can form the basis for autonomous action. The aim of this paper is to examine ways of writing the feminine that endorse a feminist ethics of autonomy in organisation studies. Drawing upon the concept of linguistic vulnerability, as recast in the light of Cavarero (2000) and Butler (2005), we seek to rewrite the feminine in the junction of discourse and life. Linguistic vulnerability refers to a narrative relationality that is constitutive of the uniqueness of self. The notion of relationality challenges the central post-bureaucratic feature of autonomy, by acknowledging the difficulty - if not impossibility - of self-authorship. Cavarero (2000) argues that the only way to formulate a relational politics is to come to terms with who one is (e.g. the significance of a life so-far), rather than what one is (e.g. abstract qualities like gender, status, position). The difference between the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ is that the story of who one is not created by the individual, but belongs to those who lived in the world before us and to those that will come after us. Thus, as Kottman (2000: xxiii) eloquently puts it in the foreword to Cavarero’s book, “within the context of telling someone the story of his/her life, within the scene of a narrative relation, the focus is shifted from the generalizable qualities of those involved, to the unique existents with whom the tale corresponds”. The challenge then for organisational scholars is how to develop a feminist ethics of autonomy that implies not just writing our own or individual’s self-authored stories, but assisting the individual in recognising him/herself in stories others tell about his/her life so-far. This is not merely a discursive exercise, but a corporeal one where the uniqueness of the story is premised on being voiced from a position of lived experience.
Gender, Work and Organization, 7th Biennial International Interdisciplinary Conference (June 27th - 29th)