Body and Organization.
2000, London: Sage. 254 pages.
My gut reaction to this book is this: By now we know what to expect when we see a book called 'X and Organization'. X can be virtually anything -- for example, emotion, sexuality, discourse, metaphor, aesthetics, ethics, space, environment and, as in this case, body. There is something formulaic about such books -- a collage of contributions, focusing loosely around an idea or a concept. Contributions (1) agree in bemoaning the chronic neglect of X by organization theorists from the founding fathers of the discipline onwards; (2) highlight the importance of X in other, currently fashionable, discourses such as cultural studies, literary criticism, gender studies and discourse analysis; (3) censure existing theory for neglecting X, since the neglect of X is a sign of masculinist, essentialist, dualist, naturalist and various other types of regressive thinking; and (4) promise to redress the balance by revealing the exciting theoretical possibilities opened up by a critical re-introduction of X into organizatio nal discourses. As a contributor myself to a number of similar collections, I can see that these shared premises promptly lead to very different approaches to the task at hand. Some contributions are heavily theoretical, informing the reader of crucial developments in other disciplines, which the study of organizations has failed to register; others are playfully whimsical, seeking to stimulate the reader to new ways of conceiving X and, via them, to new ways of conceiving organizations. Other contributions seek to show that some advanced critical positions in organizational studies have already developed discourses in which X cries out for inclusion, yet others offer engaging, if modest, pieces of field research which appeal to the latent empiricist in all of us. Many of the contributions are provocative, some incomprehensible, and a few verge on the delirious. Most readers will find something to engage their critical qualities, yet the overall feeling one gets from dipping into such collections is one of sa d provincialism. The avant-garde developments in the metropolis -- Paris, Berkeley, galleries, art cinema, Starbucks cafes -- take time to filter through to our academic outpost of organizations, which remains hopelessly old-fashioned, parochial and naive. This is my gut feeling.
But gut feelings can be quite misleading. While we have become increasingly interested in gut feeling at the expense of reasoned argument, it would be doing a disservice to the editors and authors of this book to restrict our reaction to gut feeling, even if this is a book which seeks to restore the body to organizational theory. Of course, while reading the book, my body experienced different conditions -- absorption, concentration, impatience, boredom, relaxation, stiffness, discomfort, back-pain, headache, yawning, thirst, hunger. These are not the kinds of responses readers are interested in, even in the case of books on the body. Yet, this may well be something that must be remedied, since these bodily responses can be as valid, in their way, as a reasoned argument, and maybe even more so. Would it not, for instance, have been interesting to report that the book sparked off an hysterical attack on the reviewer, resulting in its physical destruction? Or that it triggered a recurrence of psychosomatic snee zing?
Let me say straight away that no hysterical attack or psychosomatic disorder was prompted by the book, at least in this reader. Instead, it prompted some discussions with a number of friends and colleagues, subsequent silence and reflection. Reflecting on the book, I found much to ponder, to question, to criticize, to agree with, and indeed to enjoy, but reflecting takes us to a position once removed from the experiences of the body. This is the first thing to be said about this book, that for all its championing of the body, it invites considerable reflection. The body, of course, as discussed and problematized by the authors, is a discursive formation. Within the dominant discourses of the era it is gendered, desiring and desired, talked about, inscribed, displayed, modified, used and abused. Most writers in this collection agree that the modernist body was shaped by Cartesian dualism, in which the mind controlled the body and, within organizations, the managers representing the organization's mind, control led the workers. 'We do not pay you to think' -- that archetypal slogan of Taylorist management consigns workers to the status of bodies. This is all admirably discussed by Dale and Burrell, who challenge this biologistic thinking on organizations, by juxtaposing 'postmodern', more fluid and boundary-less forms of organizing which correspond to a fluid, denaturalized conception of the body. They do, however, warn that postmodern emphasis on fluidity and movement offers legitimation for a mode of relation in which people do not touch each other, but consume each other. More of this anon.
Stephen Linstead's chapter 'Dangerous fluids and the organization-with-out-organs' is, by some way, the most provocative and audacious one in the collection. Like Dale and Burrell, Linstead is fascinated by the body, and the male body, in particular, as a compelling image for organizations the male body of organs, is a self-contained structure, a mechanical order of inter-connected parts to be mastered and controlled. The female body, on the other hand, fluid, with permeable boundaries, flows in and out, is the 'other', the source of disorder and pollution. By using a bold argument in which the suppression of female ejaculation is held as the prototype of discursive control over the body, Linstead seeks to replace the symbol of the phallus as an organizing principle with that of the ejaculating woman, who is, at the same time, desirous, pleasure-seeking, non-deficient and in control. Linstead offers thought-provoking evidence of the ejaculating female as an integral part of pre-Victorian sexual discourses whi ch did not identify women with otherness -- women were perfectly capable of both rationality and pleasure -- before launching a highly speculative line inspired by Deleuze and Guattari, according to which the unisex Body-without-Organs becomes the core metaphor for the Organization-without-Organs, where the guiding principle is fluidity, the absence of boundaries, antinomies and fixed states.
Catherine Casey's chapter 'Sociology sensing the body' is, in my view, the best-argued and most profound one in the book. In spite of rather excessive jargon, it is also the one which students of organizations will find most useful. She offers an excellent account of the body's position in current discourses, analyzes with great sharpness the meaning of the body within these discourses, offers some sociological observations on the reasons for the current fashion of theorizing the body and concludes with some apposite reservations on the shortcomings of current theorizing. She observes that having lost faith in reason, many theorists, following Foucault, have come to see the body as a site of emancipation, or at least of 'resistance'. 'The body is regarded paradoxically as both the site of discourse and operations of power, and of resistance to power. A now fragmented, and reconfigured, self-agency may be practised by the body through multiple identity representations and resistances to discursive power' (p. 5 4). However, Casey notes that 'the considerable growth in sociological and cultural interest in the body reflects the new prominence of the body in social practice. Yet, paradoxically, for all the promise of this new scholarly interest in the body there is no bodiliness in it. To date, sociologies of the body have largely continued modem science s dissociated detachment of the body. There is much interest in body fashioning, from cosmetic surgery, body piercing, diet, shape, colour, sexual identities, and varieties of identity-expression and display, and so forth. Yet, the body continues to be treated as an object, or surface, of a now fragmented and dispersed person' (p. 58). Casey's criticisms could well be applied to many contributions in this collection, which, while extolling the body, come close to losing it in a discursive din.
I much enjoyed Martin Parker's typically ambivalent contribution. Drawing inspiration from cyborg films (Robocop, Bladerunner, Terminator and a myriad others, of which he displays an encyclopaedic knowledge). Parker embarks on an interesting thought experiment which involves the cyborg as an entity that melts away the human-machine dualism. Humans cannot become the servants of machines or rebel against them, because they are already machines. As illustrated in modernist classics Metropolis and Modem Times, our bodies have already become parts of offices and machines; they have already been colonized by science, just as those of any cyborg character. In fact, Parker observes that the very discourses on the body encourage this trend, since we now talk of bodies as though they were cyborg characters. Parker discusses the moral quandary presented by many films in which good 'not-people' (i.e. androids, etc.) come to the aid of 'good people', by turning into moral agents and confronting 'bad people'. Here Parker f ails to observe the affinity with the classic dramatic device of the 'God from the Machine', but unravels what he refers to as the humanist hubris -- the belief in the natural difference and superiority of humans. Parker does not like this conclusion, and would prefer to rediscover 'a warm heart beating at the centre of all human activity' (p. 84), but finds himself dismissing such longings as nostalgic and romantic backward looks, which only serve to reinforce the rule of the cyborg.
His pessimistic conclusion is shared by many of the authors in this collection, who, far from discovering much recalcitrance or resistance in the body, end up by viewing it as the medium in which power is inscribed. Hancock and Tyler, for instance, through a study of flight attendants, do not merely duplicate Hochschild's (1983) famous findings regarding emotion labour, but extend the remit of management to 'aesthetic labour', the constant disciplinary control over the female attendants' appearance, image and self-presentation. Organizational bodies, they argue, are not merely toiling bodies, working physically and emotionally, but also bodies on display, constantly gazed, evaluated and judged for their looks as much as for their performance. Equally pessimistic are articles by Brewis and Sinclair and by Hofbauer. Both use field material, the former exploring how women experience their body at work, the latter assessing the impact of different office designs on their occupants. Both reinforce the Foucauldian view of power practices operating through the body, through the internalization of various discourses which enhance self-discipline and control. While both signal instances where power can be productive rather than restraining and where oppositional discourses can be discovered, such instances pale into insignificance compared with the overwhelming evidence of the constant presence of insecurity, self-monitoring, and self-policing.
The concluding article by Deborah Kerfoot 'Body work: Estrangement, disembodiment and the organizational "other"' deserves a mention, because it is very well argued and offers an excellent account of the overlapping discourses of management and masculinity, both of which hinge on the idea of control. The male executive in control of his body and in control of his organization is defined in juxtaposition to the other, the feminine, the disorderly, the unmanageable. The search for a male identity is thus co-extensive with the search for a managerial identity -- both are causes of acute anxieties, but also a certain 'buzz' or 'kick', whilst the subject has at least been successful in temporarily controlling the other.
This instrumental and dominating view of masculinity has, of course, been challenged, but Kerfoot offers as convincing an account as one is likely to find.
What of the collection as a whole? Four notable absences from the discussions axe class, age, disability and death. With very few exceptions, the authors here have lost interest in the body of the working male, that body celebrated by Lawrence and Orwell, lamented by Marcuse and theorized by Bourdieu as the foundation of working-class consciousness. Nor is the ageing, decaying or disabled body much in evidence here. More generally, the 'body in pain' (Scarry 1987) is conspicuous in its absence (except in Casey's contribution). In fact, as a reader I am intrigued that none of the authors seems to talk of his or her own body, as if this is a total taboo. Even in talking about the bodies of others, this is invariably in many guises (controlled, displayed, modified, gendered, etc.) but never in pain. Pain, as Scarry notes, silences discourse, replacing it with inarticulate screaming and shouting. The body in pain does not talk, yet this does not mean that it should not be talked about. At first sight, the absence of a discussion of the dead body is even more perplexing, since the dead body is pure body, unencumbered by troublesome subjectivity. It is there to be talked about, cut up in biopsies, manipulated, cremated and obliterated. At several points in the book, images of dead bodies, those bodies that inmates in Treblinka were forced to refer to as 'figuren', came uninvited to my imagination. Like those abused figuren, I felt that we have now increasingly come to talk of 'the body' as a euphemism for the de-subjectivized person. As such, the body serves our discourses well; much intelligent and interesting stuff can be written about it, yet, as Parker argues, 'thinking about bodies might actually dehumanize flesh' (p. 83). This is the price that we are forced to pay for being steamrolled into believing that there is no body outside discourse, just as there is no subject, identity or emotion outside discourse. The fact that body has become a busy location in many discourses does not imply that the body is the produ ct of discourse or exists purely in or through discourse. In a curious way, in the intention not to privilege any one discursive formation over any other, we have ended privileging discourse over other types of experience and knowledge.
Following Judith Butler, Brewis and Sinclair along with many others in this book, urge us not to think 'of the body as an a priori on which cultural norms are imposed, because it is impossible to think about, relate to or use the body outside discourse' (p. 196). It seems easy to me to puncture this view, in the same manner that the Eleatic philosophers' view that nothing moved was punctured. It is said that a disciple of the great Zeno (he of the paradoxes) was seeking to persuade gullible Athenians that nothing moved and while punctuating his arguments with wild gestures, he dislocated a shoulder. A doctor in the audience was asked to fix the shoulder, but he observed that he could not fix something that could not move. It is reported that the Zenoist gave up his views on the spot. The anecdote serves equally well to suggest that the body, recalcitrant, unpredictable and in pain, can make itself known and heard outside discursive formations. Casey alone among the authors in this collection is keenly aware o f this, and makes the point with a degree of eloquence:
'What might we sense and know if we listen to the body? We may feel sensations as non-linguistic myriad expressions of pain and pleasure, need and sorrow, contentment and joy. We may sense fear and anxiety, hope and excitement, long silenced by language and speech acts that evoke not simply regressive longings but progressive and ingressive energies of being. We may sense knowledges of experiences long forgotten by the mind but always known by the body before language was privileged as the sole representer of knowledge and experience. And we may sense present experience and bodily knowledge that refuses and surpasses language.' (p. 66)
Two concluding observations. Casey (again, alone among the authors in this collection) seeks to locate the current academic interest in the body in the broader social and cultural context of narcissistic pre-occupation with image, surface and appearance -- a most plausible endeavour which should sound a warning against jumping on a bandwagon, neither whose origin nor whose destination is especially emancipatory. Contemporary consumerism, fuelled by narcissistic strivings, has turned the body into a medium of expression and signification, but it is far from turning it into a vehicle for social emancipation. Second, in spite of the most determined efforts to write the sovereign liberal subject out of their discourses, I continue to be struck by the tenacity of the subject and its uncanny ability to creep in through the back door. Note, for instance, Parker's discomfort about viewing his own efforts as those of a cyborg character (p. 84), Hancock and Tyler's finding 'disturbing' the 'degradation' of aesthetic va lues by airlines' attempts to legislate the appearance of its employees (p. 125), Prichard's expression of 'horror' at an incident of sexual harassment where a man displays his penis to a woman in a lift, in the presence of others (p. 151), or Richardson's plea that her chapter should not be read as a call for women to abandon legal struggles for protection against harassment, when her Foucauldian argument ('dependence leads to disempowerment, the guarantee of freedom is freedom') leads precisely to this conclusion (p. 227). It seems to me that the liberal subject has some way to go yet, even in the discourses of its proclaimed adversaries.
Read this book. Love it or hate it. Don't limit yourselves to your body's response to it!
Hochschild, A. R.
1983 The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.
1987 The body in pain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||May 1, 2001|
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