There are several approaches using linguistic analysis to examine in
some detail claims and glosses found in management and policy
statements. I have list of some approaches, and a brief description of
what they, do in one of my own publications (one chapter online here). I also have file on a particular
approach developed by Fowler and his associates here.
However, there is one additional approach which is well-liked and which
I summarise in this file.
Fairclough has produced a large amount of work trying to use detailed
textual analysis to show how more general processes work,
especially 'ideology'. His political commitments seem clear -- in
this case, he wants to offer 'ways in which social researchers
can desacrilize the words of these new prophets' (207). We might not
want to embrace any implicit notions of radical social change here, but
everyone needs to be able to sort out genuine advice from self-serving
I have been to a few management seminars on the need for change myself,
Kanter's arguments sound horribly familiar. What no mere analysis of
the text will indicate is the tremendous social pressure put upon
participants in actual seminars to conform. Anyone wanting to challenge
dominant discourse is ridiculed or publicly condemned. Simple
manipulation techniques involve 'role stripping' (Goffman's term)
where everyone's status is reduced to a common denominator and we are
all infantilised by making us wear single name badges, or perform
demeaning tasks in public (including role play, singing a song,
putting on a performance, or demonstrating our lack of physical
fitness). This text gives you a clue in appealing for some sort of
childlike curiosity as a stimulus to creativity.
We can leave aside some substantial theoretical labour, and political
commitment, and proceed cheerfully and vulgarly as before. Let us
consider an article of his written in 2002 (with Chiapello - -so
I refer to the authors as C&F). This one analyses a textbook in
management theory, written by a well-known guru -- a certain Rosabeth
Kanter. It is about the need to 'evolve' [a typically neutral
looking term implying that organisational change is natural] towards a
new management model. This type (genre) of management text makes a
number of claims about what
is good and bad practice, for example. Some 'make catgeorial claims'
(197) (that is straight assertions). Some are 'normative' and
'obligational' -- something must
be done. Some sections offer descriptions, but these are also
prescriptions -- new managers do wonderful work [they do, or they should?]. Disguises like these make
the text look like it is an analysis of current conditions, as do
claims that the book is itself 'based' (somehow) on
questionnaire responses. In this case, say C&F, there is actually
no methodological section, and no details about which claims relate to
which data -- so veterans of methods courses can have a field day?
Much of Chiappello's and Fairclough's article describes the new
management models that develop as capitalism develops. Kanter's purpose
is to do her best to persuade us that the latest model is better, and
also inevitable if we are to continue to prosper. She is also concerned
to talk up her own expertise, of course, and that of the general group
of management gurus who, C&F remind us, earn considerable amounts
of money in writing management books and also running expensive
The specific features of the book are of interest here, and you might
want to think about applying some of these analyses to other kinds of
management literature particularly, and persuasive material more
C&F locate management texts like this in a framework that suggests
that three key areas of legitimation need to be secured in periods of
change -- 'stimulation, security and justice' (201). This
particular text is into stimulation, encouraging managers to be more
creative, to embrace change, to follow their dreams and all that stuff.
Security is offered to all those who want to belong to the team or
community in the new company. Fairness is demonstrated by recognising
everyone's talents, 'giving people "recognition", "a warm
glow", "making everyone a Hero"' (201).
Obviously, all depends on whether people are willing to embrace the
changes and develop the new regime. This hints at the need to develop
a 'protagonist - antagonistic relation', clearly setting out the
new approach from the old, identifying the people who will support the
change, and denigrating those who will resist. There is also a clear
hierarchy being defended here, of course -- the 'great ones...
"changemasters, and leaders, pace-setters, idea scouts, innovators, and
actors, producers-directors" and so on', while the 'small ones
are represented primarily as "laggards" (also "sceptics",
"resistors")' (202). Obviously, the great ones are the main actors in
the text, doing all the leading, inspiring, and so on -- [which is a
great defence of the exorbitant salaries that managers pay themselves].
So,'leadership' is demonstrated by someone being able to combine
different opinions and models of the firm or of capitalist society [and
thus to deliver a 'knowledge effect', as in realist discourse --
see 'film criticism' ?].
Apparent divisions between different positions are dealt with in the
The most obvious differences are between leaders and laggards, and this
is dealt with by simply asserting that successful companies are those
that remove or disempower their laggards. A whole series of contrasts
is set up to make this point -- for example, in comparing successful
and unsuccessful companies, Kanter provides the inevitable list of
bullet points, including this one: 'Conflict is seen as
creative (instead of disruptive)' (C&F 203). C&F say that
the frequent use of bullet-points and other lists is deliberately
trivialising and 'paratactic' -- building up meanings by addition. They
also ''facilitate the transition from prescription to action (think of
shopping lists or "to do" lists) '(198). [I think they are now pressed
on authors by publishers who have come to see this as a kiund of
Other statements include 'Communities can be mapped in formal
ways, but they also have an emotional meaning, a feeling of connection.
Communities have both a structure and a soul' (C&F 204). The latter
is an example, according to C&F, of appropriating [feel-good]
normal words like 'communities', and using them to lend support
to a particular 'inspirational' discourse.
There are also equivalences or similarities [identity thinking -- see
Adorno on this here] -- between
community, in this particular case. Sometimes this is managed by adding
together items in a list --'"flexible, empowering, collaborative"'
(204) [this reminds me very much of the famous three-part list
identified as characteristic of the talk of British politicians, or,
more recently, of Tony Blair's famous verb-free sentences which
often had lists of feel-good words that listeners could add together
how they wished]. C&F say an additional feature of such equivalence
is is to demonstrate the complexity of the thought of the management
guru, as opposed to the simplicities of their opponents. [Reminders
here of the analysis of televangelism
knowledge'-- confusion and complexity in social life is demonstrated in
order to beat off rivals, then a claim is made about some privileged
insight offered uniquely to the televangelist, and coming, in this
case, from God].
Metaphors are sometimes also used to suggest some equivalence or
connection -- in this case, the role of the changemaster is seen as
an 'idea scout', intelligence agent , or skilled monitor of the
competing information being broadcast, as if by a radio.
The analysis ends by examining a list of seven skills required of the
modern manager and innovator -- ' "tuning into the environment,
kaleidoscopic thinking, an inspiring vision, coalition building,
nurturing a working team, persisting through difficulties, and
spreading credit and recognition"' (C&F 206). The list actually
describes the key elements of an inspirational discourse, and some
self-congratulation on being able to carry on in the face of
opposition. There are hints of religion, counselling, cognitive theory
and play, politics, and parenting -- [these presumably help the reader
by identifying parallel and respectable activities, and of course, lead
to self-aggrandisement of the manager].
EXAMPLE: Try this on any management text or seminar of your own -- or
take the general principles and try it on any 'political' text --
New Labour on the Dome? New Labour on community regeneration?
Chiapello E and Fairclough N (2002) 'Understanding the
ideology: a transdisciplinary contribution from critical discourse
analysis and new sociology of capitalism' in Discourse and Society
13(2): 185--208 or online at: http://das.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/13/2/185