From Foucault to constructionist discourses: change without agency?
The pervasive influence of Michel Foucault’s work on postmodern organizational theory and social constructionist discourses of identity is often seen as an assault on the possibilities of agency and change in organizations (Reed 1997, 2000; Newton 1998). By decentring the epistemological and moral ‘subject’ of rationalism and humanist thought Foucault appears to remove human agents from centre stage (Carr 1997; Gergen 1999; Linstead 2004). We can no longer rely on the ontological security of subject-object dualisms that allowed us to believe we could gain objective scientific knowledge of the world and the mind. Instead, passive ‘subjects’ who are the conduits, bearers or sites of discourses of power/knowledge replace the individualist belief in agency as a universal manifestation of rationality, autonomy, choice and reflexivity (Giddens 1984). Nor are there class or gendered constructs of collective social subjects or actors to which we can refer the possibilities of action and change in the social world (McNay 2000).