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Human Relations

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Resisting resistance: Counter-resistance, consent and compliance in a


consultancy firm
Dan Krreman and Mats Alvesson
Human Relations 2009 62: 1115
DOI: 10.1177/0018726709334880
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Human Relations
DOI: 10.1177/0018726709334880
Volume 62(8): 11151144
The Author(s), 2009
Reprints and Permissions:
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The Tavistock Institute
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Resisting resistance: Counter-resistance,


consent and compliance in a
consultancy firm
Dan Krreman and Mats Alvesson

A B S T R AC T

Consent, obedience and resistance can be seen as key concerns in


management and organization. Why people comply is a crucial issue
in the field. We address the theme within a specific area: management consultants in a big firm that places quite a lot of pressure on
its personnel to be hardworking and predictable and to subordinate
themselves to hierarchy, standards and tight production schedules. By
studying how the discourses of Ambition and Autonomy clash and
interact in a consultancy firm, we add and develop the concept of
counter-resistance to expand our understanding of the dynamics of
resistance. The idea is to show how the impulse to resist becomes
countered and neutralized. The study offers insights into the deeper
mechanisms and dynamics behind consent and shows the multidimensional character of resistance.

K E Y WO R D S

discourse analysis  management  organizational theory power


 resistance

When and why do people in organizations obey? When and why do they
resist? How do these reactions play out? Themes like consent, obedience and
resistance can be seen as key concerns in management and organization. As
a wide body of literature suggests, the answers to these questions in organization analysis depend on context. In this article, we address them within
a specific area: management consultants in a big firm that places quite a lot
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of pressure on its personnel to be hardworking, predictable and willing


to subordinate themselves to hierarchy, standards and tight production
schedules.
Our case is perhaps of extra interest as it is an example of knowledge
work. In short, knowledge work is work that involves or is assumed to
involve the application of sophisticated knowledge by knowledgeable
individuals, or indeed, the development of new knowledge. Knowledge work
by definition includes individual judgment and discretion (Alvesson, 2004)
and therefore it appears to also reduce the significance of the manager at
least as a manager is conventionally understood. Knowledge work perhaps
involves the orchestrated work of several knowledgeable specialists, but it
leaves little room for pure orchestrators.
However, in this article we are going to discuss and analyze a case
where knowledge workers appear subject not only to managerial division of
labor, but also to what they experience as extreme work conditions, in
particular long working hours, and yet they subject themselves willingly.
They do not engage much in protest, sabotage or other forms of explicit
resistance and there are very few visible signs of resistance to the prescribed
subjectivity. This phenomenon prompts at least two questions: how does this
happen? Why dont the knowledge workers resist? In this article we attempt
to answer both. In short and in reverse order, our answer is that they do, in
a sense, resist, although in unexpected and interrupted ways. By studying
how the discourses of Ambition and Autonomy clash and interact in a
consultancy firm, we add and develop the concept of counter-resistance in
an attempt to further expand our understanding of the dynamics of resistance. The idea is to show how the impulse to resist becomes countered and
neutralized.
The article is organized as follows: we start with an elaboration of the
characteristics of knowledge work and then move on to a discussion of the
concepts of power and resistance. After a short note on methodology, the case
is introduced and briefly described. Patterns of resistance and compliance in
the case are analyzed and discussed. The article concludes with a discussion
of the relationship between compliance, identification, subordination and
conformity.

Some key characteristics of knowledge work


Knowledge, knowledge-intensive firms and knowledge work has fast become
one of the most popular areas of research in organization studies (see
Alvesson, 2004; Deetz, 1995, 1998; Journal of Management Studies, 1993;

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Krreman & Alvesson Resisting resistance

Morris & Empson, 1998; Nonaka, 1994; Spender, 1996; Starbuck, 1992).
Knowledge work differs from other forms of work because it is assumed to
draw upon intellectual and cognitive abilities, rather than strength, craft,
capital or a well-oiled machinery. People working in management consultancy and other knowledge-intensive firms are typically assumed to be
engaged in complex and difficult tasks, which cannot be neatly converted
into standardized work procedures and regulations. Thus, knowledgeintensive companies are forced to attract and retain qualified people who can
adapt their repertoires to meet the demands of the task. Consequently,
management strictly through a focus on behavior is difficult as a considerable amount of self-organization is necessary. In contrast to bureaucracies
where mission-critical organizational knowledge is stored or is made
manifest in procedures and processes, knowledge-intensive firms utilize
knowledge made manifest in qualified individuals.
Interestingly, power in and around knowledge work and operating on
employees in knowledge intensive firms is rarely analyzed explicitly, with only
a few exceptions (e.g. Deetz, 1995; Kosmala & Herrbach, 2006). Typically,
power is analyzed implicitly and usually under the label of control (Krreman
& Alvesson, 2004; Kunda, 1992; Wilkins & Ouchi, 1983). As Kunda (1992)
drawing on Etzioni (1964) observed, knowledge-intensive firms operate
in circumstances where behavior in key respects might be out of reach of
explicit efforts to organize and control, for example, where professionals
make judgment calls in complex situations. By necessity, managerial activities
tend to target behavior indirectly in such organizations. Of course, control in
all organizations addresses a large number of objects using a multitude
of means, from formal rules and structures, to a variety of output and
process measures, supervision, promotions, rewards, normative control, etc.
(Alvesson & Krreman, 2004). However, management in knowledgeintensive firms tends to pay more attention to the regulation of ideas, beliefs,
values and identities of employees than most other organizations. The subjectivity of employees becomes highly central. To produce individuals with
the right mindset and motivation becomes a more vital part of the total
apparatus of control mechanisms and practices than is the case for other
organizations.

Power in organizations
Mainstream management theory generally prefers to refer euphemistically to
power, by means of concepts such as leadership, restructuring, and downsizing, or even inverse euphemisms, such as team-work and empowerment,

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than to engage directly with the many facets of power. Yet, as Pfeffer (1992)
points out, even from a managerialist point of view this strategy is inherently
problematic:
It is not clear that by ignoring the social realities of power and influence we can make them go away, or that by trying to build simpler,
less interdependent social structures we succeed in building organizations that are more effective or that have greater survival value . . .
By trying to ignore issues of power and influence in organization, we
lose our chance to understand these critical social processes and train
managers to cope with them.
(p. 30)
Other managerialist authors see the will to power as an important and
positive motive for exercising influence (McClelland & Burnham, 1976). For
more critically oriented scholars, power is a key theme and tends to be associated with negative or problematic aspects such as domination or suppression of (legitimate) interests. With the expansion of critical management
studies and the increasing popularity of feminism and poststructuralism
adding to labor process theory, radical Weberianism, critical theory, that is,
what Burrell and Morgan (1979) refer to as radical structuralism and radical
humanism we have a broad set of power-detecting and -exploring perspectives. Power is here linked to the control of resources, structures, behaviors,
agendas, ideologies and cultures, as well as various aspects of subjectivity
(e.g. Clegg, 1989; Clegg et al., 1996; Hardy, 1994; Lukes, 1974).
Although power exists in many forms and shapes, it is typically understood from three dominant perspectives. In the first perspective power as
a restraining force power is understood as something that makes people
do things other people want them to do, thus restricting them from doing
things they otherwise would have chosen to do. In its most elementary form,
power is from this perspective at display when A makes B to do things B
otherwise wouldnt do. A second perspective is less interested in naked power
than in how ideologies and cultural traditions make people comply with an
existing order without much need for the mobilization of explicit power in
dealing with visible conflict (Lukes, 1974). This idea of social power provides
a means to understand how power operates when social reality is constructed
in ways that avoid visible conflict. Commentators with poststructuralist
convictions find in this analysis that power is ultimately something that
restrains an abstract, essential and autonomous individual, whose real
interests are only discernible through the construction of relations that are
free from the manipulative and distorted effects of power (Knights &
McCabe, 1999: 203).

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This hints at a third dominant perspective on power in which power


becomes decoupled from specific interests and is viewed as a productive,
rather than restrictive, force. Of course, most perspectives understand power
as a resource as well as a restriction, but this third view emphasizes the
former aspect. From this perspective, power is an integral part of social
reality that enables social agents to act in particular ways. This conception
of power is said to understand power as power to, rather than as power
over (Chan, 2000). The most important contributor to this perspective on
power is undoubtedly Foucault (1977, 1980; for applications in organization
studies, see Alvesson, 1996; Burrell, 1988; Chan, 2000; Covaleski et al.,
1998; Knights & Vurdubakis, 1994; Knights & Willmott, 1989).
Foucault regards power as the visible arrangement of practices that are
applied in a variety of forms and social fields. Power relations are best understood in terms of the forms and techniques in which they are expressed.
Power is particularly involved in the production of the subject, through
defining and fixing individuals sense of how they should be. Subjectivity
tends to be reduced to an effect of power, which is decentralized from specific
actors and their interests. It is the exercise of power that matters.
Foucault takes a particular interest in how emergent social practices,
such as surveillance systems (e.g. the panopticon) and the organization of
industrial work, are connected to the therapeutic notion of curing, rather
than punishing, criminals, thus transforming the prison into an institution
bent on producing corrected deviants, that is, normalized and domesticated
bodies that no longer engage in deviant (and dangerous) conduct (Foucault,
1974). Consequently, according to Foucault, behavioral change in modernity
is achieved through a general recipe for the exercise of power over men: the
mind as a surface of inscription of power, with semiology as its tool; the
submission of bodies through control of ideas (Foucault, 1974: 102). Critics
would argue that this view means that interests are removed from analysis
and that the still considerable significance of material sources and operations
of power, as well as ideological forces (e.g. consumerism, market liberalism),
escape serious attention (Hoy, 1986; Thompson, 2005).

Resistance
In any attempt to understand power, it is important to consider the
potential for resistance. Although typically conceptualized as the flipside of
the coin in relation to power, resistance is sometimes brought to the forefront of analysis (e.g. Carr & Brower, 2000). Researchers using critical
perspectives tend to be particularly interested in the anatomy of resistance

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(see Ball & Wilson, 2000; Fleming & Spicer, 2003; Jermier et al., 1994;
Kersten, 1998; Knights & McCabe, 1999; Prasad & Prasad, 2000; Thomas
& Davies, 2005).
Obviously, the meaning of resistance differs depending on the perspective of power. The power-as-a-restraining-force perspective typically depicts
resistance as more or less binary responses to the exercise of power. Such
responses may include activities like, to cite Carr and Browers (2000) empirical study, conditional effort (e.g. withdrawal and foot-dragging), exit, voice,
sabotage, enacting alternative channels and engaging stakeholders (which
includes well-known resistance strategies such as leaks and whistle blowing;
see Ackroyd & Thompson, 1999, for a review). The common denominator
here is that resistance is understood as a response to attempts to exercise
power over (Chan, 2000) the resisting party.
The power-as-a-productive-force perspective understands resistance,
not as the opposite of power, but rather as inherent in the exercise of power.
Resistance is thus not understood as something that is qualitatively different
from power but is an integral part of the exercise of power: it can assume
many forms, but always exists within a network of power relations. Thomas
and Davies (2005) see resistance as a constant process of adaptation,
subversion and reinscription of dominant discourses (p. 687), the tensions
and contradictions of social processes around alternative discourses and
subject positions producing a deviation from a specifically prescribed subject
position (Weedon, 1987). Almost everything related to subjectivity and not
fully in line with a prescribed response may then be labeled resistance. The
approach emphasizes the individual and the local setting and therefore is
characterized by a rather limited focus (Ganesh et al., 2006). To consider
what is happening after this redefinition of discourse and self is vital, yet
often marginalized by poststructuralist and Foucauldian views. The key
element is the articulation of alternative meanings from the dominant/
prescribed, in particular with regard to the self.
Resistance occurs because the exercise of power necessarily is active
and selective, thus inducing the possibility to counter-act and counter-select.
Resistance is not clear cut, any more than power is, nor does it generate a
coherent form or shape. Resistance and evasive action lead to new forms of
power: ironically, it is in itself an example of power, as in power to (Chan,
2000; see also Fleming & Spicer, 2007). It is important to stress that resistance is a form of power, as there is, arguably, a) some force behind the
impulse to resist and b) the effect of the resistance act (or experience implying
a protest) leads to a power response.
A key element here is that resistance can in itself be resisted. Mumby
(1997) hints at this possibility in his analysis of the dialectics of hegemony,
involving (modest) struggle. However, hegemony is a tricky concept: one of
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Krreman & Alvesson Resisting resistance

those baggy, and ambiguous categories in which Gramsci specialized


(Johnson, 2007: 97). In some interpretations, hegemony is viewed as being
about war of position leading to the mobilizing of desire and will for radical
change or passive revolution. Here it is seen as the winning of consent
through ideological uniformity that is accomplished through cultural and
symbolic means, while others invoke material and structural conditions
(Johnson, 2007). Hegemony is also described as a strategic, contingent
compliance, based on a realistic assessment of the balance of forces (Levy
et al., 2003: 102).
More generally, the concept of hegemony in the broad sense of some
sort of centered consensus or common sense does not allow for a distinction between hegemonic responses to resistance (for example, by rendering
resistance illegitimate and marginal through evoking common sense) and
resisting resistance (for example, by non-commitment to particular sets of
action suggested by previously embraced moves of resistance). In short,
hegemonic responses to resistance presuppose a hegemon, while resisting
resistance does not. In a multipolar context such as knowledge-intensive
firms where corporate, professional, and personal identity projects (Alvesson
& Krreman, 2007) typically strive for definitional authority the concept
of hegemony assumes and explains too much.
In this article, we therefore address a multipolar situation where a
strong impulse to protest is somehow neutralized (without the direct use of
visible power or explicit conflict) and we use the concept of counterresistance to illuminate and to further our understanding of this form of
resistance. Counter-resistance is similar to hegemony in that it points to and
highlights the potential for moves of resistance to evoke counter-moves that
undermine, contradict and subvert them. It is not a view competing with
hegemony, but it adds to the understanding of process, as well as to the inner
dynamics of the (re-)production of consent in multipolar contexts and/or the
absence of action following on from a self-positioning implying resistance.
The possibility of resisting resistance has hardly been addressed in the
literature. Our contribution here adds to broader views on ideological domination and hegemony by zooming in on what may be behind a surface
expression of consent/lack of overt protest. Having said that, counterresistance does not necessarily lead to consent, and consent is not necessarily
forged by counter-resistance only. Consent is an outcome that, clearly, can
be fueled by a wide array of other processes, for example, material rewards,
sanctions, assessment of difficulties in accomplishing successful resistance.
We return to this point below.
In the present case, we emphasize the level of discourse without
necessarily reducing the operations of power and compliance to this level.
We think the structural, economic and ideological context of the case firm is
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important to bear in mind formal hierarchies, surveillance and


rewards/sanctions of a material nature certainly interact with discourses.
It is important to go beyond subjectivity in studying resistance we
agree with Fleming and Spicer (2003), Ganesh et al. (2006) and Kunda
(1992) that a refusal to let oneself be defined in line with corporate demands
or ideals is insufficient as a project of resistance if it is not accompanied by
action. Resistance, as we understand it, implies agency. Irony or refusal to
become a corporate dope may even legitimize compliant action, as this is
seen as not me. But acts have as many, or more, ideological effects as subjective beliefs (Fleming & Spicer, 2003). Efforts to accomplish transformations
are crucial and so fully-fledged studies of resistance should thus consider
both subjectivity and action. But taking an interest in action or the absence
of action calls for attention to subjectivity both in relation to what is to be
resisted (e.g. a standard for being/acting) and what is to be done in terms of
action (i.e. the implications of this resistance). To resist the norm in terms of
self-definition (this is not me) and to engage in resistance-action based on an
alternative self-definition (this is me) are not necessarily the same thing. One
may reject an effort from management to identify closely with the firm, but
whether this kind of resistance is related to a general discomfort or a specific
subject position as a professional, a family person or a union member is
another matter. We here explore the resistance dynamics following from the
impulse to resist, for example, what is happening when something triggers a
non-compliant self-position? What discourse(s) and self-definition(s) are
involved and how can we understand the relation between them?

Method
The empirical basis of this article comes from a case study of a management
consulting firm. The empirical material consists of transcripts from 59 interviews with 51 people, as well as notes from participant observation at several
organizational gatherings. We performed six day-long observations and typically focused on specific events, such as the annual meeting between managers
(the top one-third of the firm participated), a training session organized by the
consultants, the inaugural meeting of a new competence group, various
internal information events and a two-day participant observation of a typical
work group. We also have observations of organizational members interacting with external audiences, that is, firm presentations for students and appearances at job fairs. People from all levels and sections of the organization have
been interviewed: the CEO, people in managerial positions, support staff,
newly recruited organizational members and so on (see Table 1).

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Krreman & Alvesson Resisting resistance

Table 1 Interviewee sample overview


Level

# Participants

# Interviews

Consultants
Partner & Associate Partner
Manager
Consultant

10
12
12

10
15
12

Staff
Research (knowledge management)
Finance
HR

4
3
3

8
3
4

Outsiders
Ex-employees
Customers

2
5

2
5

51

59

Total

Initially, we performed 20 interviews and four observations. This


material indicated high degrees of conformism and compliance, and a strong
emphasis on career, development and high performance, typically metered as
amount of work hours. The observations were particularly instructive in this
phase. Subsequent interviews included probes into how informants perceived
career, workload, degrees of freedom and autonomy, and similar themes.
Subsequent observations were carried out to illuminate these themes, for
example, we decided to follow a work group over two days, an exercise that
gave us in-depth understanding of the overt, covert and taken for granted
pressures organizational members both exert and receive to make everybody
work hard for long hours.
The material has primarily been analyzed through a form of discourse
analysis. In the following sections, we will present and analyze compliance
and resistance in this consultancy firm from a discursive pragmatist approach
(Alvesson & Krreman, 2000a). Put briefly, discursive pragmatism is based
on an assumption that (some) language use is productive, but also may represent phenomena (practices, meanings) at a short distance from the site of
the language use. For example, what is expressed in the interview situation
does not mirror the mind of the interviewee in any abstract sense, but gives
indications of some thoughts/feelings that the interviewee may experience
also in other settings, not extremely different from the interview setting, for
example, when speaking freely with others about work or when given space
to think about issues in a non-constraining and reflection-stimulating setting.

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The approach allows for sensitivity to language use in context, but also
provides space for the exploration of somewhat broader patterns. In a sense,
discursive pragmatism attempts to claim the middle ground between the
text-centric approach of micro-discourse (see Potter & Wetherell, 1987)
and broader meso- as well as the all-encompassing and all-constituting
Foucauldian mega-discourses (Alvesson & Krreman, 2000b). The study of
discourses then does not necessarily have to be restricted to the text level
only; it is possible to investigate issues close to discourses, for example,
dominant local meanings and practices. Having said that, discursive pragmatism also allows for some textual autonomy. Discourses may therefore
have material effects, but this is an empirical question and needs to be
corroborated, rather than assumed a priori.
In practical terms, the discursive pragmatist approach means that the
levels of the text, meaning and practice (Alvesson & Krreman, 2000b) are
viewed as autonomous empirical domains. Thus, we primarily view interview material as a basis for understanding the structure and nature of how
organizational members talk about organizational phenomena. Observation
data have been viewed as primarily providing insight into organizational
practices in use. Interview data have also been viewed as providing clues on
meanings and practices, while observational data have been viewed as
capable of providing clues on meanings and conventions of conversations.
Initially, the interview data suggested that the two dominant discourses
had a similar, if not an equal, impact on practice and meaning. However, it
was quite clear over time, and from the observational data, that this was
not the case. In many ways, the method has made it possible to analyze the
identified discourses in an unusually nuanced and complex way. A more
micro-oriented approach would have been content to identify the discourses
and their effects in conversation, while more muscular assumptions about
the agency inherent in discourse, would either assume too much or too little
about the impact of the Autonomy discourse.

The case
Magnum Consulting is fast-growing and has over 30,000 employees worldwide. It works with management and information-technology (IT) consultancy. It caters to all consultancy market niches, but claims to be
particularly strong at implementation. Magnum clearly qualifies as a knowledge-intensive company virtually all consultants have an academic degree,
some services may be standardized but are generally quite complex, product

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Krreman & Alvesson Resisting resistance

and personnel development are deemed critical activities and attract a relatively high proportion of resources.
Hierarchy is highly visible and pronounced at Magnum. Although
there are claims that the grips of the hierarchy tend to loosen as one
advances, sheer organizational demographics those under 30 years old
constitute roughly 70 percent of the work-force make clear that a strong
majority of organizational members face hierarchical constraints in their
work. The firm is a career company, which means that initial advancement
is fast and dramatic for the individual. There are four basic levels: analyst,
consultant, manager and partner. Employees are expected to advance within
fixed time frames and only a limited number will eventually become partners.
Junior people carefully monitor their position in the companys promotion/
differentiation system. Hierarchy is assumed to capture very well competence
and experience. It is seen as a way to legitimately fine tune from above as
well as below. Work is standardized or regulated in a variety of ways at
Magnum: unified package of methods, standardized and selective recruitment, continuous training and development, formalized systems for evaluation and appraisal and elaborate systems for knowledge management.
The firm thus, in many respects, appears somewhat different from the
idealized conception of the contemporary, progressive, post-bureaucratic
firm that may be most attractive for younger people. Magnum is hierarchical
and has systems, structures and procedures for almost everything, resembling
the traditional bureaucracy more than a flat, informal, adhocratic and entrepreneurial organization. It does, however, offer a lot of positive things for its
employees: high and increasing wages, rapid promotion possibilities, a lot of
training and development, international work, quite effective work practices,
a bright and ambitious workforce and an elitist image and self-confirmation
that is good for the self-esteem of those that are employed at, and get
promoted within, the organization. In polls, Magnum is broadly viewed as
an attractive employer among students in business and engineering in the
country.
Magnum is not a workplace that puts a premium on dissent. On the
contrary, the firm invests a lot of energy in making organizational members
compliant. Systems, procedures around management control, detailed HRM
practices in combination with a lot of rewards and the demographics of the
firm population all contain resistance-resisting elements. The prospects of
promotion, better work conditions and increasingly higher levels of material
rewards hierarchically controlled and contingent upon carefully monitored
performances mean the presence of conventional forms of power, but this
cannot be understood simply as naked power in operation. We identify three

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important aspects of compliance at Magnum: subordination, identification


and conformity.
Magnum recruits young and inexperienced people that almost by
default subordinate themselves to the systems and structures of the work
methodology. The initial uncertainty that is so keenly felt by newcomers
further fuels subordination and compliance, which are in turn facilitated by
the sheer intensity of the symbolic saturation of the perceived strong corporate culture. In particular, the way hierarchy is over-loaded with meaning
expressing all at once the power structure, competence levels and the
expected career path underscores the importance of subordination and
obedience. Hierarchical differences are accepted, even celebrated, because
they are believed to express differences in competence, rather than raw power
differences.
The hierarchy constructs career advancement as self-evident and
natural, thus subtly suggesting that all members even newcomers
should take on the partners point of view; this converts the equivocality of
hierarchy into a particularly effective device for achieving subordination.
Hierarchy is a ladder for climbing, as well as a vehicle for expressing and
developing competence, making it less cumbersome as a source of subordination and constraints. Interestingly, in this case hierarchical differentiation
appears to perpetuate motivation and reinforce career aspirations, rather
than cause alienation (see Alvesson & Krreman, 2007; Grey, 1994;
Krreman & Alvesson, 2004). Motivation is further fueled by the career
paths that provide templates for evaluation, that is, whether the subordinate
is on his or her way towards his or her ideal self or if he or she needs
improvement, which is the euphemism used at Magnum for failure to live
up to expectations. The elaborate character of hierarchical differences, and
the career paths thus constructed, maintains the motivation over time. Each
hierarchical step is only a partial success, which always will be transformed
into new aspirations and identity deficits, until one becomes a partner or
exits the firm.
Identification appears to happen fast, with little or no obvious resistance. This is partly an effect of Magnums HRM practices. The prospective
employee is encouraged to define him- or herself as a person that has chosen
this kind of work. The definition consequently produces a standard to which
the subject becomes committed. This type of recruitment practice is known
as cultural matching (Bergstrm, 1998), however at Magnum, cultural
matching extends beyond recruitment practices. Almost all HRM practices
include aspects of cultural engineering more or less geared towards organizational members self-definitions. Evaluations, both formal and informal,
include aspects of conduct.

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Krreman & Alvesson Resisting resistance

Identification is also partly explained by the perceived attractiveness


of the organizational identity and image (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Dutton
et al., 1994), which is of course contingent upon material rewards associated
with employment and promotion. Part of the attractiveness lies in the fact
that the elite status of membership is emphasized in most internal contexts.
The idea of an elite is justified and reinforced through upmarket recruitment,
continuous competence development, high wages and good career prospects
(either within or outside the company):
Magnum Consulting invariably plugs the greatness of Magnum
Consulting. We are doing well. We are profitable, salaries are good . . .
They work for a company with a good reputation. It feels a bit posh
to work for Magnum Consulting.
(Bert, manager, staff position)
Social identities and processes of identification provide, among other things,
comfort and security. Social identity creates a bond between the individual
and the collective. Consultants who typically have their workplace at a
clients facilities often face constraints in their identity work. Specifically, they
often have to cope with not really being affiliated to the particular place at
which they work and thus prevented from evoking their social identity in
full. Client personnel may also be skeptical. Hence, occasions for identification become scarce and possibly more intense.
The main source for identity work at Magnum is not only communal
but also collective. Comments on organizational and social identity at
Magnum uniformly downplay individuality, spontaneity and creativity.
Instead, there is a strong emphasis on the collective, on cooperation and
conformity. As a consequence, the individual is typically viewed as rather
insignificant, at least in terms of organizational resources. The team is
stressed and the individual, particularly at lower levels, is viewed as perfectly
exchangeable and replaceable; a part of the efforts to produce an effective
organizational machinery through investments in structures, procedures and
arrangements constraining and supporting employees and reducing reliance
on unique skills. This viewpoint may be common in organizations, but in
this study people emphasized it as typical for this firm and as a source of
negative surprise. The conformity and homogeneity is widely observed and
part of the image of the firm. As such it underscores the competent and
reliable aspects of the organization. It also portrays the firm as dull and
lacking in both creativity and innovation capacity.
On the other hand, membership at Magnum represents status and selfesteem. Collective belongingness is important as a marker of difference (see
Kondo, 1990). The conformist pressures at work at Magnum are mainly

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motivated by concerns for reliability, predictability and the effective use of


human resources. Magnum workers work in an environment that encourages social distance, emotional control and calculative rationality. As noted
above, they tend to believe that they are a chosen elite and belong to a collective of special individuals. This construction of a we is fairly minimalistic,
but is still a resource that makes the corporate machinery run smoothly.
People do not stand out, at least not until they reach more senior positions.
This is related to demographics and career routes: people typically enter
directly after university in large numbers. They have no other significant
work experiences and tend to be adaptable and to conform.
And yet, a lot of effort is invested in constructing compliance at
Magnum precisely because organizational members are not easily controlled.
After all, much work is about making judgment calls in ambiguous situations
and, hence, employees exercise significant degrees of discretion and
autonomy. The workforce at Magnum is not typically deprived of choice.
On the contrary, they are empowered individuals with both attractive
options within and outside the firm and robust resources that can be
mobilized to help them get their way.

Analysis: Resistance is futile


Although there are many attractive aspects of employment at Magnum high
pay, rapid promotion, status there are nevertheless grounds for concerns
amongst Magnum personnel, at least according to the views expressed by a
large number of our informants. Consider, for example, the following
interview excerpts:
You tend to feel controlled during the first years, both in terms of tasks
and procedures. When you have completed one project, often you just
are picked up by whatever project needs manpower. If you cant tell
people why a project suits their competences, you just staff them
because you need whomever; it will in the long run affect ambition and
motivation. We have been extremely biased towards delivery on time,
so we never really take time to see if we can find projects that suit the
particular competences and ambitions of individuals. Its more like we
have a vacancy here and you are available.
(Maria, senior manager)
There is a tradition at Magnum to regard individuals as perfectly
exchangeable. If you have a project that lacks a resource, and there is

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a resource available, you move the available resource to the project,


and you are expected to work there. If you dont want to, or if you do
not quite have the qualifications, well, strong project management is
supposed to take care of that. For me personally, that has meant that
I have ended up working on projects I explicitly announced that I didnt
want to work on, because they were neither dealing with my area of
expertise, nor my preferred branch of industry.
(John, consultant)
(Q: what do you think is expected from you by clients?)
That I, as a consultant, have answers to all questions. Thats my experience, so far. That I am the expert I have been sold as. That I quickly
can build confidence in my capabilities. To deliver, to always be
around. Always. You are an around-the-clock slave, that you are not
expected to have a life outside work.
(Eve, junior consultant)
Despite these complaints, there is not much manifested resistance.
Magnum employees work hard and comply. Most self-constructions involve
a hardworking, loyal subject, characterized by circumscribed negativity.
Ambivalence is more pronounced than resistance.
Why are organizational members complying? We identify and work
with five discourses that appear to shed light on this question. The subjects
construct their work situation and themselves in a net of pro-business or
work-focused discursive formations where the following elements are
salient:

Discourse of consultancy work and the consultancy business circling


around ambition, delivery and hard work.
Discourse of competence and development.
Discourse of career, promotion and instrumentalism.

The first refers to constructions of the nature of the consultancy


business (where client-orientation is often a strong disciplinary element;
Anderson-Gough et al., 2000; Deetz, 1995), the second to a natural want
to develop, become good enough and then improve even more, the third
refers to instrumental interests. This is, of course, tightly connected to
material rewards, structures and practices being in place in order to detect
deviations from behaviors in tune with these discourses, but there is a
strong element of naturalization of the consultancy world in general and in

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the firm in particular having a strong culture of delivery. All these


discourses are salient in the interview statements of most employees. They
call for a compliant, receptive subject refraining from questions, doubt and
resistance within areas where the discourses prescribe the appropriate form
of subjectivity.
There are also, however, discourses constructing the work situation
quite differently and in these the individual is or should be in control,
and not subordinated to, or caught by, the business/work-oriented
discourses. These circle around:

Discourse of balance of life and work these express concerns about


the dangers of working too much and also the appreciation of leisure.
Discourse of discretion and autonomy issues mobilizing the subject
as an agent capable of setting limits and taking control over ones life.

These two discourses can be seen as potentially contradictory and


conflicting in relation to organizational control and the first three discourses.
They both put demands on subjects, presenting two versions of normalization, both of which exercise power, thus providing some incentive to resist
managerial and professional pressures. It is clear that the studied subjects feel
like deviants if they do not perform according to the norms, musts and
conventions of either the consultancy industry in general or Magnum in
particular. On the other hand, they appear as corporate slaves or cultural
dopes when they totally subordinate themselves to a work life that takes the
upper hand, with very little autonomy and ability to let private life needs and
wants govern their work. Rather than relate this to the concept of hegemony
in a conventional way where there is a form of consent, compromise or
cultural uniformity one could talk about two hegemonies. There is a
tension between the two sets of discourses and while some parts of the
business and occupational elite groups may circle around hegemony 1 (the
first set of discourses above), contemporary society as a whole, including a
variety of political, union, mass media, health (anti-stress), equal opportunity
and consumption-stimulating institutions (encouraging hedonism and
consumption-driven leisure), shows strong tendencies of symbolic domination and balanced consent in line with hegemony 2 (i.e. the second set).
Pluralism here leads to tensions not easily incorporated in a holistic concept
of hegemony based on symbolic domination or adjustment to what is seen
to be realistic.
We will not go into the complexities of the relationships between
hegemony and discourses, between practices, and between discourses and

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practices. Instead we want to emphasize how major aspects of the work


situation and organizational experiences can be seen as a struggle between
the Discourse(s) of the Ambitious and Performance-hungry Consultant
(summarizing the first three discourses) and the Discourse(s) of the
Autonomous Subject Living a Good Life (summarizing the last two) which
we have labeled Ambition and Autonomy. Both sets of discourses portray a
positive world with satisfying subject positions. In the best of both worlds,
there is not really any contradiction or struggle. But, as we will see, it is difficult for the people at Magnum to balance their positions. As a consequence,
their identity work salient in the life stage of most of the studied subjects
becomes strenuous and demanding.

Enacting counter-resistance
An illustrative example is Jake, a project manager, who frames hard work
perhaps under conditions that could be seen as exploitive in a positive way:
It is impossible not to be carried away by the enthusiasm, the feeling
that this must simply be done, although we are only five when we ought
to be 10. You just go on, and to start back-pedaling in that situation,
to say that I dont want to do this, thats just unthinkable.
(Jake, project manager)
In this statement he links a negative cause of hard work serious understaffing to a positive experience enthusiasm. Both contribute to a
pressure/want to work very hard. There is an indication that there is a fusion
of driving forces melting the negative with the positive. The negative
becomes buried under an aggregated discourse of moving on, not backpedaling or being obstructive. The key word, drowning potential critique,
is enthusiasm. There is an element of seduction and lack of independence
in this enthusiasm: it encapsulates tendencies toward doubts, criticism and
resistance, either by overriding them or by introducing ambiguity, making it
impossible for consultants to voice strongly felt feelings and ideas and, ultimately, to act upon them. The Ambition discourse is lurking here, in particular the version of the nature of the consultancy business and the meaning
of being a consultant. For a person of the true grit, it is unthinkable to
raise objections or refuse to participate. The idea of the team as a strong
disciplinary mechanism is part of this picture (Barker, 1993).
But this is, to some extent, situational. Outside the specific work situations where working extremely hard and being guided by performance and

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delivery ideals dominates, elements of doubt creep in. The Autonomy


discourse offers an alternative position:
Obviously, I have been working incredibly hard. I have no spare time.
Its funny, because I always tell myself that I must stop doing that, that
I must do other things than work. For some reason, those things just
slip your mind when you are in the thick of the work. Its a loyalty that
is a bit odd. You sit by yourself and think This is it, I have to spend
time on my own, but then you end up totally dedicated to some task,
doing 80 hour weeks.
(Jake)
The theme here focuses on working too much and sacrificing. Temporary decisions to change the situation mark the weakness of the sovereign
subject in favor of the power of the organizational situation and the
Ambition discourse, which holds a stronger grip. Put differently, the
discourse constructing the scene is loaded with more agency than the
discourse that constructs the agent (see Burke, 1969). Jake is not very original
in a Magnum context: organizational members tend to construct the work
context as big and powerful, and themselves as small and powerless. It is
hard to rebel against what is perceived as normal and natural in the
work/organizational context.
Although informants often claim that they work too much, voicing in
interview situations that they got a raw deal, they do not seem to be able to
preserve and act on this conviction in the work context. In the organizational
setting, another subjectivity is called for and is dutifully enacted: the loyal
and hardworking professional company person that keeps on going regardless of sacrifices made, reflecting the strong grip of the normalization effects
of the Ambition discourse. When talking to researchers (= us), informants
display reflexivity and insight: they work too much and they most likely have
been short-changed; when working, other aspects of reality are more important, and other self-definitions become more prevalent. The Autonomy
discourse thus appears to be invoked, infrequently and with ambivalence,
outside work while the Ambition discourse is present in a work context (i.e.
most of the waking time for a person like Jake) where both are constructed
and perceived as irresistible.
Our second example illustrates how self-definitions that rationalize
hard work and long hours are quickly adopted, and also encouraged:
I worked a lot on weekends when I started to work here. I think thats
natural. Everybody at Magnum wants to demonstrate their worth. We
are often very driven, so you automatically work during weekends
when you are a freshman, and when there is a need. My reason for
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working weekends was that I wanted to reach a level of understanding and competence that felt comfortable. And I think that most
want to reach that level as soon as possible. Which is good for the
company, because then you have self-confidence, and others are confident about you.
(Bo, junior consultant)
Here consent thinking is salient and the substantial amount of work
done is viewed as an outcome of a) the natural orientations and drive of the
people employed and b) the natural want to arrive as quickly as possible at
a level of competence that is seen as comfortable. Nevertheless, the interviewee expresses fairly strong feelings about working too much:
You must know your limitations. You must say stop sometimes. Thats
something Ive learned during my first 18 months. I have always been
doing lots of things simultaneously. But when you are at the university,
you can do that and still feel that you have a life, because you
choose all the time. It doesnt work that way in business. That insight
is frustrating. Because you want to work much, to prove yourself. But
you also must take care of your body.
(Bo)
Bo here embraces a balanced life version of the Autonomy discourse.
Here we find a mix, a moving back and forth between expressed frustration
and critique, followed by an immediate countering of this through the
naturalization of things in this kind of business and by emphasizing his own
agency and shortcomings. There is no explicit critique of the firm or any
implications for resistance. Instead, there is the idea that the very nature of
the consultancy business is like this, as if natural law operates. The key point
seems to be that people must develop an ability to realize their own limitations and that this should, optimally, lead to saying stop. However, this
isnt happening. Saying stop to the firm or a manager does not really enter
the picture. Bo constructs himself as trapped between two discourses: the
hardworking way in which things function in this business and the balanced
life discourse voiced by his body.
Despite that long working hours take the upper hand in consulting life,
therefore opening one up to risks of burnout and physical toll, the interviewee also views this from a partly positive perspective:
On the other hand, this is positive because it forces you to think about
the future. How many hours do I want to work? How much spare time
do I want? What do I want to do with my spare time? What do I want
to do when I am working? It is both positive and negative . . . its
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positive because when you reach a conclusion . . . I feel that I have


reached one now, the last couple of months. It takes a while for you
to understand what to do. I appreciate my spare time much more now,
much more than when I was at the university. Back then, all my time
was spare time. Even if you had classes you could usually choose to
attend or not. My life has changed from being all spare time to no spare
time at all.
(Bo)
He asserts that the positive thing about working extreme amounts is
that it stimulates him to think through situational and existential issues. The
time when one is not working is limited but much more appreciated.
Somewhat ironically, the current work life has the positive value that one has
a greater appreciation for former ways of life and life outside work. The
interviewee invokes a discourse that counter-acts the elements of a discourse
of resistance. What appears to happen here is that the discourse of Autonomy
the discourse of resistance to external pressures (and the discourse of
Ambition) is more or less actively resisted. In other words, the discourse
of Autonomy (and lifework balance) becomes targeted for resistance. As
discussed above, we suggest that this phenomenon can be understood as
counter-resistance. This is part of a general pattern, as illustrated by our third
case subject:
I decide when to go home. At the moment, there are suggestions for
developing alternative career steps. Magnum is certainly a career
company. But everybody does not develop at the same speed. But the
culture tells you that you have to. Its hard. You cant leave at 5. You
just cant. My manager, Helena, is a real role model. She is great. She
can walk on water. She sees immediately if you have too much to do,
and she talks to you for 10 minutes, and then you feel much better.
The only bad thing is that she doesnt go home. She works long hours
too. I dont suggest that Magnum wears people out, I can work less if
I want to. Perhaps I dont need to become a manager as fast as possible.
Perhaps I dont need to work long hours.
(Eve, junior consultant)
Again we find a dance between, on the one hand, how it is and musts
partly beyond human control and agency and, on the other, discretion
and active choice, which implies that the individual has responsibility but is
not really capable of full (or even moderate) agency. Eve starts with a positive
account where she decides that the firm is for people that want to develop
and there is no need for everybody to run at equal speed. But then the
opposite enters her account it is inherent in the corporate culture to do
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exactly that. The interviewee cant set the line for leaving the workplace. A
kind of compromise enters temporarily: Helena the good role model.
Although she is not so good at going home on time. So it may not be possible
after all even the heroine does not succeed. On the other hand, the firm
does not really wear out the employees. It is possible to slow down the pace
somewhat. Perhaps Eve in a sense deconstructs and thus undermines the
impulse to resist.
Eves story starts by emphasizing her autonomy and then makes room
for some variety in corporate normalization. But this is followed by closure:
the nature of the world, or at least consultancy Magnum-style, tells you
what you have to do. Eves statements that she decides when she goes home
but that you cant leave at 5 illustrate a temporary and weak autonomous
subject position and more frequently and strongly presents this is what you
do in this business. Compared to Jake and Bo, Eve is somewhat less inclined
to emphasize that this is the very nature of consultancy work and sees the
long work hours less as a natural law of consultancy and more as a matter
of organizational constructions (the culture) that could possibly be opened
up for alternative options. But these openings are blocked and the routes are
perhaps very difficult to embark on. It seems as if not even the real role
model has done so.
As the three cases illustrate, people in the firm sometimes construct
their situation in a way that almost seems bound to trigger resistance. The
presence of balance, autonomy and freedom discourses, and the capacity to
exercise agency, are obvious resources to draw upon in articulating and
enacting resistance. The Ambition discourses seem to imply pain, frustration
and lack of discretion a subtext of slavery to a particular regime or a
specific mode of being. This would trigger a critical stance. The positiontaking here is so strong that it seems to be at odds with any notion of ideological uniformity or compromise-based consensus. People hint at autonomy
and balance as alternative and more favorable positions, but they then steer
away from these positions. There is no clear agency suggesting resistance.
They take a this is not me-position, but there is no articulation of a positive
subject or identity position that would inform carrying through an inclination to resist. Rather, there is a strong but fleeting moment that hints at
resistance, which is then resisted. This is a bit different from the exit
response, which is a quite different way of coping with a frustrating situation
without raising voice or protest. In Kundas study (1992) many people
expressed strongly negative views about work, but this led to the response
of quitting in a few years time, that is, imagining exit. There is a contained
and channeled form of adaptive resistance located in the imagined career
trajectory. This differs from the resistance to resistance we have identified in
our study, which marginalizes the exit option.
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Of course, we here carve out a domain of the work experiences and


the discourses at play in the firm. One can also look at long-term prospects
and the economic and instrumental side of the employment situation and
consider the forms of naked power (including the risk of protests leading
to negative appraisals and bad ranking). What is seen as poor performance
leads to out rather than up in the firm. These are important contextual
dimensions to be borne in mind, which organizational control typically spans
broadly (Krreman & Alvesson, 2004). However, this does not make it fruitless to focus on the selected aspects of the interplay of power/resistance.

Ambiguous resistance: Ghosting and Topgunconsulting.com


In general, the workers at Magnum are strongly biased towards compliance
rather than resistance. This is vividly illustrated by the phenomenon of
ghosting. At Magnum ghosting refers to a widely used practice of faking time
reports. In particular, this means that organizational members are more or
less ordered to underreport overtime. The reason is simple: the time reported
controls the most important ratio/measure for the evaluation of the project
the project margin. The higher the amount of reported hours, the lower
the margin. But this is just an internal ratio. Most projects are sold based on
a fixed price and exactly how much the revenue will amount to is known.
Since there is no overtime compensation, they also know how much the
expenses will amount to. The actual margin is thus not affected by the time
reporting, but a project manager appears much more competent if the
consultants she or he is heading do not report more than eight hours a day.
It appears as if fewer resources have been needed to accomplish a particular
result.
Ghosting is generally perceived as a side effect of the evaluation
systems. People want to look good and effective because it increases the
chance of getting good evaluations. The project managers want a high
margin, because the projects are evaluated based on their achieved margin:
Everybody is ghosting. Everybody. And everybody will be continuing
until they get a good reason to stop. I will be continuing if they [the
project managers] ask me to. And they will because their evaluations
depend on the margin, which in its turn depends on the hours. I dont
mind. I dont give a damn.
(Heidi, consultant)

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Ghosting is acknowledged as a common practice to the extent that it,


at least for some participants, seems to be routine. But ghosting is also a
practice that is highly problematic, since it involves lying and faking. The
moral aspect is highlighted in an incident reported to us at an internal
meeting where a consultant described a situation where he refused to fake
the numbers and insisted on working the reported hours. His managers
reaction, and the audience reaction at the meeting, is telling. The manager
gave him a very poor evaluation. The audience, for their part, was stunned.
Some members of the audience were bewildered that he still was at the firm:
you simply dont get stronger hints of what is expected from you. Most
claimed that he got his priorities completely wrong. He should have solved
the dilemma if he perceived it as such by reporting the actual hours he
was demanded to work, instead of working the required reported hours.
People thought that he was stupid or stubborn, rather than having integrity
or having done the right thing. When a (very rare) example of resisting enters
the picture, obedience is the norm expressed by employees commenting upon
it. While there are fragments of resistance to corporate and professional
discourse creating the compliant Ambition-constituted subject, the resistance
to this resistance is more systematic and enduring.
Although compliance dominates the picture at Magnum, there is one
systemic and widespread channel for voicing grievances and critique. The
channel is a website that hosts cartoons that satirize the life as a consultant
in general and at Magnum in particular; a forum where people can engage
in anonymous discussion, a news service dedicated to the internal life at
Magnum together with links to similar websites.
The long work hours and the routinized nature of human interaction,
in particular superiorsubordinate interaction at Magnum are frequent
themes of the cartoons. Another recurrent theme is the risk of unemployment, often hinting that the stated meritocracy is a myth. The cartoons also
target rigid rules and procedures and, not surprisingly, the partners of the
firm, in particular their perceived greed.
We asked one of our informants to describe how the website was
perceived among organization members. Here is his story about the site
(which we have labeled Topgunconsulting.com):
There was a lot of talk about the cartoons at that time and many of
us thought they were brilliant. It was close to the humor of Scott
Adams Dilbert, but targeted at the employees of Magnum with a lot
of internal jokes. I do not know how often people visited the site
(myself, I just visited it once or twice), but now and then emails with
relevant, up-to-date cartoons circulated, especially close to significant

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events such as the IPO, the new CEO, the renaming of the firm, etc.
The website might have had its golden days which old posting dates
and one of the postings on the website indicate.
The official policy from the Partners was to more or less ignore it, since
it was an external homepage, designed and maintained by employees
in their spare time. Unofficially on the other hand, I knew a few
Partners who thought it was a good laugh and mirrored the sometimes
absurd reality in the firm pretty well. We must remember, despite the
hierarchy, that the Partners are also part of the system. They have done
the same career as everyone else, struggled with their Managers and
Partners, absurd policies, etc. And they are still managed tightly by
their superiors. The hierarchy never ends at Magnum. There is always
someone you are accountable to. Therefore, I think many of them
thought the cartoons were amusing, to the point and pretty harmless.
(Marvin, project manager)
The cartoons, and the website as a whole, can be interpreted as an
exemplary case study of bureaucratic and organizational resistance. In this
sense, it is an example of a counter-institutional website (Gossett & Kilker,
2006). It ridicules management, satirizes partners and subverts strange and
incomprehensible corporate practices. It gives a voice to the (relatively)
powerless, thus providing the marginalized with a forum where they can
speak up. It provides a medium where uncertainties, insecurities and fear
are not only recognized, but also framed in a way that has an authentic feel and that, according to our informants, has resonance with common
perceptions.
However, Topgunconsulting.com is highly ambiguous as an exercise in
resistance. First, Magnum is a management consulting firm. The premises of
the firm are that managers are important and management is a social good.
Thus, the cartoons not only question and subvert a powerful social group;
they question and subvert the existence of the firm. Taken seriously, the
cartoons are not able to rationalize consultants suffering or lead to any
suggestions to reform the firm. They can only lead to exit from it.
Second, the cartoons may actually be interpreted as embracing
corporate ideology, rather than resisting it. For example, Magnum is
perceived as having a strong organizational culture. Magnum officials work
hard to make that perception valid, almost over-saturating workplaces with
slogans, messages, policies, clues and hints that paint a more or less coherent
corporate picture on how to feel, think and behave as a Magnum consultant.
Occasionally, this picture breaks down. Topgunconsulting.com clearly
provides a means and possibilities to voice discordant experiences. This does

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not necessarily mean that they resist or reject the ideology of the company.
On the contrary, the pay-off of some cartoons is that the company doesnt
live up to its ideology not because there is something wrong with the
ideology, but because people do not try hard enough. But even when the
website carries less pro-corporation and more subversive content, it may
nevertheless subtly reinforce the web of corporate control. As Rosen (1988)
points out, satirical play with corporate ideology may mitigate the ambiguity of symbols and provide support for the production of consensus
through social drama. Rather than undermining corporate ideology, the
website satire and humor may add emotional resonance to otherwise cold
and sterile corporate commandments, suggesting coping strategies instead of
a radical questioning of the status quo.
What happens when compliance is a built-in feature of almost all social
interaction and when even satire and parody sites appear to silently affirm
the status quo? In Hirschmans (1970) terms, this results in a suppressing
voice and offers organizational members the choice between loyalty and exit.
In this sense, resistance becomes a binary proposition: it is either off (loyalty)
or on (exit). Resistance is always an option, but it is something that is difficult to exercise within the organization. Consequently, as long as you align
your destiny with the organization, you learn to resist resisting.
Conventional wisdom describes professional and other knowledge
work as complex, non-routinized and inherently difficult to control;
knowledge-intensive firms as inverted pyramids; knowledge workers as
remarkably empowered individuals, almost autonomous agents. The knowledge worker appears to not only be able to resist managerial control he or
she appears to have a relatively more powerful position. However, in the case
of Magnum, conventional wisdom is circumvented. As our analysis demonstrates, resistance as materialized is uncommon, weak, fragmented, ambivalent and ambiguous. Interviews and observations suggest that organizational
members choose compliance over resistance and appear to do so willingly,
despite the fact that in reflexive situations, such as interviews, they signal
that this may be at odds with their own self-interests.
Subordination, identification and conformity do not eliminate resistance, but they clearly shape the space available for acts of resistance. Since
subordination, identification and conformity are built into the fabric of
almost all forms of social interaction in organizations like Magnum (with an
ambitious HRM machinery that makes extensive scrutiny of work performance and expressions of attitudes possible), organizational members cannot
protest single instances of perceived exploitation, because to do so also
means to question the social fabric of the organization. This understanding
strongly informs the satire site, the most visible form of resistance at

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Magnum. The site satirizes and parodies life at Magnum, but not in a way
that compels organizational members to resist what are perceived as
exploitation, greed and injustice. It rather provides commentary on unavoidable facts of life for Magnum members. It perhaps offers a mechanism for
letting off steam but, more importantly, it provides a non-authorized, yet
authoritative, portrait of what is normal and expected. Thus, it complies in
its detailing and elaborating of work-life at Magnum. It may focus on the
absurdities of consultancy work but, ironically, this appears to give everyday
work experiences at Magnum a more full and human quality. At the end of
the day, it normalizes and counter-resists.

Conclusion
This article has carefully analyzed one example of power and resistance in
an organizational setting that in many ways is atypical, but still says something about important, and perhaps increasingly significant, aspects of
working life and the economy. Beyond the specifics of the case, it points to
a broadly relevant aspect of resistance: power tends to trigger resistance
(sometimes in a minimalistic form), but this impulse to resist also appears
contingent upon an anticipated exercise of power (prescribing an identity or
subject position or indicating a norm of how it should be). Once realized,
this instance of power (power 2) may provoke a second-level impulse to
resist (resistance 2, directed by power 2). First-level resistance thus normalizes individuals into one or more social categories (such as gender, age, union
membership) that, in turn, influence second-level or future resistance in
subtle ways. For example, resistant actors may not want to appear overly
obtrusive, fanatical or anti-corporate in some way as a show of displeasure.
In short, this leads to a dialectic between power (1) leading to resistance,
being triggered or closely connected to power (2) in operation, leading to a
new resistance (2).
The case is not inconsistent with conventional ideas about hegemony
and the production of consent (e.g. Mumby, 1997), but we think the case
allows for other kinds of insights that show how the dynamics of resistance
and the neutralization of resistance work. Compared to most other studies,
we approach this at very close range, where process aspects are illuminated.
In our case, the (modest, infrequent and weak) inclinations to resist the
organizational regime (and here we use the term resistance broadly, including a strong experience of this is not reasonable, I will not accept this) draw
upon discourses of autonomy and life balance. Here we find not only
elements of resistance against consultancy discourses on client-orientation,
performance and career, but also a normalization effect. The life balance
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Krreman & Alvesson Resisting resistance

celebrating well-being and life outside work and autonomy discourses


invoke a subject not inclined to accept the imperatives of the consultancy
business, competence development and careerism. This, however, normalizes
another form of subjectivity: to have control over work, to maintain a life
outside work and not be sucked into Ambition and organizational demands.
The balance discourse can, of course, also be seen as an expression of power.
Ideas on and norms of balance and leisure are supported by political and
other elites emphasizing the normal work week, health, consumption, leisure
and hedonism as important regulatory ideals. The subjects studied can be
seen to be dissenting from this form of hegemony (above referred as
hegemony 2). To reduce the Autonomy discourse to pure resistance would
be to deny the disciplinary and normalizing effects of various institutions
prescribing how subjects should be in respects other than strong work and
career orientations as regulated by corporate management (hegemony 1).
Ironically, these resistance/normalization discourses face resistance that
undermine and marginalize their effectiveness. As discussed above, we label
this tendency to resist resistance counter-resistance. Counter-resistance
emerges through the play between the normalizing effects of the Autonomy
discourse and the resistance such normalization (nine-to-five work) generates. This resistance in combination with the Ambition discourse(s) around
engagement, commitment, the nature of consultancy business, the tendency
to be sucked in by corporate culture and follow the flow can be seen as
power forces that undermine the impulse to resist the (in the firm/industry)
dominant discourse. This impulse tends to fragment and lead to very little,
if any, visible protest or action contingent upon a resistant subjectivity. The
play between the power effects of the discourses of Ambition and Autonomy,
and the forms of resistance they make possible, connects to the wider web
of power forces (positional, formal power associated with organizational
hierarchy and control over material resources and real work opportunities),
thus feeding into the impulse to resist resistance. In the final analysis, the mix
of carefully vetted, evaluated and self-defined individuals; the emphasis on
shared norms and understandings mediated through structures and
procedures; the heavy emphasis on teams and group work; and the impulse
to counter-resist, combine to create a context in which compliance is not only
desirable: it is almost irresistible.

Acknowledgement
The authors would like to thank Professor Gail Fairhurst, Associate Editor, and
three anonymous Human Relations reviewers for their help in developing the
authors argument.

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Dan Krreman is Professor in Management and Organization Studies


at Copenhagen Business School. His research interests include critical
management studies, knowledge work, identity in organizations, leadership, innovation and research methodology. His work has been published
in Academy of Management Review, Human Relations, Journal of Management
Studies, Organization, Organization Science and Organization Studies, among
others. He is currently working on a book on theory development with
Mats Alvesson.
[E-mail: dk.ikl@cbs.dk; dan.karreman@fek.lu.se]
Mats Alvesson is Professor of Business Administration at the University
of Lund, Sweden. He is also affiliated with University of Queensland
Business School, Australia. His research interests include critical theory,
gender, power, management of professional service (knowledge intensive)
organizations, organizational culture and symbolism, qualitative methods
and philosophy of science. Recent books include The Oxford handbook of
critical management studies (Oxford University Press, edited with Todd
Bridgman and Hugh Willmott); Understanding gender and organizations
(SAGE, 2009, 2nd edition with Yvonne Billing); Reflexive methodology
(SAGE, 2009, 2nd edition, with Kaj Skoldberg); Changing organizational
culture (Routledge, 2008, with Stefan Sveningsson); Knowledge work and
knowledge-intensive firms (Oxford University Press, 2004); Postmodernism
and social research (Open University Press, 2002); and Understanding
organizational culture (SAGE, 2002).
[E-mail: mats.alvesson@fek.lu.se]

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