Exploring the Politics of Labeling Through Wikileaks and The News of the World

business-man-1063650-m[We’re pleased to welcome Danielle Logue of the University of Technology Sydney. Dr. Logue recently collaborated with Stewart R. Clegg, also of the University of Technology Sydney, on their article “Wikileaks and The News of the World: The Political Circuitry of Labeling” from Journal of Management Inquiry.]

After my PhD, a colleague from Oxford went on to become a lawyer for Julian Assange. One day she posted a comment that said ““Defending an ‘enemy of state’…How a publishing organization, revealing human rights abuse, can be in same legal classification as Al Qaeda and the Taliban is just beyond me.” At the time I was starting on a new project that considered labels and categories, finding much organizational literature on labeling and categorizing focused within a market setting and the implications for firm valuations and evaluations. Yet, here was a case where the labeling of an organization was having profound impacts on people’s lives, none more than the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange. I spoke with my co-author, Professor Stewart Clegg, and after some research we found that organizational and management studies was one of the few disciplines that had not analyzed Wikileaks. In addition to its labeling, it’s a contentious organizational form (virtual, fluid, imprinted by its hacker founding) – we found this surprising and disappointing, yet it also afforded us an opportunity to investigate.

JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointSerendipitously, we were writing this paper around the time of The News of the World scandal, which we observed in contrast to the media coverage that Wikileaks was receiving. We noted this in one version of the paper, and under the suggestion of our managing editor, we expanded the case comparison. An interesting conjuncture was created: on the one hand, Wikileaks exposes what it labels as the covert and hence illegitimate actions of government; in response, government labels such exposure as itself illegitimate; it is reported and commented on as such in media that are subsequently exposed as having been themselves involved in very similar practices of unauthorized access. This reinforced our political conception of labeling, and how Clegg’s classic “circuits of power” could be a useful analytical tool. Coupled with a return to Becker’s (1963) work on labeling and deviance, we argue how the politics of labeling reveal, reinforce and/or undermine existing power structures. Stampinky’s (2013) work on ‘how experts invented terrorism’ showed us a parallel case in the politicization, morality and rationality in the creation and use of the label “terrorist”, by various actors striving to claim credibility and establish positions of expertise (Stampinksy, 2013).

Theoretically, we feel this paper makes a modest contribution to refocusing labeling, category and classification work in organizational studies on how they are connected to and are used to build, reinforce, and reflect broader systems of value, meaning and power (Douglas, 1986). Further work is needed into the changing conditions of institutional work in the media associated with changes in the institutional logics of news dissemination and, more importantly, the security of those involved in increasing transparency in a context where powerful interests would prefer less.

NB: We thank managing editor, Professor Saku Mantere for maintaining the rage with us throughout this production process.

Becker, H. (1963) Outsiders. New York: Free Press.

Clegg, S. R. (1989) Frameworks of Power. London: Sage.

Douglas, M. (1986). How institutions think. USA: Syracuse University Press.

Stampnitzky, L. (2013). Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented “Terrorism”. UK: Cambridge University Press.

You can read “Wikileaks and The News of the World: The Political Circuitry of Labeling” from Journal of Management Inquiry for free through the end of June by clicking here. Want to know about all the latest research like this? Click here to sign up for e-alerts from Journal of Management Inquiry.

cZfLy6ezDanielle M. Logue is senior lecturer in strategy, innovation, and organization at UTS Business School, University of Technology, Sydney. She obtained her PhD in management from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK.

indexStewart R. Clegg is professor at the University of Technology, Sydney; director of the Centre for Management and Organization Studies Research; and a visiting professor at EM-Lyon and Nova School of Business and Economics, Lisboa.

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