The Cascade Effect of a Workplace Struggle Against Neoliberal Hegemony

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Florence Palpacuer and Amélie Seignour of the University of Montpellier. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Resisting Via Hybrid Spaces: The Cascade Effect of a Workplace Struggle Against Neoliberal Hegemony” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the motivations for this research:]

JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

Certainly, the trigger for this research was the huge media crisis happening in France in the winter of 2010, about a series of employees’ suicides at France Telecom: management practices all of a sudden became a daily topic of debate among a broad variety of stakeholders, from political parties to major corporate leaders, union representatives, religious organizations, and observers of various kinds: everybody had an opinion!

We quickly observed that France Telecom epitomized the kind of restructuring we had studied in other large multinationals in the country, prompted by financialization and deeply undermining the social values and solidarities that had formed the ethics and social unity of these companies.

Looking deeper, we discovered a vibrant, innovative social movement stemming from within the firm to question the role of business in society and the living conditions it offered at the workplace. We were quite fascinated and decided to further investigate this movement.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

Indeed, we were amazed to discover this incredibly rich and inspired social movement cutting across the firm, civil society, and later on, the State, to turn the issue of work pressure and work organization into a political question, to make visible the suffering of workers who were deprived of their work ethics and identity, and to launch effective policies and actions to transform management practices.

A key challenge for us was to answer the “so what” question in academic terms. We were deeply immersed into the case, and the case itself had such strong resonance with broader transformations of French capitalism, the world of work, and civil society debates, that we believed the case was self-explanatory…well, it wasn’t!

This “so what” question forced us to theorize the case, to go beyond the building up of the story – already quite an intense exercise given the multi-level and multi-actor set up of the case – and to come up eventually with our neo-Gramscian take on the ‘hybrid space’.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

The neo-Gramscian hybrid space is a very promising tool to explore the kind of social-political transformation we need to see happening in corporations and the economy, if we are to answer the social and environmental challenges of our times.

This framework highlights the key role of movements spanning across the firm, civil society, and the State, in the capacity of resisters to produce lasting changes in the hegemony. We show that change agents should act together both from within and beyond their institutional roles, in order to share and generate new forms of knowledge, resources and actions that will give them a transformative capacity.

We hope that this rich story of resistance, and its conceptual rendering, will inspire others to research and promote such transformations.

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