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Playing at/with leadership

Hurlow, Sarah 2004. Playing at/with leadership. Presented at: Studying Leadership 3rd International Conference: Leadership Refrains, Encounters, Conversations and Enchantments, Exeter, UK., 15-16 December 2004.

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This paper provides a poststructuralist critique of a concept that is currently being heavily promoted as fundamental to organizational success, namely leadership. Orthodox approaches present leadership as a stable object about which it is possible to produce generalized, universal abstract knowledge. Theorising about leadership is the story of a search for ever more accurate models for explaining the true nature of leadership and hence predicting social phenomenon in a law-like, causal fashion. However, from a poststructuralist perspective, rather than considering ‘reality’ to be constituted from natural and immutable phenomena ‘out there’, waiting to be discovered, it is suggested that ‘reality’ is a fiction, ‘constructed’ from a ‘chameleonic’ world (Cooper and Burrell 1988) by the retrospective fixings offered by the signifying systems we use. In effect, ‘the ‘signifier’ is not preceded by an anterior truth’ (Belsey, 1980:136) or ‘signified’, all we have is a language system that is merely a network of signs or symbols that gain their meaning from their distinction or arbitrary difference from other signs. As Lacan (1977:65) suggests, ‘it is the world of words that creates the world of things’. These ‘spaces’ become normalized and naturalized, assuming the mantle of common sense. Indeed, meanings come to ‘control us, inculcating obedience to the discipline inscribed in them’ (Belsey 2002:4), and thus impose limits on what it is possible to think. Moreover, ‘language and speech are not merely the vehicles for the expression of conflict but become the objects to be appropriated’ (Cooper 1986:328). In the broad spirit of deconstruction, associated so closely with Derrida, I adopt a strategy of ‘unfixing’ a selection of leadership texts in order to explore the play of the signifier ‘leadership’ in a web of signifiers. I thus confront the undecidable nature of ‘leadership’ in the elusive play of possibilities around the ambiguities of language. In so doing, the limits that have been imposed on the form of knowledge that is leadership are revealed, and the possibility of enacting other, different discourses of leadership is opened up.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
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Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 05:31

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