The moral work of subversion

Bloom, Peter N. and White, Paul J. (2016). The moral work of subversion. Human Relations, 69(1) pp. 5–31.



This article critically reconsiders dominant understandings of morality and subversion within organizations. Existing organizational literature does not adequately address the important productive role of morality for producing and justifying everyday subversive practices as well as the use of subversion to legitimate power relations and dominant values. Drawing upon interactionist insights, we develop a practice-based account of morality, highlighting the means through which subversion retroactively legitimates the diverse range of actions performed by organizational subjects. This form of retrospective reasoning, which we term ‘moralization’, serves as an important resource for subjects to actively negotiate the often competing moral and practical demands placed on them as organizational subjects. Consequently, we position subversion as an important means of accomplishing, legitimating and preserving a given organizational order, rather than a ‘common sense’ view that subversion necessarily subverts organizational values. In doing so, we make explicit the ‘positive’ function of rule-bending for processes of organizational control.

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