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Promoting discourse analysis as a linguistic perspective to further explore

strategic management issues: an illustrative case study


Contemporary organizations and managers have to cope with increasing participation
of various stakeholders in strategic decision-making. In this paper, we report on an episode of
strategy formulation in a French village, to show how stakeholders (can) communicate to
influence the strategic development of an organization. ore specifically, we e!amine who
took part in strategic conversations and controversy a"out a change in the ur"an plan. #e also
consider the conditions in which one discourse (i.e. on point of view) in the conversations
comes to dominate the controversy, that is how particular actors gain advantage over their
contradictors. $hus, our central research %uestion is& how does the dominant discourse within
an organization emerge and institutionalize? $his %uestion is strategically crucial "ecause an
organization's decisions and actions are conditioned "y the prevailing discourse ((hillips et
al., )**+), which provides the mem"ers of the organization with an interpretation to make
sense of the situation at hand (#eick et al., )**,). From a critical standpoint, this discursive
perspective raises the important issue of who actually makes strategic decisions, as top
managers' discourse may "e derived from other stakeholders' e!pectations, or it may "e
effectively challenged "y them.
#hile we address this issue, our main purpose is to promote discourse analysis as a
rapidly growing theoretical perspective to further e!amine how communication and other
discursive practices may impact strategy-related outcomes, such as strategic development and
competitive advantage. #e would like to encourage more scholars to endorse a discourse
analytic approach to strategy research.
- - -
$o study this strategy issue from a linguistic perspective, we draw on strategy-as-
practice research (s-as-p) and on a version of critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, )**,,
)**.). $his is to suggest that a com"ination of these two approaches provides a consistent
theoretical frame to further e!plore some ma/or pro"lems in the field of strategic
management. In this paper, we focus on the single case study of the French village of
0eer"ourg as an illustration of the potential of a discourse-"ased approach to further e!tend
strategy research.
$he paper is organized as follows. First, we present core arguments and conceptual
categories of s-as-p and critical discourse analysis. 1econd, we develop a case description
(2in, )**3) to help the reader get a sense of what turned out in the municipality under
investigation and we "riefly account for our research methodology. Finally, we e!pose our
findings. $he paper ends up with a discussion of how a discursive perspective is potentially
fruitful to further develop strategy research and practice. #e point at some ma/or limitations
of our thinking and propose research avenues for future research.
THEORETICA !AC"#RO$%& : 'TRATE#()A')PRACTICE A%& CRITICA
&I'CO$R'E A%A('I'
#hile we usually take for granted that intended and realized strategies differ in content
(intz"erg and #aters, -.4,), we still know relatively little a"out how the latter is actually
constructed through 5ordinary' everyday practices. $he idea of an emergent strategy means
that some of those practices are of strategic significance. 6owever, if this significance is
unintended, that means those 5strategic practices' (i.e. practices that affect the development of
the organization, see 1eidl ()*--)) continue to pass relatively unnoticed. ore specifically, it
is "ecoming of crucial importance to ree!amine who has the strongest influence over those
practices (7arza"kowski et al., )**8), especially in the conte!t of an increasing participation
- ) -
of stakeholders in strategic decision-making. $hus, as researchers in the growing field of
strategy-as-practice claim (1eidl et al., )**9, 7ohnson et al., )**3, #hittington, -..9:
7arza"kowski and 1pee, )**., 7arza"kowski, )**+), what strategic management needs is in-
depth %ualitative research to e!plore who gets involved in strategic practices, and what
practitioners actually do in their day-to-day activities. 0ecause communication is inherent to
human interaction, we focus on communication as well as other discursive practices and their
potential impact on strategic development.
'trategy)as)Practice
$raditional strategy research streams define strategy as something organizations have.
ore recently, it has "een claimed that strategy should rather "e understood as something
practitioners do (7ohnson et al., )**3). For scholars em"racing the 5practice perspective' on
strategy, micro-level activities and interactions in the ongoing flow of events are essential to
understand where strategic outcomes originate. 51trategic outcomes' include such
fundamental challenges as gaining competitive advantage, achieving renewal of the overall
organization (Crossan et al., -...), as well as "uilding firm performance and long-term
survival (ignon, )**., )**-). From a strategy-as-practice (s-as-p) perspective, every
practitioner is involved in achieving these outcomes, though the way he takes part in the
strategy process and practice. In this view, the focus is on practitioners' actions and on the
practices and tools they use. $his individual level of analysis has largely "een neglected "y
the traditional approaches to strategy research (#hittington, -..9). #hen authors did pay
close attention to individuals, they usually did it in a ;change agent-centric< way (Ford et al.,
)**4) that takes (top) managers' central role in the strategy process as granted. =s we e!plain
"elow, this does not account for the polyphonic nature of the organization. $herefore, too little
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attention has "een given so far to the practices and tools used "y 5ordinary' practitioners in
and around the organization.
#hile these practices take place in specific conte!ts of situated organizational work,
they are em"edded in a "roader social conte!t and should "e analysed as such (#hittington,
)**9). $his is "ecause action is partly constrained "y the macro-level ("oth organizational and
societal levels) of institutionalized routines, norms and structures of knowledge and power
(>iddens, -.4+). (ut differently, routines must "e conceptualized as a source of sta"ility and
change (Feldman and (entland, )**3) as they provide actors with normative guidelines that
ena"le collective action without determining it totally. ?esearch in the s-as-p perspective
recognizes this em"eddedness of local practice in a wider environment (#hittington, )**8).
@efining strategy as a result of all practitioners' actions is not unpro"lematic. It raises
the %uestion of what actions are (not) strategic (1eidl et al., )**9). =rgua"ly, any element of a
given conte!t could une!pectedly play a strategic role. Aur intention here is not to solve this
pro"lem, nor to answer to the %uestion of what actions should or should not "e considered as
strategic. In the conte!t of the current research, we have dealt with this difficulty through our
choice to concentrate on a specific practice B that of conversations B that is recognized "y
other researchers as "eing likely to have strategic conse%uences (e.g. >rant and arshak,
)**.).
1tudying talk and conversations is coherent with s-as-p with different respects. First,
talking is inherent to human interaction, which is the overall phenomenon that the practice
perspective seeks to "etter understand. 1econd, talking is a practice accessi"le to all
practitioners, and it thus offers an interesting way to e!plore the role of different actors in the
strategy process and account for the polyphonic nature of the organization. Finally,
conversations are likely to have strategic conse%uences "ecause they result in a (relatively)
consensual discourse shared "y the mem"ers of a dominant coalition of stakeholders (Cyert
- + -
and arch, -.93). $his dominant coalition has control over the strategic decisions, which
operationalize the 5dominant discourse' (6eracleous, )**9, Fairclough, )**,) as a necessary
condition for the coalition to remain unified.
Important to notice in this argument is our adhesion to the idea that conversations and
discursive activity are political in nature. (ut differently, we assume that strategic decision-
making gives rise to conversations that are necessarily controversial, even though in some
conte!ts the controversy may not "e apparent.
$his interest in conversations and controversies makes it interesting to endorse a
critical discursive perspective, which we characterize in the ne!t section of this paper.
&iscourse analysis: a critical perspective
Conversations can "e seen as the site where practitioners produce te!ts ($aylor and
?o"ichaud, )**+). 1imply, they are the occasion in which people can talk and discuss their
points of view. In the conte!t of conversations, different discourses emerge and compete to
"ecome the dominant discourse B the one according to which su"se%uent decisions will "e
made.
= ;te!t< refers to any (oral or written) manifestation of a discourse& a letter, a speech, a
research note, a painting,C. @iscourses can "e defined as structured collections of meaningful
te!ts ((arker, -..)). $hey ;do not /ust descri"e things: they do things< ((hillips and 6ardy,
)**), p.939, citing (otter and #etherell, -.48, p.9). In other words, a discourse is a way of
representing an aspect of the world (or of a story), i.e. it is a particular point of view on this
aspect of the world (on this story). Conse%uently, any te!t is a su"/ective account of the reality
"eing discussed, as its author speaks from a particular viewpoint and adopts a corresponding
discourse (which does not mean he is aware of it, nor that he is willing to admit it). $o say that
reality is socially constructed through discourse is to acknowledge the idea that any set of
- , -
te!ts is always provide an incomplete account of a given reality, that our knowledge of this
reality is always partial, and that our decisions that produce and transform this reality flow
from this partial knowledge.
$his idea that discourse is constructive of social and organizational reality is central in
the interpretive strand of the literature on organizational discourse (6eracleous and 0arrett,
)**-). $he overall idea is to say that 5discourses do things': they produce the world we live
in. 6owever, with regard to the political nature of discourse that we assume, it is inappropriate
to say that discourses do things. ?ather, we contend that practitioners do things through the
use of discourses. Aur argument, then, is that discourses do things only through the way they
are produced and consumed "y practitioners.
Following this argument, individuals and coalitions use discourse as a way to serve
their interests. For instance, when promoting a change pro/ect, managers may want to
legitimize it, and may thus find it interesting to adopt a suita"le discourse to do so. In this
perspective, monophonic accounts of organizational life are o"viously unrealistic (0o/e et al.,
)**+). Arganizations are polyphonic in nature (Czarniawska, )**,). $he production of
discourse, and thus the production of strategy, is not top managers' e!clusive domain. $his is
especially true in the conte!t of pluralistic organizations (@enis et al., )**8) such as the one
we e!amine in this study. In this polyphonic conte!t, part of "eing a 5strategist' in everyday
micro-practices is developing the right way of interacting communicatively (Fairclough
)**.). $his includes the use of rhetoric and conversation skills (Daara, )**9).
In this study, we paid particular attention to how practitioners try to discursively
(de)legitimize a strategic pro/ect (Daara, )**9). $he controversy we report on led to a change
in the dominant discourse within the organization, so that eventually the pro/ect was no longer
perceived as legitimate "y a ma/ority of citizens. $he new dominant discourse drew on a
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version of the 5political ecological' discourse, which had "een reconte!tualized from the
"roader macro-level of the society where it had emerged in the first place.
#e "elieve that this concept of polyphony is an appropriate link to "ridge s-as-p and
critical discourse analysis. ?ecognizing the inevita"le plurality of discourses in the strategy
conversations is an important step toward accounts of political struggle over sensemaking and
sensegiving in strategic change initiation (>ioia and Chittipeddi, -..-).
Critical discourse analysis (C@=) ;focuses on how discursive activity structures the
social space within which actors act, through the constitution of concepts, o"/ects, and su"/ect
positions< ((hillips and 6ardy, )**)). @rawing on critical realism, Fairclough's ()**,)
version of C@= relies on two fundamental distinctions. First, critical discourse analysts
should distinguish "etween discourse and conte!t. In so doing, relations "etween change in
discourse and change in material, social and artefactual realities can "e e!amined (Fleetwood,
)**,). 1econd, a distinction is made "etween ;social process< (e.g., strategizing), ;social
practices< (e.g., strategy) and ;social structures< (e.g., institutionally prescri"ed strategy)
(Fairclough, )**,). $his second distinction recognizes the em"eddedness of the local strategy
practice in its wider institutional conte!t. Change in social interaction at the micro-level does
not necessarily lead to change in strategy at the organization level. It is even less likely to
have a strong influence on institutional pressures toward isomorphism.
#e thus "elieve Fairclough's version of C@= is consistent with the field of strategy-
as-practice. #hile it allows us to study what practitioners do in their everyday (discursive)
interactions, it also emphasizes the importance to analyse te!ts in connection to discourses,
;locating them in a historical and social conte!t< ((hillips and 6ardy, )**)). 7ust as s-as-p
does. In the ne!t section, we develop a case description of a French municipality using the
conceptual categories of s-as-p and C@=. #e also develop our research methodology.
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*ETHO&OO#(
Ela+orating a ne, ur+an plan in a typical -rench village
In this section, we develop a case description (2in, )**3) so that the reader gets an
idea of the situation under study, of what data we collected and how they were analyzed. In
line with the theoretical "ackground of s-as-p and C@=, we first e!pose the "road historical
conte!t of the village. In a second su"section, we deal with the content of the new ur"an plan
that was "eing ela"orated during a 3-year-periode ()**+-)**8). Finally, we show how
different actors reacted to the ur"an plan through the production of te!ts, that cumulatively
constituted a counter-discourse to that produced "y the municipal council to legitimize the
pro/ect. $his case description is followed "y an overview of the process of data collection and
analysis we set in place.
Historical context of !eer+ourg
.
0eer"ourg represents an area of 9)8 hectares. @efining how this land should "e used is
the main strategic activity the municipal council has to deal with. It should "e noted that ur"an
plans do not define what the e!act use of land will "e. $hey set conditions on action "ut much
room is left to what can "e done and how it will actually "e done in practice. =s a
conse%uence, any given ur"an plan is su"/ect to interpretation of how the land will actually "e
used once the plan is adopted. $his uncertainty is important to understand how controversial
the process of ur"an planning can "e.
Er"an planning is a mandatory activity that must follow a comple! set of formal
procedures, which partly e!plains why ur"an plans are set up for a period of a"out -* to -,
years on average. =nother reason for such long range planning is that strategic intentions
formalized in ur"an plans, such as housing or industrial development, often involve long term
pro/ects.
-
$he case study has "een anonymized with some humor.
- 4 -
0eer"ourg has historically "een a rural, typical French village, in which agriculture
had long "een the dominant activity, framing the social life of the inha"itants. In -.44
however, the municipal council noticed some material opportunities and threats as regarded
the future development of the village. First, the num"er of agricultural e!ploitations had "een
decreasing from )+ in -.8*, -, in -.4* to only 9 in -.44. 1econd, with a"out 3+* inha"itants
(3** in -.94), the village was still too small to count on attracting economic investment and
activity. $he time had come to think of a vision of what the village could look like at the
"eginning of the )-
st
century. $his vision was made e!plicit in a new ur"an plan adopted in
-.44.
From -.44 to -..., housing development led to a ,*F increase in the population,
from 3+, inha"itants in -..* to ,-4 in -.... 0esides, an -4 holes golf course was created "y
a local entrepreneur whose pro/ect had "een ena"led "y the -.44 ur"an plan.
From -... to )**8, the village welcome the outcomes of the population growth. =t
that time, a supermarket, an I$ store and a "ank office were created. $his development is
relatively unusual for such a typical village. $hanks to these improvements in the economic
activity and social well-"eing, the municipal council had some solid arguments to "elieve they
could win the )**4 municipal elections.
$his period (-.9,-)**8) had "een characterized "y political sta"ility. $he mayor
elected in -.9, B a local entrepreneur who had created his own /oinery in the village in -.+.
B had "een re-elected five times when he retired 3* years later and was 5naturally' replaced in
-.., "y his +*-year-old deputy. Gocal elections had always "een characterized "y cohesion
"etween 5historical families' and a relative a"sence of conflict. In )**), as an effect of
population growth, -, counsellors were elected instead of -- in the past. $his was an
opportunity to integrate new inha"itants in the municipal council, while avoiding e!cluding
any 5historical family' mem"er from it. $hus, cohesion was maintained as this well-
- . -
esta"lished practice had not "een "roken. Finally, another key practitioner is the municipal
clerk who had started the /o" in -.94. 6e was also a primary school director in the village
until he retired in 7une )**3. =s he retired, he kept working as a clerk and was still on duty in
)**8.
0ut the population and ur"an renewal had also generated more controversial material
and social effects. Ane of them has "een a weakening of the agricultural collective identity
and of the historical heritage. $his can "e seen as the first step of a cultural change process
triggered "y an initial strategic change. In )**+, there was only one agricultural firm left at
0eer"ourg. In addition, an important social effect of population renewal (that is linked to the
idea of a cultural change) was an increased percepti"ility of social distance "etween the
practitioners, as a result of increased socio-professional diversity.
The situation under study: ela+orating a ne, ur+an plan
$he -.44 municipal ur"an plan did not fit with the regional-level plan anymore, and
thus it had to "e changed. It should "e notice here that ur"an planning is illustrative of the idea
of em"eddedness. An the one hand, local ur"an plans have to conform to regional planning
documents. An the other hand, local practitioners can influence regional planners and
documents through effectively communicating with them a"out local resources and potential
win-win strategic pro/ects. =s regional authorities defined a new regional plan for the use of
land in )**-, the process of ela"orating a new ur"an plan for 0eer"ourg started in 7une )**+
and ended in Hovem"er )**8.
$he municipal council prepared a detailed ur"an plan as a pro/ect to "e discussed with
the citizens and other stakeholders. =n important controversy %uickly started a"out two core
features of the proposed ur"an plan. First, a"out -+* hectares were involved in the creation of
a touristic zone. $he same local entrepreneur, who had previously created the -4 holes golf
- -* -
course, owns a large area of land in the village and was planning to invest a significant part of
it in a hardly defined touristic pro/ect. $he new ur"an plan ena"led his pro/ect, which was also
encouraged "y the regional land use planning. It should "e noticed here that -+* hectares is
more that )*F of the village total surface.
1econd, the municipal council was planning to "uild a new housing estate of a"out ,.,
hectares (a"out ), individual houses). 1ince )**), the population remained constant around
,)* inha"itants. $he village was una"le to attract new inha"itants "ecause there was no parcel
left availa"le for the construction of individual houses. In a nutshell, a new ur"an plan was
re%uired, not only in response to the shift in regional land use orientations, "ut also as a way
to address local strategic issues.
Ila"orating an ur"an plan is a highly codified process. Inha"itants have to "e
consulted at different key moments. >enerally speaking, the French law strongly encourages
participation in the strategy process as far as ur"an planning is concerned. =s the content of
the proposed plan was getting more apparent, and also as the municipal elections were
approaching (arch )**4), the municipal council faced increasing resistance. =ll of a sudden,
"etween 7une )**8 and arch )**4, many te!ts were produced and pu"licly disseminated "y
opponents. In the ne!t section, we sum up our critical analysis of these te!ts.
&ata collection and analysis
Aur empirical material consists of +* 5natural' te!ts that practitioners spontaneously
produced in their interaction, as well as +* local newspaper articles and 8 other second-hand
official documents (deli"eration reports). Hewspaper articles were collected "y systematic
online search in the two main local newspapers data"ases. =s 5natural' te!ts were typically
diffused in the village "y hand in letter"o!es, we kept regular contact with key informants
who agreed to collect them for our sake. $riangulation of key informants was set in place so
- -- -
as to avoid "iased selectivity (2in, )**3). =lthough a key concern was to avoid interfering
with local practice, so that our presence was uno"trusive (2in, )**3), we also conducted an
open-ended interview with the town clerk to get more 5discourse-neutral' information a"out
participants (address, /o", ho""ies, since when they live in the villageC). @irect o"servation
(pu"lic meetings) finally supported data triangulation (Iisenhardt, -.4.).
@ata analysis followed an a"ductive logic (@avid, )***, Daara, )*-*) as insights that
emerged from the data were confronted to critical discourse theory in a recursive process. $he
analysis proceeded through two stages
)
. First, we read through all the data, searching for all
the practitioners involved. 1econd, closer reading allowed us to find relevant categories to
analyze the data in relation with discursive strategies and main themes.
Insights emerged a"out who participates in the strategic conversations, how practitioners use
discourse in the strategic process, and in what conditions a discourse is more likely than
others to dominate the controversy. In the remainder of this paper, we develop our findings
and discuss the implications and limitations of our thinking.
-I%&I%#'
Identifying the discourse and counter)discourse of strategic change
In line with the s-as-p perspective and C@=, an important task in analyzing te!ts is
identifying the social position of their authors as practitioners, that is, ;who they are, how
they act and what resources they draw upon< (7arza"kowski et al., )**8). @iscursive practices
are particular resources they can use in everyday interaction to influence strategy.
Who was resisting the project?
#e identified three types of (local) opponents to the new ur"an plan. First, the very
last agricultural firm would materially suffer from the creation of the proposed touristic zone.
)
$he two stages here echo steps ) and 3 in Daara's ()**9) a"ductive C@= process.
- -) -
Aut of the -+* hectares involved in this touristic zone, a"out --* had previously "een
assigned to food production. =lthough only part of this area was cultivated "y the local
farmers, the idea of reassigning it to tourism instead of agriculture was heavily criticized and
appeared to "e impossi"le to legitimize communicatively.
1econd, whatever the way they discursively presented themselves in te!ts, as a matter
of fact the central actors involved in resisting the new ur"an plan were local residents (and the
association they tacitly constituted). Enderstanda"ly, they were somehow preoccupied with
the idea of having a new housing estate ne!t to their home with no control over or guarantee
a"out the actual content of this estate.
$hird, one of the mayor's neigh"ours authored an open letter intended for the mayor
himself, in which he e!plained why he disagreed with the way the village was "eing managed
in the last decade. It should "e noted that he was a mem"er of the municipal council until he
resigned after the ma/ority of the council voted to accept the new ur"an plan. Ane e!planation
he gave caught our attention& he was dissatisfied with the ur"an plan, partly "ecause it did not
ena"le his personal pro/ect to "uild a new house on his property.
$hus, we "elieve resistance to the pro/ect can "e analyzed in political terms.
Apponents to the ur"an plan have "een shown to act self-interestedly. #e ne!t show how they
developed a strategy (in Crozier and Fried"erg's sense) to gain political advantage over ur"an
planning decisions. @eveloping a successful strategy is a"out defining how to act effectively
and what to sayJ
How did they act?
$he municipal council is the legitimate institution to make decisions regarding
strategic orientations in a village. Individual opponents to an intended ur"an plan are not, "ut
(hopefully) they are free to e!press their %uestions, comments and disagreements. 6owever,
- -3 -
there are different ways to proceed which may not "e e%ually effective at influencing decision
making.
In the case of 0eer"ourg, a few local residents created what they called the 5Gocal
Committee for the Invironment' (materially, an association of local residents). $his was the
key move in constituting a su"/ect position that allowed for the production of a powerful,
legitimate counter-discourse. From then on, every emerging te!t was identified with the
Committee's discourse.
What discursive resources did they draw upon?
6aving "uilt a su"/ect position was an opportunity to challenge the order of discourse,
that is, the discourse of the municipal council. = critical issue was to produce a counter-
discourse that would construct those people who were resisting the ur"an plan, not as
opponents anymore, "ut as heroes in their %uest to offer an alternative vision regarding local
development.
$he Committee drew upon two types of discursive resources to achieve the production
of such a counter-discourse. First, they o"tained e!ternal support from the political leader
=ntoine #aechter and regional ecological associations, as a rhetorical artifice to increase the
power of their discourse. =t that time, =ntoine #aechter was the leader of the French
ecological political party called 5Independant Icological ovement' and a mem"er of the
municipal council in a village not far from 0eer"ourg. 6e had previously "een the >reen
candidate in the -.44 French presidential elections, as well as a em"er of the Iuropean
(arliament (-.4.--..-). 6e strongly supported the Committee as he lodged a complaint
against the new ur"an plan, together with the Committee. 6e also wrote and distri"uted a )-
page, politically oriented chronicle of ecological events linked to 0eer"ourg, in which he
disapproved of the ur"an plan and, even more strongly, of the touristic pro/ect the plan
ena"led.
- -+ -
1econd, the Committee drew upon the political ecological discourse and the
anticapitalist discourse that had emerged at the macro-level of the society. For e!ample, while
the municipal council framed the tourism-oriented ur"an plan in the discourse of innovation
and modernity, the Committee would typically reframe it in the discourse of sustaina"le
development, arguing that the touristic pro/ect would mean deforesting a huge area. In his
chronicle, =ntoine #aechter argued that neither the local entrepreneur whose touristic pro/ect
would "e ena"led, nor the governmental authorities who control and validate ur"an plans are
trustworthy. Intrepreneurship is discursively constructed as a kind of suspicious activity
which consists in legitimizing capitalistic operations using the discourse of /o" creation, at the
e!penses of the natural environment. $his "road discursive construction echoes past local
e!periences with the entrepreneur& the -4 holes golf course does not employ as many people
as it was e!pected to, "ut as far as the land is concerned, the pu"lic forest has "ecome a
private golf which the working class cannot afford. =s appears clearly in this e!ample, as the
macro-discourses upon which the Committee drew were reconte!tualized in the local conte!t,
an e!treme version of an 5anticapitalist political ecological' discourse emerged.
How did the story end up?
@espite the action of the Committee, the municipal council voted to accept the ur"an
plan on Hovem"er, )3
rd
)**8. Conse%uently, the Committee decided to constitute a list of
candidates to challenge the incum"ent council in the municipal election. $hey also lodged a
complaint, together with =ntoine #aechter, against the ur"an plan. In arch )**4, they got
the a"solute ma/ority in the election, winning all the -, seats in the council. #e "elieve this
totally une!pected outcome indicates that the discourse of the Committee had "ecome the new
hegemonic discourse. =s a result of this overthrow, a radical change in strategy orientation
occurred. = new ur"an plan was still "eing ela"orated in 7une )*-*. Heither the touristic
pro/ect, nor the housing estate has "een implemented. ?ecent decisions suggest deep
- -, -
transformation in the way the village is "eing managed. $he supermarket manager announced
his decision to %uit his /o" to accept another opportunity. It is unclear whether the shop will
survive. $he I$ store manager told us he was planning to delocalize his shop to another
village. $he new municipal council makes it hard for the "ank office to e!tend its car parkC
In a word, economic development is not a priority anymore.
0esides, the +*-year-e!perienced municipal clerk resigned as he claims the Committee
is composed of self-interested liars who frightened the population to gain political advantage.
=ll of a sudden, the village lost an essential source of tacit knowledge.
Finally, in 7une )**., the Court refused the re%uest of the Committee to invalidate the
controversial ur"an plan. It was /udged perfectly legal, which tends to confirm the clerk's
claim.
In a nutshell, while the discourse of the Committee "ecame the new order of discourse,
it is highly su"/ective. (ut differently, it is common knowledge that good stories are more
powerful than rational arguments.
In the last section, we generalize what happened at 0eer"ourg and sketch a discursive
understanding of how communication is more likely to influence strategic development.
The institutionali/ation of a ne, dominant discourse: five propositions
Five propositions may "e formulated that remain to "e consolidated "y additional case
studies. $hey "uild up an e!planation of (-) why a new discourse emerges in a particular
setting, ()) how the emerging te!ts are selected "y actors in their strategies to challenge the
esta"lished dominant discourse and (3) under which conditions a discourse is more likely to
than others to "ecome the new dominant discourse. $ogether, these propositions provide an
understanding of change in the practice of strategy, from a discursive perspective.
- -9 -
The emergence of a new discourse
Proposition 1: the emergence of original texts results from local or external
pressures for change which incite practitioners to initiate new conversations
and find new collective agreements. !hese pressures form the prete!t of a
discourse.
Strategizing as a discursive skill
Proposition ": #trategizing consists in constituting su$%ect positions which
results in the formation of coalitions of practitioners. !he concept of coalitions
of practitioners extends that of communities of language (>irin, -..*).
Proposition &: !he more valua$le resources a coalition of practitioners can
get the more powerful its discourse will $e. 'alua$le resources are strong
material and social contextual assets and growing macro-level discourses.
The institutionalization of a new dominant discourse
Proposition (: !he esta$lished strategy is more li)ely to change when many
practitioners get involved in the new conversations. !his is a precondition for
coalitions of practitioners to metamorphose.
Proposition *: + discourse is more li)ely to $ecome hegemonic or influential
when local institutions ,culture routines-. have lost legitimacy when a
pretext occurs.
&I'C$''IO% A%& CO%C$'IO%
#e have e!amined how strategic conversations in a French village led to a significant
change in the local practice of strategy. @rawing on strategy-as-practiced and critical
discourse analysis, we developed an understanding of what happened at 0eer"ourg with the
o"/ective of promoting a linguistic perspective on strategy research. In this section, we e!pose
- -8 -
the implications of our thinking for theory and practice. #e also recognise some important
limitations to a discourse approach to strategy-as-practice and identify some avenues for
future research.
Theoretical contri+utions
Aur central research %uestion in this paper is& how does the dominant discourse
within an organization emerge and institutionalize? #e provide five propositions that account
for the emergence of te!ts, for the selection of particular discursive strategies "y practitioners,
and for the domination of a specific discourse.
0y so doing, our main purpose is to show how discourse analysis can provide strategy
research with new insights. In this respect, our contri"ution is to emphasize the three-step
challenge of analysing the social construction of a dominant discourse that sets the strategic
orientation of the organization. First, we need to e!amine who speaks and who keeps silent in
the strategic conversations. = discursive perspective thus provides a possi"le way to
identifying the stakeholders. $heir production of te!ts can "e used as an indicator to measure
their participation in the strategy process. It also informs us a"out interests to participate that
we should make e!plicit. $his could help us e!amine whether different kinds of interests
result in different forms of participation.
1econd, researchers should e!plore how practitioners use discourse in their strategies
to gain political advantage over how situations are interpreted and what su"se%uent decisions
are taken. Enderstanding how influential practitioners talk in strategic conversations could
complement our knowledge of rhetoric and other discursive resources that give power to a
te!t.
Finally, one last step to understanding how a discourse comes to dominate a
conversation consists in identifying the e!pectations of the audience, i.e. those who are
- -4 -
e!pected to consume the te!ts. =lthough the author can use a variety of generic discursive
resources to influence the audience, most people cannot sell a drink to someone who is not
thirsty. In our thinking, this means that practitioners' agency power is limited. #hile
practitioners can make a difference to what happens ;out there<, these happenings partly flow
from mechanisms that are active and tend to produce their effects whatever the actions
practitioners undertake to control their outcomes.
Practical implications
Implications for practice and practitioners can "e derived from the theoretical
contri"utions mentioned a"ove. First, practitioners who aim at influencing strategic decisions
should identify the other stakeholders. $hey should not only detect those stakeholders who
participate in the strategic conversations through the production of te!ts in speaking and
writing, "ut also discover those other actors who may surprisingly keep silent.
1econd, practitioners who aim at influencing strategic decisions should develop their
skills as regards the production of te!ts. #hile anyone can use language, using it effectively
re%uires more knowledge and wisdom than can easily "e assumed. #e would recommend
professional training of how to communicate politically in the conte!t of a growing use of
participative management practices and of organizational change and institutional insta"ility.
Finally, /ust as practitioners must know a"out the identity of the other actors involved
in the strategic conversation, they should "e aware of the "roader social conte!t as well.
6istorical and cultural heritage provide important cues on how the local audience will
interpret a specific te!t, what discourses they are most likely to adhere to, what discourses
they would pro"a"ly re/ect.
imitations and avenues for future research
In this paper, we only scratched the surface of a three-step process of e!ploring the
role of discourse in the social construction of strategy and performance (survival and
- -. -
development of the organization). $he main implications mentioned a"ove open avenues for
future research. From a theoretical viewpoint, a valua"le research pro/ect will consist in
ela"orating conceptual categories to provide a systematic way to analyse the situation at hand
in linguistic terms. From a practical viewpoint, we could think of a tool that would help
practitioners learn when and how to produce effective te!ts, using the appropriate forms
(rhetoric, synta!,...) and contents (discourses, themes,C).
Ane important limitation of this discourse analytic perspective we developed in this
paper, is the risk it introduces to ignore silent practitioners. Indeed, if we concentrate on the
production of te!ts in strategic conversations, we may not see important stakeholders who do
not produce te!ts, "ut whose influence in the conversations is potentially high. A"viously,
there are different ways to influence decisions, and talking is "ut one of them. (rovide other
practitioners with material, financial or discursive resources are alternative ways that
practitioners may sometimes prefer in some conte!ts.
$herefore, critical discourse analysts should not only analyse te!ts, "ut also the
a"sence of te!t in a given conte!t. 1ilence may "e seen as a discursive strategy. $he challenge
here is to avoid confusing the intentional act of keeping silence with the mere fact of "eing
silent or inaudi"le.
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