The Discourse of HRM

Based on Human Resource Management, 4th edition, by Alan Price

HRM has been addressed by a number of writers from a ‘discourse’ perspective. Discourse involves language, but language is not neutral: it has power. By saying, you are doing. Thus the talk of HRM is not just words, it is also action. The proponents of this view have latched on to the frequently-quoted dichotomy of ‘rhetoric and reality’ as a particular matter of concern. According to Poole (1999:302):

“A discursive analysis would involve an analysis of the situations that provoked the discourse of HRM, the consequences to which it gives rise, the practical field in which it is deployed, who is accorded the right to speak, the institutional sites from which discourse derives its legitimation, the position in which it places its subjects, what is recognised as valid, and who has access to the discourse …”

The theoretical underpinning of this approach comes from the work of Foucault and Barbara Townley has been a significant exponent of his postmodernist notions in her analyses of HRM.

But is postmodernist discourse analysis on the way out? In the second edition of Human Resource Management, Rhetorics and Realities Karen Legge (2004:3) states that:

“…the discussion of HRM as a post-modern/postmodern phenomenon … has now a slightly passeĀ“ feel. Postmodernism, in a similar manner to managerial consultancy fashions … has fallen somewhat out of fashion in the analysis of HRM.”

“With some honourable exceptions (for example, Keenoy, 1999; Special Issue, Organization, 1999), there has been a retreat from postmodernist approaches to HRM, although some discourse analysis, largely from a critical theory perspective, lingers on …”

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