NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003) 213-216
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Gender, Power and Organisations: An Introduction by Susan Halford and Pauline Leonard. New York: Palgrave, 2001, 270 pp., $59.95 hardcover.
Rethinking Organizational and Managerial Communication from Feminist Perspectives edited by Patrice M. Buzzanell. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000, 328 pp., $26.95 paper.
As an American feminist trained in the 1980s in traditional, empirical social science, I have struggled over the years to comprehend the implications of postmodernism/poststructuralism for theory, knowledge, and empirical research. On the one hand, the power of such approaches for understanding our gendered world was palpable to me. On the other hand, all of my training in empirical research methods--what Swedish researchers Alvesson and Billings term the "gender as a variable" approach (1997)--made it difficult to see how to do empirical research in this vein and what to make of the complexities, ambiguities, and paradoxes that are part and parcel of postmodernism. After all, positivist epistemology stresses theoretical parsimony, the importance of precise measurement, and the testing of falsifiable hypotheses.
What is laudable about these texts is that both straddle these two epistemological worlds: using and assessing evidence generated (typically) on positivist grounds while stressing the interpretive possibilities and ambiguities--asking readers to learn to cope with the inconsistencies and paradoxes characteristic of the postmodern scholarly landscape. Of the two texts, this theme is clearest in Halford and Leonard's tour-de-force review and analysis of the literature on gender and organization. The Buzzanell text on organization and managerial communication, as is typical of edited collections, has a less coherent message. Like Halford and Leonard, however, editor Buzzanell's final chapter emphasizes a postmodern theme of dialogue around enduring tensions rather than a more positivist perspective of findings or conclusions.
Halford and Leonard subtitle their text "an introduction" and, given its clarity, it is accessible to advanced undergraduates while still providing a highly productive reading for doctoral students and advanced gender scholars as well. This high praise is based on the authors' ability to organize the diverse literature into a relatively few broad chapter topics (organizational structures, cultures, management, sexuality, and resistance); the demonstration of a provocative thesis throughout all these chapters; and the authors' decision to first describe the literature under consideration and then to analyze it in separate subsections labeled as discussion. I found their descriptions both clear and accurate, giving me [End Page 213] confidence that I could trust their descriptions for works with which I was less familiar.
Halford and Leonard begin the text by reviewing the empirical evidence on gender and organization to paint what they term a "complex and contradictory picture" of high-profile women shattering the glass ceiling (1), coupled with enduring patterns of discrimination and occupational segregation. After a review of liberal, structural, and poststructural approaches to gender and organization (including under the structural category radical, Marxist,and black feminist structuralism), the authors succinctly lay out the liberal, structural, and poststructural perspectives on power which serve as the backbone of their thesis throughout the topic chapters: debates about the relationship between organization and gender can be fruitfully understood by analyzing implicit and explicit power assumptions within these approaches.
As an example, the authors argue that "the degree of faith in organizational structures suggested by Weber and others, hinges on a particular definition of power [as sovereign]" so that organizational structures are potentially gender neutral (42). For structuralists, in contrast, organizational structures inevitably reflect the power of men because "power is understood as domination, and understood to reside within organizational structures rather than being eradicated by them" (62). Similarly, the structural position is that culture is the mobilization of male power whereas a poststructural perspective emphasizes the ways in which different women respond in different ways to gendered cultures because power circulates and produces resistance as well as compliance.
In their final chapters, Halford and Leonard reflect on their journey through the literature on gender and organization via the lens of power, arguing that "we can see that it is...