HRM, POWER and possible spaces of becoming human

Pia Bramming

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What has power to do with Human Resource Management (HRM)? Perusing HRMtextbooksone will find, that power as a concept, only seldom is approached explicitly.When the subject of power is addressed directly, it is primarily as a question ofbargaining power between organisation and labour market institutions, the power of aleader or person in terms of the right to execute punishment and the duty to obedienceor empowerment, as a countermove to the effects of bureaucratic workplace routines`... where initiative is stifled and workers become alienated'1. Indirectly one canidentify power as interesting in the HRM-literature, as a question of influence or statusof HRM as a function in business. Does or does HRM not play a central role inbusiness? Is HR part of top management? That is questions concerned with how poweris distributed as a commodity in reality.This paper is taking up the concept of power as a distributing force of reality, asopposed to a distribution of commodities in reality. In this way the position on poweradopted is similar to the in Deleuzes words very simple definition of power byFoucault: `Power is a relation between forces, or rather every relation between forcesis a `power relation.' (Deleuze 1999: 70). This way of conceptualising power has as aconsequence, that power always has several sides:Power is not essentially repressivePower is not unilateral, but requires both `masters and mastered'Power is practiced more than it is possessed.The first point is serving as both the way in and the way out of this paper. The paperwill pry at the workings of power in order to unfold power as a positive as well asrepressing force using HRM as the practice where power is working. `The exercise ofpower is a `conduct of conducts' and a management of possibilities' (Foucault, 2000:341) Consequently, the way to study power is not to try to `find it', but to see, how it ispracticed. (Deleuze, 1999: 71) Studying power in HRM therefore becomes a questionon grasping the power relations and force fields emerging from HRM-practice. Onecould therefore ask the question: `What is HR about -and what is HR practice?'Barbara Townley (1994, 1998, 1999) has done this extensively and demonstrates how afoucauldian analysis focuses on practices, which structure social relations. (Townley,1998: 194) Townley conceptualizes HRM as the medium through which theemployment relationship may be organized or disciplined through technologies of theself.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKøbenhavn
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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