Resistance through difference: The co-constitution of dissent and inclusion

This article argues that the discursive construction of difference can shape resistance in organizations. Drawing on an inductive study of international teams in a global leadership programme, the paper reveals how difference is discursively produced and reproduced in team members’ talk. In conditions of normalizing control, the majority of teams engage in individuating practices that reinforce internal differences, preclude group cohesion and marginalize certain members. One team, however, explicitly resists programme stipulations in ways that express members’ heterogeneity and simultaneously reinforce group solidarity and inclusion. Referring to these oppositional practices as ‘resistance through difference’, the article describes how dissent challenges the hierarchies and disciplinary practices embedded in the leadership programme, and theorizes the co-constitution of inclusion and resistance. By examining the construction of difference not as ‘a problem’, but as a productive resource, the paper also addresses the generative outcomes of this managerial resistance. We argue that ‘resistance through difference’ is an important form of dissent that could well become more prevalent as globalized business processes expand.

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