Document Type

Book Chapter


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Business and Management., Sociology

Publication Details

Crowley-Henry, M. & Donnelly, P. (2011) ‘Constructing and Disciplining the Working Body: Organisational Discourses, Globalisation and the Mobile Worker’, in D. Harper, N. Sultan and D. Weir (eds) From Critique to Action: The Practical Ethics of the Organisational World, pp. 152-81. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.


We consider the ethical treatment of people working in organizations along the relativism/absolutism continuum. Work is a dominant activity in people’s lives and a core part of people’s identities. In it is the managerial realm of Human Resource Management where the focus on the working body primarily resides. The construction and disciplining of the working body is theoretically and empirically explored in this chapter. Do organizations construct and discipline their workforce as a means to their organizational ends (as resources), or do they treat them as means in themselves (as humans)? We trace organizational discourses that emphasize resources rather than humans and discuss the ethical ramifications of doing so. Working through Foucault’s governmentality, enclosure, partitioning and ranking constructs, we present managerialist organizational discourses where compartmentalization and standardization across categories are favoured. To investigate our conceptual review empirically, we analyze and interpret qualitative interviews collected from a sample of self-initiated international assignees living in the South of France. The choice of this particular sample permitted us to isolate individuals operating on their own agency (self-initiated international assignees have, by their very nomenclature, embarked on an international working experience/career through their own agency). Their experiences illustrate how the interviewees construct themselves, and are constructed, as international working bodies. The extent to which the individuals in the sample constructed their own work/career paths within organizational boundaries in their new international context/environment is disputed, despite the apparent self-initiated and agential nature of the respondents in the sample. Our blend of theoretical concepts in organizational discourses and their internalization in the empirical sample of self-initiated international assignees furthers the discussion on the ethical nature of organizational discourses, where the “human” in human resources is largely ignored. We contribute to the ongoing debate between relativism and absolutism, arguing that equating people with material resources is to consider people as a means to an end, thereby going against the Kantian necessity to treat people as ends in themselves.