Organizational Change and Resistance: An Identity Perspective

Ybema, Sierk and Thomas, Robyn and Hardy, Cynthia (2016) Organizational Change and Resistance: An Identity Perspective. In: SAGE Handbook of Resistance. SAGE, London, UK, pp. 386-404. ISBN 9781473906433

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A classic term in popular and scholarly literature on change management is ‘resistance to change’. It understands resistance in terms of opposition to management pursuing strategies for organizational change. Since change is generally viewed as reasonable and desirable within this literature, resistance to change promulgates the image of employees digging in their heels, refusing to offer support, and hindering a natural and necessary course of events (e.g., Kotter & Schlesinger, 1979). More recently, change management scholars have embraced a more positive framing of resistance by viewing it as an opportunity to generate ‘conversations’ about change by involving employees, although ultimately with the aim of securing support for change (e.g., Ford, Ford & D’Amelio 2008). Resistance according to this view becomes instrumental to the strategies pursued by management. Critical scholars have questioned this view of resistance. Rejecting a managerialist agenda, they conceptualize resistance as legitimate attempts by employees to repudiate changes that will impact negatively on their interests and working conditions, often in the form of collective initiatives (e.g., Thompson & Ackroyd, 1995). In this chapter, we use the concept of identity to interrogate these three approaches to resistance. Using a discursive approach to identity, we examine the different identities constructed in these different literatures – the ‘change agent’, the ‘change recipient’, and the ‘resistant subject’. Whether framing them in positive or negative terms, these different literatures tend to reify identities by categorizing individuals as either advocates of change or adversaries. We suggest that instead of fixed categories, identities are situationally constructed: organizational actors struggle to establish, maintain or disrupt particular notions of who they are and who others are in the process of negotiating organizational change and resistance. In this way, change, resistance and identity are intricately and dynamically connected. By reviewing how popular and critical literatures of change conceptualize resistance and identity, this chapter provides new insights to inform, and perhaps unsettle, received wisdom regarding resistance. Specifically, we aim to show how through the discursive enactment of identities in relation to change and resistance, organizational actors author different versions of self and other, so too do the researchers who study them. The chapter is organized as follows. We start by examining the literature on organizational change and show the different ways in which resistance has been conceptualized in the mainstream literature. We then introduce the concept of identity as discursively constructed and identify the specific identities that are typically constructed in and by the different literatures on change and resistance. We critique the reified nature of these identities and show how a more fluid conceptualization shows how actors ‘become’ resistant and compliant at different points in time. Finally, we reflect on how ‘reification’ itself is also a discursive strategy deployed not just by individuals actors in their everyday working lives, but also by organizational researchers in their studies of resistance.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Keywords: resistance to change, resistance, control, identity
Faculty: ARCHIVED Lord Ashcroft International Business School (until September 2018)
Depositing User: Prof Sierk Ybema
Date Deposited: 31 May 2018 13:55
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2022 12:33

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