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Unmasking Spies in the Corporation: When the police order of discourse erupts into managerial conversations

Abstract : On January 3, 2011, three managers from the French car manufacturer Renault were accused of having received large sums of money, allegedly for having sold proprietary data to a foreign company. They were offered the opportunity to quit discreetly, the alternative being a formal complaint and subsequent police investigation. However, the affair quickly went public and gained extensive media coverage. Renault officially filed a complaint and the CEO was forced to go on TV on a major channel. The three managers denied any kind of misbehavior and in return filed a complaint against Renault. The police investigation found no evidence of any kind against the three executives; instead, it revealed that the whole affair was probably a scam designed by a member of the manufacturer’s security service. Significant amounts of money had been spent on collecting fake evidence about secret bank accounts allegedly possessed by the three managers in Switzerland and other countries. Renault’s CEO reappeared on TV to make public apologies. The three managers were either reintegrated or compensated. In this research we analyze the interviews of January 3, 2011, when the three managers each had an ‘unofficial’, face-to-face conversation with a high-ranked executive. These conversations were recorded in their entirety. Later, they were leaked to the press and published as audio files. As it was the first time that the managers had been confronted with the accusation, these conversations could have been opportunities for company executives to have a free discussion with the managers, to collect information, and to make sense jointly of what happened. The managers and the executives had no direct hierarchical links and the conversations took place outside organizational formal structures, two conditions that previous research on sensemaking (Weick, 1995; Balogun and Johnson, 2004) and conversations (Ford, 1999; Westley, 1990; Jarzabowski and Seidl, 2008) sees as favoring the emergence of new discourses and interpretations. Unexpectedly, the conversations turned out to be highly dominated by the executives and closely resembled police interrogation, leaving little (if no) room for the managers to suggest alternative interpretations. How did such an external, police ‘order of discourse’ erupt into these managerial conversations? And to what extent did this emergent discourse contribute to the asymmetries between the executives and the managers? Following recent research adopting a critical and microscopic approach to analysing conversations (Samra-Fredericks, 2003; 2005; Rasmussen, 2010), we contend that conversations always rely on some prior forms of knowledge and discourses, thereby incorporating or reproducing power relationships between participants. From this perspective, the emergence of new discourses in the organization is better conceptualized as ‘traces’ of (external) structures (Fairclough, 2010) rather than of their suspending or suppressing. Relying on conversational analysis (Heritage, 2004) and discursive psychology (Potter, 2004; Edwards, 1994; 1995), we analyzed the overall organization of the conversations, as well as the discursive tactics used by the executives to accomplish asymmetries. Two interviews exhibited a highly dominant pattern, while in the third interview an apparently more ‘open’ pattern was enacted. Although different, these two patterns were oriented towards the same objective: that of dismissing the managers. A turn-by-turn analysis of conversation extracts show that, in both patterns, the executives relied on the sorts of discursive tactics used in police interrogation.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 5:12:14 PM
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  • HAL Id : hal-01490700, version 1



Florence Allard-Poesi, Hervé Laroche. Unmasking Spies in the Corporation: When the police order of discourse erupts into managerial conversations. Fourth International Symposium on Process Organization Studies, Jun 2012, Kos, Greece. ⟨hal-01490700⟩



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