A Critical Postmodern Theory of Public Administration
David M. Boje
New Mexico State University
April 12, 2001; Revised April 30, 2001
Pre-publication draft of article published in:Administrative Theory &
Praxis, Vol 23 (3): 431-458.
I propose a critical postmodern application of Debord's Spectacle and the
carnivalesque of Bakhtin to the theatrics I see happening in city streets,
on college campuses, and Internet resisting the new globalized economy.In
the past decade pubic administration has experienced the postmodern turn,
becoming caught in the conflicting theatrics ofcorporate-mediatized
spectacle and the carnival of resistance to globalization discourse. My
contribution is to theorize the interplay of spectacle and carnival on the
global stage as theatrical constructions of corporate and state power and
resistance. I analyze growth of the spectacle of the monitoring industry
that attests corporate codes of conducts in narratives of progress, while
the anti-sweatshop and anti-globalization carnivals perform a devolution
script in street theater, anti-sweat fashion shows, and cyber-activism.
"Welcome to our Sweatshop Fashion Show, a combination of political
theater and educational comedy. Today, you'll see our models displaying
some of the latest fashions made in Asia, Latin America, the United States,
Australia, and Canada" (from script I am writing). Instead of supermodels
in barely clad silk dresses costing thousands of dollars, these garments
are made in sweatshops, sold at our campus apparel store or local Wal-Mart.
In such shows, staged on college campuses, on city streets, and in at the
mall, models enter and walk across the catwalk wearing the latest Nike,
Disney, Guess, Gap, Van Heusen, Tommy Hilfiger, and Wal-Mart brands as
announcers comment on poverty wages and abusive working conditions. Your
university has no doubt hosted similar Sweatshop Fashion shows highlighting
working conditions in the garment industry in not only Latin America and
Asia, but in metropolitan cities. Maquila Solidarity Network (2001a) even
provides fashion show script ideas.
Our next model, Sheila, is wearing body-hugging Guess jeans that were
made in Mexico. Doesn't Sheila look great? The Guess brand image is
hot and sexy... Actually, "hot and sexist" is probably a better
description of working conditions for the women sewing Guess products.
Hot as in sweatshops, and sexist as in supervisors. An investigation
of four Guess contractors in Mexico in 1998 found evidence of forced
overtime, violations of child labor laws, unsafe working conditions,
discrimination against pregnant women, poverty, repression and fear.
Thank you, Sheila." (MSN, 2001a)
My focus here is what Mikhail Bakhtin and Julia Kristeva would call
carnivalesque, the use of theater to parody and resist spectacles of global
corporate hegemony, mixing outrageous satire, popular music, models, and
critical pedagogy to problematize globalization andfreetradeas
reinvented ideologies of colonization and global racism in the 21st
century. Spectacle is increasingly a corporately orchestrated performance,
a display intended to persuade the masses of spectators from a distance
that its global corporations have implemented moral codes of conduct, and
therefore merit public trust.
My thesis is that much of global protest is carnival, such as 400,000
WTO protestors facing the police overdressed in Vader masks and riot gear
facing protestors costumed in sea-turtle shells, or ladies prancing naked
with "Better Naked than Nike" or "BGH-free" scrawled across their chest and
back, and gigantic puppets and floating condoms the size of blimps with the
words "Practice Safe Trade." For Bakhtin (1973), the carnival is "...that
peculiar folk humor that always existed and has never merged with the
official culture of the ruling classes." The street theatrics of the WTO
protest in Seattle, as well as the anti-sweatshop movement, has become a
parody of corporate power using carnival. In the erosion of the nation
state as a global character, the corporate state has emerged as a new star
of the global theater, but one who is being vilified by activists in off-
Broadway (Saner, 1999)carnivalesqueproductionsthatrebelliously
reinterpret the experience of consumers putting on garments in acts
scripted to raise consciousness. Here I want to examine carnival activism
in its relation to corporate spectacle.
Foucault (1979) makes the point that resistance accompanies power.
Here, I would like to look at how carnival opposes not Las Vegas, Disney,
or Hollywood, but spectacles legitimating "free trade" and globalization.
Disneyfication and Las Vegasization remake real places, such as Paris, NY,
Rome, Egypt, and Venice by creating sanitized, stylized, and virtual, yet
fragmented experiences visitors say is "better than the real," because it
is "safer," "cleaner," "quicker," or "easier to walk around." Consumers
then head for the real and expect it to be like Vegas or Disney, and
eventually they will be. This transformation to increasingly virtual, and
digital simulation, demands radical administrative theorizing situated in
emergent postmodern culture.Postmodern culture includes the corporate
fragmenting of our identities through brand-logos, Las Vegasization and
Disneyfication of our leisure and the McDonaldization of our work, and the
loose networking of disparate social movements and advocacy groups into
forces of opposition to global capitalism and our own commodification using
digital and street theater. After defining terms, I do a brief introduction
to postmodern theory in public administration, and then explore the
relation of carnival and spectacle and draw out implications for public
Defining Terms - Administrative Theory and Praxis is, in my view, stretched
between the mediatized spectacle of global capitalism we witness on our
screens, and new genres of carnivalesque-citizen participation in our era
of postmodern culture. According to Bogason's (1999) review, the last
decade has seen a dramatic increase in the publication of postmodern theory
work in public administration. Postmodern culture challenges traditional
notions of democracy, citizenship and publicadministration.Public
administration is colonized by corporate capitalism while having to contend
with the fragmenting of identity and emergent forms of postmodern culture
that protest globalization. Atthesametime,postmodernpublic
administration theory work is also criticized for neglecting human rights,
equity, and social justice (Ventriss, 1998) and proposing a "post-critical
thinking" that creates subject as text and dismissing all grand narratives,
thereby neglecting material conditions of the embedding political economy
championed in critical theory (Carr, 1997; Zanetti ; Carr, 1997 ; 1999).
In my view, there are variations in postmodern theory that can offer
emancipatory potential, that do not dismiss all grand narratives, and that
are attentive to the material conditions of labor and ecology.
Rather than dismiss postmodern theory as responsible for all that is wrong
in the world order (Disneyfication, Las Vegasization, fragmentation), I
prefer to develop a "critical postmodern" critique of global discourse.
Critical postmodern is definable as the nexus ofcriticaltheory,
postcolonialism, critical pedagogy and postmodern theory (Boje, 2001c). I
diverge from other postmodern theories that seek to limit being to what is
"socially constructed" as just "text" without context, or as incapable of
ethical discourse. I prefer to follow Best and Kellner (1997), and combine
Marx's focus on the material conditions with Guy Debord's (1967) Society of
the Spectacle rather than focus on the hyperreality of Baudrillard or the
dismissal of all grand narrative in Lyotard.
Debord resituated Marx's analysis of production into a focus on the
accumulation and consumption of spectacles.Spectacle is oftentimes a
theatric performance that legitimates, rationalizes,andcamouflages
violent production and consumption (Boje, 2001a; Best & Kellner, 1997 &
2000; Firat & Dholakia, 1998). Spectacle theatrics can be a benign form of
practice and performance; gala events with costumes, art, success stories,
team awards, and celebrity appearances to launch a new product, symbolize a
change initiative or to put the spot light on positive acts of corporate
Critical postmodern theory, by contrast, assumes there is a material
condition, often quite a violent one, stimulated in media spectacle. We are
answerable ethically to minimize spectacle violence by reclaiming face-to-
face discourse, not participating mindlessly in eco-destruction,and
resisting with carnival, to find a more festive way of being in the world.
Using methods of deconstruction, theatrics theory, discourse, and narrative
analysis, I think it is possible to de-code the layers of public relations
spectacle that lionize global virtual corporations as the author of
progress and evolution. Spectacle also distances transnational corporations
from responsibility over their far-flung global supply chains, where
particularly exploitive conditions seem to flourish in a resurgence of
sweatshops, whose descriptions rivals Marx's (1867) depiction of capital
"sweating" labor. Virtual corporations, such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Gap,
and Guess, retain R;D and marketing functions while outsourcing production
to the Third World. Most recently, corporate responsibilityemploys
consulting companies such as Global Alliance for Workers and Communities
(GA), accounting firms such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), and trade
groups such as Fair Labor Association (FLA) and Worldwide Responsible
Apparel Production (WRAP), to provide on-the-ground monitoring.PWC, just
in 1999 audited the codes of conduct compliance of 6,0000 factories
subcontracting to Nike, Disney, Wal-Mart, Gap and other multinational
corporations. Increasingly it is the virtual companies and their outsourced
monitors of subcontract factories that are the focus of carnivals of
resistance. We are witness to postmodern culture jamming, anti-sweat
fashion shows, and more recently virtual acts of cyber-disobedience.Most
adopt non-violent action to promote a less violent capitalism to the
current one, while creating awareness and raising consciousness of our
consumptive and work or instrumental relationship to the animal, plant, and
human, and micro biotic world.
A critical postmodern theory contributes to public administration in
nurturing and reclaiming public and democratic discourse from its corporate
colonization. Critical postmodern perspectives giving space to radical and
non-violent civil disobedience actions of solidarity between fragmented
counterpublics, and subaltern communities. I means doing something about
the voicelessness, of for example sweatshop workers, joining citizens
taking to the streets and students who protest globalized corporate impact
on ecology. It may even mean becoming more radical and activist theorists
who peer into what lies hidden beneath spectacles of progress and knowledge
work of virtual corporate reality. A related task of critical postmodern
theory is to deconstruct public administration's (and other fields' such as
business administration's) complicity with apologetic spectacle narratives
by exposing hidden economic, ethnic, and gender politics and oppressive
administrative practices, while opening up spaces for a new democratic
discourse to emerge.
Postmodern Public Administration - This is not meant as a complete
review (a task for the entire issue). Instead I highlight some key points
in the postmodern turn in public administration. Hummel (1989: 179-180) and
Dennard (1989) were among the first to use the term postmodern in
conjunction with public administration.Hummel looked atpostmodern
organization, while Dennard wrote about radical humanism in a satirical
narrative of Burrell and Morgan theory set to the story of Goldilocks and
the Three Bears. Marshal and White (1990) introduced postmodern as a method
to the public administration community in their deconstructive analysis of
the Blacksburg Manifesto (constitutionalism), a reaction to the market
metaphor dominating public administration. White (1992) acknowledges the
narrative turn and how what we know is dressed in stories; administrative
science is just another narrative. Fox and McSwain (1993) examined the
possibilities for semioticsandpostmodernisminAmericanpublic
administration to move away from Big-T-truththeoriesandexperts
prescribing what is best for communities.Fox and Miller (1993: 5-6)
theorized postmodern public administration as a move from centripetal to
centrifugal, centralization tofragmentation,commonunitstowards
incommensurability, difference rather than likeness, universals to hyper-
pluralisms, fragmentation instead of generalized unitsofanalysis,
Newtonian to Heisenberg quantum physics, and causal theory to unpredictable
analysis of microcosms. David Farmer (1994) lookedatthesocial
construction aspects of public administration, questioning the efficiency
semiotics of the reinventing government movement as privileging control.
Books by Fox and Miller (1995, 1997) focus on the need for discourse
theory in postmodern public administration, as an alternative to the input-
output-feedback loop model of public administration.Farmer's (1995)
Language of Public Administration looks at text using a Derrida approach,
theorizing in a hermeneutic circle, deterritorialization of Deleuze and
Guattari, and the limits to grand narratives such as Taylorist-efficiency,
specialization, and aspirations to science of public administration. The
focus is voices marginalized in public administration such as minorities,
women, policed sexualities, and the economically colonized. Farmer (1998)
continued this focus and looked a radical listening to the Other that might
liberate marginalized voices. Harmon's (1995) book critical of public
administration focuses on simulacrum of publicadministrationunder
conditions of market capitalism as agency and moral answerability, for
example, is transferred form the State and its bureaucratic public servants
to the market.
Critical Postmodern Theory and Public Administration - A critical
postmodern analysis of spectacle and carnival is, I think, compatible with
much of the theory work being done in public administration. Fox and Miller
(1993, 1995), for example, look at media-induced consumerism and the "neo-
tribal" fragmentation of society as consumers identify with and define
themselves by logos and slogans of Nike and other corporate-logos and
floating media images. Critical academic writing about Nike, Disney,
Monsanto and other companies is just beginning. Stabile (2000: 191), for
Similarly, if we scratch the surface of Nike's veneer a bit, we can
see how the codes of conduct so valued by corporate culture are
displaced onto groups of people who haven't the economic means to
pursue them legally but are nevertheless held responsible for the
genesis of such codes and desires.
In public administration, Zanetti and Carr's (Zanetti, 1997; Carr, 1996;
Zanetti ; Carr, 1997 ; 1999) work on a critical theory, for example,
focuses on what Habermas terms "inauthentic" discourse groups that degrade
the public sphere.I see much of the corporate discourse as being
inauthentic. Media-induced consumerism reduces individuals to consumer
identity types who no longer see through the code-veneer to "reality" of
working conditions. Recently, many more people think they are aware of
alienated labor, a lack of voice in global trade, or Greenwash advertising,
are taking to the street or to the Internet, to participate differently.
However, this awareness is countered by corporately sponsored academic
apologies, and media control.
In sum, my contribution uses critical postmodern theory to explore a
nexus in the relation between spectacle andcarnival,andpublic
administration. My contribution is to theorize administrative praxis in the
counter forces of spectacle and carnival resistance. The contribution to
public administration is to theorize the interplay of global corporate
spectacle with more carnivalesque theatrics of citizen resistance. I focus
on the anti-sweatshop movement and publicadministration'sboundary
position. I begin with brief reviews of spectacle and carnival, then
introduce several applications, illustrating their dynamic interweaving.
Spectacle - Spectacle is based on the work of Guy Debord (1967,
Society of the Spectacle) who has something important to say about how
spectacles of production and consumption relate to public administration. I
mean Debord's (1967) theory of spectacle, the often violent and oppressive
social control that masquerades as a celebration of betterment by recycling
pseudo-reforms, false-desires, and selective sightings ofprogressive
evolution, never devolution (Boje, 2001a). Spectacle is a narrative and a
theatric performance that legitimates, rationalizes,andcamouflages
violent production and consumption. Spectacle is more prevalentand
dominant than carnival. "In all its specific forms, as information or
propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the
spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life" (Debord, 1967:
Spectacle can be total manipulation of meaning-making processes
through theatrical events to serve the production of power and managerial
needs to control and spin a good story in the face of bad news. Spectacle
is highly instrumental, the production of a gala event with costumes, art,
success stories, team awards, and celebrity appearances to launch a new
product, symbolize a change initiative or to put the spot light on positive
acts of corporate power (e.g. communityservice).Sometimesthese
spectacles celebrate the benevolence and progress of power with affirming
theatrics and other times the spectacles enact the theatrics that led to
technological or humanistic progress. Despite the seminal work by Guy
Debord's (1967) Society of the Spectacle and the association of the
Situationist movement to Marxist theory, the radical implications of
spectacles of production and consumption have yet to be acknowledged in
public administration theory and praxis. In the postmodern turn (Best &
Kellner, 1993, 1997), spectacle is endemic to the exercise of corporate
Next we look at several instances in which spectacle is resisted by
carnival, first in monitoring sweatshop codes, then sweatshop fashion
shows, and finally the new digitized forms of spectacle and carnival.
Carnival - Carnival is a theatrics of rant and madness seeking to
repair felt separation and alienation. It is a call for release from
corporate power, a cry of distress and repression mixed with laughter and
humorous exhibition meant to jolt state and corporate power into awareness
of the psychic cage of work and consumptive life.In pre-modern carnival
theatrics (Mikhail Bakhtin, 1981a), the most respected nobles and clergy
were vilified, degraded, and ridiculed through vulgar, farce, buffoonery
and grotesquerie. In the Feast of Fools, the medieval underclass mocked and
degraded the official life of nobles and clergy. In carnival, social class
and gender distinctions were suspended, even that of sex. Young men dress
up as girls, young girls as boys. People wore grotesque masks and costumes
with huge bellies, bosoms, and buttocks. The theatrics included farcical
imitations of childbirth and copulation. Parodies of the rituals of the
official culture of Church and Crown were common.
"Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and
everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people.
While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During
carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of
its own freedom" (Bakhtin, 1981a: 7)
Carnival manifests its theatrics all around us, as authority figures and
norms of behavior guiding our socialization become questioned and their
rigid structure turns problematic (Mueller, 2000). Contemporary carnival is
more controlled, a safer theater than onesintheMiddleAges.
Carnivalesque has four themes: the tumultuous crowd, the world turned
upside-down, the comic mask and the grotesque body.Contemporary carnival
is a polyphonic (many voiced) expression by those without power, sometimes
sanctioned by those in power as a way to blow off steam.
Here and there one can get a glimpse of the carnival of resistance to
global capitalism. On college campuses, fashion shows and sit ins are ways
students negotiate with administrators over university codes of conduct,
demanding tighter monitoring of campus apparel contracts. Concerned with
reports of ongoing human rights abuses in garment factories, students and
faculty across the country are campaigning to monitor working conditions
for t-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts that bear their schools' names, to
insure none are manufactured in sweatshops. United StudentsAgainst
Sweatshops (USAS) is a national movement of students that has chapters on
more than 150 campuses across the U.S.; Canada, UK, and Australia campuses
have similar efforts.Rallies, "sew-ins," "knit-ins," andsweatshop
fashion shows are among the carnivalesque theatrics used to pressure public
administrators in cities and universities to adopt tougher codes of
conduct. For example, the day before University of Toronto's provincial
conference on sweatshops and universities began last weekend, University of
Toronto administrators told students in a private meeting that they will
wipe the slate clean and devise a brand new code of conduct regarding which
clothing can sport the collegiate logo. In Toronto, for example, there have
been numerous sweatshop fashion shows protesting Nike's denial that it uses
homeworkers paid sub-minimum wages to cut, glue, and stitch its garments.
Admittedly the campus protests are few and far between, and are not
dramatically changing the habits of consumers which areshapedby
advertising with superstars like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. On most
college campuses, little, if anything is being done to protest human rights
abuses. Just as in the days of the Vietnam war protests, most of the
students and faculty are not protesting. I hypothesize that carnival (in
the way it is defined by Bakhtin) will always be marginal in its own way;
it is reactionary. And in some sense it is a protest that is carefully
managed by State and Corporate interests. When there is protest, it must
be in a particular area, and have permits. At New Mexico State University
(being behind the times) all protest was limited to designated "free
speech" areas, situated away from the main walkways and areas of community.
I am proud to say that students and faculty revolted, even underwent
arrest, to take free speech off marginal areas, and into the campus. But
the controls are still in force, and the job of many administrators is to
keep the carnival from spilling over into campus life. I will try to show
the interplay of carnival and spectacle theatrics, in the staging, and in
the directing, in the examples that follow.
Carnival and Monitoring - We are spectators to a global spectacle
viewed from a distance; we rely upon eyewitness accounts of touristic
monitors of worksite conduct in foreign lands; we gaze and channel-surf
those accounts on some type of electronic monitor.In the early 1990's
administrators, and consumers. Almost overnight the monitoring industry was
born as some 50,000 apparel factories lined up for inspections to keep
their contracts with global corporations who were being held accountable by
government, a minority of shareholders, and a few customers. In merely a
decade, the monitoring of apparel has grown into industry of consulting
firms, certification programs by industry groups, and there are proposals
to form supermonitoring transorganizational agencies.Followingthe
example of Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP), the Collegiate Licensing
Company (CLC) and the collegiate institutions represented by the CLC also
drafted a code of conduct for CLC licensees. Other monitoring groups
include the International Apparel Federation and the American Apparel
Manufacturers Association. Both groups are exploring a monitoring and
certification system for their members.
Monitoring can become junk science and little more than paid PR. As
such, it becomes a spectacle of total meaning-making manipulation through
theatrically staged processes and events to serve the production of power
and managerial needs to control and spin a good story in the face of bad or
scandalous news. Monitoring is a billion dollar industry that includes high-
priced consultants such as Global Alliance (Nike contributed $7.6 million
for two studies), accountingfirmssuchasPriceWaterhouseCoopers
(accountants now doing human rights code audits), and the FLA (who
"certifies" monitor-consultants such as Verit, 2001 to be hired by
The street theater of the WTO protest, the sit-ins in university
administration offices, and boycotts of Footlocker, NikeTown, Gap, Wal-
Mart, and Disney merchandise stores areexamplesofcarnivalesque
resistance to the spectacle of postindustrial capitalism and its marriage
to postmodern consumerism.Thesecarnivalsbystudents,labor,
environmentalists, union workers, and activists also parody truth claims
produced by corporate monitors and consultants such asFairLabor
Association (FLA), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), and Global Alliance (GA).
University, corporate and industry codes of conduct in apparel do not
operate unambiguously; the dynamics increasingly attract and seduce public
administration to play the role of referee in disputes between corporate
monitoring groups such as the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and student
groups such as Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). University administrators
and public policy makers are being asked to choose between FLA and WRC
approaches to monitoring.
FLA, according to activists, has a very weak code of conduct that does
not include fundamental things such as women's rights, a living wage, or
independent monitoring. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and other
student organizations launched the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).USAS
is signing up campus after campus to use WRC as an alternative to FLA; WRC
prefers local monitoring by religious and Non-Governmental Organizations
(NGO) and favors a living wage and a stronger role for independent
monitoring than is the case for FLA.USAS and scores of other groups
allege that with globalization there is increased sweatshop production from
Bangladesh to Brazil. The worker involved, mostly Third world women have
been partnering with students and labor organizers to raise wages, improve
working conditions, and promote collective bargaining.
I think a new role of public administration is to demonopolize and
decolonize the corporately dominated spheres of public discourse being
appropriated by corporate spectacle. Public administration writers, such as
Jon ; Campodoncio (1998) have argued that globalization tempts Third world
nations to grant regulatory exceptions that strain eco-systems as well as
stress human work by capitulating to downward pressure on wages and
benefits. The spectacle serves to keep regulative, court, and legislative
monitoring of the apparel industry at bay.On a practical level, one
option is for public administrators, to get critical about the spectacle
they are in, to see the carnival waves of protest as a way to re-balance
spectacles of greed and pillage that continue unabated due the propaganda
registered through media control.
Attempts to control the postmodern consumer and postindustrial supply
chain's addiction to sweatshops are difficult to implement. For example,
WRAP conducts a global factory certification program, reviewing corporate-
authored factory monitoring reports and granting a "good factory seal of
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), Intertek Testing Services and CSCC to perform
compliance audits in dozens of countries around the world. WRAP's director,
Otto Reich was an inside player in the 1980s Iran-contra conspiracy, and
WRAP itself is widely viewed as a dodge to displace activist or government
monitoring of corporate behavior (Maquiladora Solidarity Network, 2001b).
The public administrator is caught up in simulation, hyperreality, and
the commodification and colonization of monitoring, once a part of the
public sphere, now the province of the private sector agents (e.g. FLA, GA,
; WRAP). Codes of conduct do not operate unambiguously. Yet, increasingly
the role of public administration is to play referee in disputes between
FLA and WRC, for example. Public interest (moral codes of work) is at odds
exploitation). The public administrator can no longer monitor directly,
since it is caught up in simulation, hyperreality, and the commodification
of the public sphere. The danger is that public interest fuses with
corporate interest, with more citizens becoming voiceless.
Without involvement of public administration, the danger is that
corporate interests co-opt public interests, often resulting in so-called
corporate welfare programs. Claiming voicelessness, citizens reinvent forms
of carnivalesque resistance to regain voice. Corporate power has reacted to
forms of resistance by investing millions of dollars in a monitoring
industry that can produce what most critical postmodern scholars would term
"junk science," corporately-purchased reports that legitimate corporate
interests by applying science that would not meet reliability or validity
tests for journal review and publication.
Rhetoric of Motives - The argument is that we are faced with two types
of "theatrics," one spectacle and the other carnival. The argument hinges
on what Kenneth Burke (1969) called the "rhetoric of motives."Rhetoric
for Burke is "the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing
cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols" (Burke, 1969: 43).
Our human condition responds to the Wrangle of the Market Place.Spectacle
plays on the group motive to band together and share in the icons and
symbolism, such that the same attitudes to fashion, language, and I would
add consumption and production develop. At the margins there is resistance.
Spectacle Control of Carnival - As networks of social movements and
advocacy groups swarm to engage in annual protests, such as "Boycott Nike
Day" or the recent WTO, WB, and IMF actions, corporations, industries, and
the police construct "war rooms" that track and profile student and other
protest groups and individuals.For example, Nike's war room enlists
administrators on college campuses with lucrative Nike-licensing contracts
to report in advance, any planned actions on a NikeTown or a speech or anti-
sweat fashion show held on campus. Power is also more direct. When Nike
Inc. Chief Executive Phil Knight learned that the University of Oregon had
joined the anti-sweatshop Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), he stopped
attending the school's athletic events and withdrew a promised $30 million
gift (Pereira , Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2001: B1).
Recently the University of Oregon announced it would no longer
participate in WRC or FLA. In Beaverton, Oregon, Nike's war-room has become
a standing operation of "virtual teams" of executivesandoutside
consultants to respond protests such at the annual Truth Tours of NikeTown
stores, shareholder meeting actions (meetings have been moved first away
from Oregon, and recently out of the country to control protester access),
campus sit-ins, and worldwide Boycott Nike days. For example, Vada Manager,
Nike's director of global issues, "got advance notice of the (Truth) tour
through a network of paid student sales reps and friendly administrators at
more than 200 universities with Nike apparel deals... The Nike team took
videotape of the New York fracas and relayed it, along with bios of the RV
Recreational Vehicle activists(downloaded from the Truth Tour Web
site), to police all along the route"... "It's just not in the culture here
to retreat, or to keep your mouth shut," says war-room team member Amanda
Tucker (Emerson, 2001). War rooms are more usually public relations
campaigns to prevent the carnivalesque tactics of protestors from obtaining
media attention. For example, Washington State companies set up their war
room to respond more rapidly to the accusations sure to be raised in the
WTO protests in Seattle. War rooms are a way for business leaders to fight
back against radical criticism. Coalitions of activists set up war rooms of
their own issuing counter claims and pro-trade press releases.Corporate
monitoring of civil disorders and activist monitoring of corporate codes of
conduct violations construct the playing field of postmodern war games, a
new politics of conflict between spectacle and carnival.
Theatrics is a weapon to draw media spotlight
Knowledge is attained through surveillance and monitoring
Information is accumulated and disseminated at high speed
across many fronts
War rooms compete to block one another's media strategies
Sides compete for ethical high ground
High technology (even artificial intelligence) is key to
sustaining competitive advantage
Results, however, have been negligible. While there has been an
increase in protests, the response of more monitoring of conditions has not
dramatically changed working conditions. Instead, there hasbeena
tremendous growth in the social auditing and monitoring industry, in which
accounting firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and Ernst and Young
(E&Y) monitor factory conditions against corporate and industry codes of
conduct. This trend is dangerous, since it privatizes labor and human
rights standards of enforcement, while letting governments and public
administrators off the hook.
Monitoring is an excessively rationalist, objectivist, and scientist
discourse rooted in the instrumental ideology of free market capitalism,
which includes minimal intrusion of government into the conductof
corporations. For the skeptic, monitoring in the examples just presented is
strategically crafted as an apologetic, depriving workers of a voice. I
would like to make several points that support the proposition that
monitoring is not an ideal emancipatory speech act.
(A) Criteria of authentic discourse not met - Monitoring is a
rhetorical device that does not meet the criteria of authentic discourse,
as theorized by Habermas (see Fox & Miller, 1995: 118).
For example, Roberts and Bernstein (2000: 123) investigated a Chinese
factory (Chun Si) subcontracted to produce Kathie Lee Gifford handbags for
Wal-Mart and Payless ShoeSource where security "guards regularly punched
and hit workers for talking back to managers." Previous auditing reports by
PWC and Cal Safety Compliance Corporation, in five prior inspections had
missed serious problems. In November, 2000 Chun Si tried to "hoodwink"
monitors sent to reinspect the factory to see if cited violations of
excessive overtime hours. To pass the monitoring audit, management gave a
face-lift to one floor (adding toilet paper, painting dank bathrooms) and
improved conditions for 200 workers (increasing wages, decreasing excessive
hours, and installing a phone line to Wal-Mart 1-800-WM-ETHIC).At the
same time they moved the other 700 workers to the 4th floor (where
conditions worsened with 14-hour days, high fees for meals), forcing them
to sign contracts stating they no longer worked for Chun Si.Both floors
still made Kathie Lee handbags.
O'Rourke (2000) accompanied PWC auditors (certified by WRAP) on
factory inspections in China and Korea and evaluated audits of a factory in
Indonesia. He concluded that PWC monitoring methods relied on information
primarily from mangers, conducted interviews in front of managers, allowed
managers to select workers to be interviewed, and coached monitors on how
to get passing scores. The monitoring reports overlooked health and safety
violations (i.e. hazardous chemical use, no protective gloves or safety
goggles), barriers to freedom of association, violations of overtime and
wage laws, and falsified timecards. "The program includes efforts to
prepare managers for the process, provides guarantees to managers about
confidentiality, and even involves sending them a questionnaire before hand
to prepare them for many of the issues that will be evaluated" (p. 3). Four
observations follow from these and similar studies of monitoring.
First, participation in thedialogisnotequal;workers,
subcontractor owners, and global corporate executives do not genuinely talk
to one another. There is a dominant social structure and hierarchy in which
monitors speak for workers, chosen by management, writing reports generated
for PR value.As Fox and Miller (1995: 116) put it, "communication
requires equal participants." Workers do not have equal opportunity to
engage in dialog; they speak in the surveillance spaces directed by
monitors. Further, "authentic discourse requires trust among participants"
(Fox ; Miller, 1995: 121).Second, monitoring is a less than ideal
communicative arena. The apologists for the campus and athletic apparel
industry are paid consultants certified by other consulting firms such as
WRAP, GA, and FLA (all of whom claim non-profit status).Academics, such
as Kahle, Boush, and Phelps (2000) are given special access to "model
factories" and reprint corporate staff renditions of press reporting that
gets reprinted in academic journals. Third, in the monitoring speech act,
the hierarchy of surveillance forecloses authenticity; worker voices have
little or no authority to speak. Fourth, authentic discourse is face-to-
face in an atmosphere of trust, not coercion.
(B) Validity claims are not met due to coerced discourse and hired-
mouthpieces. Monitoring gives discursive faade to worker voices and
participation in truth and validity claims.Fox and Miller (1995: 116)
applied four validity claims of Habermas to public administration, (1)
understandability, (2) truth of prepositional content, (3) sincerity of the
speaker, and (4) appropriateness of speech performance.
First, the monitoring report is understandable in a corporate way, but
it is also a story that might be told differently by workers free from
coercion and the managerial gaze. For example, Boje (2001e) compared the
UCM (1999) study with another done on the same set of Nike factories in
Indonesia for GA (CSDS, 2000), noting differences in their methods,
results, and conclusions. While both interviewed 4,000 workers, and found
instances of verbal abuse, the UCM study contrasted Nike and non-Nike
factories, showing conditions to be worse in the former. Monitors are
neither autonomous nor "independent" speakers. In the CSDS (2000) study
contracted by GA, workers were not asked about forced overtime or given a
way to voice open-ended concerns. Factory managers and Nike staff members
controlled the process. Paid corporate consulting firms (PWC), credentialed
by industry groups (WRAP) and associations (FLA) financed by corporations
(Nike, Gap, etc.) is a hollow discourse. Second, in the examples of the GA
consulting reports (e.g. CSDS,2000),truthclaimsomitcertain
prepositional content (worker concerns over force overtime, inadequate
wages, and lack of freedom to talk, much less associate). Third the
sincerity of the monitor as spokesperson for the workers is suspect in such
enterprises (O'Rourke, 2000; Roberts & Bernstein, 2000, Boje, 2001c;
Stabile, 2000). Fourth, the appropriateness of speech performance can mean
that workers identity is kept confidential, even while their interviews and
focus groups are, in some cases, conducted in front of the factory managers
they are asked to monitor to the monitors (Boje, 2001e). In the sample of
CSDS (2000), factory identity is kept confidential despite worker claims of
sexual harassment and physical abuse in that report.In sum, validity
claims of monitors are problematic. Monitors are hiredmouthpieces,
rendered incapable of independent deliberative discourse, once the province
of public administration and legislation. Based upon the cases reviewed,
they make insincere claimants to policy discourse.
(C) Monitoring solicits discourse, but does not promote democratic
dialogue. Corporations and factory subcontractors promise changes, but the
received intentionality of monitoring is legitimacy not reform.If the
intent of monitoring is liberatory freedom of speech, current forms of
participation of workers in little more than corporate-dominated discourse.
It is difficult to promote dialogue when discourse is coerced (i..e.
workers are fired from jobs for speaking out against conditions).Workers,
for example in the Kukdong factory are fined for speaking while they work
(Boje, Rosile, & Carrillo, 2001). In China, prohibitions against talking
can extend to mealtime conversation among workers (Chan, 1996). At Kukdong
workers seen talking to other workers was cause for dismissal.
Ms. Lap Nguyen was forced out of her Nike factory job (Sam Yang, a
Korean owned sneaker factory in Ku Chi, Vietnam). Lap Nguyen was demoted
several times after her management-sanctioned, interview aired April 2nd
1998 on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" (ESPN, 1998).Nguyen claims she was
forced to resign. Korean managers fearful the publicity would result in
Nike termination of their production contract demoted Nguyen first to a
line with fewer and newer workers, but given higher production quarters.
When she fell ill trying to keep up with this pace, she says she was denied
medical leave, demoted to toilet scrubber, then eventually forced to quit
her job. She was recently diagnosed with tuberculosisanddespite
vociferous activist calls that Nike rehire her,sheiscurrently
Monitoring discourse solicits workers and managers responses but does
not promote free and democratic dialog, nor lead to changes that would mean
freedom of association.
(D) Elites control agenda, while worker-participation legitimates the
status quo. Monitoring is a rhetorical method that does not meet criteria
for authentic discourse, but does influence public, legislative, and
administrative opinion. In the Andrew Young and Jordan Hamilton (1997)
study, the corporation provides the translators, the factory management
selects the workers to be interviewed, and selects the factories for the
tour. Non-independent reports can omit, gloss over, dismiss, and muddy
issues other studies find important to workers (UCM, 1999). The studies of
PWC, for example, suggest that worker and manager responses to monitoring
questions are rehearsed and that the monitor coaches the actors how to
respond when questions and appointment schedules are provided in advance of
monitoring visits (O'Rourke, 2000; Roberts & Bernstein, 2000)..In the
case of the Wal-Mart subcontractor, this allows the factory management time
and license to stage theatrical performances that satisfice monitoring
requirements. In sum, the worksite monitor negotiates the rendition of
human rights violations and compliance issues to be publicly displayed, to
make it all seem believable as spectacle.
(E) Monitoring is a devolution of worker participation in democratic
discourse. "Under postmodern conditions," Fox and Miller (1995: 113)
assert, "exclusion from the discourse occurs in undemocraticways."
Reports of sexual and physical abuse, wage and overtime violations, and
violations of environmental policies and national laws are systematically
collected and tabulated, but notforthepurposeofdemocratic
participation (CSDS, 2000). Monitoring is not a liberatory speech act;
this is public relations work. Monitoring disempowers workers; the monitor
speaks for them, they do not speak for themselves.
One way of devolving participation in monitoring is ironically,
insuring the anonymity of workers in giving responses. Verit (2001) and
CSDS (2000) reports for GA, FLA, and Nike, do not indicate the names of
workers in the reports. They do not tape record interviews or take verbatim
notes, and research materials are surrendered to the corporation after such
studies. On the one hand, the appeal of confidentiality to protect workers
form management retaliation seems sensible, but it has its downside.
Workers do not get to establish their voice and their stories become
trimmed down into brief quotes and percentage scores. This anonymity is
viewed as a virtue in the monitory projects. And in the case of workers
speaking to the press, there has been retaliation (e.g. Lap Nguyen).
Alternatively, activist and journal reports do list workers by name (where
permission is obtained) thereby giving identity to workers and include more
extended worker accounts (Boje, Rosile & Carrillo, 2001). The other side of
the identity issue is the ways in which monitoring reports keep the
identity of the question-askers, and report writers anonymous.Fox and
Miller (1995: 135) anticipate my concerns about monitoring:
Anonymity of the actual speaker is preserved when advertising
agents, paid actors, or hired firms construct and deliver their
persuasive messages. The same anonymity is afforded questionnaire
writers, questionnaire respondents, and anonymous technocrats who code
Anonymity can co-opt and manipulates the voice of the worker becomes
voiceless. In addition, the identity of factories made secret in the
comparisons made CSDS (2000) for GA and Nike, makes accountability for
disclosures of abuse or legal violation unavailable to public prosecution.
In sum, I conclude, monitoring only appears to include the voice of
the worker, but it is a controlled participation, at best, and at worst,
My more radical view on monitoring is that it facilitates the enslavement
of workers in sweatshops by subjugating their speech acts and freedom of
association in ways that weakly resist corporate power while keeping
regulation and collective bargaining at bay. Experts from the consulting
and monitory industry make sense of the worksite as a prelude to corporate
report writing for press release to the intended audience of monitoring,
customers, investors, legislators, and administrators.
Carnival and Spectacle - I view carnival as the resistance sideshow,
the mirror-stage to Debord's (1967) Society of the Spectacle. Spectacle was
once a way for State and Church power to keep the masses under control.
Public hangings and torture in the city square, were widely attended
events, in which the accused could redeem himself in the eyes of God, if
the executioner failed in his task. Foucault's (1977) illustrates this
point in his opening scenes of Discipline and Punish, depicting Damien's
torture in gory detail, the chopping off of his hands and limbs after the
drawing and quartering did not demonstrate executioner talents, or Kingly
providence. As this spectacle got out of control, the executioner had to
use extra knife cuts, and the message became more an indictment of the
crown's lack of power and an expression of Damien's probable innocence.
Foucault argues that the body-torture spectacle ceased to be public
exhibition, and went in doors where modernity could give it proper
bureaucratic control. I argue, here, that spectacle has resurfaced with
new technologies, to control it as public consumption, in the face of
carnivalesque forms of challenge and resistance.
Carnival of the Middle Ages calls to mind images of outrageous mocking
Medieval buffoonery, the parody of religion and crown, naked bottoms and
breasts, masks and costumes. But, this was also apparent in Woodstock, in
the protests in Paris in 1968, and the Vietnam War and civil rights
protests of that era. Since World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, we
have witnessed an upsurge of choreographed battles between riot police and
carnivalesque protesters engaged int street theater complete with costumes,
masks and puppets.
Bakhtin (1981a) saw in carnivalesque theatrics the peasants' ridicule
of officialdom, inversion of hierarchy, violationsofdecorumand
proportion, celebration of bodily excess, including mutilation.I see a
resurgence of carnival (not the circus-type), but the theatrics used to
protest globalization.As Kristeva (1980: 45-6) puts it, the author is
"(author + spectator)" and very much a part of the carnival scene, part of
acts of production, distribution, and consumption. We too are part of the
carnivalesque scene, as spectators, authors and actors. Kristeva (1980: 36)
argues that each text has an intertextual "trajectory" of both "historical"
and "social coordinates." It may be possible to sketch the coordinates of
the re-emergence of carnival in its opposition to spectacle, so that future
studies can fully chart their course.
It is important to note that Bakhtin (1981a, b) did not theorize
carnival as "irrational," but assignsystemsthatcompetefor
representational authority, to sell one way of interpreting otherwise
polyphonic subject positions, including legitimating labor practices and
idea struggles. It is easy to dismiss people dressed in Turtle shells or
parading nude to protest garment production, as irrational. Bakhtin used
the term "carnival" to identify an atmosphere of revelry, contempt of
authority, and somatic anti-intellectualism in literature. We see this in
Kristeva (1980: 46) notes "the scene of the carnival introduces the
split speech act: the actor and the crowd are each in turn simultaneously
subject and addressee of discourse." In short, carnival is very much a
strategic response to current feelings of alienation from corporate power,
but it is also part of that power (we work for and buy from them).There
is also a negotiation with power over the terms of engagement. This was
apparent in the way that demonstrators at WTO and since, negotiate with
police agreeing, for example, to be more peacefully arrested if police use
less violent means of crowd control.Special areas are set aside for
protest, and activists attend training camps to learn how to act in civilly
disobedient manner, while police and military go to their own camps to
learn how to intimidate while inflict pain, but not bodily harm.
In today's carnivalesque Sweatshop Fashion shows, peaceful models and
announcers safely subvert traditional fashion show genre with stories of
women who make brand image clothes and sports shoes. Fashion is associated
with glamour and designer-labels, isjuxtaposedwithabusiveand
exploitative working conditions, thereby problematizing consumer's next
purchase decision. Anti-sweatshop fashion shows are also scripted to raise
awareness among students, faculty and staff, and to encourage spectators to
join a campaign for stricter codes of conduct for university-licensed
apparel. Students and faculty research companies and brands for sale at
campus stores, collect worker stories, and prepare a fashion show script.
Characters and announcers rehearse their lines, music is selected (i.e.
"You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate; "Barbie Girl" by Aqua; "Are my Hands
Clean?" by Sweet Honey in the Rock). There is much pre-work to the event,
besides choice of music and scripted lines, the runway is designed,
garments are borrowed (not purchased), and the media is invited to cover
the event. A finale might include actors going back on stage to reiterate
key messages about companies and asking the audience to help launch a code
of conduct campaign. Spectators are asked to become aware of where garments
are made and under what conditions, demand corporations publicly disclose
names and locations of factories in their supply chain, and permit
independent monitoring of working conditions. There are campaign sign-up
sheets; petitions, sample letters or postcards; and background materials.
Taking sweatshop fashion shows to the street is less safe than staging
performance on university campuses. The street theater sequel to the
Seattle street carnival resistance to WTO is the protests against WB, IMF,
and the recent Quebec meeting of Free Trade Area of the Americas. As
choppers circled above intersections jammed withprotesters,police
assembled in full body armor and black helmets, looking like Darth Vaderish
riot squads, and displaying one million dollars of newly purchased fashion
similar to Star Wars' Storm Trooper uniforms, military-typearmored
vehicles, and weapons bought specially for the WB/IMF protests.
When a van full of delegates was surrounded and immobilized at 15th
and Pennsylvania, police on horseback charged the crowd, beating back
protesters with batons, and trampling some under their horses' hooves.
The activists attempted to stand their ground, chanting, "The whole
world is watching!" and "We are nonviolent! ... With the crowd as
cover, anarchists with spray-paint guns left their mark on the wall of
the Gap outlet on 20th Street: "SWEATSHOP FASHION" (Weinberg, 2000).
A loosely network of social movements and advocacy groups from animal
rights to unionists are organizing in solidarity with Third world workers,
using carnivalesque performance to call for an end to the rise in
sweatshops they allege has accompanied globalization.
DC police had learned the lessons of Seattle, and managed to keep
spectacular scenes of street clashes from hitting the nation's TV
screens--while using methods against the protestors more insidious and
hardly less brutal than those employed at Seattle... At midday on
Friday, a truck rented by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
dumped four tons of cow manure on Pennsylvania Avenue near the World
Bank HQ (Weinberg, 2000).
Other forms of carnival - UNITE and Coalition for Maquila Workers'
Dignity (COSDEMA) did a campaign-featuring Guess, in a clever parody of a
mail-order clothing catalogue using a fictitious company called "Sweat
International" that touts a line of "SweatGear" made in old-fashioned
sweatshops in El Salvador (SweatGear, 2001). In California,several
campuses organized "sew-ins" as well as fashion shows, and called upon
administrators to approved revised codes of conduct, and join the USAS-
sponsored WRC, and leave the corporate-sponsored FLA. In sum, fashion shows
and sew-ins raise awareness of the working conditions under which garments
are produced. In the next section, we examine the new trends in carnival
and spectacle action, the use of cyber civil disobedience and the spectacle
Cyber Civil Disobedience - Spectacle and carnival have taken their
battle for public allegiance to the web. The Internet is altering the
landscape of political discourse, advocacy, and resistance.For the past
decade, the number of web visitors to corporate and government sties
competes with visitors to human, ecological, animal, and civil rights
sites. The Internet problematizes idea of international bordersand
corporate and state control of speech in cyberspace.Traditionally, most
radical computer use has been restricted to sending email and posting items
to lists and webs. Recently, however, more radical web discourse tactics
have escalated into trespass, disruption, and blockade of corporate web
site. There is a raging cyber war of non-violent opposition, fought daily
in Internet territory as indigenous, labor, anti-sweatshop, non-genetic
food, animal rights activists, and other critics of free trade and the WTO
are turning to more direct forms of action, then posting a item to a list
serve or speaking out on a web page; Tactics of street campaigning and
carnival are being imitated in cyberspace.
Corporations are protecting their spectacle knowledge machine by
hiring computer wizards to defend their web sites from attack, contracting
public relations firms to design counter-information campaigns, and more
consultants to produce scientific reports that testify a corporation's
products are safe, produced by "free" labor, and benefit consumers as well
as environment. The big producers in the athletic and campus apparel
industry, for example have web sites touting its labor and environmental
practices; the biotech industry has one legitimating its practices with
science reports (http://www.whybiotech.com). Spectacle actors, including
IMF, WTO, and WB officials and corporations are claiming a turnaround in
the economies of once-struggling Asian nations.The spectacle of late
modern capitalism is socially reengineering of web into sites that can
console and persuade consumers and investors. New forms of cyber-activism
are a natural reaction to mass media spectacle and the restriction to
street protest, as corporate interests present celebrate global progress.
Sorting through the junk scienceanddisinformationputoutby
multinational corporations such as Monsanto claiming its products will
reduce world hunger, or countless Greenwash ads claiming corporations are
eco sustainable - is a difficult, but researchable task.
Corporate spectacle uses decontextualized and graphic free-floating
images of sports and celebrity icons to image their products as heroic and
fashionable. Only on occasion, do we see transparency in the spectacle, as
in the images of Darth Vader-like riot cops confronting people assembled in
acts of free speech, but then this is quickly reframed in caricatures and
ad infinitum reruns, of a few riotous scenes of mayhem, chaos, and
shattered glass windows of NikeTown and Starbucks, while films of non-
violent protest do not seem to count as newsworthy.Non-violent protests
at WTO, IMF, and WB are not what makes for shares and profits.
Not only spectacle, but carnival is being digitized and virtualized,
transferring the social-movement tactics of trespass and blockade to the
Internet. Diverse social movements and advocacy groups have taken the anti-
globalization show into cyberspace. At the 1999 WTO's Seattle Conference,
the Electrohippies organized their first major virtual action - a 'virtual
sit-in' at the WTO conference and corporate servers. A traditional sit-in
is where people place themselves in front of some sort of entry way, or
inside a building, and remain there as a form of peaceful protest. Virtual
sit-ins find ways to occupy places in cyberspace, suchaspublic
information system web sites. Bot (digital robot programs), for example,
can automatically reload a target's web page every few seconds or send
large image files to take up occupancy in the server's band width spaces,
preventing other data from moving in or out of the site, disrupting other
traffic or accumulating capacity demands until the server crashes.
Hacktivism combines hacking and activism, by targeting corporate, WTO,
WB, IMF, and other sites for disruption (web sit-ins, virtual blockades,
redirects, and automated e-mail bombs), but the intent is not to do serious
damage person or property (Denning, 1999). Hacktivism is non-violent,
electronic civil disobedience that allows virtual sit-ins on a mass, global
level(Kaplan, 1998).Cyber-terrorism, on theotherhand,acts
anonymously to attempt property and human destruction.Hacktivism can
result in lost sales dollars, such as when Nike.com was redirected to
s11.org for 19 hours from 3 or 4pm, Melbourne time, on Wednesday 21 July,
until around 11am Thursday, 22 July 2000.
The Electronic Disturbance Theater initiated its first actof
Electronic Civil Disobedience in April 1998 to stop the War in Mexico, in
http://www.nyu.edu/projects/wray/ecd.html for details).The U.K. group,
"Electrohippies" enrolled 452,000 web users to bombard the WTO's web site
during their virtual sit-in. There is a current Electrohippies online
protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas conference in Quebec
and a Zapatista Tribal Port Scan demonstration toolbyElectronic
Disturbance Theater distributed at their web site (Electrohippies, 2001).
On September 26, 2000, French cyber activists called the Federation of
Random Action (FRA) held a 12-hour, virtual "freespeech"sit-in,
encouraging web users worldwide to downloadable and use a chat-room toy
that flooded IMF and WB servers with requests for information and rants
about economic inequities in the global economy.
While e-protesters typed, the program watched for key words such as
poverty, finance, investment, and financial power. Each time the words
appeared, the program hit the IMF and World Bank sites with requests for
information. It also embedded error messages like "Our life is not for
sale," "Please crush us too!" and "Do you sell sheep shavers?" (Ferguson,
This is e-carnival, a cyber form of parody, mimicking street theater and
digitizing theatrical resistance to global capitalism. These e-carnival
groups developthe Internet as a viable means for public dissent,
disobedience, and protest - mirroring traditional means of political and
social expression that exist in everyday society.
Relevant to public administration, is the claim that cyber-protest is
a new form of civil disobedient discourse, and a critical postmodern
alternative to traditional democratic participation.Corporate interests
seek to criminalize web-based protest, not only Hacktivism, but the non-
violent, culture-jamming of art protest that reverses and recontextualize
the meanings of logos and slogans, and the pinging of corporate web sites
by mass virtual rallies and sit-ins that overload corporate and trade group
web sites with radical speech.
Monitoring fits the definition of the dark side of participation
defined by Fox and Miller (1995) in which "few-talk," while confined in
devices of monologue.It is an elite and expert dominatedspeech
situation, in which the few speak when and what they are told to speak.
Activists, by contrast, are in a context in which many-talk, but the speech
is disorderly and may not sway the public discourse.The role public
administration can play is to fill in the gap between few-talk and many-
talk. This would mean keeping the cyber airways and public streets open to
civil disobedient protest, protecting corporations from moreviolent
Is the cyber-caf or virtual sit-in a space where serious policy
debate and deliberation? To me, it is carnival, a way to parody and draw
attention to injustice. Carnival is a free speech issue.It is also one
strategy of the human, labor, and eco-rights movements. These rights are
neotribalistic and often-incommensurable language games between corporate
and activist interests.
Public administration can reclaimgroundsurrenderedtothe
colonization of human rights monitoring being colonized by the consulting
industry. After the "few-talk" of the monitoring industry, we might expect
the "many-talk" of the participants in the anti-sweatshop movement to
exemplify democratic discourse. Yet, it appears that when many-talk,
especially by email, on list serves, and in chat rooms, action may not
follow. It could be a viable role for public administration to focus
carnival into projects of action. After many speak in Street or Virtual
Theater, public administration could lead human rights projects.
Can carnival stimulate more conversation?College and high school
students are getting involved in human rights struggles in numbers we have
not seen since the Vietnam and civil rights protests.At the same time,
campus administrators seem torn between corporate license agreements and
student (and a few faculty) concerns over garment sourcing. There is more
conversation on the campus, but there is also more corporate writing of the
As the world becomes more fragmented, it is less likely that
carnivalesque discourse will compete with billion dollaradvertising
discourse constructed by transnational corporate enterprises. Carnival may
not appear rational to its detractors, but it does constitute a strategy of
McSwite (1997) and, King and Stivers (1998), have asked for a more
viable role for public administration in democratic affairs. Fox and Miller
(1995) see postmodern public administration theory as meeting that call. It
could be that citizen (workers and community members) participation in acts
of carnival is one way to oppose corporate mediated spectacle, until public
administration elects to play a more significant role in praxis.
Rosa Luxemborg once said that if she couldn't dance at the revolution,
she didnt want to participate. Carnival is part of the blood and flesh of
life, the joy of the dance, and the daring challenge to spectacles of power
and domination. A fashion show, or rebel yell, or wearing masks at a WTO
protest, seem like little challenges. Yet, as many groups network and join
one another, some voices are heard above the media replays of the same
store wind breaking, repeated over and over, until that is the only image
that most will recall.
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David Boje is professor of management at New Mexico State University and
has published articles in Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of
Management Journal, Management Communication Quarterly&othertop
journals. He edits Journal of Organizational Change Management and is
founding editor of Tamara: The Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization
Science. He serves on the editorial board of Academy of Management Review,
Management Digest, Organization, Journal of Management Inquiry, emailprotected@gement,
Organization Studies, EJ-ROT, & Emergence and Management Communication
Quarterly. Recent books include Narrative Methods for Organization and
Communication Research (Sage, 2001), and Spectacles and Festivals (Hampton
Press, CA, 2001).