The Weaver and The Web: A Foucauldian Analysis of the Discourses Which Produce Women Abusing Women in the Workplace
Shaw, Wendy Cheryl
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Bullying of women by other women in the workplace has rarely been the focus of research. This dissertation uses feminist poststructural theory and Foucauldian discourse analysis to problematize the belief that workplace bullying is the result of individual personality flaws, skill deficits, or psychopathology in the abuser or in the target, and to trouble the individualization of a serious social problem which has resulted in victim blaming, and turning the focus of public attention away from the consequences of gender and race. This dissertation analyzes research texts based on transcriptions of open interviews with five women who have experienced abuse by other women in the workplace, in order to illuminate the cultural discourses and humanist discursive practices that shape the women’s constructions of self and others, and their assumptions about the world. It uses discourse analysis to explain the role of discourse in the production of workplace hierarchy, gender and race; to show the construction of the subject positions made available to women; and to explore the complex configurations of power/knowledge facing women in the workplace. “Woman” is not a natural or an essentialist category. Woman is constituted in discourse. Using concepts from the work of Michel Foucault (biopower, surveillance, power/knowledge, and desire), this dissertation suggests that discourses of the good woman and the good worker offer women subject positions that are both desirable and painful, marked on the body, subject positions that sometimes conflict with each other and become impossible to reconcile. Disrupting the discourses that produce workplace bullying is complex and difficult work, because a woman’s culturally constructed desires may keep her from resisting the “common sense” of the gendered discourses that surround her, and because she may accept and submit to discursive assumptions in order to survive. Poststructural theory, because it troubles the common sense of a vast research literature that presents bullying as individual pathology, and because it disrupts gender and racial binaries that allow for misogyny and racism, offers a new perspective on workplace bullying that can be used to help generate possibilities for change.