Critical approaches to global organizational restructuring : discursive struggles over legitimation and resistance

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2010-04-16
Checking the digitized thesis and permission for publishing
Instructions for the author
Kansainvälinen liiketoiminta
International Business
Degree programme
238 s.
Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis. A, 363
Organizational restructuring has become an incessant state in contemporary organizations. National borders are no longer a limit to shaping organizational structures. On the contrary, different nations embody a variety of resources the exploitation of which has been facilitated by globalization. Global organizational restructuring is often seen as a positive driving force for synergies, strategic development, competitive advantage, better shareholder value, overall effectiveness and the birth of new production sites. However, the social and human implications resulting from reductions, downsizing, layoffs and change of production sites have serious consequence for many organizational members and for many societies. Although, among organizational scholars, there is a general awareness of the controversial nature of organizational restructurings, there is a lack of studies that accommodate both the critical approach to restructurings, and the managerial perspectives to restructurings through the pressure of globalization. The goal of this thesis is to adapt both of these perspectives by studying the discursive construction of global organizational restructuring in the dynamic ideological and discursive struggles in an organization and in the media. More particularly, the focus is on how discourses and rhetorical tactics work for the legitimation and resistance of the restructuring. This perspective is interesting firstly, because the notion of legitimacy is central to any organization as a means to attain and retain the support of its constituents, and secondly because it helps us to understand the popularity of restructurings and the form that globalization has taken through restructurings. This research is based on a longitudinal case study in a restructuring organization (Volvo Bus Corporation) and data collected from the newspaper media concerning other restructuring cases (Wärtsilä Diesel, Flextronics, Perlos, Leaf Group, Foxconn, UPM and Nokia). This study presents the ‘circle of legitimation’ that is created through discursive processes in the socio-material context of organization, and argues that this circle partly explains why legitimation of organizational restructuring is difficult to question. It shows how resistance could arise from the same resources as legitimation, but that the existing discourses, subject positions of the actors, and historical resources that support legitimation, make it more difficult for resistance to break through. This thesis also increases understanding of the role and power of different organizational members and the media in legitimizing and resisting organizational restructurings through discursive processes. The research explores the encounter between dominant (global) and alternative (local) discourses, and the transformation of discourses and the forces behind organizational restructurings in the long run. The thesis argues that in order to understand globalization and organizational restructurings there is a need to study discursive and rhetorical strategies that are used in discursive struggles to legitimate and challenge related decisions. This thesis consists of four Essays and a summary section that precedes them. The summary section provides a conclusion from all of the four studies. In Essay 1 the rhetorical legitimation strategies in a restructuring organization are explored. The main contribution of this paper is the identification of five rhetorical legitimation strategies that support local and global discourses. The study is based on interviews and documentary material from Volvo Bus Corporation. Essay 2 is a longitudinal study about organizational discursive struggles following a unit shutdown and a broader restructuring plan of Volvo Bus Corporation. This paper shows how the discourse of globalization and discourse of local capitalism were employed to justify and challenge the restructuring plans. I argue that although resistant groups are rarely able to reverse restructuring decisions, resistance can influence the evolution of shared discoursal themes, identity construction, employed discursive resources, and formulation of organizational ideology. Therefore, resistance has an important role in working organizational discourses towards mutual understanding, and finding ways to challenge the discourse of globalization on the local organizational level. Essay 3 focusses on the discursive legitimation struggles in the media relating to organizational restructuring. This Essay distinguishes four discursive struggles with ten subgroups and shows how legitimation and delegitimation strategies work in the concrete media discourse regarding organizational restructurings. The study is based on newspaper material relating to unit shutdowns in Wärtsilä Diesel, Flextronics, Perlos, Leaf Group, Foxconn, and UPM. Finally, in Essay 4 the role of the media in the framing of concepts is explored. This Essay illustrates, through four discursive tactics of framing, how the concept of national ownership was framed by journalist in the case of Nokia, and how this framing was justified. Moreover, it shows the historical and discursive turn-around of a neo-liberal discourse in Finland.
Supervising professor
Salmi, Asta, professor
Other note
  • Erkama, N. and Vaara, E. Struggles over legitimacy in global organizational restructuring a rhetorical perspective on legitimation strategies and dynamics in a shutdown case. (forthcoming in Organization Studies).
  • Erkama, N. Power and resistance in a multinational organization discursive struggles over organizational restructuring. (forthcoming in Scandinavian Journal of Management 2010, 26/2).
  • Vaara, E. and Erkama, N. On the darker side of a globalization: A critical analysis of the legitimation of global industrial restructuring. (unpublished manuscript).
  • Tienari, J., Vaara, E. and Erkama, N. The gosbel according to the global market. How journalists frame ownership in the case of Nokia in Finland. (In Mediating business. The expansion of business journalism, 2007, P. Kjaer and T. Slaatta (Eds.), CBS Press: Copenhagen, 187-214).