A tale from the field : an ethnographic study of power dynamics in leadership work
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In this thesis, I take a practice-based approach to examine the ways in which the work of leadership is socially accomplished, and thereby implicated with power dynamics. Although the Leadership-as-Practice (LAP) literature acknowledges the omnipresence and significance of the ways in which power dynamics are brought to bear on leadership, studies that focus on such dynamics remain rare. In this thesis, therefore, I contribute to conversations indeed concerned with the relationship between power dynamics and practices, by asking how power dynamics are implicated in the work of leadership, and how said dynamics contribute to the ways in which leadership gets accomplished. I studied these questions ethnographically at a British textiles organisation, comprising approximately 100 employees. Access, thereby, concentrated on the ‘commercial’ part of the company. The main methods of inquiry were participant observations supplemented with variously structured interviews. To analyse my substantial data set subsequently, I conducted a thematic analysis. Doing so yielded three major ways in which power dynamics are implicated in the work of leadership: through shaping normativity of leadership work, enabling and constraining action, as well as including and excluding actors from practices. My thesis thus contributes to the literatures of practice and LAP in several ways. First, theorising power dynamics in practices can itself be seen as an important contribution – whilst my conceptual framework developed in this thesis might be adopted to conduct future research. Second, I demonstrate the critical role of normativity in the work of leadership, which also entails showing that not only do practices produce power dynamics as argued by the present literature, but that power dynamics affect the way in which practices and thus leadership are accomplished. Third, by theorising the recursive relationship between practice and power further, my thesis demonstrates that it is not practice per se that enables and constrains possible activity, but the interplay between the two phenomena. Lastly, I contribute to the literature by highlighting the ways in which dynamics of access to practices are brought to bear on how the work of leadership gets accomplished.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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