"This is serious": enacting authority during managerial conversations
This research aims at understanding how executives and managers interactively accomplish authority relationships through their communicative practices and how these processes give rise to power relationships in conversations. We analyze in depth three conversations in which executives of the French car manufacturer Renault accused three managers of having sold proprietary data to a foreign company. The conversations were recorded by Renault and later were leaked to the press. Following Discursive Psychology, we identify the pattern of discursive devices on which the executives and the managers relied to coconstruct authority. Our findings show that the enactment of authority relationships relies on the combination and adaptation of various discursive devices, through which: 1) the executives speak, give information and/or orders, interrogate and/or accuse in the name of the organization; and, 2) the managers react—frequently denying they committed an offense— but never contest the executives’ rights to behave like they do. Four main contributions are outlined. First, the study shows how the enactment of authority actually relies on the power struggles that unfold during the conversation. Second, the authority accomplished during the interactions may mean different configurations of rights going from speaking in the name of the organization to interrogating, accusing and even sentencing the subordinates. Third, the enactment of authority does not necessarily fall in the compliance/resistance alternative, but can exhibit more or less alignment between the superior and its subordinate. Finally, the accomplishment of authority relies on a palette of discursive devices, the effects of which cannot be interpreted without taking into account the actual reactions of the participants.
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