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Mastery, submission, and subversion: on the performative construction of strategist identity

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Pikka-Maaria Laine
  • Susan Meriläinen
  • Janne Tienari
  • Eero Vaara
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>07/2016
Issue number4
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)505-524
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date14/04/15
<mark>Original language</mark>English


While research on strategy-making has begun to focus attention on identity construction, we nevertheless lack a critical understanding of the ways in which socio-historical understandings of strategy are (re)constructed at the level of identity. In this article, we draw on Judith Butler’s theorizing on performative subject formation—first to explore identity constructions grounded in the simultaneity of submitting to and mastering the socio-historical discourses of strategy and second to consider the subversion of discourses and identities enabled by this simultaneity. We distinguish between three performative identity constructions and demonstrate that by submitting to specific understandings of strategy discourses such as the illusion of control (the analytical strategist), omnipotence (the strategic leader), and personal glory (the state-of-the-art strategist), managers face the unattainability of these projects, which drives them to increase their mastery of the dominant discourses in order to win acceptance from others. Highlighting the dynamics of identity construction in strategy-making, we argue that subversion of the dominant discourses and identities is at best subtle. This enables us to better comprehend the persistence of dominant conceptions and related problems in strategy-making such as the overemphasis on technical rationality, anxiety in the face of uncertainty, heightened expectations of heroism, and the inability to engage in genuine dialogue with others and to consider broader social and societal issues as part of strategy-making.