Authority and Autonomy: Paradoxes in Modern Knowledge Work

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Palgrave Macmillan, Sep 18, 2012 - Business & Economics - 253 pages
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Authority and Autonomy invites you on an ethnographic journey into the heart of creative knowledge work. Based on detailed and vivid examples, it analyzes the concept of work entertained by employees in these companies. It shows the existence of fairly contradictory ideals: classical bureaucratic and professional virtues, and ideals drawing on late modern values about self-realization, authenticity and limitless exploration. The same set of contradictory values is carried into the hierarchical dynamics, as managers and employees make unpredictable shifts in their expectations towards one another. Without signaling or even reflecting on the shifts, managers and employees jump back and forth between norms about authority, order-giving and hierarchy on the one hand, and autonomy, dialogue and self-direction on the other. These unpredictable shifts give rise to volatile conflicts, but also to intense mutual fantasies and passion. The author argues that this paradoxical environment in knowledge organizations has become more or less inevitable due to the high-velocity, growth-driven market. Furthermore, she highlights both the risks and gains associated with paradoxical environments and how it is important that we look at both.


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Desire Discovery and Disillusionment in Modern Working Life
1 Affective Labor and PostBureaucracy
2 Setting the Scene Analytics of Compassion
3 Methods The Solidarity of Detachment
4 Contractuality and Authenticity The Dual Discourses about Work
5 Captain or Comrade What Employees Expect from their Managers
6 Predictable or Pioneering What Managers Expect of Employees
7 Coping with Contradictions Tensions Double Binds and Hybrids
Shaking Analytical Habits An Empirical Quest for Compassion
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About the author (2012)

SUSANNE EKMAN is an assistant professor at the Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. She holds an MA in Anthropology and a PhD in Management. She is primarily interested in the complex relationship between freedom and ethics and has recently pursued this issue ethnographically in the context of contemporary knowledge work.