Deconstructing the manager: discourses of power and resistance in popular cinema

Alexia Panayiotou (Department of Public and Business Administration, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Publication date: 30 December 2011



This article aims to explore how mainstream popular cinema, usually a vehicle of effortless and accessible entertainment, produces or reproduces prevailing discursive constructs about managers, management and corporate firms and provides a cultural reading of organizations. Using a post-structuralist framework, it seeks to deconstruct the representations of managers in several popular films. It aims to propose that the analysis of this representation allows complex questions about the nature of power in organizations and the “opportunity costs” of resistance to be addressed.


This article focuses on the discursive formation of managers and employees in popular films. The films were chosen using a popularity measure on the Internet Movie Database ( and treated as “visual narratives”. A variation of Rose ' s discourse analysis method was used. To critically view the films, a post-structuralist perspective was adopted, in which questions of power, gender and sexuality are seen as fundamental. Gender is a discursive practice that becomes material through the power and resistance subjectified by the human body while “truth” is referenced through specific words and images – so constructed by the “reality” of popular culture.


The analysis reveals two seemingly competing discourses surrounding the representations of managers that encompass both a description of power and the resistance to this power. In this sense, although popular films position subjects – managers and those managed – in very specific ways, at the same time their construct of power is highly contextual and open to change. This finding leads to, first, a Foucauldian understanding of power and, second, a reconceptualization of power and resistance as one and the same construct, power/resistance, that may help address the “where”, “who”, and “why” of resistance that has previously been ignored.


The article brings popular culture to center stage in organization studies and argues that by not paying attention to its power to inform, society is cut off from valuable knowledge about how management is “done”. The article also reveals that although on surface the representations of managers in films seem to reinforce the dominant discourse of the “macho” manager, at the same time, a second representation – the bright, eager, usually working-class employee who wants to emulate the boss but then “sees the light” and becomes a “hero” – is offering a critique of this construct, making popular culture potentially subversive.



Panayiotou, A. (2011), "Deconstructing the manager: discourses of power and resistance in popular cinema", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 10-26.

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