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Professional discourses and resistance to change

Jos H. Pieterse (Fontys University of Applied Science, Eindhoven, The Netherlands)
Marjolein C.J. Caniëls (Faculty of Management Sciences & Netherlands Laboratory for Lifelong Learning, Open University of The Netherlands, Heerlen, The Netherlands)
Thijs Homan (Faculty of Management Sciences, Open University of The Netherlands, Heerlen, The Netherlands)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 12 October 2012




The purpose of this paper is to investigate how resistance to change might be a consequence of differences in professional discourse of professional groups working together in a change program.


The paper uses discourse analysis and rubrics to study the implementation of a new ICT system for an airline. Data for this case study were collected in semi‐structured interviews, desk research, participant observations and a diagnostic workshop.


The data suggest that the non‐aligned interaction between different professional discourses can be a source of resistance to change, in addition to other well‐known sources of resistance to change in the change management literature. Future research regarding change management should incorporate linguistics and discourse analysis. Investigating resistance to change could be done comprehensively, paying attention to differences in professional cultures in cross‐functional (project) teams. A managerial implication of the study is that making differences in professional discourses explicit is a constant point of attention in (project) teams.

Research limitations/implications

The authors' choices with regard to the sample size and methods limit the generalisability of the results. However, these choices were instrumental in reaching a rich set of data, which enabled the authors to get an understanding of the conversational dynamics in the case.


The paper argues that change programs contain subjective, informal and linguistic dimensions which might give reasons for understanding resistance to change in new ways. The theoretical contribution of the paper is that it integrates change management literature with linguistic literature about professional discourse.



Pieterse, J.H., Caniëls, M.C.J. and Homan, T. (2012), "Professional discourses and resistance to change", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 25 No. 6, pp. 798-818.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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