Power Resistance in Working Girl Assessment

Power Resistance in Working Girl

Fleming and Spicer’s 2007 work of non-fiction, Contesting the Corporation: Struggle, Power and Resistance in Organizations details the phenomena of power and resistance to power within organizations. There is a relatively modest amount of the book (approximately the final third) that consists of analyzing power and resistance from threats that are external to an organization. The authors largely deconstruct the relationships between power and resistance within a political context, in which it is difficult to state that they do not side with the individual, as opposed to the corporation and its various members (upper level management, etc.) that represent it. The authors encapsulate the political aspect of power and resistance within the even broader context of struggle. To that end they identify four variations of struggle: those over action which become manifest as refusal and coercion, those over activities which are manifested as voice and manipulation, those over interests that are manifested as domination and escape, and those over identity that are manifested as creation and subjectification.

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Buchanan and Badham’s 1999 work of non-fiction, Power, Politics and Organizational Change considers the aspect of change within organizations largely due to various manifestations of politics. The differing political factions that exist within an organization are largely due to various mechanisms and constructs of power. Essentially, the manuscript acknowledges the fact that there are a number of competing political interests for organizational change, and that the manipulation of power and politics in this regard is not always negative (the opposite is largely implied in Fleming and Spicer’s work). By concentrating on internal agents of change, Buchanan and Badham propound four key concepts. The first is that politics and differing power groups are a reality in virtually any organization. The second is the repression of politics and the conviction that politics shapes change. The third is that the power behind politics can do both good and harm, while the fourth is that development for managers can help both managers and agents of change.

“Managing organizational change: Negotiating meaning and power-resistance relations” was written by Thomas et al. In 2011. It is predicated on the fact that organizations function as a part of society and as such, change with similar patterns and factors as society does itself (Thomas et al., 2011, p. 22). This article contains original research in which the authors observed a change management workshop and conducted interviews with employees involved in a company that had been a part of another before recently divesting its parent company. Specifically, the authors focused on the effect of communication patterns between those that took part in the workshop. The results indicate that the way that members of an organization communicate with one another underscore power-resistance relationships within the company (Thomas et al., 2011, p. 35). The authors believe that the implications of their results indicate that how individuals communicate with each other within an organization plays a substantial role in how change takes place. Additionally, the way they communicate pertains to how power is asserted, and resisted, by members of an organization.

Working Girl, a film released in the declining years of the previous century and which features both Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver, functions very well as a case study for many of the tenets discussed in the first section of this essay. The movie illustrates the inner machinations of an organization and various constructs of power and forms of resistance that are present. Although the particular motives for the characters in this work of fiction are decidedly fictional, one might argue that they also represent similar motives and relationships between management and workers in actual organizations — both at the time the film was released and today. As such, there were numerous faces of resistance exercised in the film, both on the part of the protagonist, Tess, and her antagonist, Katherine.

One of the most readily identifiable faces of resistance that was evinced in this film was Tess’s decision to act like an executive — and to therefore utilize a manipulative facet of power in the process — to prevent her idea from getting stolen. In identifying this particular face of resistance, it is necessary to denote the form of power (and its wielding) that it is resisting. Tess is Katherine’s secretary. The former shared a potentially lucrative idea with the latter regarding radio for a particular client. Katherine later tells Tess the idea failed, only for Tess to learn even later than Katherine has adopted the idea as her own and is attempting to procure corporate backing for it. There are numerous aspects of this face of resistance that directly correlate to the work’s discussed in the first part of this essay. In terms evinced in Fleming and Spicer’s book, the fact that Tess needs to resist the wanton stealing of her idea on the part of upper level management readily corroborates notions introduced by the aforementioned authors regarding the characterization of corporations. Katherine’s wrongdoing was merely part of the corporate politics in which the corporation (and its representatives exploit the labor of their underlings. The authors (2007) allude to this fact when they write, “We must side with the subordinated, but also remain sensitized to the overdetermined and contradictory nature of political struggle in contemporary organizations” (Fleming and Spicer, 2007, p. 107). The fact that the authors are siding with the underlings of upper level management and corporations suggests the noxious influence of the partisan politics and power the latter has. Additionally, it alludes to the contradiction inherent in such power struggles, which are “contradictory” because both sides are supposed to be working towards the same goals of furthering organizational objectives.

Furthermore, it is critical to understand how Buchanan and Badham would have contextualized Griffith’s face of resistance when she impersonated an executive at her firm during Katherine’s absence in order to regain control and credit over her idea which the latter stole. Firstly, the fact that Griffith attains success in the aforementioned endeavor alludes to the fact that she is actually operating as a “change agent” (Buchanan and Badham, 2008, p. 62) from within the organization. More importantly, however, she is able to succeed with this face of resistance by utilizing the power and its mechanisms that are typically bestowed upon the corporate elite. By acting as though she is an executive, she is able to convince others of the worth of her idea prior to Katherine doing so. In this respect, Tess accesses the same degree of power and political relationships (even though she is feigning to be an executive) that Katherine attempted to leverage — proving Buchanan and Badham’s point that power and politics can be used for “great” as well as for “evil” purposes (Buchanan and Badham, 2008, p. 84).

The most conventional form of resistance found in this film occurs when Katherine intrudes upon a meeting that Tess is having regarding her idea and the client. Katherine is able to resist Tess’ coup d’etat by exercising power and politics in their typical form. She effectively asserts her rank as an executive to interrupt the meeting, and informs everyone present that Tess is a mere secretary. Further, she also insinuates that Tess stole her idea. Because Katherine actually is an executive and Katherine is a mere secretary, the word of the former (even though she is lying) is enough to establish credibility with those in the meeting, which foils the “goals and ambitions” (Buchanan and Badham, 2008, p. 83) of Tess and is one of the more conventional exercises of power.

Another very powerful face of resistance that was exercised in this film came in the form of social power. Tess was not only able to resist Katherine by impersonating her and rightfully reclaiming the idea that was hers, but she was also able to do so socially by stealing her boyfriend. Granted, relatively early on in Tess’ relationship with Jack Trainer he admits that his relationship with Katherine is nearly finished. That perspective, however, is one-sided as it becomes clear that when Katherine recovers from her leg injury in Europe that she still desires Jack. Although Tess needs Jack’s approval within the workplace to act on her idea that Katherine attempts to steal, she is also able to further resist Katherine’s abuse of power (which is represented by stealing Tess’ idea) by replacing her socially as the romantic interest in Jack’s life. The face of resistance in which Tess seizes Katherine’s lover reflects the aspect of interests and perhaps even identity as one of the struggles identified by Fleming and Spicer (Fleming and Spicer, 2007, p.53). Katherine and Tess were both interested in Trainer. Tess was able to resist Katherine’s appropriation of her idea for the radio by getting Jack to substantiate the fact that the idea was initially hers. Jack’s substantiation is one of the critical factors that leads to the employee for the company in question, Trask Industries, to switch elevators at the end of the movie to hear Tess’s explanation for the origination of her idea. Without that substantiation it is unlikely that the representative would have listened to Tess. Thus, Tess’s struggle with Katherine for interests proved to be one of their most valuable forms of resistance in this film.


Buchanan, D.A., Badham, R.J. (2008). Power, Politics and Organizational Change. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Fleming, P., Spicer, A. (2007). Contesting the Corporation: Struggle, Power and Resistance in Organization. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Thomas, R., Sargent, L.D., Hardy, C. (2011). Managing organizational change: Negotiating meaning and power-resistance relations. Organizational Science. 22(1), 22-41.

Working Girl. (1988). Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver, Harrison Ford. 20th Century Fox.

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