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Following Foucault into the archives: Clerks, careers and cartoons

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Alan McKinlay


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Michel Foucault’s historiography remains enigmatic, despite his intention of providing a conceptual ‘toolkit’ for historical and contemporary research. We examine Foucault’s own practice as a historian and his deliberate stripping out of the social history of the events and institutional processes he analysed. We consider the making of the modern archive and what this means for business history. One of the peculiarities of the business archive is its systematic subordination of personnel records. Following Foucault, we suggest that there are two ways to compensate for this archival blind spot: first, to examine those disruptive moments when subaltern knowledge, behaviour or resistance throws established knowledge categories and institutional routines into doubt; second, to reverse the conventional hierarchy of the business archive and pay as much attention to contrary commentaries on the institution’s expectations. The ways that Victorian bank clerks accommodated, coped with or ridiculed their employers’ highly prescriptive employment practices are considered through archival marginalia: specifically, a set of workaday cartoons that one small group of clerks used to amuse themselves that offered a sophisticated commentary on bank management, work and organization. © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McKinlay A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Management and Organizational History

Year: 2013

Volume: 8

Issue: 2

Pages: 137-154

Online publication date: 27/02/2013

ISSN (print): 1744-9359

ISSN (electronic): 1744-9367

Publisher: Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/17449359.2012.761498


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