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Beneath the radar : a critical realist analysis of ‘the knowledge economy’ and ‘shareholder value’ as competing discourses

Thompson, Paul and Harley, B. (2012) Beneath the radar : a critical realist analysis of ‘the knowledge economy’ and ‘shareholder value’ as competing discourses. Organization Studies, 33 (10). pp. 1363-1381. ISSN 0170-8406

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Abstract

This paper seeks to apply a critical realist lens to the analysis of discourse. Our central argument is that the most fruitful way to make sense of discourse is to treat it as an empirical object of inquiry alongside extra-discursive phenomena. In making this argument, we consider two recent discourses, the ‘knowledge-based economy’ (KBE) and ‘shareholder value’ (SV) and demonstrate that while the KBE discourse gained much more attention, SV discourse had much more significant material outcomes. We suggest that research on the potential causal powers of discourse should move away from an exclusive focus on the discursive and pay attention to actors and institutions and to extra-discursive conditions and constraints.