Corporate Colonization

Corporate Colonization

Corporate Colonization reflects that as organizations and corporations become the more centralized source of power within our societies, the more that an individual will derive their identity and values from the organization (Deetz 1992). This is opposed to the other meaning institutions in place in the society such as the state, the family, or any religious institution. Corporate colonization looks carefully at many different factors regarding organizational communication practices and systems. The idea of corporate colonization incorporates theories and practices including organizational identity, disciplinary power, hegemony, concertive control, and to a certain extent organizational resistance. Corporate Colonization particularly focuses on how these different theories collude to create organizations as the dominating institution for an individual’s value systems and identity. Stanley Deetz is one of the foremost scholars regarding corporate colonization and his book Democracy in an age of corporate colonization: Developments in communication and the politics of everyday life (1992) unpacks many of these theories regarding corporate colonization and specifically how they relate to individual identity as well as to democracy.

Corporate Colonization and “Everyday Politics”

Deetz has become the forerunner into the theory of corporate colonization as he discusses in his book how corporations are becoming the central site for public decision making processes. The emphasis of corporate colonization shows how corporations have become the dominant institution in the capitalist, democratic society. This includes the corporate takeover of the state, the family, education, and the media. Organizations have been able to do this as the socio-historical reasons for creating the state included the fear of individuals in having a collective decision making process. The state power had been set up in a way that was not to promote the public good, but to support individual interests and rights (Deetz 1992). Therefore the state became an institution that protected an infringement of rights, instead of an institution in helping producing understanding and creation of public interests. As value systems were not to be created through the state but from within private institutions (such as the family or religious institutions) the need for a more public value system increased and was created by the private organizations.

An excellent example of the ideas behind corporate institutional values eclipsing the state system is the idea of corporations entering into less developed nations and the government allowing corporations to “make most decisions as to technological development, utilization of resources, and working relations among people,” (Deetz 1992, 7). One example of this is Taylor and Doerfel’s work on the elections of Croatia’s 2000 parliamentary elections and how INGOs (International Non-Governmental Organizations) created the needed credibility to sustain a fair election (2003,153). In their analysis, it was shown that state-owned media was not trusted by Croatians due to an obvious bias for the government currently in power (2003, 175). The lack of trust in the citizens of Croatia in their government led them to adopt organizational processes and disciplines to secure faith in the election process.

In Deetz’s explanation of the organization takeover of democracy, he draws heavily from Foucault’s works to explain how the legislative power of the state becomes “intolerable because it restricts freedom and does so visibly” (1992, 10). The visibility of the power of the state creates a great resistance from the people towards the state and distracts individuals from the public decisions being made through organizational discourse. One of the large reasons why people are unaware of the power mechanisms of the organization is the use of disciplinary power. Disciplinary power as described by Foucault is the “unitary technique by which the body is reduced as a ‘political’ force at the least cost and maximized as a useful force,” (1977, 221). This means that the power being exerted by organizations is not one constituted in rights and freedoms as is the legislative power of the state, but that the power being constituted by organizations as a far more reaching power as it is based on the individual daily activities that individuals conform to and practice when they agree to enter an organization. Corporate systems have also extended their grasp into family and community institutions. One is able to see the affect of organizations on the family and community institutions as many family practices have now been relegated to the private industry. Professional experts such as mortuary services, child care, and health care have been reconstituted by private industries.

Corporate colonization has also extended into the educations system, especially the Western education system. Much of the education system and learning techniques now focuses on “memorization, clear objectives, and making the process of ‘learning” easier” to comply with many organizational training practices (Deetz 1992, 18). One example of the infiltration of corporate systems into education is aptly noted by Clair in her working regarding a “real job”. Her work shows how many people align a real job with corporate standards and educational or scholarly work is not valued as being “real” (Clair 1996).

Corporate colonization is also seen in the media through the numerous billboards, commercials and organizational propaganda society is subjected to through radio, print, and television (Deetz 1992). Also corporate colonization is evident through or lack thereof, business journalism. Journalism and media rarely represent the larger corporations in a negative light unless it is a catastrophe of BP or Enron size. Instead, much of the media represents corporations as “men and women competing with each other in order to create increased prosperity for all, but that they will refrain from unreasonable profits and gross exploitations of workers or consumers,” (Gans 1979, 46). This highly optimistic view of corporations sheds light on why if individuals were only following media reports on corporations they would have been blind-sided by the economic upheavals that have occurred within the last two to three years. As seen here in these few examples, corporate colonization extends far into the other institutions that give meaning and identity to many individuals. In this way corporations and organizations have begun to use disciplinary practices and ideas to help create and control organizational identities.

Organizational Identity Theory and Corporate Colonization

Organizational Identity Theory as developed by George Cheney and Phillip Tompkins relates to how organizations are able to develop control mechanisms through employee identification and commitment to managerial discourses regarding work (Alvesson and Willmott 2001). Organizational identity is developed through a process of your 1) self-identity, based on reflective narratives of one’s perception of one’s self; 2) identity regulation, the discursive processes and practices that effect social identity construction; and 3) identity work, the interpretation of the discursive practices that produce an identity, interacting with each other in order to produce a cohesive and substantial identity (Alvesson and Willmott 2001). Corporations and organizations create discursive practices and frames in ways that the worker will be able to use as identity cornerstones. Organizations are able to use multiple techniques in order to create and enforce organizational identity. A few of examples include 1) defining the person directly i.e. “a middle manager”; 2) “Us vs. Them” techniques; 3) Using intrinsic motivators i.e “This isn’t just a paycheck! It’s a mission!”; 4) linking work with values; 5) establishing rules for the workplace and many other techniques are used to foster a sense of organizational identity (Alvesson and Willmott 2001). Discursive practices such as the ones listed above center the needs of the corporation. These managerial discourses ensure that the organization values and ideas become the dominant structure of thinking and the naturalized way things work and that the interests of the corporation are universalized and a hegemonic order for corporate needs remains intact (Deetz, 1993).

Corporations are able to do this in a variety of ways with the most effective being systematic distortion of communication and discursive closure. Systematic distortion of communication refers to practices that corporations use to create and focus decisions based in company information. These tactics include a self-referential system, or a system where corporations do not try to adapt to other environments but instead, “they enact the environment to which they react,” or they create the environment they are in and then keep it a “closed” system (Deetz 1992, 170). Other discursive practices used include 1) the disqualification of arguments as being trivial; 2) the naturalization or reification of decisions made that may privilege a few over man; 3) the neutralization of any organizational data gathering or facts, instead of explaining why certain facts were highlighted over others; 4) Avoidance of sensitive topics which may contradict the organizational identity and a host of other practices all combine to create a corporately colonized identity for an individual (Deetz 1993).

The idea of organizational identity is extremely important to corporate colonization as organizational identity is not just a mechanism for corporate “buy-in”, but one for organizational control and obedience to the corporate system. As Deetz explains, organizational identity mechanisms are “taken as legitimate consensual processes are evidence more often of domination and suppressed conflict than of free choice and agreement [to the organizational identity],” (1992, 45). The construction of an organizational identity at an individual level is what has allowed for the disciplinary powers discussed by Foucault and Deetz to allow corporations the authority and decision making powers that entails the crux of the corporate colonization theory. The creation of organizational identity and the control from an organizational identity also relates to a more elevated form of control for the organization and for an individual.

Concertive Control and Corporate Colonization

Organizational identity has become institutionalized throughout most corporations even including industries that had a more traditional or “simple” control. In James Barker’s piece on concertive control he examines how organizational control really comes into a corporate colonization and domination form for a group of factory production workers. Originally what was thought of as the most effective way to maintain organizational control was through the bureaucratic process, including the division of labors and specialization of skills. However, organizations have found that the coupling of value systems of individuals and a shift to concertive control, or “the shift in locus of control from management to the workers themselves, who collaborate to develop the means of their own control,” to be a much more effective process (Barker 1993, 411). In Barkers’ piece on concertive control he reflects on how the individuals in the organization create a value system for their work and their organization. The identification with the goals created by the team then became their personal values. Therefore if one person let down the work team, they were failing as a person, not just as an employee (Barker, 1993). Concertive control, along with organizational identity furthers the theory of corporate colonization. The control and identification felt with by the employees in Barkers’ piece superseded familial and community commitments. The structures of corporate colonization and the idea that organizational identities define individuals do have some push back through the different forms found of organizational resistance.

Organizational Resistance and Corporate Colonization

Corporate colonization is not immune to the ideas of resistance to an organization. Kassing notes that “dissent is always present to some degree within organizations,” (1997, 312). There has been some work done on organizational resistance to the structures of organizational identity and hegemonic structures (Carlone and Larson 2006; Gossett and Kilker 2006; Kassing 1997; Murphy 1998). These works give resonance to the idea that employees are not just idle and accepting of every organizational policy and discursive construction that they are presented. As noted by Gossett and Kilker indivdiauls are able to “voice their concerns to others to initiate a corrective change,” (2006, 65). In doing so, individuals are able to resist and hope to change the general discourse provided by an organization. These resistance movements give hope that corporate colonization is not the end all of discursive practices and forms for society. However, one thing to curtail this and bring corporate colonization back to the forefront is the idea Kassing presents that as “employees become more invested in their organizational functions…they may also begin expressing more disagreement and contradictory opinions,” (1997, 313). Kassing reaffirms the idea that even with increased dissent from employees it may just be because the employees have been successfully colonized through their identity and community to align their wants and needs with the good of the corporation.


Alvesson, M. and Willmott, H. (2001). Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Institute of Economic Research Working Paper Series.

Barker, J. (1993). Tightening the iron cage: Concertive control in self-managing teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38, 408-437.

Carlone, D. and Larson, G. Locating possibilities for control and resistance in a self-help program. Western Journal of Communication, 70, 4, 270-291.

Clair, R. (1996). The political nature of the colloquialism, `a real job': Implications for organizational.. Communication Monographs, 63,3, 249.

Deetz, S. (1992). Democracy in an age of corporate colonization: Developments in communication and the politics of everyday life. Albany, NY: State University of New York.

Deetz, S. Corporate Colonization Theory. Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. 2009. SAGE Publications. 8 Nov 2011

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Gans, II. (1979). Deciding what’s news: A study of CBS evening news, NBC nightly news. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Gosset L. and Kilker J. (2006). My job sucks: Examining counterinstitutional web sites as locations for organizational member voice, dissent and resistance. Management Communication Quarterly, 20, 1, 63-90.

Kassing, J. (1997). Articulating, antagonizing, and displacing: A mode of employee dissent. Communication Studies, 48, 4, 311-332.

Murphy, A. (1998). Hidden transcripts of flight attendant resistance. Management Communication Quarterly, 11, 4 , 499-535.

Taylor, M. and Doerfel, M. (2003). Building Interorganizational Relationships that Build Nations. Human Communication Researc. 29, 2, 153-181.

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