Introduction: New Directions in Gender, Diversity and Organization Theorizing – Re-imagining Feminist Post-colonialism, Transnationalism and Geographies of Power


  • The authors of this paper would like to express their sincere appreciation to Dr Jamie L Callahan for her valuable editorial input to this special issue. Her specialist knowledge of gender and HRD contributed immensely to the quality of the issue.



This special issue reviews contemporary gender and diversity insights into management and organization studies (MOS). The purpose of this issue is to critically evaluate key threads and concepts contributing to academic debates in diversity, gender and feminist theorizing. This paper highlights key threads in current scholarship, including relationality, power, intersectionality and social constructionist epistemologies and, in so doing, uncovers new insights and contributions. The paper provides a model which locates different themes and ‘moments’ in the development of gender and diversity scholarship and acts as a heuristic device which can guide gender and diversity scholarship and assist in conceptualizing the field. Building on the key threads weaving the special issue together, the paper advances new understandings of gender and diversity through integrating feminist post-colonial scholarship, transnationalism and geographies of space and place literatures. The paper argues for scholars to ‘re-imagine’ different possibilities for gender and diversity enquiry so as to encourage interdisciplinarity and align with social science research in contemporary critiques of globalization and global social capital in order to add richness and complexity to current theorizing. Specifically, the authors argue for MOS researchers to engage in dialogue with all global stakeholders, and they encourage cross-fertilization of theories and values between writers from both the Global North and the Global South.


This special issue engages with broader social science literature in order to challenge contemporary understandings of the historical context and development of gender and diversity concepts in management and organization studies (MOS). This introduction shows how, in an era of globalization, new organizing arrangements and ongoing resistive struggles to the dominance of neo-liberal development, there are key theoretical themes that would enable deeper and more critical understandings of gender and diversity concepts and practice. The key themes that emerge from the papers in this special issue include relationality, power, intersectionality and social constructionist epistemologies. This introduction traces these critiques and their relevance to contemporary social and organization development debates. Building on these themes, the paper examines how the concepts of post-colonialism (PC) and gender, transnationalism (TN) and geographies of place and space literatures can be useful as theoretical approaches that add richness and complexity to understandings of gender and diversity in organization and development management studies. Our aim is to show how western perspectives of gender and diversity theorizing are limited when evaluating contemporary, global, social and organizational change. We argue that, through refocusing on the multilayered nexus of knowledge interconnections – specifically, PC, TN and geographies of place and space – we can advance MOS critique and inquiry.

Following Castells (2009), we highlight that the migration of epistemologies and translations is fluid, and reveal how cultural knowledge transfers between the Global North and Global South ebb and flow. In so doing, we assist critical scholars in reimagining the politicization and mobilization of all academics, activists and policy planners dedicated to inclusivity, openness and equality of opportunity in organizations and society. The paper sketches an intellectual frame that can act as a heuristic device to help scholars conceptualize gender and diversity, embracing a number of different dimensions with multiple intersections at the macro, meso and micro levels.

The significance of this paper lies in providing a more holistic interpretation of the MOS field (Macpherson and Jones 2010, p. 10). This is particularly significant for themes of gender, diversity and difference that are often marginalized in mainstream development and MOS, since the objectives of feminist and social movements – equality, social injustice and freedom from discrimination – are largely perceived as having been achieved in western states (Metcalfe 2008a,b; Metcalfe and Rees 2010; Özbilgin 2009a), with global difference inequalities entombed in economic neo-liberal critiques (see Crush 1995; Escobar 1995).This is even more significant when one considers that it is just over a decade since the first specialist texts on gender and organizational behaviour were published (E. Wilson 2001; F.M. Wilson 2003), marking, it seemed, the acceptance of gender and diversity as principle subjects informing MOS inquiry. However, the marginalization of gender and diversity is marked by the way sociology and management faculties in universities have deleted specialist gender and diversity curricula (Metcalfe 2008a).

Gender and diversity scholars have responded, or indeed been disciplined, to one of two choices – either to frame their writing and research within a stylized format that is acceptable to leading MOS journals, or to publish in specialist gender, race and sociology journals that value difference in its myriad categories as central to social science (Özbilgin 2009b). Our aim is to reinvigorate themes of social injustice and inequality agendas as central to MOS inquiry.

The paper first reviews gender and diversity literature to illustrate its depth, richness and intellectual heritage. We illustrate that theorizing is predominantly underpinned by western epistemological frames. We then summarize the papers and map out the key themes that are central to understanding the complexity of contemporary MOS inquiry. Building on the themes emanating from the papers, we show current knowledge gaps in scholarship and introduce feminist post-colonialism, TN and geographies of place and space that are knowledge territories which can add greater understanding to MOS inquiry. We conclude by suggesting more interdisciplinary approaches to advance research inquiry, and for scholars to engage in analysis of broader social and inequality themes in the global economy that incorporate perspectives from the Global North and Global South.

The historical development of gender and diversity theorizing

The basis of this historical analysis is a review of key authors whose ideas have been influential in shaping each of the sub-fields of gender and diversity. For each theme, we identify a number of outstanding publications that had an impact on the prevailing knowledge orthodoxy and were associated with a shift in gender and diversity research and methodological approaches. Nevertheless, to counter criticisms of bias (e.g. Macpherson and Jones 2010; Tranfield et al. 2003), authors and publications were chosen by an expert panel, and only those with a significant citation count were included (Özbilgin 2009b). The interdisciplinary field of gender and diversity scholarship is, as we hope to show, multilayered and multiparadigmatic, reflecting a strong orientation towards qualitative modes of enquiry (Davis et al. 2006).

In the tradition of Denzin and Lincoln (2000), to map paradigmatic shifts in research and enquiry, we trace significant ‘moments’ when scholarship within the gender and diversity subfield shifted orientation (Table 1). Table 1 represents six key moments in the evolution of gender, feminist and diversity theorizing. To represent this development in a linear fashion simplifies the historically overlapping and socially constructed nature of knowledge. However, it provides a heuristic mechanism providing scholars with a comprehensive review of core themes, knowledge boundaries and conceptual advances as they evolved. The six key moments revealed weaknesses with prior work and provide reasoned critiques for the ways in which gender and scholarship have moved forward. The themes of feminist PC, TN and space and place depicted by the arrows provide the foundation for how the knowledge domain can be theoretically advanced, and this is discussed in detail later in the paper.

Exploring inequality: men, women and work

The initial literatures concerning women and work that emerged in western democracies in the early 1980s were descriptive, and reflected inequalities due to sexual difference and gender stereotypes. The gains made in discrimination legislation, women's increasing employment participation rate and critiques of bureaucracy unveiled the many barriers that women faced in the labour market, including bias in recruitment and selection, development and cultural preferences for men in political and decision-making roles (Adler 1984; Alban-Metcalfe and West 1991; Cockburn 1991; Davidson and Burke 1994; Davidson and Cooper 1992; Eagly 1987; Kanter 1977; Marshall 1984; Powell 1988; Schein 1995; Tanton 1994; Vinnicombe and Bank 2003). Policy measures reaffirmed sexual difference and the distinction between private and public modes of production, and intervention efforts focused on attempts to ‘fix the women’ so that they could be assimilated into the masculinist culture.

Gender, organizing and organization theory

Advances in the field of gender studies unravelled the ways in which sex and gender were differentiated, and charted moves away from biological essentialism towards acknowledging that gender was socially constituted and an ongoing social process (Davis et al. 2006; Ferree et al. 1999; Flax 1987; Foster 1987). Acker (1990, 2006) broke new ground by revealing the ways in which organizations may be read and interpreted as gendered (Alvesson 1998; Alvesson and du Billing 1992; Britton 2000; Calás and Smircich 1992, 1996; Gherardi 1995; Mills 1988; Mills and Tancred 1992).

Diversity management and development

The language of diversity management emerged as a response to capitalize on the competitive advantage of difference in organizations. Diversity management became strongly associated with promoting the business case for equality, recognizing that individual identities were shaped by a multitude of difference characteristics, including race, disability, sexuality and class (Cox 1994; Cox and Blake 1991; Kandola and Fullerton 1994; Ross and Schneider 1992). Significantly, diversity management was presented by transnational corporations (TNCs) as a global organization solution, underpinned by Anglo-centric logic, which largely ignored the working experiences of the diverse working population globally, especially Third World women and migrant men and women (Hearn 1994; Hearn and Howson 2009; Liff 1997; Nader 1989). Although presented as an inclusive label, many commentators felt that diversity as a signifier depoliticized equality agendas by grouping differences. Feminist philosophers, in particular, felt that social justice agendas had been superseded by discourses of competitive advantage and were less likely to be challenged (Benhabib 1995; Braidotti 1994, 2003; Fraser 1995; Fraser and Nicholson 1988).

Social constructionism, critical management studies and intersectionality

The emergence of post-structuralism in all fields of social science inquiry highlighted how meaning and knowledge was created by language, revealing the complexity of multiple and fluid interpretations of MOS and subject identity positions (Metcalfe and Woodhams 2008). Discourse analysis as a methodological philosophy was adopted by many scholars, and the significance of reflexivity and the role of the researcher in knowledge construction were highlighted as key to how MOS knowledge was represented and communicated (Alvesson 1998; Alvesson and du Billing 1992; Calás and Smircich 1999; Harding 2003, 2008; Hearn and Parkin 1995; Martin 2001; Metcalfe 2008b). The critical engagement with the importance of language also saw increasing numbers of scholars framing research around key philosophical writers, particularly Foucault, Derrida and Butler (see, for example, Brewis and Linstead 2004; Calás and Smircich 1999; Mumby 1996). MOS scholarship, however, largely ignored influential feminist philosophers such as Braidotti (1994, 2003), Fraser (1995) and McNay (1999), leading to claims that critical management studies was underpinned by masculinist constructions of knowledge (Metcalfe 2008a). Post-structuralist approaches were also critiqued for ignoring the material and everyday practices in social relations and organizing, and not taking into account embodied reflexivity or individual agency (Benhabib 1995; Fraser 1995; Fraser and Nicholson 1988; Gatrell 2011; Grosz 1994; Metcalfe 2008a). Subject positions were identified as being shaped by discourse, limiting possibilities for how one may navigate discursive realms and exercise embodied agency and political resistance (Gatrell 2008, 2011; Grosz 1994; Metcalfe 2008a).

The groundbreaking article by Crenshaw (1991) revealed the importance of intersectional discrimination when, in her analysis of race and gender in legal contexts, she observed how the concept of intersectionality is based on different lines of identity showing the multiple ways in which discrimination can be experienced. Black women can therefore face multiple forms of discrimination – as women, as black, as women and black, and as black women. The study showed that the ‘single axis framework’ of anti-discrimination law does not provide sufficient protection, and that axes of inequality and difference need to explore how gender relations and heteronormative sexuality, class relations and configurations of ethnicity are interwoven in the structural and institutional fabric of a given society and economy, in national as well as transnational contexts. Significantly, intersectionality theorizing facilitated a multidimensional approach to unravelling difference (Bagilhole 2010; Holvino 2010; McCall 1992, 2005). Puar's (2005) work was particularly insightful, drawing on intersectionality theorizing and incorporating notions of space and location:

As opposed to an intersectional model of identity, which presumes components – race, class, gender, sexuality, nation, age, religion – are separable analytics and can be thus disassembled, an assemblage is more attuned to interwoven forces that merge and dissipate time, space, and body against linearity, coherence, and permanency. (Puar 2005, pp. 127–128)

Intersectionality is thus a relational framework for mapping different inequalities, as well as an analytical concept that helps unveil overlapping inequalities and the power relations associated with difference and space dimensions.

The emergence of critical men's studies

At the same time that critical scholarship was evolving, there was increasing recognition that men were being ignored in social science and development debates. Critical men's studies addressed the ways in which management and organization theorizing were underpinned by principles of hegemonic masculinity (Collinson and Hearn 1994, 1996; Collinson et al. 1990; Connell 1987, 1995, 2000; Hearn 1994; Kimmel 1994; see also Cornwall et al. 2007a,b; Elias and Beasley 2009) and this served to marginalize not only women, but also men who could not live up to the ideal (Kerfoot and Knights 1993; Kimmel 1994). Scholars in fields such as geography and development drew similar conclusions and argued that theorizing in, and of, organization/organizing in many global institutions was underwritten by a masculinist logic and that the female and feminine had been entombed in cultural masculinism (see, for example, Bondi 1999, 2009; Cornwall et al. 2007a; Elias and Beasley 2009; Fraser 1995; Massey 1994; McDowell 1997, 2004, 2009).

Critical race and ethnicity studies

A final field of study in the gender and diversity literature is what has been termed the ‘critical turn’ in social sciences with respect to race studies, ethnicity and whiteness studies, and this has largely been associated with civil rights movements in the US (Collins 1990, 2000), and equality in the UK (Ahmed 1998, 2000; Ellison 1952). The field also encompasses a more contemporary review of Marxist models of capitalist production and development (bell hooks 1981, 2000; Du Bois 1977) and of broader social movements that challenge the dominance of neoliberal governance regimes (Ahmed 1998, 2000; Bhabba 1994; Desai 2005; Nkomo 1992).

These sub-themes provide a heuristic mechanism to enable critical exploration of how the discipline has evolved in a non-linear and overlapping fashion. However, as we will show, the framework is partial, as it is underwritten by western epistemologies. We next summarize the Special Issue papers and outline how the themes identified can be built on in a global and inclusive manner to advance current knowledge by exploring feminist PC, TN and geographies of power.

Critical contributions to feminist and diversity theorizing

Reinterpreting Kanter

Ruth Simpson and Patricia Lewis conduct a valuable and fascinating deconstruction of Kanter's classic text Women and Men of the Corporation to reveal that, while Kanter herself disengaged from feminist agendas, gender subtexts are evident in her work (Acker 1992, 2006; Alvesson and du Billing 1992). Using a feminist post-structuralist approach (Calás and Smircich 1992, 1996, 1999), the authors show how normalizing discourses and social practices ‘preserve’ and ‘conceal’ feminized qualities addressed in Kanter as epitomized by the ‘token woman’. This identity was initially seen as a discursive move to silence and marginalize women, but has been used increasingly by both women and organizations to present a façade of gender-inclusiveness within discourses of gender neutrality. Behind this mask, behaviours and norms associated with hegemonic masculinity remain unchallenged. Cultural norms and values act as signifying practices that result in concealment, placing the female and the feminine forever on the margin.

Women became invisible in organization scenarios that failed to challenge hegemonic masculinist orthodoxy through overt resistive practice, while both visibility and invisibility render women's subject position, knowledgeability and resistance as subject to gendered power relations. Women can navigate through this cultural landscape through withdrawing or simply engaging in ‘erasing’ acts (see Gherardi 1995).

We would argue, following Braidotti (1994) and Grosz (1994), that unveiling discursive moves and discourses offers new readings of how identity positions are constructed through language, yet it does not offer potentialities for embodied reflective agency. It is not sufficient to show that women are entombed in masculinist management writings; we need strategies that focus on the materiality of the lived body in society so as to actively resist through embodied interventions (Braidotti 2003; Gatrell 2011; Metcalfe 2008a; see also McDowell 2009). The post-structural vortex re-imagines power as a discursive relation, permitting women to move in-between, on the edges of visibility and invisibility.

Critical re-construction of disability

The epistemology of organization studies provides the departure point for the paper by Jannine Williams and Sharon Mavin on disability, difference and the marginalized voice. Their focus is on the theoretical and conceptual engagement with disability and ableism (the assumption of non-disability) as a normative expectation in organizations and organization studies theorizing.

The premise of the authors’ theoretical advance within this paper is that, while categories of social relations such as gender, race and, frequently, class are theorized as social constructions of ‘difference’ or ‘other’ (for example, de Beauvoir 1972; Liff 1997; West and Zimmerman 1987), knowledge about disability in organization studies is narrow (Corker 1999; Foster 2007) or missing. In other words, not only are disability and ableism marginalized within organization studies, they are also ignored by authors who call for the extension of the epistemology of organization studies (the epistemological project) to embrace forms of difference (e.g. Calás and Smircich 1999).

The authors critique previous published work on organization studies and difference and organization studies and disability to problematize the construction of disability as a social category in relation to ableism. In doing so, they extend the epistemological project to reject the assumption of the neutral organization and incorporate understandings of how normative assumptions of ableness contribute to theorizing.

In addition, they chart disability studies literatures that document the progress of disability as a conceptual category from non-problematic and depoliticized ‘individual deficit’ (Oliver 1990) and ‘social problem’ with an overriding negative ontology (Campbell 2005, 2009; Hughes 2007), through its construction as a category of people oppressed by physical, social and cultural barriers, to arrive at an understanding of disability grounded in post-structural and experiential accounts. By positioning disability in a binary frame in relation to the (seemingly neutral) non-disabled status, the former becomes visible, co-relationally constituted and marginalized as ‘other’ (Cockburn 1991; Collinson et al. 1990).

By demonstrating how impairment is a socially based negotiation of context and how ableism is constructed, reproduced and maintained, the paper broadens our understanding of alternative ways of thinking and speaking about disability and extends the epistemological project for studies of difference.

Emic exploration of intersectionality and capitals

The paper by Tatli and Özbilgin argues that workforce diversity scholarship could benefit from a Bourdien lens in order to explore the ways in which ownership and distribution of different forms of capital between different groups and individual actors create intersections of inequality and privilege in organizational settings. Such an analysis would, for example, explore the processes that are involved in the struggle for capital between different groups, the location of social groups in terms of their total volume of capital, and the impact of multiple group membership in this positioning across the organizational field. It then becomes possible to determine empirically the categories of difference that are salient under temporal and contextual configurations. The theory of capital introduced in this paper has three fundamental properties: centrality of the analysis of relations of power; recognition of temporal and spatial specificity; and relationality.

First, the theory of capital conceptualizes organizations as fields that are shaped by competition between groups and individuals for appropriation of different forms of capital (Özbilgin and Tatli 2005). In this sense, this approach is based on the fundamental assumption that capital is dynamic and changing rather than being a fixed property of individuals or groups, and those organizations occupy contested terrains.

The struggle for capital accumulation is a struggle for power. For this reason, the relations of power are central to the theory of capital. This approach urges workforce diversity scholars to explore the processes of capital legitimization and accumulation, and to identify which groups, or individuals, control, define and accrue advantage from these processes. In doing so, it addresses one of the limitations of etic diversity research, which presents a static and essentialist view of workforce diversity, and redirects attention towards the dynamic (emic) and political nature of construction of difference.

The authors are critical of organizational performance and essentialist views of workforce diversity, arguing for a redirection of attention towards the dynamic and political nature of the construction of difference. They argue that difference codes gain meaning and value only in relation to the wider context and that the theory of capital captures this situatedness because it is based on an understanding that different forms of capital do not have value or meaning outside their contextual and historical dimensions. For instance, certain attributes – social (e.g. networks, family background), cultural (e.g. education, taste, dispositions) and physical (e.g. bodily competencies, thinness, whiteness, aesthetics) – are valued differently in specific cultural contexts and at specific points in history. For this reason, it is essential to situate difference as it relates to inequality and discrimination in the context of history and social institutions (Collins 2000). The authors acknowledge that traditional diversity strands such as race and ethnicity, or gender, are fluid and performative. However, they call for recognition of the fact that individuals are differently endowed, even when they have very similar demographic attributes. Their endowment (resources) may take varied forms, including economic, cultural, symbolic and social capital. Furthermore, individuals always have multiple group identities, some of which are latent, while others become prominent, depending on the context. In this sense, they provide new understandings of intersectionality theorizing by framing diversity research on Bourdieu's theory of capitals.

Gender mainstreaming, performativity and fluidity

The paper by Iris Rittenhofer and Caroline Gatrell provides a critical review of the concept of gender mainstreaming (GM) with reference to academic and policy literature, and analyses GM's development from its origins as a remedial strategy targeting women to an equality approach that is applicable to all. By doing so, it draws out three related themes: whether GM is, first and foremost, a policy or a strategy; conflicts regarding how inequality should be articulated in terms of the sameness or difference between women's and men's concerns; and whether GM research should be defined as focusing primarily on ‘women’ or on ‘gender’. They show that GM has been institutionalized in international organizations such as the UN; indeed, the institutionalizing features of gender categories are embedded in global discourse and therefore forge a universalizing strategy of human injustice. Citing the exemplary work of Verloo (2005, 2006), the authors show that GM has become a travelling theory, crossing over different borders. They acknowledge the power of GM as a part of the mosaic of TN (see Brah 2002; Walby 2009), but do not elaborate on this. Instead, they contribute ideas of GM as representing a ‘modern change agent’.

The originality of this paper lies in its extension of GM theory through a view of gender as a performance, an accomplishment and an ongoing social process, as opposed to a fixed and binary concept. Through a fluid, post-structural and sociocultural interpretation of ‘gender as performativity’, the paper offers useful insights into how cultural relativism and translation may shape policy and practice (Butler 1990).

The authors introduce the concept of a ‘gender as performativity scale’ as a way to unveil dynamic, multidirectional ways in which gender categories can be read. They argue that GM should challenge neoliberal orthodoxy, not only in Europe and in the global production economy, but also in less developed and transitional states (Metcalfe and Rees 2010). The crux of their argument, premised on a Deluzian lens (Deleuze and Guattari 2002), rests on the fact that ‘gender as performativity’ can be described as ‘rhizomatic’, represented via non-hierarchal systems of connections and heterogeneity that are constantly in flux and in which power relations, identities and organization configurations can be read and re-read in place and time.

Nonetheless, the model could be further enriched to incorporate how gender as a performative concept is configured in the myriad constellations of social actors they term stakeholders, including global institutions such as the UN, regulatory frameworks adopted by state governments, organization practices, as well as the strategies employed by individuals to discursively navigate gender and diversity regimes (see McGovern 2007; Metcalfe 2008a, 2011; Walby 2000, 2009).

Re-imagining future research directions

The foregoing has presented a summary of organization and management theorizing, embracing primarily western knowledge boundaries and epistemologies. How, then, can we advance a theoretical approach that takes a broader view and incorporates relevant social theory and community development perspectives that have implications for theorizing MOS and diverse populations in diverse territories, thus providing a more holistic understanding of the field.

The rationale for choosing the three areas of feminist post-colonialism, transnationalism and geographies of place and space is that they are concerned with critiques of broader organization processes and power relations in the development of contemporary global capitalism (Alexander and Mohanty 1997; Castells 2009; Escobar 1988, 1995; Featherstone 1990; Inderpal and Kaplan 1994; Moghadam 2010; Nader 1989; Spivak 1999). First, they all have a social justice, rights-based ethos and a human development orientation, thus reflecting our concern about rights and equality. Second, they are concerned with understanding the relations of the global to the local and, as a consequence, adopt multilayered approaches to social enquiry and change and what this means for cultural diversity and inequalities (Benhabib 1995; Bondi 2009; Braidotti 2003; Said 1978; Spivak 1988; UNDP 2009, 2010). Third, in connecting global–local linkages, they capture the complexity of grassroots activists and the nature of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as broader TNC global human resource policies and the impact of trade and human development policies of international organizations and so ‘reclaim development’ (Utting 2006). Fourth, they are concerned with how these global actors co-operate/interact and with the relations of power (Rai 2008). Finally, a central thread is how global communication processes shape understandings of culture and identity (Ritzer 1996; Walby 2000; Yuval-Davis 2009).

We would question why contemporary scholarship of social and organization studies, exemplified as early as Blau (1960, in Ritzer 1996), has ignored the complexity of organizing in an era of expanded markets and technological and communication flows, a point eloquently argued by Castells (2009). It is the commitment to examining alternatives for development progress that is at the heart of these subject domains, and of critiques of the dominant global stakeholders and the embedded power effects in North–South relations (Escobar 1995; Utting 2006; see also Crush 1995).

The effect of contemporary globalization is to produce new forms of transnational processes and to shape older connections (Chakborty 2010). As Castells (2009) argues, the ebb and flow of ideologies and communications systems means that distinctive border territories and spaces cannot be named exclusively and dislocated from cultural influences, hence the significance of interlocking transnational networks of power. The three themes chosen in essence permit the multilayered processes of social inquiry relevant to 21st-century organization and management planners. This is demonstrated by Ritzer's (1996) comments on macrostructures and microstructures in his early work on organization systems and processes. Blau, highlights how analysis at the individual social level was necessary for examining social and economic change. He stated that social structures are ‘the networks of social relations in which processes of social interaction become organized and through which social positions of individuals become differentiated’ (Blau 1960, p. 178).

A key concern will be to give voice to scholars from the Global South, as opposed to the Global North, so as to challenge western ideologies and create space for envisioning new trajectories of gender, diversity, organization and development management. This is not to assume the superiority of Global South values, but rather to appreciate the ebb and flow of cultural identities and interpretations across and within border territories (Castells 2009). This critique of unravelling global power relations has been termed ‘re-imagining’ alternative forms of development and organization/organizing and breaking with prevailing philosophical logics.

Having argued the rationale for the themes above, it is perhaps necessary to briefly summarize neglected areas of MOS scholarship unveiled in our papers in an era of globalization. First, as highlighted elsewhere, US research in particular is limited and cites relatively few international journals (Metcalfe 2008a,b; Özbilgin 2009b). There is also a strong psychological orientation, with few multidisciplinary sources, particularly in sociology (Metcalfe 2008a,b). The nature and organization of gender/diversity and gender and development knowledge production has been shaped by the editorial policies of leading US journals (Özbilgin 2009b) and international agencies advocating largely neo-liberal philosophies that often universalize difference interventions created in the first world (see, for example, Escobar, 1995; Verloo 2005, 2006). Indeed, we would agree with Özbilgin that leading journals (mainly North American) have ‘difference’ priorities in respect of gender and diversity writings, privilege western accounts and have been ‘unimaginative’ in addressing the complexities of global development.

While the papers illuminate relevant themes of relationality, power, intersectionality and social constructionist epistemologies, western logic perspectives are limiting. A second concern with MOS scholarship has been micro-organization perspectives, with a wealth of literature dedicated to explaining individual behaviours and the formation and re-formation of individual identity subjectivities (Bhabba 1994). Following Walby (2000, 2009), we would argue that this line of inquiry has led to a reduced concern with space and place, and inequality regimes which govern society. That is, structural forms of inequality, socio-political regimes and cultures and diverse geographic territories have been underrepresented because of a focus on internal organizing processes and relations. We feel that a way to move the debate forward is to build on the themes of our papers and draw on knowledge territories outside MOS which can assist in theory formulation and conceptualization. In the next section, we examine the significance of PC and development, TN and what is termed by human geographers ‘interrelationships between space and place’.

PC, gender and development

Post-colonial social and economic inquiry addresses how the global economic, political and cultural world order has been reconfigured via processes of decolonization (McEwan 2001, 2009; Said 1978). The focus of study is interdisciplinary in nature, encompassing the ways in which nationalist movements liberate themselves from colonial state control; the facilitation of modernization processes; and how the subject identities have been formed or reformed (Brah 2002; Brah and Phoenix 2004; Harding 2003). Reviews specifically challenge the superiority of western knowledge and values as a normalizing signifier against which nation states and their subjects are judged (Said 1978; Spivak 1988, 1999). There are limited critiques that incorporate PC themes in MOS (exceptions: Banerjee and Linstead 2004; Cooke 2004; Escobar 1988, 1995), and a complete void regarding integrating MOS, PC and gender scholarship. Similarly, while MOS studies have expanded research on organizational and managerial systems beyond western states (in particular to China and Asian economies), there is limited literature from MOS-based studies in Africa, the Middle East or Latin America. Although this literature is slowly emerging (e.g. Cooke 2004; Metcalfe 2008b, 2011), these accounts rarely engage with broader critical social theory writings, especially those of authors located in the Global South. Our view, supported by the contributors in this issue, is that this presents only a partial picture of the complexities of MOS knowledge and hinders theory formulation.

Since the publication of Edward Said's seminal Orientalism (Said 1978), a number of feminist and other scholars have attempted to address the reasons why western-dominated epistemological approaches have prevailed (Hale 2005). Nader (1989) presents a methodology for examining the western colonial frame as it subordinates its own women through a critique of the women of the other. Using Gramsci (1971) and Said (1978), she argues that critiques of the other may be an instrument of control when the comparison asserts a positional superiority. This poses two questions:

  • 1How does critique of the other operate as a key to the process by which civilizations and nation-states control their women and the women of other cultures?
  • 2How are masculinist signifiers represented via notions that women's place vis-à-vis men improves with the development of civilization, or by the contrary view – that the higher the civilization, the greater the ascendancy of men (Hale 2005)?

Similarly, Spivak's (1988) writings focused on ethico-political concerns to show how institutional and cultural discourses and practices exclude and marginalize the subaltern, especially subaltern women. Said argued that Spivak pioneered critiques of non-western women, and produced one of the earliest and most coherent accounts of how women were ‘othered’, silenced in discourse. In Spivak's seminal short work ‘Can the subaltern speak’ (Spivak 1988), she highlighted how Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault confined the decentring of subjectivity to the West, which represents the non-western as unknowable and forever in shadow (see also Harding 2008).

Mohanty's similarly essential work ‘Under Western eyes’ (Mohanty 1988) aimed to articulate how western feminist scholarship on Third World women helped to reproduce hierarchies of knowledge and identity. She wanted specifically to challenge the Eurocentric universalizing methodologies that serve the interests of western women. Her original treatise (Mohanty 1988) proposed to unveil the location of feminist scholarship within a global political and economic framework dominated by the ‘first’ world and, unlike western writings at the time, she wanted to show that feminist enquiry needed to focus on the micro-politics of local context and struggle, as well as the macro-politics of global political systems, something that much western scholarship has failed to address. Walby (2009, p. 199) recognized that western feminist priorities in the 1980s/1990s were simply ‘wrong’ for many non-western women. Mohanty (2003a), like many feminists worldwide, prefers to focus on transnational feminist practices which explore the possibility, indeed the necessity, of cross-national solidarity and organization, rejecting the traditional dualities, whether expressed as First World/Third World or Global North/Global South (see also Desai 2005; Metcalfe and Rees 2010; Moghadam 2000; Mohanty 2003b). As Mohanty argues:

The challenge is to see how differences allow us to explain the connections and border crossings better and more accurately, how specifying difference allows us to theorize universally more fully. It is this intellectual move that allows for my concern for women of different communities and identities and build coalitions and solidarities across borders. (Mohanty 2003a, p. 505)

In summary, PC approaches offer significant opportunities to advance understandings of MOS (Molyneux 2009). Post-colonialism illustrates how the production of western knowledge is inseparable from the exercise of western power (Escobar 1995; Said 1978; Utting 2006). Feminist PC is especially relevant as it creates accounts of First World understandings of oppression of subaltern and ‘othered’ identities. Post-colonialism directly challenges neo-liberal and androcentric interpretations not only by unravelling symbolic and cultural signifiers, but by promoting feminist activism and the consequences and interrelations for different sites of oppression premised on race, class, nation and sexuality in diverse geographic territories. This cross-border treatise is expanded on in the next section.


The concept of TN has been adopted widely in academic literature. As Crush (1995) and Escobar (1995) note, there has been a paradigmatic shift in our understanding of social institutions and social relations. Most social analysts argue that contemporary globalization has not only led to a reorganization of the economy on a global scale, but has also shaped a new social ‘imagination’ in which we are expected to rethink social relations and identities as fluid, flexible and deterritorialized, rather than confined to bounded spaces (Castells 2009). While most theorists recognize that globalization is uneven and affects men and women in various parts of the world differently, we are nonetheless all urged to understand how the local and the global, both fluid categories, inform each other and how the interplay of the two shapes both (Reilly 2009).

For social movements, this has meant going beyond the usual nation-state-based movements, theoretically and methodologically. Thus, the analytical aim is to understand how the local – in terms of issues, identities, strategies, methods, targets of protestand world-views – becomes global, and how the global is evident in the local (Hearn and Howson 2009). Movement analysts assume that identities, networks and communities are as likely to be global as local and that global dynamics and audiences constrain and facilitate movements (see also Ritzer 1996).

An important distinction in defining TN is deciphering global TN, as the two are often confused. The ‘global’ can be seen to be decentred from the state, while TN is anchored in states and transcends state borders. Thus, TN incorporates both critiques of the globalization of capital, new working regimes and managerial practices, as well as grass-roots activism attached to this process, especially in transnational feminist organizing (Metcalfe and Rees 2010).

Transnationalism complements intersectionality, theorizing as it refers to the multiple ties and interactions linking people or institutions across the borders of modern states. Vertovec (2009) outlines six main conceptual themes. In the first two themes, TN focuses on social and economic restructuring. Transnationalism enables new understandings of how individuals engage and comprehend the social and organizational world and assist new insights, what is termed ‘re-imaginings’ of evolving economic and organizational complexities. In light of this, TN recognizes, third, that new organizing arrangements produce hybrid cultures and identities, forever being reshaped and reformed.

Fourth, as part of the global spread of capital across many border territories, TN acknowledges the growing power of global capital, especially in the form of international organizations and MNCs, in shaping macro- and micro-structures of organizing, as cross-cultural flows of ideas, values and technologies intersect in multilayered ways.

Fifth, while much western theorizing pays limited attention to voluntary organizing, in many territories TN advocates an important role for NGOs in state development and capacity-building efforts, including education and political advocacy, and as a strategic partner in private-sector development initiatives between government and TNCs. Finally, the implication of the foregoing is that organization and social identities are highly variable and change across place and time (Mahler 2001; Mahler and Pessar 2001; Pessar 2001).

This framework is often applied to social movements and migrants, but represents the multitude of intersecting relations across state borders, which involve multiple social and political actors. From a feminist and diversity perspective, TN can be seen as a diverse, intersecting and multilayered mosaic which can represent diverse lives and diverse locations. Naples, a UN adviser, argues that TN involves mobilizing the efforts of those involved with gender and diversity issues in national, international and global organization spheres (Naples 2002, 2005; Naples and Desai 2002).

As Desai (2005) postulates, human agency is constituted in multiple spaces where flows of ideas and activism are no longer unidirectional, from the North to the South, but multidirectional. Echoing the observations of Tatli and Özbilgin and Rittenhofer and Gatrell in this issue, relations and identity projects are constantly in play, being reconstituted and redesigned. Thus, diversity and gender identities are shaped by the geographies of power and, simultaneously, shape modes of resistance for diversity, feminist organizing and social change and development.

From the perspective of MOS, we are challenged not only to decipher the politics of language and the systematic inequalities in the governance of states and organizations, but also to unravel the complex nexus of organizational and representative interests of international agencies, aid agencies, state governments and respective relations with nation-states (UNDP 2009, 2010; Walby 2000, 2009). Relationality and intersectionality are more than organization concepts suggested by many scholars in MOS, they contribute to a multilayered praxis for both organizing to frame global injustice agendas, and assemble multistakeholder partnerships for the formation of resistance strategies.

The politics of location, politics of accountability and the multitude forms of capitalism and patriarchy reveal potentialities for different political strategies, organizational forms and managerial approaches to exploring difference, and eradicating difference, discriminations and social injustice (Hale 2005; Metcalfe and Rees 2010). We are tasked with adopting positive agentic positions in order to ‘re-imagine’ the politics of possibility – as human geographers and development activists put it, to re-imagine, re-engineer and re-implement (see Brah 2002; Desai 2005).

Thus, the issue of power is understood in terms of both the structural power of the state and the capitalist economy and of the discursive power of micro-politics, as highlighted some time ago by Blau (1960) and Ritzer (1996), although Ritzer's model neglects the global interweaving of multilayered partners and relations. However, as we show above, transnational movements have primarily succeeded at the level of discursive power: they have operated on the notion of discursive rather than political representation. Discourses have an empowering function and are an important site of resistance, but feminist discourses have not become hegemonic; they remain an alternative, and when, unfortunately, discourses such as GM and women's human rights are taken up by states and international agencies, they tend to become depoliticized and have little impact on actual policy changes (Braidotti 2003; Reilly 2009). This is borne out by the GM paper in this volume, since the normalizing processes of governance and organization regimes undermine its political and social change aims and stress the ‘performative’ framework.

Transnationalism has connected with global movements to spearhead change. It has expanded strategies to recognize multiple contradictions and heterodox methods and means, arguing that, under neo-liberalism, the state has become the market, with the result that women's emancipation depends on negotiating with the state and the market in more complex ways (Desai 2005). In sum, TN draws on intersectional analysis, but devises strategies with other mass movements – such as unions in the informal sector as well as international organizations trying to regulate TNCs. Overall, TN offers a multilayered and multipartner relationship framework and considers organizations as part of a social system (as advocated by Blau) and aims at redistributing resources and emancipating marginalized groups (Fraser and Nicholson 1988). The nuances of TN are further unveiled by examining the geographies of power.

Globalization and geographies of power: space and place

As we have highlighted, attempts to bring gender and diversity into the transnational realm have been overlooked in MOS scholarship, but have been embraced by human geographers and cultural theorists (Bhabba 1994). Organization commentators would benefit from an understanding of how studies can incorporate gendered geographies of power. This involves selecting the spatial term ‘geographies’ to capture our understanding that gender operates simultaneously on multiple spatial scales and across (trans)national terrains (McGovern 2007). Transnationalism emerged as an interdisciplinary field, which sought to respond to the complex dynamics of globalization. Transnational theorizing is associated with the gendered geographies of power and other difference dimensions. Geographies of power reflect the multiple social relations and identities (i.e. body, family, the state) across transnational terrains. It is both within the context of particular scales as well as among gender and social justice ideologies that discrimination processes are reaffirmed.

A second aspect of the geographies of power is the politics of social location (Yuval-Davis 2009). This refers to positions in power hierarchies created through historical, political, economic, geographic, kinship and other socially stratifying factors. Thus, hierarchies and intersections are built not just at the national (macro) and supra-national levels. Rather, hierarchies of gender, race, sexuality and ethnicity operate at various levels that affect an individual's or a group's social locations. In other words, multiple positions of identity are considered across time, and across place. Transnationalism, then, irrespective of an individual's own efforts, unveils how that individual is situated within power hierarchies at micro, meso and macro levels.

A final aspect of transnational geographies of power lies in evaluating what Massey has called ‘power geometry’ (Massey 1994, pp. 149 and 265). This recognizes that the spatial is socially constituted, and that the social is spatially constituted too. The spatial spread of social relations cannot be conceptualized as other than dynamic. Space, by its nature, symbolizes power and a complex web of power and subordination. Massey asserts that particular conditions of modernity that have produced time–space compression have also placed people in very distinct locations regarding access to, and power over, resources (see also Castells 2009; Mahler 2001; Mahler and Pessar 2001; Pessar 2001). The gendered geographies of place reveal uneven patterns of development and opportunities, and shape individual subject identity positions. Massey's (1994) account allows us to view dimensions of agency that are configured in space and their agency as initiators, refiners and reformers of this condition. In sum, geographies of power remind us of the need to consider space and place as signifiers in discriminatory regimes and consider conditions of post-modernity in diverse geographical territories.

Conclusion: re-imagining futures

This special issue offers a thematic overview of gender and diversity to provide a means of locating different approaches and moments in gender and diversity theorizing. This worked as a heuristic mechanism to help develop understanding of the overlapping ‘moments’ and themes as they evolve. Several themes were highlighted as germane to contemporary MOS inquiry: relationality, power, intersectionality and social constructionist epistemologies. However, writings still largely affirm western logic. All our authors emphasize that gender and diversity development theorizing in global social spaces is not homogeneous, albeit drawing on cases from western regions. All contributors also alert us to the multitude of dynamic power relations and the historically and socially constituted mosaic of intersecting differences. We argued that engagements with broader social science literature may contribute further to MOS research and scholarship.

Building on feminist PC, TN and geographies of space and place, this paper advances understandings of MOS in the context of global capital and development and expands on the relevance of this. We agree that Bourdieu's social theorizing is highly relevant in showing relational inequalities through positioning power and offers potentialities to unravel multiple layers of discriminatory processes in diverse geo-political contexts.

These insights alert us to the significance of the politics of location addressed originally by Rich (1976), but expanded on by writers such as Mohanty (2003a). The debate presented here – addressing the geography of power, feminist post-colonialism and TN – helps to foreground positionality across different axes of differentiation, which include gender, caste, sexuality, race and class.

Thinking through, within and across the intersectionality of these varying modalities of knowledge, as shown in Figure 1, enables re-visioning of multilayered and interconnected feminist imaginings: and while theorizings of power can be read through structuralist regimes (Moghadam 2010; Walby 2009), as well as individual performances of power (Butler 1990), our critique encourages new imaginings of discourse formations, subject positions and – importantly from our point of view – agentic and embodied power (Brah 2002).

Figure 1.

Ritzer's Major Levels of Social Analysis (Source: Ritzer 1996: 648)

It is the political commitment underpinning Brah's (2002) observations that is central. The authors in this SI identify their engagement and commitment to development action and social change to help eradicate social inequalities. We would not dispute that position, only state that our intention is to open out dialogue and knowledge exchange between the Global North and Global South. These activities show how global restructuring and global capital have profoundly different effects on the everyday lives of individuals and on their material and subjective experiences, according to the geographies of power and politics of location.

We take a clear view on the necessary direction of future research. The global feminist and diversity discourse is not singular, because global feminism and diversity discourses occur in multiple and overlapping networks of individuals, communities and organizations, with ever-changing agendas. We hope our deliberations help the formation of a community of scholars who can imagine – or re-imagine – a global community which seeks to be inclusive, open and equal and helps nurture development action to tackle all inequalities and difference dimensions.

In sum, we want to encourage research about the politics of feminist and diversity cross-cultural scholarship from the vantage point of the ongoing struggle in the global political economy, so as to add to, or challenge, the dominance of Eurocentric analytical paradigms that largely rest on micro processes of organization and managerial behaviour. We aim not to recreate hierarchies, but potentially to unmake the First World/Global North dichotomy and, in its place, promote the equal endeavours of anti-capitalist movements and alternative voices in global development discourse (Chakborty 2010; Utting 2006). Transnational perspectives of divisions of place, identity, class, work, belief and so forth can aid MOS scholars in addressing the potentialities of social reform (Mohanty 2003a). As Mohanty recounts, the borders of organizing are not really fixed: ‘Our minds must be as ready to move as capital is, to trace its paths and to imagine alternative destinations’ (Mohanty 2003a, p. 529). Representations of gender, diversity and difference call for critical self-reflection and examination of the dominant discourses, geographical power relations and governance regimes in the territories that we investigate (Yuval-Davis 2009). It is also a crucial time for global movements to be ‘transversal’ and to address and unite around intersectional differences in the situated positionings and power of human beings and promote discourses of difference and equality to stimulate policy development and action (Braidotti 2003). It is this fluidity of positionality and the simultaneous situatedness across different axes of differentiation – such as gender, ethnicity, disability, class and caste, and across intersectionality of these varying modalities of power – that provide openings for policy dialogue and debate and are vital to critical ‘re-imaginations’ of new social orders. As Donna Haraway wrote, never have the imaginary and the rational ‘hovered’ closer – and one should not ‘replace’ the other (Haraway 1991, p. 192).

Imagination is situated – our imaginings are positioned by our gaze and location. However, at the same time it is true that imagination gives meaning to experience (Rose 1997). As we have shown, hegemonic universality has tended to ignore and render invisible marginalized experience and knowledge as much contemporary gender and diversity and development scholarship is wont to do. As Harding (2008) points out, hegemonic powers use this relativist paradigm in order to legitimate dominant truths (see also Brah 2002; Brah and Phoenix 2004).

The key tactic for MOS is to expand our knowledge horizons across borders and territories and engage in interdisciplinary research endeavours. The challenge in the 21st century is to rejuvenate debates via an ethico-political and social stance so as to confront new configurations of social justice efforts that do not merely replicate the past through a new colonizing strategy (Desai 2005; Spivak 1999). It is necessary to have globally united aims, and this involves shifting the unit of analysis from local, regional national cultures to one that crosses cultures to untangle the web of relational systems and processes (Reilly 2009; Yuval-Davis 2006). Identifying local resistances, whether feminist or not, is necessary to understand the relational and intersectional power dynamics of larger cross-cultural forces. If we are to expand understandings of difference and marginalization, a relational organizational social praxis should therefore be attuned to intersecting processes at micro, meso and global levels of organization and organizing and how to design relevant development management strategies to foster social justice, inclusiveness and equality.