The game of exemplarity: Subjectivity, work and the impossible politics of purity

René Ten Bos, Carl Rhodes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


This paper develops and problematises the notion of the 'exemplary worker'-an idealised worker who is automated, compliant and mechanical. We suggest that the identity of such a worker emerges historically in a range of organisational, social and cultural discourses and provides a norm against which real workers are to be judged. Most recently, this includes the discourse of organisational culture; where worker commitment and managerial control are directed at people's values and beliefs. Our discussion starts with a review of Herman Melville's short story Bartleby the Scrivener and uses this story to begin to tease out the logic of exemplarity and non-exemplarity. From there we examine other models for exemplary workers and then relate these insights to more contemporary discussions of knowledge work, empowerment, organisational culture and self-direction. We argue that despite these changes, there is much continuity in terms of worker exemplarity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-423
Number of pages21
JournalScandinavian Journal of Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003


  • Exemplary workers
  • Organisational culture
  • Subjectivity
  • Trespassing


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