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The future of critical perspectives in WOP research: Update from the FOWOP day 2019

The future of critical perspectives in WOP research:
Update from the FOWOP day 2019
By Zoe Sanderson, Laura Röllman, Matthijs Bal, and Severin Hornung
This year’s FOWOP day explored, critiqued, and re-envisioned the conditions in which
knowledge in our discipline is created and shared. Two of the sessions focussed on people-
related aspects of this issue. The equality and inclusion session discussed who is – and isn’t –
most often involved in research and teaching in our higher education institutions, and what
can be done to redress inequalities in that. The healthy academia session wrestled with the
conditions that make it hard for individuals to maintain their mental and physical health as
they establish and sustain academic careers. The other two sessions focussed more directly
on the nature of the knowledge that we routinely produce in WOP. The methodology session
challenged the methodological isomorphism of the field, suggesting ways of creating
substantive-methodological synergies in future work. The critical WOP session sought to
expand our view of what ways of thinking and working might become legitimate in our field.
These four areas intertwine to create the potential for WOP that is more sustainable, diverse,
and relevant.
The field of WOP has developed unchecked tendencies towards neoliberalism (Bal & Dóci,
2018), managerialism (Prilleltensky, 1994), and inadequate reflexivity about the questions we
ask and the likely outcomes of the knowledge we create (Islam & Zyphur, 2006). Critical
perspectives – which are many and varied – enrich our field, inviting us to reflect upon our
own beliefs and practices, grappling with fundamental questions about the nature of what
and how we research. In our session at the FOWOP day, we proposed that critical WOP
should promote congruence between the values of a researcher and the values that underpin
the research they do, create benefit for less powerful people in organizations and seek to
minimize harm, and promote paradigmatic and methodological pluralism. We explored how
critical perspectives could enrich core aspects of WOP: teaching, research, and practice and
Many of us shared a vision for more critical ways of teaching in WOP. We want to teach in
ways that allow for complexity, pay attention to different stakeholders and perspectives, and
consider problems that are truly important to people. At the same time, we want to create a
psychologically safe and inclusive teaching environment in which students can develop, learn
how to behave in solidarity with others, and practice paying attention to power asymmetries
and hierarchies. Creating space for students’ critical thinking is key here, instead of being
unintentionally led to suppress their critical thoughts due to upcoming exams or the
narrowness of teaching schedules. To these ends, we hope to create a critical WOP teaching
manual, for which we would love to receive any relevant teaching resources (please contact
Laura ( or Mahi (
To do more critical research, we need a community. This might involve mentoring,
collaborations, and trans/inter-disciplinary partnerships with those inside academia, but also
involves the co-production of knowledge with those who are normally treated as research
‘subjects’. These partnerships will be key to developing research projects that respond to
real-world problems and understanding the nuanced contexts in which these problems
occur. We shared a desire for methodological creativity, and for excavating the ideological
bases of our existing ways of thinking and working in the field. We are forming a critical WOP
research cluster that will plan future events and a journal special issue to promote this
community (please contact to get involved).
In considering how critical perspectives might be useful in WOP practice and policy
development, we recognise the importance of power. We have a responsibility to prevent
malpractice and harm in how we apply psychological knowledge in organisations, implying
the need for rigorous quality standards in our practice. However, while lack of these
standards can cause harm, their existence can also be problematic. If only certain types of
knowledge - or people – are considered legitimate, this creates a hierarchy of power that is
open to misuse. This points to two potential critiques of WOP practice: a reformist view in
which we argue that standards are being misapplied or not met so practice ought to be
improved to meet them, and a radical critique in which we argue that certain standards are
problematic and ought to be reformed or removed to improve practice. Regardless of our
views on this point, we agree that more partnerships between practitioners, organisational
stakeholders, and academics would result in better outcomes for those who work in
organisations. Please contact if you would like to connect to
our work on WOP practice or policy which we will be developing in various ways over the
next year.
Cite as: Sanderson, Z., Röllman, L., Bal, P.M, & Hornung, S. (2019), The future of critical
perspectives in WOP research: update from the FOWOP day 2019, Blog:
Bal, P. M., & Dóci, E. (2018). Neoliberal ideology in work and organizational psychology.
European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 1–13.
Islam, G., & Zyphur, M. (2006). Concepts and Directions in Critical Industrial/Organizational
Psychology. In Critical Psychology: An Introduction (2nd ed., p. 17).
Prilleltensky, I. (1994). The morals and politics of psychology: Psychological discourse and the
status quo. Albany, NY, US: State University of New York Press.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
This paper explores the role of neoliberal ideology in workplace practices and in work and organizational psychology (WOP) research. It analyses how neoliberal ideology manifests in these two domains by using a prominent framework from the field of political theory to understand ideology through three different logics: political, social and fantasmatic logics. We explore the main neoliberal assumptions underlying existing practices in the workplace as well as in WOP research, how individuals are gripped by such practices, and how the status quo is maintained. The paper analyses how individuals in the contemporary workplace are henceforth influenced by neoliberalism, and how this is reflected in the practices and dominant paradigms within WOP. In particular, we focus on three ways neoliberalism affects workplaces and individual experiences of the workplace: through instrumentality, individualism and competition. The paper finishes with practical recommendations for researchers and practitioners alike on how to devote more attention to the, often implicit, role of neoliberal ideology in their work and research. The discussion elaborates on how alternative paradigms in the workplace can be developed which address the downsides of neoliberalism.