Flight of Antenarrative in Phenomenal Complexity Theory, Tamara, Storytelling Organization Theory

David M. Boje

New Mexico State University

September 20, 2001

Paper prepared tp honor of Professor Hugo Letiche and his work on Phenomenal Complexity Theory, for the September, 24th and 25th Conference on Complexity and Consciousness at Huize Molenaar (Korte Nieuwstraat 6) in the old center of Utrecht, Netherlands.

Born on: September 25, 1997


In this article I continue the collaborative effort to interrelate Letiche’s (1999, 2000) work on Phenomenal Complexity Theory (PCT) with mine (Boje, 1995, 2000) on Tamara theatrics, and Storytelling Organization Theory. We have continued our collaboration by asserting that PCT and Tamara provide conceptual categories to overcome the disappearance of politics of meaning phenomenon in (most forms of) organization studies. Our contribution is to invite mainstream organization theory to make three choices that situate the (i) experiential and (ii) dialogic in (iii) the maelstrom of complexity processes of organizing. Here, I associate the three choices with Sartre’s ekstatic existential dimensions of nihilation. (i) Experiential is associated with to not-be what it is. (ii) Dialogic is linked to - to be what it is not. And, (iii) the complexity processes of organizing are related to the first two, to be what it is not and to not-be what it is. I punctuate these choice points with an analysis of the athletic apparel industry and the relationship between researcher and the researched.

  INDEX to Antenarratives

First, the Kathie Lee Gifford story composed by  in 1996 that spawned the AI, which led to the FLA and WRC. Second, the Kukdong story in 2001, which began with a January 10th letter by Nike/Reebok worker,  Josefina Hernandez Ponce. And third, the January 17th, 2001 Jonah Peretti "Design a Nike Shoe" stitched with the word "Sweatshop" email, that everyone in the world got a copy of, and it grew to urban legend status. All three antenarratives have been significant in linking the word "sweatshop" to corporations such as Wal-Mart, Nike, and Reebok. Stories are powerful, and dangerous.  Click below to head to each antenarrative.

  1. Antenarrative of Kathie Lee

  2. Antenarrative of Kukdon

  3. Antenarrative of Jonah Peretti

  4. Figure One - NIKE-TAMARALAND Map

  5. Appendix for time players


Phenomenal Complexity Theory (PCT) and Tamara (defined as organizations as storytelling theaters of emergent collective story performance) draw into question the root metaphors of organization studies and apolitical paradigms, such as social construction, appreciative inquiry, and retrospective sensemaking.  Our new metaphor is more critically discursive, more about hegemony in conversation, power in narrative, theater of the oppressed, and teasing power in postmodern acts of détournement and derive (e.g. the Situationist International approach of Guy Debord and others). It is neither the mechanistic or organic/evolution materiality of mainstream theory metaphors nor the apolitical metaphorization of social construction or interpretivism. Lyotard (1984: 17), for example, combines critical discourse, hegemony, power, and politics of organizing, in his use of a conversation metaphor, as an institution carries with it supplementary constraints on which statements are declared admissible within its bounds. “The constraints function to filter discursive potentials, interrupting possible connections in the communication networks: there are things that should not be said” (Lyotard, 1984: 17). 

This presentation assumes some familiarity with both PCT (Letiche 1999, 2000) and storytelling organization theory (Boje, 1991, 1995). As a brief introduction, Letiche’s PCT (2000) entails making three choices that each focus on the politics of meaning: (i) prioritizing experienced consciousness above the outcomes of the ‘natural bent’; (ii) choosing for a logic of dialogic complexity rather than one of (dualistic) cause and effect; and (iii) being willing to link the experiential to complex maelstrom dynamics. 

In what follows, I will explore the role of three critical stories in the emerging sequence of events that spawned the monitoring industry that attests that corporate clients are not subcontracting to sweatshops, as they collectively came to grips with each of the PCT choices.  I also explore how corporations contracting monitors, subcontract-factories, and the diverse and fragmented network of postmodern activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are using stories, and counter stories in ways that set off dynamic chaos and complexity effects in experiential, dialogic, and maelstrom complexity.  This is what I call Nike-Tamara, since Nike is the poster corporation of the anti-sweatshop movement, which seeks to enact its own independent monitoring, and stricter codes of conduct, than the monitoring industry that is financed and contracted to the corporations.

The structure of the paper is to review the relation proposed between PCT and storytelling organization theory, in terms of (1) experiential complexity, (2) dialogic complexity, and (3) intentional emergent cohesion. After the explanation, I will analyze an antenarrative, and the emergent complexity dynamics each story did provoke among many storytelling organizations. The contribution of the paper, besides linking Letiche’s PCT to the Tamara theory of storytelling organization I work with, is to pose some connections between the work of Bergson and Sartre.  I begin with this and then briefly explain the PCT extensions to storytelling organization theory. .  I contend that Nike is experientially involved, chooses to dialog more with its opponents than others in its industry, and for this reason is often the center of the maelstrom of phenomenal complexity.  Figure One, gives you a map of the industry, listing many of the major players.





A program guide (or key) explaining the cast of characters, and summarizing their roles, entrances and exits from the global stage, is presented in the Appendix. For now, I contend that there is an ongoing battle between the corporate managerialists, and the NGOs around the globe, who exercise forms of postmodern carnival, staging anti-sweatshop fashion shows (e.g. USAS), boycotts of NikeTown (e.g. Melbourne’s Friday night NikeTown blockades), Footlocker, university apparel store protest actions (e.g. USAS and WRC), and demonstrations at shareholder meetings (e.g. Global Exchange).  Further, we can better understand the emergent dynamics of a multi-organization storytelling system by applying the theories of Bergson and Sartre.

Bergson and Sartre - Sartre (1956: 137-149) presents three ekstatic dimensions of nihilation that I would like to associate with the three PCT choices posed by Letiche. The three-ekstatic dimensions are:

1.      To not-be what it is,

2.      To be what it is not,

3.      To be what it is not and to not-be what it is—within the unity of a perpetual referring.

Associated with the PCT’s experiential, dialogic, and intentional emergent cohesion, we get the following:

1.      Experientially to not-be what an organization is,

2.      Dialogically to be as an organization, what the organization is not,

3.      Intentionally emergent cohesion, in being what the organization is not, and not being what the organization is—within the unity of a perpetual referring.

Tamara analyzes storytelling organizing and organization, as the fragmented and networking collective, makes these three PCT choices, within the struggle of existential Being and Nothingness. 

Both Sartre and Bergson can be applied to my work on Tamara storytelling networks. For Bergson (and Sartre, who writes on Bergson’s dureé), the experiential dureé is also not a linear succession of stories told, but a dynamic collective theater in which self-organizing happens.  Applying Sartre, Tamara storytelling can be viewed as the anticipation of stories to be lived in future potentialities, as yet unrealized, and the crafting of collective memory that is Nothingness, as well as collective forgetting in processes of restorying what the Being of organization is not being. As we explore the athletic apparel industry, its monitors, and its activist critics, we see the corporations such as Nike, Reebok, and Gap have been able to display positive public images, while within subcontract factories, expectations by the anti-sweatshop movements, that these same corporations would meet the expectations of codes of conduct has not been met. 

Combining Bergson and Sartre, in PCT, if we assume that ‘organizing’ and ‘organization’ are the products of storytelling action, and that human existence and collective consciousness are prerequisites for any organizing to ever occur, then the storytelling organization of Tamara, is a product of consciousness and its existence requires explaining its Being and Nothingness. The experiential and existential choices are far messier when we question the ontology and epistemology of organization.  We are confronted with the question of how can a simple story one earn its’ way among the enormous diversity of storytellers’ consciousnesses in the Tamara of simultaneous storytellers on multiple stages, to a definition of ‘what is going on here’?  Despite the problem(s) that an experiential perspective poses, it is that perspective that will be pursued here. The existential and epistemological inadequacies of the ‘natural bent’, determines the choice. In sum, we assume that human consciousness is a prerequisite for and thus logically prior to ‘organization’. I will continue to relate Bergson and Sartre into three aspects of PCT, experiential, dialogic, and intentional emergent coherence.

(1) Experiential Complexity - For experiential, Letiche relies on Bergson’s (1900: 116) concept of dureé as entryway into temporality of experience.  Dureé is an experiential duration, not a (linear) point in time, followed by another, and another before, then an after.  Looked upon inductively, ‘organization’ is a ‘totalization’ of all sorts of experiential material (s). Letiche (1995, 1999) conceptualized PCT as redefining the possibilities of emergence theory by accentuating the experiential consciousness and aesthetically generative jouissance (pleasure) that is excluded by the reductionist rationality of cyborg-technologism models of chaos and complexity. In the experiential perspective, organization follows on consciousness; and in the ‘natural bent’ organization is prior to consciousness.  In the ‘natural bent’ (empirical realism paradigm) the ‘totalization’ does not seem problematic because ‘organization’ and ‘organizing’ is taken for granted, as an a priori of human social existence. Yet, tracing how a storytelling-Tamara totalizes into one collective-account assumes away all the interesting dynamic and political processes of not only emergence, but also Sartre’s (1956) Being and Nothingness.

In Tamara, the experiential dureé of Bergson philosophy, as rendered by Letiche’s PCT (1999, 2000), would not be a linear succession of stories told, but a more dynamic collective theater of performances, with a good deal of simultaneous story action in different offices and across different organizations, as wandering and fragmenting audiences chase unfolding and emergent storylines, from room to room, and organization to organization (Boje, 1995; Boje, Luhman, and Baack, 1999).  In Bergson terms, the collective temporality is a storied experiential dureé of collectively constructed social memory. Certain organizing and organization stories are more hegemonic and characterize the Tamara of particular institutions, but there are still ways of resisting and telling marginalized stories, even in the networking among multiple storytelling organizations (Boje, Luhman, & Baack, 1999). 

I submit that the experiential performance of stories told across fragmented time and space, interconnected in self-organizing systems, is an application of the dynamics of PCT. This dynamics involves the regime of story gazing, and contested-tellings by multiple storytelling organizations constituting a Tamara-network. 

In Tamara, the networking occurs in emergent passage points among offices and organizations, introducing the politics of meaning into sensemaking. Stories and storytellers interact with context, but all are not born equal. The implication is that Tamara is a more ‘critical postmodern’ paradigm, in contrast to the ‘black hole ‘of apolitical, ‘social construction paradigms’ that ignore the political economy, in more relativistic treatments, and also marginalize power/resistance, and politics of meaning. There is more to our new metaphors, than the sum of all the knower’s points of view, there is the emergent collective dynamics brought about by storytelling and story sharing between organizations.

The first ekstatic dimension of nihilation applied to PCT, is experientially to not be what an organization is. Sartre distinguishes between “For-Itself” trying to be what one is not, and “In-Itself” just being who one is. Note, that there is nothingness separating the organization (In-itself) from its mask (For-itself). An organization, I contend, is always trying not to be its mask, and not to be what is behind the mask (to not be what an organization is). “But in so far as it [the organization] is For-itself, it [as a mask] is never what it is” (Sartre, 1956: 138, additions mine). The organization surpasses, say its more scandalous facticity [In-itself], which it says is not relevant to its Future [we have reformed what you found, so it is not relevant], while nihilating its Present characterization [we are no longer that story], pointing to an intended newness of being that will be without this scandal [our codes of conduct and strict monitoring make recurrence impossible to imagine].

An organization, For-itself (e.g. the mask of PR) is simultaneously, an In-itself, a being behind the mask, just, for example, managing its supply chain of subcontractors who are sometimes sweatshops. Confronted with the reality of its being, and the nothingness of its mask, the organization under siege by say the anti-sweatshop movement, is in perpetual existential crisis. The For-itself (mask), when tarnished in scandal (presented by activists as greedy exploiter) may choose only to believe its corporate image (mask), the For-itself, or the In-self of Past glory (without said scandal or exposé), or even its Future potentiality (transcending scandal). The three moments of time, past, present, and future, are not linear, but simultaneous. Transcending scandal is to experientially dream of not being what an organization is confronted with currently being, e.g. a sweatshop contractor, either in past, present, or future, and all at once.  Corporations, know for their sweatshop contracting, may respond by vainly distancing For-itself (who they want to be) from each scandal with promises to change, practices, find better monitoring consultants, or just deny the validity of critiques, or challenge the credibility of sources of sweatshop allegations. A transnational corporation can not-be what it is (In-itself) as a supply chain subcontracting to sweatshops, for to be that, would be to deny its own sales potential, and the possibility of being able to improve, For-itself. The organization, is an illusion, says Letiche, a character that is behind the For-itself mask (in Sartre’s language), and in opposition to In-itself. 


            (2) Dialogic Complexity - ‘Organizing’ / ‘organization’ is conceptualized by Letiche (1999, 2000) as the dialogic interactions of a triple relationship of reification, emergence, and consciousness.

First, emergence is the study of what happens when there is movement from one aggregation level to another. In emergence, the act of observing or questioning changes the organizing. ‘Organizing’ and ‘organization’ emerge in the researchers’ interaction with phenomenal circumstance(s).  In terms of storytelling methods and theory, one cannot collect a story without disrupting and influencing the Tamara of storytelling that is organizing. 

Second Researcher consciousness defines the perspective from which the research is undertaken and makes the data collection or observations possible upon which conclusions (or observations) are based. Research demands an experiencing ‘self’ and a ‘world’ that is experienced. Research is a product of an active meeting of a subject (‘self’) and of an object (‘world’) --- wherein the two meet to produce a ‘text’ (the research). In terms of storytelling, this means I as an experiencing ‘self’ penetrate and am penetrated by the object (‘world’).

Third, in terms of reification, organization’ in the ‘natural bent’ is examined as if the ‘self’ and the shared structures of consciousness were not relevant. It is a reified ‘Organization,’ construed to be a separate level of aggregation cut off from the ‘self’, the ‘social’ and the ‘other’. Yet, in storytelling organization theory, if ‘organization’ stories are shared social constructs, that needs to be understood in the context of the ‘self’ / ‘other’ dynamic, then the study of stories has to be grounded in the practice(s) and performance-context(s) of the ‘self’ / ‘other’ relationship.

Stories have meaning in contexts of organizational performance. If ‘storytelling organization,’ or Tamara, is a form of collective meaning, then its social grounds, manifestations and consequences are crucial. The ‘storytelling organization’ needs to be understood as a series of social statements about the ‘I’ / ‘other’ relationship in the story performance context(s) of many people in many rooms, simultaneously telling stories, and fragmented, and wandering spectators, carrying fragmented-tales from stage to stage. Reification sets in, if it can be believed that there is one story, or some end to a restorying process that never ends.  Emergence, consciousness, and reification are part of the second dimension of nihilation. We can apply this to Nike, its monitors, activists, and researchers.  Besides, experiential and dialogic, there is also intentional complexity.

In the second ekstatic-dimension of nihilation applied to PCT (emergence, consciousness, & reification) , ‘dialogically to be what it is not’ (Sartre, 1956: 141), there is a co-presence uniting, in this case, what the organization is (in reification) by its dialog, to what the organization is also not (in consciousness) and its context in (emergent) dialog with others. The organization ‘For-itself’ (Present) apprehends itself as being a certain lack (e.g. as in the scandals that confront brand-name apparel corporations almost daily).  The organization-under-fire does not choose to accept being a reflection, reflecting dialog with some activist exposing sweatshop conditions in subcontract factories. The organization has a divided, yet collective consciousness of an “Other Organization” that is emergent, and therefore does not buy into the reified images in the business or activist press; that is not us. Or, in the case of Nike or Disney, those that I (Boje, 1995, 2000a, b) portray.

(3.) Intentional Emergent Coherence - Intentional emergent coherence links the experiential to the complex. Identity is achieved on the intentional level. Individuals and organizations intent an identity that the public will apprehend, and it is on this level that the self determines activity. ‘Organizing’ without the ‘self’ is clearly impoverished. Individual and collective desires hopes and wills play a major role in ‘organizing’.

The third ekstatic dimension of nihilation is related to intentional emergence coherence or what Sartre (1956: 137) calls the unity of perpetual referring.  This can be associated with the third PCT dimension, intentional emergent cohesion. Sartre’s ‘unity of perpetual referring’ includes, for example, the apparel industry being haunted by stories of past scandals, which are resonating in hundreds of web sites chronicling each incident (including some of my own design). At the same time transnational corporations, such as Nike, Reebok, and even Wal-Mart have been incredibly successfully in hiring consulting firms to write repots that all but exonerate them from complicity in sweatshop contracting, and employ sports, TV, and movie celebrities to deflect public attention away from the anti-sweatshop, labor, and anti-globalization movements. 

In sum, storytelling organizations construct tales of Present, Past and Future with multiple storytellers engaged in collective acts of storytelling. In terms of Tamara, dureé is the collective memory, the experiences of temporality registered in the “storytelling organization” (Boje, 1991, 1995) and in Tamara networks of many organizations. 

Tamara and PCT calls into question the language practices of managerialism, performativity, and the junk science (science contracted by corporations to legitimate unethical practice) of business writing and the writing of “knowledge” in organization studies, a process of increasing commodification as the university becomes an enterprise where publishing is increasingly controlled by mega corporate interests. Tamara storytelling is also the anticipation of stories to be lived in future potentialities, as yet unrealized.

Next, I will share examples of stories from the apparel industry, as it dealt with the three PCT and ekstatic dimensions, explained above. To do this work, I need to introduce the concept of antenarrative.

Antenarrative – “Ante” means both a ‘bet’ and a ‘pre-narrative.’ To traditional narrative methods antenarrative is an improper storytelling, a wager that a proper narrative can be constituted (Boje, 2001b).  There are, however, important acts of ante-narrative, demands to tell a story before a storyline has been socially agreed to, and intentionally crafting and disseminating a story that will transform the world, or fall flat and have not impact at all. Antenarrative is the fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, unplotted, and pre-narrative speculation, a bet that stories are world-changing. A call to story what has yet to be storied is also an antenarrative change to collective memory and potentiality. Some antenarratives are exceptionally tranformative of social systems, well beyond the intentions of the storyteller (a small bet, with a big impact).


The "Kathie Lee" Antenarrative that Spawned the Monitoring Industry

What I will call the “Kathie Lee” antenarrative happened in April 1996, when labor activist Charles Kernaghan, studying sweatshop situations of U.S. corporations in Central American, since 1990, decided to craft a story that would embarrass, not only brand labels but also media stars with corporate-endorsements, whose clothing was made in sweatshops.  Kernaghan developed an antenarrative about Dickensian working conditions in sweatshops, he bet would shake up American capitalism, the U.S. government, ABC (owned by Disney), Disney (in Haiti factories), and his main target $97 billion Wal-Mart, and crate a celebrity-fan furor over "sweatshops." Pm April 29 1996, Kernaghan embedded his antenarrative in testimony at congressional hearing on labor abuses, "The fact that major companies are going after these celebrities to be their point persons gives us someone we can wrap our arms around" (Kernaghan, 1996).

In May 1996 media personality Kathie Lee Gifford, who was the protagonist of the story, was seen crying on national TV by millions of adoring fans. Kathie Lee immediately claimed to be the victim of character defamation, as Kernaghan’s antenarrative circulated through the Internet and tabloid news network. As the story began to circulate in the Tabloids, Entertainment Tonight, and a score of daily newspapers, a public outcry arose to do something about the women earning slave wages in sweatshops, making movie and sports personalities and American transnational corporations rich. 

Kernaghan’s strategy for promoting the antenarrative included bringing the unseen heroes on stage with Kathie Lee. The unseen heroes, of course, are the (mostly) young women making her Wal-Mart clothing line in sweatshops in Honduras and a few blocks away from the TV studio televising the Regis and Kathie Lee talk show. Kernaghan (1996) describes his first encounter with Kathie Lee:


We took the Honduran child worker to meet with Kathie Lee at Cardinal O'Connor's residency in New York City on June 5. It was the first time I met her. She came with attorneys and public relations people.


Kathie Lee asked Wendy, the child from Honduras, what it was like to work in the factory. Wendy, a 15-year old, was making Kathie Lee pants. She said - "We get there at 8:00 in the morning. We work until 9:00 at night. It is very dangerous when we come out. There is a poor neighborhood. We get in groups and we run home". She described what it was like to live with eleven people in one room and how she earned 31 cents an hour. She described being searched, about how she would have to raise her hand to use the bathroom how she was called a shithead and a whore for not working fast enough – the threats, the lack of water, working under armed guards, the place being as hot as an oven.


Kathie Lee agrees, on the spot, to begin using independent monitors (not corporate for hire ones) in the 28 factories making her clothing line. She becomes an instant crusader, now against sweatshops and child labor. Wal-Mart continues to hide behind the mask of its 1992 Code of Conduct (which by all reports it does not enforce), and has not budged on its sweatshop contract strategy (except to withdraw from Burma, after exposés of forced labor factories become news).

In terms of bringing public awareness and government action, this is a highly successful antenarrative, embedding itself firmly, widely, and quickly in the collective mindset of the American public. For example, by May 1996, a DOL investigation confirms that Kathy Lee Gifford's clothing line is indeed being made in sweatshops. Gifford and Sec. Reich join forces to fight abuse. The government increases its involvement in the scandal (unable to resist).  At a joint press conference with Kathie Lee on May 31, U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich announced a summit of the clothing industry for July 16, in Washington, DC.  The Fashion Forum also features Cheryl Tiegs and 300 fashion industry representatives, including retailers, manufacturers, designers, workers, labor and consumer advocates. By, June, Reich, was himself walking up and down the streets of NY looking for sweatshops.


Just last week on Thursday, I walked up 7th Avenue in New York City with some investigators from the Department of Labor, and we randomly went into cutting and sewing shops in the garment industry, and one out of three that we saw was violating the laws, minimum wage, overtime, unsanitary conditions, unsafe conditions. It is not that different from what we saw at the turn of the century. And if we have embarrassed some members of the industry, I am sorry, but maybe that is necessary in order to get their cooperation (PBS News Hour, July 16, 1996).


On August 2, 1996, President Clinton invites a group of industry, labor, and human rights leaders to the White House to form The Apparel Industry Partnership, which would give birth, in due course, to a multi-billion dollar monitoring industry.

The AIP, we may assume, was formed to reassure the public that U.S. corporations and their celebrities are taking the necessary steps to make subcontractor factories come into compliance with higher labor standards, and be able to advertise that their products are not made (any longer) in sweatshops.  The industry continues to mushroom. This is by means not the only antenarrative (Ballinger’s early work in the early 1990s to link Nike to sweatshops in Indonesia, and stories of physical abuse in those factories, got the attention of congress, which prompted the first codes of conduct in the sneaker industry, by Nike and Reebok, and eventually Adidas). Yet, I contend it is the Kathie Lee story that moved not only the sneak but the entire apparel industry who had any kind of celebrity spokesperson, to do more than craft a code of conduct, but hire rather expensive consulting and accounting firms to monitor (e.g. Nike paid $7.6 millin for two studies by Global Alliance, and Ernst & Young and PriceWaterhouseCoopers bill in the billions to corporations in the apparel industry).

The industry continues to form. After a split between the union and corporate AIP partners, the union and NGOs withdraw, and the AIP becomes reborn as the Fair Labor Association (FLA) on April 14, 1997 (Boje, 2001e).

Celebrities and their corporate sponsors, go through stages of denial of all knowledge of sweatshops, indignation at the accusation, blaming the subcontractors, and then if the pressure escalates, promise and sometimes enact reforms.  In the words of Sartre, the For-itself mask of PR struggles with the In-itself facticity of the supply chain, and the Nothingness of the corporation becomes more understood by those who work their and those who will never work there. In the case of Kathie Lee, there has been a five-year give and take tug of war to provoke Kathie Lee into taking action. For example, in 1998, a follow-on story alleged that handbags with the Kathie Lee label, also sold by Wal-Mart, were made in three factories where conditions were among the worst among the 28 factories in the 1996 Kernaghan antenarrative.  In September 1999, two workers, Lorena del Carmen Hernandez and Blanca Ruth Palacios, were both fired from Kathie Lee's factories after attempting to defend their rights. They came to the U.S. to appear before Congress and tell their stories to the media and appeared on university campuses (National Labor Committee, 1999).


Ms. del Carmen Hernandez was fired immediately after meeting with a National Labor Committee/United Students Against Sweatshops delegation in August.  Factory management detained her against her will for two hours; interrogated her about union activities; offered her bribes; questioned her about her children; and forced her to sign a blank piece of paper. 


Ms. Palacios was illegally fired from her factory job at Caribbean Apparel after being elected general secretary of the union, one week before the NLC/USAS delegation arrived in El Salvador. 


An example of an unsuccessful antenarrative, was the attempt, days after the Kathie Lee story broke, to like Michael Jordan sneakers with sweatshops. The story included the claim that Jordan’s shoes were made by children earning even less than Kathie Lee’s sweatshop kids (Anderson, 1996). The exaggerated claim may have prevented “sweatshop” from sticking to Jordan. Another reason this antenarrative did not become a major news event that captured the public imagination, was the aggressive Nike Corporation, PR campaign. Nike plays to win, to make its story, the story. Nike turned it around, saying that Michael Jordan was doing a service to poor children in Asia, who were making his shoes, and pointing out that the shoes were made in Taiwan, but quite well paid workers (not in Indonesia, Vietnam, or China). When the story became newsworthy, Michael Jordan in 1996 is quoted (June 6) as saying, “I think that NIKE’s position to try to, you know, do what they can to make sure that everything is correct--correctly done.” (At this time NIKE was always capitalize).


The Kukdong Antenarrative


Kukdong is a Korean-owned and managed factory, that produces sweatshirts and other apparel sold by Nike and Reebok, stitched with university logos and icons, then sold in college apparel stores throughout the U.S.  The Kukdong antenarrative begins in pre-story fashion, with a January 10th letter from Josefina Hernandez Ponce, which circulates on the Internet.


Brothers and Sisters: We are workers at the Kukdong Internacional SA de CV factory. We make sweatshirts for Nike, some with university logos. We have been working for a year and month, during which we have suffered mistreatment from the Korean supervisors. Some talk to us in their language, and though we do not understand them at the moment, after researching the words, we know that what they call us the most means "trash".

We write you to ask for your support and solidarity with the work stoppage we have begun. We don't want to hurt the company, we just want to remove the union, since we were forced to join it and threatened with being fired if we did not. People who started work in the factory were made to sign their affiliation without knowing what they were signing. The union gained power, but this power was not to help the workers, but to serve the union's and the company's interests. Therefore we were forced to stop work to show our disagreement, and to be heard.

We thank you for your attention.


               Josefina Hernandez Ponce


Ponce’s letter becomes circulated in several web sites (Global Exchange, Destroy IMF, clen Cloethes Campaign, & US Labor Education in the Americas Project), and on many Nike-activist, USA, WRC, and anti-sweatshop list serves (I know, I got copies).

Ponce, I believe, made the antenarrative bet that telling her story would create a whirlwind, and would quickly bring worldwide attention to factory conditions where she worked. Students on college campuses who have Kukdong-made campus apparel begin to organize, and demand accountability from Nike, Reebok, and their university administration. 

Context is important to the success and meaning of any story. For two years, campus protests over the lax monitoring standards of FLA, and efforts to install tougher WRC standards, had already led to the formation of 200 USAS chapters, and 82 universities with tough WRC codes of conduct. 

Next is a brief timeline of how the letter from Josefina Hernandez Ponce moved from antenarrative, to story, to a narrative that kicked the monitoring industry into its next stage of complexity, after the Kathie Lee story, wound down. Again, there were many other antenarratives, but this is a significant one, due to its timing, and the organizing it provoked.  It is also important to me, since upon reading the letter, I booked a ticket on a plane to Mexico City, rented a car, and drove to see the Kukdong factory, and study the emergent organizing of the WRC and FLA monitors.  Note how quickly things move once the antenarrative is released (See Appendix for definitions of abbreviations).


Time Line of Events in the Emergent Nike-Tamara Events linking Kukdong Factory to more rapid formation of FLA.

Ø      January 10, 2001 Letter from Nike/Reebok worker, Josefina Hernandez Ponce begins to be posted to email, list serves, and onto quite a number of anti-sweatshop, USAS, ad WRC web sites.

Ø      January 12 2001, the take over of the factory by the 800 women workers, protesting bad food, low, pay, harassment, and physical abuse is brought to an end by violence and terror. The Mexico Governor of the state of Puebla, Melquíades Morales Flores, sent 200 state police dressed in full riot gear along with 20 thugs led by Rene Sanchez Juarez’s State-sanctioned union (FROC-CROC) to attack 300, mostly female workers, forcing the women through a gauntlet, beating them with clubs and shields, and sending 15 to the hospital.

Ø      January 16, 2001, $750,000 grant to FLA from then President Bill Clinton, as part of the U.S. Department of State Anti-Sweatshop Initiative.

Ø      On January 18, 2001, four workers at the Kukdong factory submitted a complaint about the abuses to the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent monitoring association of students and faculty in 82 universities. Demonstrations began on at least 12 U.S. university campuses.

Ø      January 20 to 22, 2001 WRC sent a delegation of faculty and students to investigate Kukdong.

Ø      Tuesday, January 23, 2001 FLA immediately approved seven companies for participation in FLA's monitoring program. They are adidas-Salomon, Gear for Sports, Levi Strauss and Company, Liz Claiborne, Patagonia, Nike, & Reebok (footwear only). Together these companies contract with more than 2000 factories in 75 countries and represent over $23 billion in apparel and footwear sales.

Ø      Tuesday, January 23, 2001 FLA accredited its first independent external monitor, Verité, a consulting firm based in Amherst, Massachusetts, to be hirable by member-FLA organizations to monitor factory conditions in 14 countries (including Mexico).

Ø      May 15, 2001 "Kukdong-Independent Union Leader Beaten by CROC supporters." On May 15th, SITEKIM’s (the independent union in the Kukdong factory) leader Ivan Diaz Xolo was assaulted outside the factory's new cafeteria by three FROC-CROC supporters.

Ø      On June 21, 2001 - SITEKIM filed for legal recognition (registro) with state labor officials almost sixty days ago, and according to Mexican law, the government has just one more week to respond to the union's request. 



Ponce is one of the women who led the shutdown of Kukdong for three days (January 10 to 12), and was there at the gauntlet (January 12th) when Police and (FROC KROC) thugs formed the gauntlet of violence on January 12th.  Parents and relatives take snapshots of the events. Some of these photos, got into the hands of the WRC and USAS, and they circulated on USAS, WRC, and anti-sweatshop web sites.




Photo 1: “Pregnant workers being carried out in a hurry on January 12th, 2001 as the riot police and the state-sanction union begin to beat up workers attempting to organize their independent union, Kuk Dong Workers’ Coalition (Source http://www.a16.org/usas/).


Photo 2: Injured Nike workers being loaded onto the ambulance following the attack (Source, Behind The Label).

Nike contracts the services of some pretty major storytellers to do its annual $750 million in PR, and present its story to the masses. Reebok also has its storytellers, but kept relatively quiet, compared to Nike (as we shall examine). There is an aggressive campaign by Nike to get a monitor certified by FLA.

As in the Kathie Lee antenarrative, the U.S. government quickly came to the rescue of the U.S. corporate image, and the fledgling monitoring industry. It takes money. On January 16th, the U.S. Department of State Anti-Sweatshop Initiative funds FLA with a grant for $750,000. 

As with the Kathie Lee antenarrative, the self-organizing happens quickly. In just 10 days, by January 20th, the WRC delegation from Indiana, Duke, North Carolina and other universities, has landed in Mexico, and is asking to interview workers, police, and management. This is the same day (Jan 20th) that workers and their relatives staged a large protest about Kukdong in downtown Atlixco.

The corporate monitoring industry is also quick. Note that since 1996 the AIP, then FLA, has not actually monitored or certified anything. In my view, the act was symbolic, until the Kukdong antenarrative became a whirlwind, attracting way too much attention, not to take action. By this time, it is not just the Ponce antenarrative, in the Tamara (see Figure One), there is news of campus organizing on universities across the U.S., stories in the Mexico press and on TV, and related stories beginning to filter into the U.S. news and wire services. 

Every day counts in terms of potentially lost sales and investments, when a story is creating a firestorm. Three more days pass, since the WRC lands, and on January 23rd, the FLA approves seven companies, including both Nike and Reebok for certified participation in its monitoring program.  On this same day, the FLA accredits its very first monitor, Verité, and they are official sent to Atlixco, to write a report for the FLA, Nike, and Reebok.  On January 25th, a non-official monitor dispatched by FLA and Nike issues a report by an attorney named Alcalde of International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF is an affiliate of FLA) corroborates the WRC delegation claims of abuse and violations to university and corporate codes of conduct.  An advance person for Verité begins to issue memos from the field, e.g. January 30, 2001 a Verité observer reported seeing 30 unarmed factory security personnel in civilian clothing patrolling work areas and production lines; 30 armed factory security guards were also stationed at the factory gates. February 5, 2001 is the official date when Verité, now fully accredited by the FLA, began its 5-day monitoring assignment.

March 14, 2001 is the date of the formal Verité monitoring report (and the Nike response and recommendations report). The Verité report was paid for by Reebok and Nike, based on 29 confidential worker interviews, manager interviews, factory union personnel interviews, analysis of factory documents (Nike, 2001a, b, c). On March 18, 2001, members of the independent worker coalition at the Kuk Dong factory in Atlixco, Mexico gathered to meet the legal requirements for forming an independent union. By the end of the meeting, the unionists had taken the name SITEKIM, Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Empresa Kukdong International de Mexico or the Independent Union of Workers at the Company Kukdong International of Mexico. FROC-CROC (the State Union) did station three people with a video camera to tape the workers entering the meeting. A large majority of the workers in the factory are united in their support of SITEKIM.  The struggle by the workers’ union to be validated in an election continues.

            How We Spent our Spring Break? I crossed the divide between researcher and activist that Letiche talks about as the experiential aspects of research (to be honest I crossed that divide years ago). On March 26th, 2001, traveling with professor Grace Ann Rosile and Ph.D. student, J. Dámaso Miguel Alcantara Carrillo, we traveled to Atlixco.  We idd not have an interview list, or a list of questions to ask.  Carrillo once lived in the State of Puebla and knew Atlixco, the city where Koreans had constructed several Kukdong International factories to make garments for Nike and Reebok.  We thought we could easily find workers and management, and perhaps WRC  and Verité people to interview.

We found out quickly that if we talked to workers, and the Kukdong management found out, they would be fired.  We went to the factory and we told no one was available to be interviewed, but to come back in a few days, and try again.  This was no surprise, since I am banned from every Nike factory on the planet. We decided to interview workers, who had quit or were fired, and did not plan to return to Kukdong.  We talked to towns people, government official, and reported, to explore the dynamics of the Kukdong subcontractor, and the transnational networking by the Korean Ambassador, the Mexcio Government, Nike, Reebok, FROC-CROC, the FLA, and the counter-organizing by the USAS, WRC, and myself.  

During the time the Kukdong antenarrative took flight, Nike’s stable of sports stars that includes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, the Brazil soccer team, and a legion of college and professional teams, are sending out positive, appreciative images of Nike to the world. And in comparison, the Kukdong story has minor impact on consumer and investor confidence.  With, almost a billion dollar budge, FLA with its ties to the U.S. government, and Nike’s experienced corporate responsibility staff headed by Maria Eitel that numbers 95, Nike and FLA , and the stars and celebrities are able to contain the whirlwind and redirect its energy.  Each is working hard to counter the Kukdong antenarrative, to make sure it does not become more of an embarrassment than it already is.  As such, there are counter-antenarratives, spun to keep the student radicals and university administrators from acting out too much.

For example, on April 13, 2001, Nike corporate responsibility and labor practices staff members were out testing the waters regarding cutting and running from its contract with Kuk Dong?  There was a flurry of list serve messages to my email box. As the story evolves, it turns out that on 13 April Nike met with University of Michigan USAS and with the university administration, the General Council to the University and had some dialog and "tried to explain how, while NIKE really didn't want to pull out they might have to because Kukdong is doing so poorly financially and that they wanted to know, they being Kukdong, if we, USAS, would place an order with them to get the sweatshirts that they make..." University of Southern California said the same thing, that Nike had met with USAS at USC.  Evidently, Amanda Tucker (one of the Nike labor practices staff) said a similar thing during a forum at the University of Arizona, during this same time period. Tucker said that Nike had spent thousands of dollars on Kukdong and that in the future it may not be profitable to do business there. My read of the list serve messages, suggests that University of Arizona may have indicated they'd be interested in placing more orders from Kuk Dong (I think this meant directly rather than through Nike or Reebok, but this wasn't entirely clear).  This is an example of a counter-antenarrative, one that could be seen as a way to keep the lid on college protest.  To date, Nike and Reebok are still at Kukdong.

The aggressive PR story-strategies deployed by companies like Nike explains the relatively meager coverage of Kukdong and the anti-sweatshop movement in general. For example, there are over one hundred academic articles and presentations critical of Nike, Reebok, Adidas, or New Balance, compared to four studies, which are positive or apologetic (Boje, 2001d).


The Design a “Sweatshop” Shoe Antenarrative



Nike ID design for their shoes



On February 16, 2001 at 5:33 AM, I received this, third antenarrative, with the subject heading  “Just Forward It.” Dozens of friends knowing my interest in Nike, forwarded this message to my email box. Did you hear? Nike's new web site feature “Nike ID” allows you to select a name to have stitched to your Sneakers. Did you hear what happened to 27-year-old MIT graduate student, Jonah Peretti filled out a virtual Nike order form, and sent them $50, requesting to stitch the word "sweatshop" onto his shoes?

Peretti began the distribution of the antenarrative by sending a copy of Nike’s refusal to stitch “sweatshop” on to his shoes, and on January 17th, sending the text to just twelve of his personal friends, who in turn, sent it along to countless others (Peretti, 2001).  Note this is after the Kathie Lee antenarrative has run its course, but right in the middle of the take off of the Kukdong antenarrative.  All three, link the word sweatshop to major U.S. corporations, which billions in advertising dollars, seeks to undo.


There are three rounds of dialog between Nike and Jonah Peretti.

First Round - The first round begins, “Request the word “SWEATSHOP” be sewn under the logo. Could you please send me a color snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?"  Note, this is an obvious satire, since Nike does not hire ten year olds. The reply from Nike, appears to come from some kind of automated reply program.


From: "Personalize, NIKE iD" <nikeid_personalize@nike.com>

           To: "'Jonah H. Peretti'" 

           Subject: RE: Your NIKE  iD order o16468000


Your NIKE iD order was cancelled for one or more of the following  reasons:

1)                                Your Personal iD contains another party's trademark or other intellectual property

2)                                Your Personal iD contains the name of an athlete or team we do not have the legal right to use

3)                                Your Personal iD was left blank.  Did you not want any personalization?

4)                                Your Personal iD contains profanity or inappropriate slang, and besides, your mother would slap us.

If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization  please visit us again at www.nike.com


Thank you, NIKE ID.


Second Round - In the next dialog exchange, Peretti points out that none of the four Nike responses to his first message, has anything to do with the word “sweatshops,” so Jonah kept wrote back to the Nike Personal ID web master, who sent another absurd, but humorous reply.


From: "Jonah H. Peretti"
To: "Personalize, NIKE iD"
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000


My order was canceled but my personal NIKE iD does not violate any of the criteria outlined in your message. The Personal iD on my custom ZOOM XC USA running shoes was the word "sweatshop."

Sweatshop is not: 1) another's party's trademark, 2) the name of an athlete, 3) blank, or 4) profanity.

I choose the iD because I wanted to remember the toil and labor of the children that made my shoes. Could you please ship them to me immediately.

Thanks and Happy New Year, Jonah Peretti

From: "Personalize, NIKE iD" >
To: "Jonah H. Peretti"
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Dear NIKE iD Customer,

Your NIKE iD order was cancelled because the iD you have chosen contains, as stated in the previous e-mail correspondence, "inappropriate slang".

If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization Please visit us again at www.nike.com

Thank you, NIKE iD

Third round – the dialog continues.


From: "Jonah H. Peretti"
To: "Personalize, NIKE iD"
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Dear NIKE iD,

Thank you for your quick response to my inquiry about my custom ZOOM XC USA running shoes. Although I commend you for your prompt customer service, I disagree with the claim that my personal iD was inappropriate slang. After consulting Webster's Dictionary, I discovered that "sweatshop" is in fact part of standard English, and not slang. The word means: "a shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions" and its origin dates from 1892. So my personal iD does meet the criteria detailed in your first email.

Your website advertises that the NIKE iD program is "about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are." I share Nike's love of freedom and personal expression. The site also says that "If you want it done right...build it yourself." I was thrilled to be able to build my own shoes, and my personal iD was offered as a small token of appreciation for the sweatshop workers poised to help me realize my vision. I hope that you will value my freedom of expression and reconsider your decision to reject my order.

Thank you, Jonah Peretti

From: "Personalize, NIKE iD"
To: "Jonah H. Peretti"
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Dear NIKE iD Customer,

Regarding the rules for personalization it also states on the NIKE iD web site that "Nike reserves the right to cancel any Personal iD up to 24 hours after it has been submitted".

In addition it further explains: "While we honor most personal iDs, we cannot honor every one. Some may be (or contain) others trademarks, or the names of certain professional sports teams, athletes or celebrities that Nike does not have the right to use. Others may contain material that we consider inappropriate or simply do not want to place on our products.

Unfortunately, at times this obliges us to decline personal iDs that may otherwise seem unobjectionable. In any event, we will let you know if we decline your personal iD, and we will offer you the chance to submit another."

With these rules in mind we cannot accept your order as submitted. If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization please visit us again at www.nike.com

Thank you, NIKE iD

From: "Jonah H. Peretti"
To: "Personalize, NIKE iD"
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Dear NIKE iD,

Thank you for the time and energy you have spent on my request. I have decided to order the shoes with a different iD, but I would like to make one small request. Could you please send me a color snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?

Thanks, Jonah Peretti


The three rounds of dialog constituted the text of the email that Peretti circulated to 12 friends. Quite rapidly, the Peretti antenarrative, moves from pre-story to the status of full scale Urban Legend.

This is a brief history. The antenarrative, after circulating in email around the globe, was first reprinted by the San Jose Mercury News (January 30th), Pliactic.com and Metafilter.com top story (February 4th), Salon (February 8th). Nike takes steps on February 9th by adding more words to its automatic web filters (designed to immediately reject profanity and "gang terms"), including (See http://shey.net/niked.html):


1.      Sweatshop Sweat Shop

2.      Child Labor

3.      ChildLabor

4.      Exploit

5.      and Sweatshop


The story continues to circulate, but more widely, and reaches more mainstream attention: Time (February 12th), Media Guardian (February 19th), Village Voice (February 20th), Urban Legends and Folklore (February 21st), UK paer, the Independent (February 24th), Industry Standard and Wall Street Journal (February 28th), USA Today (March 1st), Adbusters (April 2nd) and April 9th Jonah Peretti writes an article for the Nation on his experience).  On February 18th, San Francisco cartoonist, animator, and playwright Dan McHale does a great cartoon about the whole phenomenon.

Cartoon by Dan McHale - Source http://shey.net/nikeidcomic.html


The media mushroom primetime for TV news by February 28th  when Jonah Peretti and Nike’s Vada Manager (Director of Global Issues Management) were appeared on the Today show, to explain why this story become so popular. Asked why he ordered Nike shoes with the word sweatshop, Jonah replied, “Well, I visited Nike's Web site, and the whole thrust of the Web site was that Nike is about personal freedom and freedom to choose. And to me, it seemed like a contradiction with Nike's labor policies, which are legendary for having abuses.” The story continues to build (ABC News, April 2nd,2001).  At its peak, Peretti received around 500 e-mails a day from Asia, Australia, Europe and South America. Peretti’s antenarrative had become as successful as the multi-million dollar Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods ads.  How successful was this antenarrative? It did bring attention to the link between Nike and sweatshops in the public mind, and at the same time, Nike reports that traffic to its web site increased during the height of the controversy with Jonah. He received death threats and proposals of marriage. Peretti told ABC News that “it’s an astonishing lesson of how a little goading can take on a world of its own. It makes you realize how insane things can get.” He said. “If people want to kill me and marry me, you know it’s getting out of control” (Jacinto, 2001). Peretti (2001) concludes that “Micromedia has the potential to reach just as many people as mass media, especially in the emerging networked economy.” Most antenarratives up and die before they are massively distributed to millions of people. Yet, when people enjoy the constructed story, they eagerly pass it on.  The antenarrative migrated from a dozen friends to many other friends, to micromedia startups, and then mainstream media (Peretti, 2001).


Then, something interesting happened. The micromedia message began to work its way into the mass media. This transformation was helped along by postings on media startups  Plastic.com and Slashdot.org, two sites that use an innovative publishing technique somewhere between micro- and mass media. These democratic sites blur the line between editors and readers, so that Internet buzz can be transformed into a hotly debated new item seen by thousands of people. Reporters from traditional media outlets noticed posts on these sites or received the e-mail forward directly from friends, with notes saying things like, "You should really do a story about this."


The national print and TV media attention served to further increase the email dispersion of the message.  I think Peretti’s (2001) conclusion applies to both PCT, emergence dynamics, and to transformation of antenarrative into narrative and urban legend:

The dynamics of decentralized distribution systems and peer-to-peer networks are as counterintuitive as they are powerful. By understanding these dynamics, new forms of social protest become possible, with the potential to challenge some of the constellations of power traditionally supported by the mass media.



Nike is like the crescent moon that is pretending to be the full moon.  In just the right reflection, the crescent moon becomes a full moon. Nike as crescent moon is constituted by what it is not, by being incomplete. For-itself Nike is the crescent moon desiring to be the full moon in-itself, just aware of its lack. Nike may well be trading monitors and auditors (from E&Y to PWC to Verité) to complete itself, seeking the nothingness it lacks.  Nike is haunting its For-itself with its possibility of being complete and without a shadow side.  In its official web and stock report narratives, Nike presents itself as both crescent and full moon. 

The three-ekstatic requirements persuade Nike’s investors and customers, government regulators and monitors, critics and employees - that Nike is nothing but a marketer of athletic apparel. There is this theatrical performance of many storytellers networked to many stages to convince everyone that Nike cannot be what Nike is and Nike must be what Nike is not.  Nike is in flight, forever fleeing from its negative image, taking refuge in its potentiality. The nature of Nike is to simultaneously be what it is not and not to be what it is (Sartre, 1956: 70). This is the hybridity of Nike, to be simultaneously what it is not and not to be what it is.

        Nike, Wall-Mart, and many other U.S. corporations, are in Foucault’s (1970: 331) words “is surrounded on all sides by an immense region of shadow in which labor, life, and language conceal their truth from those very beings.”  The shadow has several meanings. In the shadows are the silent voices of young women working in Asian and Latin American factories.  In the shadow are efforts of corporate staff members to raise labor conditions in these same factories. Finally, in the shadow, sweatshop-corporation resists moving from crescent to full moon, perhaps fearing what light will reveal in the shadows.

Both Nike and the activists are nihilistic, seeking to change Nike identity. Activists present Nike with a straightjacket Nike cannot accept as its garment. Nike promises reforms its subcontractors cannot accept. Nike does own the 720 factories; it only sets the terms of the contract, which includes its monitoring adventures. As Nike symbols become icons, the activist nihilate these corporate symbols. Slogans such as “Just do it” become “Justice do it” or “Just Stop it.”  The Swoosh logo is redrawn as an upside down frown, or right side up with a drop of labor’s blood from its smile, or four together in rotation in a Swooshtika. Each archetype is reconstructed into its shadow, some a reversal of image and others a juxtaposition with a darker one.

The monitoring of Nike and Nike shadow worlds constitutes a panopticon, of authorized and unauthorized gazing activities. Nike and its subcontractors are forever in the spotlight as journalist travel far and wide to find violations of its Code. Reebok, Adidas, Fila, Puma and other market leaders in athletic apparel escape the spotlight. 

        Researcher ‘consciousness’ governs what gets cognized. Only those things that researcher consciousness is prepared or able to see, can be investigated. And this for Nike, is my Achilles’’ heel.  My research (like all research) operates within limits set by his assumptions, language and instruments. Thus, the sort of reifications (Tamara stories and networks) known to me, co-determines what can emerge in my work. His researcher ‘consciousness’ is inherently social --- constituted in the give-and-take of social behavior, but more from the vantage point of worker and community than corporation and boardroom. My research is not a nominalist activity.

        I cannot simply create realities. I give something a ‘name’, such as ‘antenarrative,’ or ‘Nike Tamara’ but that does not automatically mean that ‘name’ will ‘stick’.   Research is social --- meanings attach themselves to phenomena when the research community and/or the culture at large experience a resonance between the idea (term, name, concept) and the object (experience, phenomena, circumstance). The process of describing and naming, analyzing and explaining is unpredictable. We do not really know when or why a particular representation adheres to a specific item.  Thus research is a dialogic process wherein ‘self’ (stream of consciousness) meets circumstance (emergence), potentially leading to reification.

An organizational studies that attacks managerial rhetoric obviously will meet with lots of resistance and it will have to (philosophically) justify its perspective. In organizational studies the assumption is maintained, between organizational researchers and the managers (or managed) who are researched, that they inhabit a common world. If the researched and researcher are permitted to inhabit different ‘worlds’, then in which world are the ‘organizations’? Researchers and the researched supposedly refer to the same thing when they refer to “Nike” or “Workers Rights Consortium.” Organization is assumed. Differences of opinion and conflicting assumptions of meaning demand explanation and ethical debate.  This debate is avoided when the world is assumed to be unitary, inhabited by the “most fit organization.”  The organizations that ought to exist are the one’s that exist; only organizations that should survive actually do survive. Organization thus exists prior to critical consciousness; companies precede experience.

There is a growing multiplicity of critical managerialist scholars studying this industry, hundreds of NGOs in the anti-sweatshop and anti-globalization movements, the monitoring industry of consulting (e.g. GA), accounting firms (e.g. PwC), and accrediting associations (e.g. FLA), creates a panoptic gaze, as this multiple, continuous, and anonymous power becomes eyewitnesses in a network of interorganizational relations and intersecting gazes (Foucault, 1977: 175-180; Boje, 1995: 1027). As organizing contexts co-evolve, new organizations and voices emerge with alternative storylines that can change the meaning of collective stories or invoke change in the Tamara of story-passageways.


Nike skillfully uses storytelling performances in Tamara, on stages with many other storytellers -- to transcend, traverse, and transgress any and all activist surveillance, opposing and facticity that would suggest Nike is what it is not and cannot be what it is. Nike is a reality that is discursively achieved, for few are admitted inside the 720 factory gates, except the contract monitors and a few activists who have smuggled cameras inside. Nike always opens up any activist account to a multiplicity of possible alternative possibilities.  Nike’s factory practices remain wholly unknowable, except as reflected in the fragments of monitor reports released to the public. 

The ‘researched’, then take possession of the ‘researchers’, and of their discourse. ‘Organizational studies’ assumes the managers’ social and political agenda(s). ‘Organizational studies’ then merely repeats the texts provided to it by managers and functions as an apologist for managerial prerogatives. But such an ‘organizational studies’ has no theoretical rigor – the researchers’ distance from the researched does not make an independent viewpoint of observation, reflection or critique, possible.

Letiche Response to Boje’s Paper

Boje evinces profound concern for the material conditions of women’s labor in the apparel industry. Analysis of corporate and worker discourse is combined with political, historical, and economic research. And Boje’s history, values, and assumptions as an inquirer and constructor of athletic apparel industry knowledge and the rules of the game of the research encounter come under public scrutiny. Self-reflective awareness becomes part of not only social construction, but also the inquiry exploration and complicity with its dialog. Boje is an idealist and a social critic wading through competing stories of corporation and activists, an academic-activist who will embarrass a corporate presenter and Self by presuming there are real material conditions of exploitation in 720 subcontract factories, thus violating unexpressed norms of academic “polite” demeanor and “value-free” discourse in Academy meetings. Boje as postmodern zeitgeist, constructs narratives that critiques the corporate stories of re-presenting worker’s experience; and corporate official reconstruct Boje critiquing his lack of value-neutrality and objectivity in rejecting official narratives as factual accounts of work life. Boje is not a disinterested theorist, he is part of the dialogic construction of apparel industry discourse; Nike and Boje have web sites constructing narrative and counter-narrative in endless parasitical deconstruction. Each accuses the other of a lack of moral practice.

Thus the study of ‘organization’ and ‘organizing’ as a form of consciousness studies, as done in emergence, threatens organizational studies with a level of complexity that it cannot handle. But the ‘organization’ as object --- as reification --- is also problematic. The ‘organization’ as artifact can be examined for its ethical and social significance. By describing the ‘organization’ as a necessary prerequisite to human material existence, it is freed from critical examination. Because society depends on organization to generate the needed material wealth, organization is more important than individual consciousness. Because organization is a form of constant economic activity, it cannot be stopped and evaluated. Organization as psychological process and organization as ethical result are off bounds. A very narrow perspective on ‘organization’ and ‘organizing’ is maintained wherein individual and social complexity are banned. Individual as well as collective ethics are (as good as) absent(ed).

Nike (re-) examined - David Boje has in his research created an artifact, that is in opposition to the implicit norms of PCT’s, which stress the role(s) of emergence, consciousness and ‘self’. ‘Nike’ is Boje’s organizational, anti-phenomenal, reification. Boje assumes that the relationship between consciousness and organization ought to be based on a constituting ‘self’/Other relationship of mutual emergence and shared coherence. He is convinced that Nike contradicts all such principles, via a regime of economic power and exploitation, wherein (principally) Asian labor is for all intents and purposes ‘enslaved’. Boje’s research has been focusing on the reified false emergence of Nike. I call it false emergence because the consciousness of so many of the participants is not allowed to have any influence on the action. According to Boje’s analysis, the company tries very hard to portray itself as a cultural artifact, which is totally different from its concrete economic characteristics. Nike’s ‘Swoosh’ or ‘Just do it’ are discourses of the ‘self’. They lionize individualism and the narcissistic self. Boje’s research centers on Nike as an ‘abject’ --- as a set of arrangements that destroy integrity and deny the respect of the one for the ‘other’. Of course Boje’s ‘Nike’ is a reification --- a translation of a set of relationships into an assumed object to be examined studied and judged. By discussing the human value of this reification, he tries to capture the nature of its underlying ‘self’ / ‘other’ relationships. Examination of the health standards, safety conditions, social norms, welfare circumstances and culture icons that Nike produces, has led Boje to be very critical. By examining Nike through the standards set by PCT, we can both better understand what the theory has to offer, and what form of consciousness Nike generates.




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Boje, David, M. (2001e). Editorial: Athletic Apparel Industry is Tamara-land. TAMARA: Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science. Vol 1(1): 6-19. http://www.zianet.com/boje/tamara/issues/volume_1/issue_1_2/2Boje_editorial_Tamara_Nike.htm


Boje, David M. (2000f). Carnivalesque Resistance to Global Spectacle: A critical postmodern theory of public administration. Accepted for Publication for September/October issue of Administrative Theory and Praxis, special issue on Radical Organization Theory. http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/papers/carnivalesque_resistance_to_glob.htm


Boje, D. M., Grace Ann Rosile & J. Dámaso Miguel Alcantara Carrillo (2001) The Kuk Dong Story: When the Fox Guards the Hen House. http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/AA/kuk_dong_story.htm


Boje, David M. and 45 academics studying Nike (2000) “Global Manufacturing and Taylorism Practices of Nike Corporation and its Subcontractors.”  This is a proposal to coordinate joint university researcher study groups and action research in a sample of subcontractor factories. Submitted to Nike Corporate September 16, 2000. http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/nike/call_for_nike_research.html At the request of Nike, the project was expanded February 23, 2001, to include proposed study of Adidas, Reebok and New Balance, and retitled, “Global Manufacturing and Taylorism Practices of Athletic Apparel Corporations and Their Subcontractors”; There is to date no official written response to the proposal; see http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/AA/


Bullert, Bette Jean. (2000). The Entrepreneur and the Sweatshop: Nike, Kathie Lee Gifford, and the Anti-Sweatshop Movement.  http://www.humanities.org/port/2000/sweatshops2.html


Emerson, Tony (2001). Swoosh Wars: Nike Takes On Its Enemies. Newsweek. March 12. http://www.1worldcommunication.org/swooshwars.htm or http://stacks.msnbc.com/news/538847.asp


Corporate Crime Reporter (1996). Activists reject sweatshop summit call for corporate monitors. 22 July 1996. http://www.citinv.it/associazioni/CNMS/archivio/strategie/activist_reject.html


Glass, Steve (1997). Blood, Sweat & Shears: The Young and the Feckless. New Republic.  http://www.corpwatch.org/trac/feature/sweatshops/newprogressive.html


Jacinto, Leela (2001). Nike in a Sweat Student Trips up Sneaker Giant. April 2nd ABC News http://abcnews.go.com/sections/business/DailyNews/nike010402.html


Kernaghan, Charles (1996) CCR interview (transcript) with Kernaghan http://www.citinv.it/associazioni/CNMS/archivio/strategie/kernaghan2.html


Letiche, Hugo (1999). “Emergence: cyborgs versus cognitivst (social) Darwinism.” Emergence. Vol. 1 (3): 29-35.


Letiche, Hugo (2000). “Phenomenal complexity theory as informed by Bergson.” Journal of Organizational Change Management.  Vol. 13 (6): 545-557.


National Labor Committee (1999). Salvadoran Workers Recently Fired from Kathie Lee Clothing Factory and Union Leader under Death Threat Tour the U.S. to Expose Deteriorating Labor Conditions Workers to Meet with Members of Congress, Representatives of Kathie Lee Gifford. Press Release dated September 21, 1999. http://www.nlcnet.org/PRESS/PRESSREL/9909Kath.html


Nike (2001a) http://www.nikebiz.com/

Nike (2001b) "Nike develops remediation plan for Kukdong based on recently completed independent audit." (March 14) http://nikebiz.com/media/n_kukdong6.shtml press release.


Nike (2001c) "Kukdong International Mexico , S.A. de C.V. Verité Independent Audit Report Findings: Nike Remediation Plan (March 14).  http://nikebiz.com/media/nike_kuk_rem_plan.pdf  remediation plan.



Peretti, Jonah (2001). My Nike Media Adventure. The Nation. Feature Story April 9th http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20010409&s=peretti


PBS News Hour, “Naming Names,” July 16, 1996 Transcript  http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/july96/sweatshops_7-16a.html

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1956) Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes. NY: Philosophical Library. This is the first English Edition of Sartre's L'Etre et le Neant and includes sections of Existential Psychoanalysis. 

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1963). Search for a Method. Translated from the French by Hazel E. Barnes. NY: Vintage Books (A Division of Random House).


Schwandt, Thomas A. (1994) “Constructivist, interpretivist approaches to human inquiry.” Pp. 118-137 in Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln (Eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage publishers.


Today Show, (2001). MIT Graduate student Jonah Peretti and Vada Manager, Director of Global Issues Management at Nike, Discuss Sweatshop Controversy and Personalization of Nike Shoes. NBC News Transcripts http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/nike/nike_pages/2001_february_28_Peretti_Nike.htm


Young, Andrew (2001) Good Will Inc. Consulting Report on 12 Nike factories http://www.calbaptist.edu/dskubik/young.htm

APPENDIX – The Cast of Characters (See Figure One).

Key to Figure 1  “Cast of Tamara Players” and Abbreviations: