Carnivalesque Resistance to Global Spectacle:

A Critical Postmodern Theory of Public Administration


David M. Boje

New Mexico State University


April 12, 2001; Revised April 30, 2001

Pre-publication draft of article published in:  Administrative Theory & Praxis, Vol 23 (3): 431-458.



I propose a critical postmodern application of Debord’s Spectacle and the carnivalesque of Bakhtin to the theatrics I see happening in city streets, on college campuses, and Internet resisting the new globalized economy.  In the past decade pubic administration has experienced the postmodern turn, becoming caught in the conflicting theatrics of corporate-mediatized spectacle and the carnival of resistance to globalization discourse. My contribution is to theorize the interplay of spectacle and carnival on the global stage as theatrical constructions of corporate and state power and resistance. I analyze growth of the spectacle of the monitoring industry that attests corporate codes of conducts in narratives of progress, while the anti-sweatshop and anti-globalization carnivals perform a devolution script in street theater, anti-sweat fashion shows, and cyber-activism.

I. Introduction

“Welcome to our Sweatshop Fashion Show, a combination of political theater and educational comedy. Today, you’ll see our models displaying some of the latest fashions made in Asia, Latin America, the United States, Australia, and Canada” (from script I am writing). Instead of supermodels in barely clad silk dresses costing thousands of dollars, these garments are made in sweatshops, sold at our campus apparel store or local Wal-Mart. In such shows, staged on college campuses, on city streets, and in at the mall, models enter and walk across the catwalk wearing the latest Nike, Disney, Guess, Gap, Van Heusen, Tommy Hilfiger, and Wal-Mart brands as announcers comment on poverty wages and abusive working conditions. Your university has no doubt hosted similar Sweatshop Fashion shows highlighting working conditions in the garment industry in not only Latin America and Asia, but in metropolitan cities.  Maquila Solidarity Network (2001a) even provides fashion show script ideas.

Our next model, Sheila, is wearing body-hugging Guess jeans that were made in Mexico. Doesn’t Sheila look great? The Guess brand image is hot and sexy… Actually, "hot and sexist" is probably a better description of working conditions for the women sewing Guess products. Hot as in sweatshops, and sexist as in supervisors. An investigation of four Guess contractors in Mexico in 1998 found evidence of forced overtime, violations of child labor laws, unsafe working conditions, discrimination against pregnant women, poverty, repression and fear. Thank you, Sheila.” (MSN, 2001a)


My focus here is what Mikhail Bakhtin and Julia Kristeva would call carnivalesque, the use of theater to parody and resist spectacles of global corporate hegemony, mixing outrageous satire, popular music, models, and critical pedagogy to problematize globalization and free trade as reinvented ideologies of colonization and global racism in the 21st century. Spectacle is increasingly a corporately orchestrated performance, a display intended to persuade the masses of spectators from a distance that its global corporations have implemented moral codes of conduct, and therefore merit public trust.

My thesis is that much of global protest is carnival, such as 400,000 WTO protestors facing the police overdressed in Vader masks and riot gear facing protestors costumed in sea-turtle shells, or ladies prancing naked with “Better Naked than Nike” or “BGH-free” scrawled across their chest and back, and gigantic puppets and floating condoms the size of blimps with the words “Practice Safe Trade.”  For Bakhtin (1973), the carnival is “...that peculiar folk humor that always existed and has never merged with the official culture of the ruling classes.”  The street theatrics of the WTO protest in Seattle, as well as the anti-sweatshop movement, has become a parody of corporate power using carnival.  In the erosion of the nation state as a global character, the corporate state has emerged as a new star of the global theater, but one who is being vilified by activists in off-Broadway (Saner, 1999) carnivalesque productions that rebelliously reinterpret the experience of consumers putting on garments in acts scripted to raise consciousness. Here I want to examine carnival activism in its relation to corporate spectacle.

Foucault (1979) makes the point that resistance accompanies power. Here, I would like to look at how carnival opposes not Las Vegas, Disney, or Hollywood, but spectacles legitimating “free trade” and globalization.  Disneyfication and Las Vegasization remake real places, such as Paris, NY, Rome, Egypt, and Venice by creating sanitized, stylized, and virtual, yet fragmented experiences visitors say is “better than the real,” because it is “safer,” “cleaner,”  “quicker,” or “easier to walk around.” Consumers then head for the real and expect it to be like Vegas or Disney, and eventually they will be.  This transformation to increasingly virtual, and digital simulation, demands radical administrative theorizing situated in emergent postmodern culture.  Postmodern culture includes the corporate fragmenting of our identities through brand-logos, Las Vegasization and Disneyfication of our leisure and the McDonaldization of our work, and the loose networking of disparate social movements and advocacy groups into forces of opposition to global capitalism and our own commodification using digital and street theater. After defining terms, I do a brief introduction to postmodern theory in public administration, and then explore the relation of carnival and spectacle and draw out implications for public administration.

Defining Terms - Administrative Theory and Praxis is, in my view, stretched between the mediatized spectacle of global capitalism we witness on our screens, and new genres of carnivalesque-citizen participation in our era of postmodern culture. According to Bogason’s (1999) review, the last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the publication of postmodern theory work in public administration.  Postmodern culture challenges traditional notions of democracy, citizenship and public administration. Public administration is colonized by corporate capitalism while having to contend with the fragmenting of identity and emergent forms of postmodern culture that protest globalization. At the same time, postmodern public administration theory work is also criticized for neglecting human rights, equity, and social justice (Ventriss, 1998) and proposing a “post-critical thinking” that creates subject as text and dismissing all grand narratives, thereby neglecting material conditions of the embedding political economy championed in critical theory (Carr, 1997; Zanetti & Carr, 1997 & 1999).  In my view, there are variations in postmodern theory that can offer emancipatory potential, that do not dismiss all grand narratives, and that are attentive to the material conditions of labor and ecology.

Rather than dismiss postmodern theory as responsible for all that is wrong in the world order (Disneyfication, Las Vegasization, fragmentation), I prefer to develop a “critical postmodern” critique of global discourse. Critical postmodern is definable as the nexus of critical theory, postcolonialism, critical pedagogy and postmodern theory (Boje, 2001c). I diverge from other postmodern theories that seek to limit being to what is "socially constructed" as just “text” without context, or as incapable of ethical discourse.  I prefer to follow Best and Kellner (1997), and combine Marx's focus on the material conditions with Guy Debord's (1967) Society of the Spectacle rather than focus on the hyperreality of Baudrillard or the dismissal of all grand narrative in Lyotard.

Debord resituated Marx’s analysis of production into a focus on the accumulation and consumption of spectacles.  Spectacle is oftentimes a theatric performance that legitimates, rationalizes, and camouflages violent production and consumption (Boje, 2001a; Best & Kellner, 1997 & 2000; Firat & Dholakia, 1998). Spectacle theatrics can be a benign form of practice and performance; gala events with costumes, art, success stories, team awards, and celebrity appearances to launch a new product, symbolize a change initiative or to put the spot light on positive acts of corporate power. 

Critical postmodern theory, by contrast, assumes there is a material condition, often quite a violent one, stimulated in media spectacle. We are answerable ethically to minimize spectacle violence by reclaiming face-to-face discourse, not participating mindlessly in eco-destruction, and resisting with carnival, to find a more festive way of being in the world. Using methods of deconstruction, theatrics theory, discourse, and narrative analysis, I think it is possible to de-code the layers of public relations spectacle that lionize global virtual corporations as the author of progress and evolution. Spectacle also distances transnational corporations from responsibility over their far-flung global supply chains, where particularly exploitive conditions seem to flourish in a resurgence of sweatshops, whose descriptions rivals Marx’s (1867) depiction of capital “sweating” labor. Virtual corporations, such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Gap, and Guess, retain R&D and marketing functions while outsourcing production to the Third World. Most recently, corporate responsibility employs consulting companies such as Global Alliance for Workers and Communities (GA), accounting firms such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), and trade groups such as Fair Labor Association (FLA) and Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP), to provide on-the-ground monitoring.  PWC, just in 1999 audited the codes of conduct compliance of 6,0000 factories subcontracting to Nike, Disney, Wal-Mart, Gap and other multinational corporations. Increasingly it is the virtual companies and their outsourced monitors of subcontract factories that are the focus of carnivals of resistance.  We are witness to postmodern culture jamming, anti-sweat fashion shows, and more recently virtual acts of cyber-disobedience.  Most adopt non-violent action to promote a less violent capitalism to the current one, while creating awareness and raising consciousness of our consumptive and work or instrumental relationship to the animal, plant, and human, and micro biotic world.

A critical postmodern theory contributes to public administration in nurturing and reclaiming public and democratic discourse from its corporate colonization. Critical postmodern perspectives giving space to radical and non-violent civil disobedience actions of solidarity between fragmented counterpublics, and subaltern communities. I means doing something about the voicelessness, of for example sweatshop workers, joining citizens taking to the streets and students who protest globalized corporate impact on ecology. It may even mean becoming more radical and activist theorists who peer into what lies hidden beneath spectacles of progress and knowledge work of virtual corporate reality.  A related task of critical postmodern theory is to deconstruct public administration’s (and other fields’ such as business administration’s) complicity with apologetic spectacle narratives by exposing hidden economic, ethnic, and gender politics and oppressive administrative practices, while opening up spaces for a new democratic discourse to emerge.


Postmodern Public AdministrationThis is not meant as a complete review (a task for the entire issue). Instead I highlight some key points in the postmodern turn in public administration. Hummel (1989: 179-180) and Dennard (1989) were among the first to use the term postmodern in conjunction with public administration.  Hummel looked at postmodern organization, while Dennard wrote about radical humanism in a satirical narrative of Burrell and Morgan theory set to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Marshal and White (1990) introduced postmodern as a method to the public administration community in their deconstructive analysis of the Blacksburg Manifesto (constitutionalism), a reaction to the market metaphor dominating public administration. White (1992) acknowledges the narrative turn and how what we know is dressed in stories; administrative science is just another narrative. Fox and McSwain (1993) examined the possibilities for semiotics and postmodernism in American public administration to move away from Big-T-truth theories and experts prescribing what is best for communities.  Fox and Miller (1993: 5-6) theorized postmodern public administration as a move from centripetal to centrifugal, centralization to fragmentation, common units towards incommensurability, difference rather than likeness, universals to hyper-pluralisms, fragmentation instead of generalized units of analysis, Newtonian to Heisenberg quantum physics, and causal theory to unpredictable analysis of microcosms. David Farmer (1994) looked at the social construction aspects of public administration, questioning the efficiency semiotics of the reinventing government movement as privileging control.

Books by Fox and Miller (1995, 1997) focus on the need for discourse theory in postmodern public administration, as an alternative to the input-output-feedback loop model of public administration.  Farmer’s (1995) Language of Public Administration looks at text using a Derrida approach, theorizing in a hermeneutic circle, deterritorialization of Deleuze and Guattari, and the limits to grand narratives such as Taylorist-efficiency, specialization, and aspirations to science of public administration. The focus is voices marginalized in public administration such as minorities, women, policed sexualities, and the economically colonized. Farmer (1998) continued this focus and looked a radical listening to the Other that might liberate marginalized voices. Harmon’s (1995) book critical of public administration focuses on simulacrum of public administration under conditions of market capitalism as agency and moral answerability, for example, is transferred form the State and its bureaucratic public servants to the market.

Critical Postmodern Theory and Public Administration - A critical postmodern analysis of spectacle and carnival is, I think, compatible with much of the theory work being done in public administration. Fox and Miller (1993, 1995), for example, look at media-induced consumerism and the “neo-tribal” fragmentation of society as consumers identify with and define themselves by logos and slogans of Nike and other corporate-logos and floating media images. Critical academic writing about Nike, Disney, Monsanto and other companies is just beginning. Stabile (2000: 191), for example, argues:

Similarly, if we scratch the surface of Nike’s veneer a bit, we can see how the codes of conduct so valued by corporate culture are displaced onto groups of people who haven’t the economic means to pursue them legally but are nevertheless held responsible for the genesis of such codes and desires.


In public administration, Zanetti and Carr’s (Zanetti, 1997; Carr, 1996; Zanetti & Carr, 1997 & 1999) work on a critical theory, for example, focuses on what Habermas terms “inauthentic” discourse groups that degrade the public sphere.  I see much of the corporate discourse as being inauthentic. Media-induced consumerism reduces individuals to consumer identity types who no longer see through the code-veneer to “reality” of working conditions. Recently, many more people think they are aware of alienated labor, a lack of voice in global trade, or Greenwash advertising, are taking to the street or to the Internet, to participate differently.  However, this awareness is countered by corporately sponsored academic apologies, and media control.

In sum, my contribution uses critical postmodern theory to explore a nexus in the relation between spectacle and carnival, and public administration. My contribution is to theorize administrative praxis in the counter forces of spectacle and carnival resistance. The contribution to public administration is to theorize the interplay of global corporate spectacle with more carnivalesque theatrics of citizen resistance. I focus on the anti-sweatshop movement and public administration’s boundary position. I begin with brief reviews of spectacle and carnival, then introduce several applications, illustrating their dynamic interweaving.

Spectacle - Spectacle is based on the work of Guy Debord (1967, Society of the Spectacle) who has something important to say about how spectacles of production and consumption relate to public administration. I mean Debord’s (1967) theory of spectacle, the often violent and oppressive social control that masquerades as a celebration of betterment by recycling pseudo-reforms, false-desires, and selective sightings of progressive evolution, never devolution (Boje, 2001a).  Spectacle is a narrative and a theatric performance that legitimates, rationalizes, and camouflages violent production and consumption. Spectacle is more prevalent and dominant than carnival. “In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life” (Debord, 1967: #6).

Spectacle can be total manipulation of meaning-making processes through theatrical events to serve the production of power and managerial needs to control and spin a good story in the face of bad news. Spectacle is highly instrumental, the production of a gala event with costumes, art, success stories, team awards, and celebrity appearances to launch a new product, symbolize a change initiative or to put the spot light on positive acts of corporate power (e.g. community service). Sometimes these spectacles celebrate the benevolence and progress of power with affirming theatrics and other times the spectacles enact the theatrics that led to technological or humanistic progress. Despite the seminal work by Guy Debord’s (1967) Society of the Spectacle and the association of the Situationist movement to Marxist theory, the radical implications of spectacles of production and consumption have yet to be acknowledged in public administration theory and praxis.  In the postmodern turn (Best & Kellner, 1993, 1997), spectacle is endemic to the exercise of corporate power. 

Next we look at several instances in which spectacle is resisted by carnival, first in monitoring sweatshop codes, then sweatshop fashion shows, and finally the new digitized forms of spectacle and carnival.

    Carnival - Carnival is a theatrics of rant and madness seeking to repair felt separation and alienation. It is a call for release from corporate power, a cry of distress and repression mixed with laughter and humorous exhibition meant to jolt state and corporate power into awareness of the psychic cage of work and consumptive life.  In pre-modern carnival theatrics (Mikhail Bakhtin, 1981a), the most respected nobles and clergy were vilified, degraded, and ridiculed through vulgar, farce, buffoonery and grotesquerie. In the Feast of Fools, the medieval underclass mocked and degraded the official life of nobles and clergy. In carnival, social class and gender distinctions were suspended, even that of sex. Young men dress up as girls, young girls as boys. People wore grotesque masks and costumes with huge bellies, bosoms, and buttocks. The theatrics included farcical imitations of childbirth and copulation. Parodies of the rituals of the official culture of Church and Crown were common.


"Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom" (Bakhtin, 1981a: 7)


Carnival manifests its theatrics all around us, as authority figures and norms of behavior guiding our socialization become questioned and their rigid structure turns problematic (Mueller, 2000). Contemporary carnival is more controlled, a safer theater than ones in the Middle Ages. Carnivalesque has four themes: the tumultuous crowd, the world turned upside-down, the comic mask and the grotesque body.  Contemporary carnival is a polyphonic (many voiced) expression by those without power, sometimes sanctioned by those in power as a way to blow off steam.

Here and there one can get a glimpse of the carnival of resistance to global capitalism. On college campuses, fashion shows and sit ins are ways students negotiate with administrators over university codes of conduct, demanding tighter monitoring of campus apparel contracts. Concerned with reports of ongoing human rights abuses in garment factories, students and faculty across the country are campaigning to monitor working conditions for t-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts that bear their schools' names, to insure none are manufactured in sweatshops. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a national movement of students that has chapters on more than 150 campuses across the U.S.; Canada, UK, and Australia campuses have similar efforts.  Rallies, "sew-ins," “knit-ins,” and sweatshop fashion shows are among the carnivalesque theatrics used to pressure public administrators in cities and universities to adopt tougher codes of conduct. For example, the day before University of Toronto’s provincial conference on sweatshops and universities began last weekend, University of Toronto administrators told students in a private meeting that they will wipe the slate clean and devise a brand new code of conduct regarding which clothing can sport the collegiate logo. In Toronto, for example, there have been numerous sweatshop fashion shows protesting Nike’s denial that it uses homeworkers paid sub-minimum wages to cut, glue, and stitch its garments.

Admittedly the campus protests are few and far between, and are not dramatically changing the habits of consumers which are shaped by advertising with superstars like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. On most college campuses, little, if anything is being done to protest human rights abuses. Just as in the days of the Vietnam war protests, most of the students and faculty are not protesting. I hypothesize that carnival (in the way it is defined by Bakhtin) will always be marginal in its own way; it is reactionary. And in some sense it is a protest that is carefully managed by State and Corporate interests.  When there is protest, it must be in a particular area, and have permits.  At New Mexico State University (being behind the times) all protest was limited to designated “free speech” areas, situated away from the main walkways and areas of community.  I am proud to say that students and faculty revolted, even underwent arrest, to take free speech off marginal areas, and into the campus. But the controls are still in force, and the job of many administrators is to keep the carnival from spilling over into campus life.  I will try to show the interplay of carnival and spectacle theatrics, in the staging, and in the directing, in the examples that follow.

Carnival and Monitoring - We are spectators to a global spectacle viewed from a distance; we rely upon eyewitness accounts of touristic monitors of worksite conduct in foreign lands; we gaze and channel-surf those accounts on some type of electronic monitor.  In the early 1990’s several scandals fired the imagination of legislators, public administrators, and consumers. Almost overnight the monitoring industry was born as some 50,000 apparel factories lined up for inspections to keep their contracts with global corporations who were being held accountable by government, a minority of shareholders, and a few customers. In merely a decade, the monitoring of apparel has grown into industry of consulting firms, certification programs by industry groups, and there are proposals to form supermonitoring transorganizational agencies.  Following the example of Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP), the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) and the collegiate institutions represented by the CLC also drafted a code of conduct for CLC licensees. Other monitoring groups include the International Apparel Federation and the American Apparel Manufacturers Association. Both groups are exploring a monitoring and certification system for their members.

Monitoring can become junk science and little more than paid PR. As such, it becomes a spectacle of total meaning-making manipulation through theatrically staged processes and events to serve the production of power and managerial needs to control and spin a good story in the face of bad or scandalous news. Monitoring is a billion dollar industry that includes high-priced consultants such as Global Alliance (Nike contributed $7.6 million for two studies), accounting firms such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers (accountants now doing human rights code audits), and the FLA (who “certifies” monitor-consultants such as Verité, 2001 to be hired by corporations). 

The street theater of the WTO protest, the sit-ins in university administration offices, and boycotts of Footlocker, NikeTown, Gap, Wal-Mart, and Disney merchandise stores are examples of carnivalesque resistance to the spectacle of postindustrial capitalism and its marriage to postmodern consumerism.   These carnivals by students, labor, environmentalists, union workers, and activists also parody truth claims produced by corporate monitors and consultants such as Fair Labor Association (FLA), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), and Global Alliance (GA). 

University, corporate and industry codes of conduct in apparel do not operate unambiguously; the dynamics increasingly attract and seduce public administration to play the role of referee in disputes between corporate monitoring groups such as the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and student groups such as Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). University administrators and public policy makers are being asked to choose between FLA and WRC approaches to monitoring.

FLA, according to activists, has a very weak code of conduct that does not include fundamental things such as women's rights, a living wage, or independent monitoring. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and other student organizations launched the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).  USAS is signing up campus after campus to use WRC as an alternative to FLA; WRC prefers local monitoring by religious and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and favors a living wage and a stronger role for independent monitoring than is the case for FLA.  USAS and scores of other groups allege that with globalization there is increased sweatshop production from Bangladesh to Brazil. The worker involved, mostly Third world women have been partnering with students and labor organizers to raise wages, improve working conditions, and promote collective bargaining.

I think a new role of public administration is to demonopolize and decolonize the corporately dominated spheres of public discourse being appropriated by corporate spectacle. Public administration writers, such as Jon & Campodoncio (1998) have argued that globalization tempts Third world nations to grant regulatory exceptions that strain eco-systems as well as stress human work by capitulating to downward pressure on wages and benefits.  The spectacle serves to keep regulative, court, and legislative monitoring of the apparel industry at bay.   On a practical level, one option is for public administrators, to get critical about the spectacle they are in, to see the carnival waves of protest as a way to re-balance spectacles of greed and pillage that continue unabated due the propaganda registered through media control.

Attempts to control the postmodern consumer and postindustrial supply chain’s addiction to sweatshops are difficult to implement. For example, WRAP conducts a global factory certification program, reviewing corporate-authored factory monitoring reports and granting a "good factory seal of approval.  WRAP has accredited three monitoring firms; PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), Intertek Testing Services and CSCC to perform compliance audits in dozens of countries around the world. WRAP’s director, Otto Reich was an inside player in the 1980s Iran-contra conspiracy, and WRAP itself is widely viewed as a dodge to displace activist or government monitoring of corporate behavior (Maquiladora Solidarity Network, 2001b).

The public administrator is caught up in simulation, hyperreality, and the commodification and colonization of monitoring, once a part of the public sphere, now the province of the private sector agents (e.g. FLA, GA, & WRAP).  Codes of conduct do not operate unambiguously. Yet, increasingly the role of public administration is to play referee in disputes between FLA and WRC, for example. Public interest (moral codes of work) is at odds with the corporate interests (profit maximization through labor exploitation). The public administrator can no longer monitor directly, since it is caught up in simulation, hyperreality, and the commodification of the public sphere. The danger is that public interest fuses with corporate interest, with more citizens becoming voiceless.

Without involvement of public administration, the danger is that corporate interests co-opt public interests, often resulting in so-called corporate welfare programs. Claiming voicelessness, citizens reinvent forms of carnivalesque resistance to regain voice. Corporate power has reacted to forms of resistance by investing millions of dollars in a monitoring industry that can produce what most critical postmodern scholars would term “junk science,” corporately-purchased reports that legitimate corporate interests by applying science that would not meet reliability or validity tests for journal review and publication.

Rhetoric of Motives – The argument is that we are faced with two types of “theatrics,” one spectacle and the other carnival.  The argument hinges on what Kenneth Burke (1969) called the “rhetoric of motives.”  Rhetoric for Burke is "the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols" (Burke, 1969: 43). Our human condition responds to the Wrangle of the Market Place.  Spectacle plays on the group motive to band together and share in the icons and symbolism, such that the same attitudes to fashion, language, and I would add consumption and production develop. At the margins there is resistance.

Spectacle Control of Carnival - As networks of social movements and advocacy groups swarm to engage in annual protests, such as “Boycott Nike Day” or the recent WTO, WB, and IMF actions, corporations, industries, and the police construct “war rooms” that track and profile student and other protest groups and individuals.  For example, Nike’s war room enlists administrators on college campuses with lucrative Nike-licensing contracts to report in advance, any planned actions on a NikeTown or a speech or anti-sweat fashion show held on campus. Power is also more direct. When Nike Inc. Chief Executive Phil Knight learned that the University of Oregon had joined the anti-sweatshop Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), he stopped attending the school's athletic events and withdrew a promised $30 million gift (Pereira , Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2001: B1). 

Recently the University of Oregon announced it would no longer participate in WRC or FLA. In Beaverton, Oregon, Nike’s war-room has become a standing operation of “virtual teams” of executives and outside consultants to respond protests such at the annual Truth Tours of NikeTown stores, shareholder meeting actions (meetings have been moved first away from Oregon, and recently out of the country to control protester access), campus sit-ins, and worldwide Boycott Nike days. For example, Vada Manager, Nike’s director of global issues, “got advance notice of the (Truth) tour through a network of paid student sales reps and friendly administrators at more than 200 universities with Nike apparel deals… The Nike team took videotape of the New York fracas and relayed it, along with bios of the RV [Recreational Vehicle] activists  (downloaded from the Truth Tour Web site), to police all along the route”… “It’s just not in the culture here to retreat, or to keep your mouth shut,” says war-room team member Amanda Tucker (Emerson, 2001). War rooms are more usually public relations campaigns to prevent the carnivalesque tactics of protestors from obtaining media attention. For example, Washington State companies set up their war room to respond more rapidly to the accusations sure to be raised in the WTO protests in Seattle. War rooms are a way for business leaders to fight back against radical criticism. Coalitions of activists set up war rooms of their own issuing counter claims and pro-trade press releases.  Corporate monitoring of civil disorders and activist monitoring of corporate codes of conduct violations construct the playing field of postmodern war games, a new politics of conflict between spectacle and carnival.

Ø      Theatrics is a weapon to draw media spotlight

Ø      Knowledge is attained through surveillance and monitoring

Ø      Information is accumulated and disseminated at high speed across many fronts

Ø      War rooms compete to block one another’s media strategies

Ø      Sides compete for ethical high ground

Ø      High technology (even artificial intelligence) is key to sustaining competitive advantage

Results, however, have been negligible. While there has been an increase in protests, the response of more monitoring of conditions has not dramatically changed working conditions. Instead, there has been a tremendous growth in the social auditing and monitoring industry, in which accounting firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and Ernst and Young (E&Y) monitor factory conditions against corporate and industry codes of conduct.  This trend is dangerous, since it privatizes labor and human rights standards of enforcement, while letting governments and public administrators off the hook.

Monitoring is an excessively rationalist, objectivist, and scientist discourse rooted in the instrumental ideology of free market capitalism, which includes minimal intrusion of government into the conduct of corporations. For the skeptic, monitoring in the examples just presented is strategically crafted as an apologetic, depriving workers of a voice. I would like to make several points that support the proposition that monitoring is not an ideal emancipatory speech act.

(A) Criteria of authentic discourse not met - Monitoring is a rhetorical device that does not meet the criteria of authentic discourse, as theorized by Habermas (see Fox & Miller, 1995: 118).

 For example, Roberts and Bernstein (2000: 123) investigated a Chinese factory (Chun Si) subcontracted to produce Kathie Lee Gifford handbags for Wal-Mart and Payless ShoeSource where security “guards regularly punched and hit workers for talking back to managers.” Previous auditing reports by PWC and Cal Safety Compliance Corporation, in five prior inspections had missed serious problems.  In November, 2000 Chun Si tried to “hoodwink” monitors sent to reinspect the factory to see if cited violations of excessive overtime hours. To pass the monitoring audit, management gave a face-lift to one floor (adding toilet paper, painting dank bathrooms) and improved conditions for 200 workers (increasing wages, decreasing excessive hours, and installing a phone line to Wal-Mart 1-800-WM-ETHIC).  At the same time they moved the other 700 workers to the 4th floor (where conditions worsened with 14-hour days, high fees for meals), forcing them to sign contracts stating they no longer worked for Chun Si.  Both floors still made Kathie Lee handbags.   

            O’Rourke (2000) accompanied PWC auditors (certified by WRAP) on factory inspections in China and Korea and evaluated audits of a factory in Indonesia. He concluded that PWC monitoring methods relied on information primarily from mangers, conducted interviews in front of managers, allowed managers to select workers to be interviewed, and coached monitors on how to get passing scores. The monitoring reports overlooked health and safety violations (i.e. hazardous chemical use, no protective gloves or safety goggles), barriers to freedom of association, violations of overtime and wage laws, and falsified timecards. “The program includes efforts to prepare managers for the process, provides guarantees to managers about confidentiality, and even involves sending them a questionnaire before hand to prepare them for many of the issues that will be evaluated” (p. 3). Four observations follow from these and similar studies of monitoring.

First, participation in the dialog is not equal; workers, subcontractor owners, and global corporate executives do not genuinely talk to one another. There is a dominant social structure and hierarchy in which monitors speak for workers, chosen by management, writing reports generated for PR value.  As Fox and Miller (1995: 116) put it, “communication requires equal participants.” Workers do not have equal opportunity to engage in dialog; they speak in the surveillance spaces directed by monitors. Further, “authentic discourse requires trust among participants” (Fox & Miller, 1995: 121).   Second, monitoring is a less than ideal communicative arena.  The apologists for the campus and athletic apparel industry are paid consultants certified by other consulting firms such as WRAP, GA, and FLA (all of whom claim non-profit status).  Academics, such as Kahle, Boush, and Phelps (2000) are given special access to “model factories” and reprint corporate staff renditions of press reporting that gets reprinted in academic journals. Third, in the monitoring speech act, the hierarchy of surveillance forecloses authenticity; worker voices have little or no authority to speak. Fourth, authentic discourse is face-to-face in an atmosphere of trust, not coercion.

(B) Validity claims are not met due to coerced discourse and hired-mouthpieces. Monitoring gives discursive façade to worker voices and participation in truth and validity claims.  Fox and Miller (1995: 116) applied four validity claims of Habermas to public administration, (1) understandability, (2) truth of prepositional content, (3) sincerity of the speaker, and (4) appropriateness of speech performance.

First, the monitoring report is understandable in a corporate way, but it is also a story that might be told differently by workers free from coercion and the managerial gaze. For example, Boje (2001e) compared the UCM (1999) study with another done on the same set of Nike factories in Indonesia for GA (CSDS, 2000), noting differences in their methods, results, and conclusions. While both interviewed 4,000 workers, and found instances of verbal abuse, the UCM study contrasted Nike and non-Nike factories, showing conditions to be worse in the former. Monitors are neither autonomous nor “independent” speakers. In the CSDS (2000) study contracted by GA, workers were not asked about forced overtime or given a way to voice open-ended concerns. Factory managers and Nike staff members controlled the process. Paid corporate consulting firms (PWC), credentialed by industry groups (WRAP) and associations (FLA) financed by corporations (Nike, Gap, etc.) is a hollow discourse. Second, in the examples of the GA consulting reports (e.g. CSDS, 2000), truth claims omit certain prepositional content (worker concerns over force overtime, inadequate wages, and lack of freedom to talk, much less associate). Third the sincerity of the monitor as spokesperson for the workers is suspect in such enterprises (O’Rourke, 2000; Roberts & Bernstein, 2000, Boje, 2001c; Stabile, 2000).  Fourth, the appropriateness of speech performance can mean that workers identity is kept confidential, even while their interviews and focus groups are, in some cases, conducted in front of the factory managers they are asked to monitor to the monitors (Boje, 2001e). In the sample of CSDS (2000), factory identity is kept confidential despite worker claims of sexual harassment and physical abuse in that report.  In sum, validity claims of monitors are problematic. Monitors are hired mouthpieces, rendered incapable of independent deliberative discourse, once the province of public administration and legislation. Based upon the cases reviewed, they make insincere claimants to policy discourse.

(C) Monitoring solicits discourse, but does not promote democratic dialogue. Corporations and factory subcontractors promise changes, but the received intentionality of monitoring is legitimacy not reform.  If the intent of monitoring is liberatory freedom of speech, current forms of participation of workers in little more than corporate-dominated discourse. It is difficult to promote dialogue when discourse is coerced (i..e. workers are fired from jobs for speaking out against conditions).  Workers, for example in the Kukdong factory are fined for speaking while they work (Boje, Rosile, & Carrillo, 2001).  In China, prohibitions against talking can extend to mealtime conversation among workers (Chan, 1996). At Kukdong workers seen talking to other workers was cause for dismissal.

Ms. Lap Nguyen was forced out of her Nike factory job (Sam Yang, a Korean owned sneaker factory in Ku Chi, Vietnam). Lap Nguyen was demoted several times after her management-sanctioned, interview aired April 2nd 1998 on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" (ESPN, 1998).  Nguyen claims she was forced to resign.  Korean managers fearful the publicity would result in Nike termination of their production contract demoted Nguyen first to a line with fewer and newer workers, but given higher production quarters.  When she fell ill trying to keep up with this pace, she says she was denied medical leave, demoted to toilet scrubber, then eventually forced to quit her job. She was recently diagnosed with tuberculosis and despite vociferous activist calls that Nike rehire her, she is currently unemployed. 

Monitoring discourse solicits workers and managers responses but does not promote free and democratic dialog, nor lead to changes that would mean freedom of association.

(D) Elites control agenda, while worker-participation legitimates the status quo. Monitoring is a rhetorical method that does not meet criteria for authentic discourse, but does influence public, legislative, and administrative opinion.  In the Andrew Young and Jordan Hamilton (1997) study, the corporation provides the translators, the factory management selects the workers to be interviewed, and selects the factories for the tour.  Non-independent reports can omit, gloss over, dismiss, and muddy issues other studies find important to workers (UCM, 1999).  The studies of PWC, for example, suggest that worker and manager responses to monitoring questions are rehearsed and that the monitor coaches the actors how to respond when questions and appointment schedules are provided in advance of monitoring visits (O’Rourke, 2000; Roberts & Bernstein, 2000).  .  In the case of the Wal-Mart subcontractor, this allows the factory management time and license to stage theatrical performances that satisfice monitoring requirements. In sum, the worksite monitor negotiates the rendition of human rights violations and compliance issues to be publicly displayed, to make it all seem believable as spectacle. 

(E) Monitoring is a devolution of worker participation in democratic discourse. “Under postmodern conditions,” Fox and Miller (1995: 113) assert, “exclusion from the discourse occurs in undemocratic ways.”  Reports of sexual and physical abuse, wage and overtime violations, and violations of environmental policies and national laws are systematically collected and tabulated, but not for the purpose of democratic participation (CSDS, 2000).  Monitoring is not a liberatory speech act; this is public relations work. Monitoring disempowers workers; the monitor speaks for them, they do not speak for themselves. 

One way of devolving participation in monitoring is ironically, insuring the anonymity of workers in giving responses. Verité (2001) and CSDS (2000) reports for GA, FLA, and Nike, do not indicate the names of workers in the reports. They do not tape record interviews or take verbatim notes, and research materials are surrendered to the corporation after such studies. On the one hand, the appeal of confidentiality to protect workers form management retaliation seems sensible, but it has its downside. Workers do not get to establish their voice and their stories become trimmed down into brief quotes and percentage scores. This anonymity is viewed as a virtue in the monitory projects.  And in the case of workers speaking to the press, there has been retaliation (e.g. Lap Nguyen).  Alternatively, activist and journal reports do list workers by name (where permission is obtained) thereby giving identity to workers and include more extended worker accounts (Boje, Rosile & Carrillo, 2001). The other side of the identity issue is the ways in which monitoring reports keep the identity of the question-askers, and report writers anonymous.  Fox and Miller (1995: 135) anticipate my concerns about monitoring:

Anonymity of the actual speaker is preserved when advertising agents, paid actors, or hired firms construct and deliver their persuasive messages. The same anonymity is afforded questionnaire writers, questionnaire respondents, and anonymous technocrats who code the data.


Anonymity can co-opt and manipulates the voice of the worker becomes voiceless. In addition, the identity of factories made secret in the comparisons made CSDS (2000) for GA and Nike, makes accountability for disclosures of abuse or legal violation unavailable to public prosecution. 

            In sum, I conclude, monitoring only appears to include the voice of the worker, but it is a controlled participation, at best, and at worst, coerced. 

My more radical view on monitoring is that it facilitates the enslavement of workers in sweatshops by subjugating their speech acts and freedom of association in ways that weakly resist corporate power while keeping regulation and collective bargaining at bay. Experts from the consulting and monitory industry make sense of the worksite as a prelude to corporate report writing for press release to the intended audience of monitoring, customers, investors, legislators, and administrators. 

Carnival and Spectacle – I view carnival as the resistance sideshow, the mirror-stage to Debord’s (1967) Society of the Spectacle. Spectacle was once a way for State and Church power to keep the masses under control.  Public hangings and torture in the city square, were widely attended events, in which the accused could redeem himself in the eyes of God, if the executioner failed in his task. Foucault’s (1977) illustrates this point in his opening scenes of Discipline and Punish, depicting Damien’s torture in gory detail, the chopping off of his hands and limbs after the drawing and quartering did not demonstrate executioner talents, or Kingly providence. As this spectacle got out of control, the executioner had to use extra knife cuts, and the message became more an indictment of the crown’s lack of power and an expression of Damien’s probable innocence. Foucault argues that the body-torture spectacle ceased to be public exhibition, and went in doors where modernity could give it proper bureaucratic control.  I argue, here, that spectacle has resurfaced with new technologies, to control it as public consumption, in the face of carnivalesque forms of challenge and resistance.

Carnival of the Middle Ages calls to mind images of outrageous mocking Medieval buffoonery, the parody of religion and crown, naked bottoms and breasts, masks and costumes. But, this was also apparent in Woodstock, in the protests in Paris in 1968, and the Vietnam War and civil rights protests of that era.  Since World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, we have witnessed an upsurge of choreographed battles between riot police and carnivalesque protesters engaged int street theater complete with costumes, masks and puppets.  

Bakhtin (1981a) saw in carnivalesque theatrics the peasants’ ridicule of officialdom, inversion of hierarchy, violations of decorum and proportion, celebration of bodily excess, including mutilation.  I see a resurgence of carnival (not the circus-type), but the theatrics used to protest globalization.   As Kristeva (1980: 45-6) puts it, the author is "(author + spectator)" and very much a part of the carnival scene, part of acts of production, distribution, and consumption. We too are part of the carnivalesque scene, as spectators, authors and actors. Kristeva (1980: 36) argues that each text has an intertextual "trajectory" of both "historical" and "social coordinates."  It may be possible to sketch the coordinates of the re-emergence of carnival in its opposition to spectacle, so that future studies can fully chart their course.

It is important to note that Bakhtin (1981a, b) did not theorize carnival as “irrational,” but as sign systems that compete for representational authority, to sell one way of interpreting otherwise polyphonic subject positions, including legitimating labor practices and idea struggles.  It is easy to dismiss people dressed in Turtle shells or parading nude to protest garment production, as irrational. Bakhtin used the term “carnival” to identify an atmosphere of revelry, contempt of authority, and somatic anti-intellectualism in literature. We see this in contemporary protest.

Kristeva (1980: 46) notes "the scene of the carnival introduces the split speech act: the actor and the crowd are each in turn simultaneously subject and addressee of discourse."  In short, carnival is very much a strategic response to current feelings of alienation from corporate power, but it is also part of that power (we work for and buy from them).  There is also a negotiation with power over the terms of engagement. This was apparent in the way that demonstrators at WTO and since, negotiate with police agreeing, for example, to be more peacefully arrested if police use less violent means of crowd control.  Special areas are set aside for protest, and activists attend training camps to learn how to act in civilly disobedient manner, while police and military go to their own camps to learn how to intimidate while inflict pain, but not bodily harm.

In today’s carnivalesque Sweatshop Fashion shows, peaceful models and announcers safely subvert traditional fashion show genre with stories of women who make brand image clothes and sports shoes. Fashion is associated with glamour and designer-labels, is juxtaposed with abusive and exploitative working conditions, thereby problematizing consumer’s next purchase decision. Anti-sweatshop fashion shows are also scripted to raise awareness among students, faculty and staff, and to encourage spectators to join a campaign for stricter codes of conduct for university-licensed apparel. Students and faculty research companies and brands for sale at campus stores, collect worker stories, and prepare a fashion show script.  Characters and announcers rehearse their lines, music is selected (i.e. "You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate; "Barbie Girl" by Aqua; "Are my Hands Clean?" by Sweet Honey in the Rock). There is much pre-work to the event, besides choice of music and scripted lines, the runway is designed, garments are borrowed (not purchased), and the media is invited to cover the event. A finale might include actors going back on stage to reiterate key messages about companies and asking the audience to help launch a code of conduct campaign. Spectators are asked to become aware of where garments are made and under what conditions, demand corporations publicly disclose names and locations of factories in their supply chain, and permit independent monitoring of working conditions. There are campaign sign-up sheets; petitions, sample letters or postcards; and background materials.

Taking sweatshop fashion shows to the street is less safe than staging performance on university campuses. The street theater sequel to the Seattle street carnival resistance to WTO is the protests against WB, IMF, and the recent Quebec meeting of Free Trade Area of the Americas. As choppers circled above intersections jammed with protesters, police assembled in full body armor and black helmets, looking like Darth Vaderish riot squads, and displaying one million dollars of newly purchased fashion similar to Star Wars’ Storm Trooper uniforms, military-type armored vehicles, and weapons bought specially for the WB/IMF protests. 

When a van full of delegates was surrounded and immobilized at 15th and Pennsylvania, police on horseback charged the crowd, beating back protesters with batons, and trampling some under their horses' hooves. The activists attempted to stand their ground, chanting, "The whole world is watching!" and "We are nonviolent! … With the crowd as cover, anarchists with spray-paint guns left their mark on the wall of the Gap outlet on 20th Street: "SWEATSHOP FASHION" (Weinberg, 2000).


A loosely network of social movements and advocacy groups from animal rights to unionists are organizing in solidarity with Third world workers, using carnivalesque performance to call for an end to the rise in sweatshops they allege has accompanied globalization.

DC police had learned the lessons of Seattle, and managed to keep spectacular scenes of street clashes from hitting the nation's TV screens--while using methods against the protestors more insidious and hardly less brutal than those employed at Seattle… At midday on Friday, a truck rented by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals dumped four tons of cow manure on Pennsylvania Avenue near the World Bank HQ (Weinberg, 2000).


Other forms of carnival - UNITE and Coalition for Maquila Workers' Dignity (COSDEMA) did a campaign-featuring Guess, in a clever parody of a mail-order clothing catalogue using a fictitious company called “Sweat International” that touts a line of “SweatGear” made in old-fashioned sweatshops in El Salvador (SweatGear, 2001). In California, several campuses organized “sew-ins” as well as fashion shows, and called upon administrators to approved revised codes of conduct, and join the USAS-sponsored WRC, and leave the corporate-sponsored FLA. In sum, fashion shows and sew-ins raise awareness of the working conditions under which garments are produced. In the next section, we examine the new trends in carnival and spectacle action, the use of cyber civil disobedience and the spectacle count-strategies.

Cyber Civil Disobedience – Spectacle and carnival have taken their battle for public allegiance to the web. The Internet is altering the landscape of political discourse, advocacy, and resistance.  For the past decade, the number of web visitors to corporate and government sties competes with visitors to human, ecological, animal, and civil rights sites. The Internet problematizes idea of international borders and corporate and state control of speech in cyberspace.  Traditionally, most radical computer use has been restricted to sending email and posting items to lists and webs. Recently, however, more radical web discourse tactics have escalated into trespass, disruption, and blockade of corporate web site. There is a raging cyber war of non-violent opposition, fought daily in Internet territory as indigenous, labor, anti-sweatshop, non-genetic food, animal rights activists, and other critics of free trade and the WTO are turning to more direct forms of action, then posting a item to a list serve or speaking out on a web page; Tactics of street campaigning and carnival are being imitated in cyberspace.    

Corporations are protecting their spectacle knowledge machine by hiring computer wizards to defend their web sites from attack, contracting public relations firms to design counter-information campaigns, and more consultants to produce scientific reports that testify a corporation’s products are safe, produced by “free” labor, and benefit consumers as well as environment. The big producers in the athletic and campus apparel industry, for example have web sites touting its labor and environmental practices; the biotech industry has one legitimating its practices with science reports ( Spectacle actors, including IMF, WTO, and WB officials and corporations are claiming a turnaround in the economies of once-struggling Asian nations.  The spectacle of late modern capitalism is socially reengineering of web into sites that can console and persuade consumers and investors. New forms of cyber-activism are a natural reaction to mass media spectacle and the restriction to street protest, as corporate interests present celebrate global progress.  Sorting through the junk science and disinformation put out by multinational corporations such as Monsanto claiming its products will reduce world hunger, or countless Greenwash ads claiming corporations are eco sustainable – is a difficult, but researchable task. 

Corporate spectacle uses decontextualized and graphic free-floating images of sports and celebrity icons to image their products as heroic and fashionable.  Only on occasion, do we see transparency in the spectacle, as in the images of Darth Vader-like riot cops confronting people assembled in acts of free speech, but then this is quickly reframed in caricatures and ad infinitum reruns, of a few riotous scenes of mayhem, chaos, and shattered glass windows of NikeTown and Starbucks, while films of non-violent protest do not seem to count as newsworthy.  Non-violent protests at WTO, IMF, and WB are not what makes for shares and profits.

Not only spectacle, but carnival is being digitized and virtualized, transferring the social-movement tactics of trespass and blockade to the Internet.  Diverse social movements and advocacy groups have taken the anti-globalization show into cyberspace. At the 1999 WTO's Seattle Conference, the Electrohippies organized their first major virtual action - a 'virtual sit-in' at the WTO conference and corporate servers.  A traditional sit-in is where people place themselves in front of some sort of entry way, or inside a building, and remain there as a form of peaceful protest. Virtual sit-ins find ways to occupy places in cyberspace, such as public information system web sites.  Bot (digital robot  programs), for example, can automatically reload a target’s web page every few seconds or send large image files to take up occupancy in the server’s band width spaces, preventing other data from moving in or out of the site, disrupting other traffic or accumulating capacity demands until the server crashes.

Hacktivism combines hacking and activism, by targeting corporate, WTO, WB, IMF, and other sites for disruption (web sit-ins, virtual blockades, redirects, and automated e-mail bombs), but the intent is not to do serious damage person or property (Denning, 1999). Hacktivism is non-violent, electronic civil disobedience that allows virtual sit-ins on a mass, global level  (Kaplan, 1998).   Cyber-terrorism, on the other hand, acts anonymously to attempt property and human destruction.  Hacktivism can result in lost sales dollars, such as when was redirected to for 19 hours from 3 or 4pm, Melbourne time, on Wednesday 21 July, until around 11am Thursday, 22 July 2000. 

The Electronic Disturbance Theater initiated its first act of Electronic Civil Disobedience in April 1998 to stop the War in Mexico, in support of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico (See for details).  The U.K. group, “Electrohippies” enrolled 452,000 web users to bombard the WTO’s web site during their virtual sit-in. There is a current Electrohippies online protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas conference in Quebec and a Zapatista Tribal Port Scan demonstration tool by Electronic Disturbance Theater distributed at their web site (Electrohippies, 2001).

On September 26, 2000, French cyber activists called the Federation of Random Action (FRA) held a 12-hour, virtual “free speech” sit-in, encouraging web users worldwide to downloadable and use a chat-room toy that flooded IMF and WB servers with requests for information and rants about economic inequities in the global economy.

While e-protesters typed, the program watched for key words such as poverty, finance, investment, and financial power. Each time the words appeared, the program hit the IMF and World Bank sites with requests for information. It also embedded error messages like "Our life is not for sale," "Please crush us too!" and "Do you sell sheep shavers?" (Ferguson, 2000).


This is e-carnival, a cyber form of parody, mimicking street theater and digitizing theatrical resistance to global capitalism. These e-carnival groups develop  the Internet as a viable means for public dissent, disobedience, and protest — mirroring traditional means of political and social expression that exist in everyday society.

            Relevant to public administration, is the claim that cyber-protest is a new form of civil disobedient discourse, and a critical postmodern alternative to traditional democratic participation.  Corporate interests seek to criminalize web-based protest, not only Hacktivism, but the non-violent, culture-jamming of art protest that reverses and recontextualize the meanings of logos and slogans, and the pinging of corporate web sites by mass virtual rallies and sit-ins that overload corporate and trade group web sites with radical speech.



Monitoring fits the definition of the dark side of participation defined by Fox and Miller (1995) in which “few-talk,” while confined in devices of monologue.  It is an elite and expert dominated speech situation, in which the few speak when and what they are told to speak. Activists, by contrast, are in a context in which many-talk, but the speech is disorderly and may not sway the public discourse.  The role public administration can play is to fill in the gap between few-talk and many-talk.  This would mean keeping the cyber airways and public streets open to civil disobedient protest, protecting corporations from more violent action. 

  Is the cyber-café or virtual sit-in a space where serious policy debate and deliberation? To me, it is carnival, a way to parody and draw attention to injustice. Carnival is a free speech issue.  It is also one strategy of the human, labor, and eco-rights movements. These rights are constituted by multiple overlapping discourses that constitute neotribalistic and often-incommensurable language games between corporate and activist interests.

Public administration can reclaim ground surrendered to the colonization of human rights monitoring being colonized by the consulting industry. After the “few-talk” of the monitoring industry, we might expect the “many-talk” of the participants in the anti-sweatshop movement to exemplify democratic discourse. Yet, it appears that when many-talk, especially by email, on list serves, and in chat rooms, action may not follow.  It could be a viable role for public administration to focus carnival into projects of action. After many speak in Street or Virtual Theater, public administration could lead human rights projects. 

Can carnival stimulate more conversation?  College and high school students are getting involved in human rights struggles in numbers we have not seen since the Vietnam and civil rights protests.  At the same time, campus administrators seem torn between corporate license agreements and student (and a few faculty) concerns over garment sourcing. There is more conversation on the campus, but there is also more corporate writing of the curriculum.

As the world becomes more fragmented, it is less likely that carnivalesque discourse will compete with billion dollar advertising discourse constructed by transnational corporate enterprises. Carnival may not appear rational to its detractors, but it does constitute a strategy of resistance.

McSwite (1997) and, King and Stivers (1998), have asked for a more viable role for public administration in democratic affairs. Fox and Miller (1995) see postmodern public administration theory as meeting that call. It could be that citizen (workers and community members) participation in acts of carnival is one way to oppose corporate mediated spectacle, until public administration elects to play a more significant role in praxis.

Rosa Luxemborg once said that if she couldn't dance at the revolution, she didn¹t want to participate.  Carnival is part of the blood and flesh of life, the joy of the dance, and the daring challenge to spectacles of power and domination. A fashion show, or rebel yell, or wearing masks at a WTO protest, seem like little challenges.  Yet, as many groups network and join one another, some voices are heard above the media replays of the same store wind breaking, repeated over and over, until that is the only image that most will recall.




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David Boje is professor of management at New Mexico State University and has published articles in Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Management Communication Quarterly & other top journals. He edits Journal of Organizational Change Management and is founding editor of Tamara: The Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science. He serves on the editorial board of Academy of Management Review, Management Digest, Organization, Journal of Management Inquiry, M@n@gement, Organization Studies, EJ-ROT, & Emergence and Management Communication Quarterly. Recent books include Narrative Methods for Organization and Communication Research (Sage, 2001), and Spectacles and Festivals (Hampton Press, CA, 2001).