Antenarrating, Tamara, and Nike Storytelling

By David M. Boje Ph.D.

New Mexico State University 

Paper prepared for presentation at “Storytelling Conference” at the School of Management; Imperial College, 53 Prince’s Gate, Exhibition Road, London, July 9th, 2001.

June 17, 2001; Updated September 17, 2002

  For Session Outline

Pre-Stories - I will tell you gripping Nike tales of adversity, strategy, and triumph of global capitalism. But, I am more interested in the system than the story, in what I call Tamara  (Boje, 1995).  In terms of structure today, I would like to explain the origin of my work on antenarrative and narrative framing and then apply these in Nike Tamara.

My thesis is that stories are intertextual, the currency of storytelling organizations, that are colluding and competing in their storytelling ways, in transorganizational networks that are global. Nike has over 700 factory subcontracts in 35 countries employing 720,000 workers, mostly young women between the ages of 16 and 23. Then there is the distribution networks through NikeTown, Footlocker, countless other outlets, including licensing of college campus apparel.  Nike is described by Cheryl Cole (1996, 1997) as a postmodern organization, attempting to control its virtual corporate marketing and PR machine by celebrity storytelling, while outsourcing its sweaty labor across the globe. To me it is the dark side of the postmodern enterprise, one pursued by media, NGOs, and me. Yet, what kind of session would this be, if it did not begin with a story?  Let’s start with a story that sets Nike in its global Tamara. Let me being with a story from London, then Indonesia, and Vietnam to give some sense of the global character to Nike Tamara.

London - The Nike Tamara extends to Nike and includes the carnivalesque satire and protesting at NikeTown.


Photo 3 - 7 Jan 2001, Report on action in London - No Sweat January sales,
NikeTown takes on more child labor in 2001!

The Nike board of directors had barely finished toasting last year's megaprofits ($579 million!) and wishing each other more of the same in 2001 when the headache kicked in, and it wasn't the dodgy champagne. NikeTown, London had received another nasty new years reception by No Sweat.

25 of us popped up outside NikeTown on the 7th to get the New Year protest off to a flying start. The NO SWEATSHOPS banner went up between 2 lampposts, while people wearing sign-boards walked up and down shouting "get yer child labour here, 4 kids for a quid", in front of a table with a sign overhead "CHILD LABOUR SALE low low prices."

Then a row of child workers were marched up to the store in chains, hurried along by a No Sweat auctioneer and his nasty henchmen - "C’mon you lot, NikeTown aint got all day!". The auctioneer emphasised how fit they were and what hard workers, picking up their legs and examining their teeth to show these wage-slaves were healthy, selling them off one by one.

Each child held up a contract with one clause such as "I agree to work for 70 hours a week", "I agree to be locked up in a dormitory at night" "I agree not to have a baby". Pricesstarted at an unbelievably low 25p!

Still, even that was too high. The Nike security bid for the first child (at least we were sure that we saw them give us the sign) but then they refused to have any of it. The auction was opened up to pedestrians and customers but, while enjoying the offer, they refused to sink to Nike’s depth. It looked like the sale was a flop!

Then to our amazement a Nike child-labour buyer* came out of the store, pushing his way through the security, and started off the bidding! 25 p was evidently way too much, Nike paid much less for child labourers in China and Cambodia – we’d have to do better. Then another fatcat turned up from Gap*, saying he heard there was a child labour sale going on and the bidding got truly intense as buyers shouted each other down to get their bid in. It even began to turn into a tussle - scandalous how those capitalists behave when they sniff a bit of cheap labour!

After a half an hour of wheeling and dealing, one of the slaves had enough, and she began to unionise the workers. "They need us, we don't need them!" and a strike was kicked off.

"There’s only one solution…" "REVOLUTION!" Everyone ripped through their (paper) chains, seized the auctioneers hammer and piled on the oppressors, ultimately chasing them off around the corner. A revolution in action!

Groups of customers clustered in front of the pillars of Niketown's entrance, watching the auction, and hundreds more stopped and signed a petition demanding that Nike accept independent inspections of its factories and allow unions.

Management got and finally sent someone out saying they'd like to meet up and discuss the campaign, asking people what their addresses are…yikes, the Niketown men-in-black come knocking on your door late at nite...
** An anti-marketing tip for people who want to do an action: managers really hate it if you have someone walking around in front of Niketown with a megaphone saying in a very calm, deadpan, big brother type voice "buy nike…buy sweatshop labour…buy nike, buy child labour…" over and over again, it drives them bananas.

Now they're the ones starting to sweat because they know we're for real, we're not going to go away. They've got that one right, we have loads of campaigning ideas, and we're building support on the campuses and now in the trade unions for No Sweat and a code of conduct. And the No Sweat campaign is spreading far and wide, from Coventry to Cardiff and further afield – alas NikeTown is only a London phenomenon, so Gap has had to bear the brunt of our ire. So be it, we’re going to make sure they don’t feel left out in London too. And now the Socialist Alliance in Cardiff and in East London are supporting the campaign.

We got both actions on video, and RevolutionTV is putting together a short vid to complement the Panorama video that was shown on BBC, and tie sweatshops into larger issues, like the third world debt, imperialism and the domination of the third world, etc.

Meantime download some petitions with the code of conduct, posters and leaflets from the  and invite a no sweat speaker to your school, uni, workplace, union and we’ll show the videos.

*ye olde No Sweat disclaimer: obviously these were no sweat members in disguise, not REAL buyers from nike or gap, before all the corporate lawyers out there start drooling over their briefcases.

** a joke, we in no way mean to imply that Nike uses death squads here or anywhere else in the world. No, in places like China they rely on the "legitimate" force of the army, secret police, and repressive and undemocratic laws to do the job for them and break strikes and unions (Source,

I am assuming this protest was organized organised by "No Sweat" ( A second UK group "Labour behind the Label" (LBL). LBL recently told CNN that despite Nike's attempts drafting Codes of Conduct, and hiring consulting firms to monitor working conditions,  "any changes made by firms were 'superficial' and that there had been no improvement in fundamentals such as providing workers with a living wage and allowing them the right to organize and join unions" (CNN March 15, 2001).

Note: the 2nd "No Sweat" conference is in November 2002 in London, and workers from Kukdong will be speaking. Full details of our activities are on  but also can be found on   and  as well as

If we analyze this story as theater, it has several carnivalesque aspects. There is a good deal of satire, parody and ridicule in the London NikeTown protest . Nike claims repeatedly that child labor is not problem, has been solved, but the media just keeps dredging it up.  But, this is about parody, satire, and carnival more than the truth of the tale. Nike has curtailed its use of child labor since the 1996 Life Magazine article on soccer ball production in Pakistan.  Nevertheless, the perception among the anti-globalization campaigns is the Nike continues to exploit children, and child labor is part of globalization. It was also 1996 when U.S. talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford burst into tears on national TV when human rights activist Charles Kernaghan (UNITE) told Kathie she had a clothing line manufactured by children in Honduras.  The media is eager to discover defenseless, exploited children in Nike, Reebok, & Adidas factories, but overlooks the more macro story of exploitation of 700,000 young women workers, who could improve their situation, if they were not blocked from organizing independent unions.  Between Nike and child labor is a complex supply chain in which middlemen outsource from the subcontract factories to garage and home producers to disguise and camouflage the use of child labor. In the shoe and garment industry, parts made in one country are sent to a second for assembly and emblem stitching and then exported to the U.S. and U.K.   This makes storytelling quite interesting, since Nike can always claim plausible denial.

Indonesia - "When Nike was recently accused of having Michael Jordan’s line of sneakers made by 11-year olds in Indonesia at 14 cents an hour, Nike officials pointed to the fact that the sneakers carry the label "Made in Taiwan." That label, however, only indicates that the final assembly was done in Taiwan. It does not mean, however, that no portion of the sneaker line is made in Indonesia" (The Tragedy of Child Labor, an edited version of the article originally published in the Summer 1996 issue of Working People).

One Nike Tamara story came in this morning from Indonesia: My friend Tim Connor of NikeWatch, begins the story with a caution (June 18, 2001 email):

In places like Australia, Europe and North America there is relative freedom to criticize corporations and governments and to campaign for greater democracy and accountability. It’s easy for those of us who live in those places to forget that in countries like Vietnam, China and Indonesia  (countries where Nike chooses to have its products made) it can be very dangerous to engage in the kind of debate and protest that we take for granted.

Tim sets the scene and provides some context, pointing out that Ms. Dita Sari and the labor movement in Indonesia have a history. Before looking at Tim’s narrative, a bit of history about Dita Sari and Cicih Sukesih, two rare voices in the Nike Tamara:

Photo 1 - Dita Sari

Dita Sari is Chair, of Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggle (PPBI), founder of Indonesian trade union organization FNBPI (National Front for Workers’ Struggle in Indonesia. She was jailed in 1996 for leading a strike of 20,000 workers and for three years she was a political prisoner in Indonesia (Dita was released on 5 July 1999).Dita has had no direct involvement with the Nike campaign, although members of her organization, FNPBI, certainly have.

“Dita Sari looks more like a rural schoolteacher than a trade unionist. But working out of a converted house in the back streets of east Jakarta, the 28-year-old former political prisoner and university drop-out is rapidly emerging as a key figure in Indonesia's fledgling labor movement as it struggles to emerge from three decades of stagnation and oppression” (McBeth, 2001).

Photo 2 - Indonesian labor activist Cicih Sukesih being interviewed

Cicih Sukaesih, for example, reported that one soldier put a revolver on the table during questioning of her friend. That gives you some context for this story of Dita Sari in Indonesia and her part in the campaign to watch Nike. With this as context, let us return to Tim Connor’s narrative of events of June, 2001.

For More Photos See Nike slide Show

On Friday June 8 an international conference on militarism, labor rights and democracy held in Indonesia was broken up by police and then the conference attendees were attacked by civilian militias. The conference was organized by the PRD, a social democratic political party in Indonesia, which is lead by Budiman Sujatmiko and Dita Sari. A number of the Indonesians at the conference have been actively involved in the Nike campaign and regularly pass on information from Nike workers about conditions in their factories to NikeWatch.

This description of the attack was sent from a participant in the conference to a friend of NikeWatch (Connor, 2001). The Story is told as follows:

I had a long-long night on June 8.  I attended the conference on Asia Pacific People's Solidarity. The main theme of the conference is about struggle against neo-liberalism and militarism. It held by Increase (Indonesian Centre for Reform  & Social Emancipation), started on 7 June at Sawangan, Bogor. It supposed to end on June 10, but we, actually the police, ended it earlier.  On June 8, around 2 or 2.30 at noon, the police came and we're instructed to stop the conference at once in the name of the law. Firstly, because the conference held without an official permit, and secondly, because all the foreign participants (about 35 of them) used tourist visas to enter Indonesia.  After a long negotiation between Budiman Sujatmiko and the police, there's a news that the police headquarter finally issued the permit. But they insisted to take all the foreign participant to the police station for a further process. Only 32 of them (mostly from Aussie) went, and 2 Filipinos and 1 Indian stayed with us, because they looked like Indonesian, and the police didn't know their identity.   I had this bad feeling about the worst thing going to happen, because while the police came, they were followed by around 10 people in red-army-look uniform. These red uniformed guys tried to provoke the local people who came to watch the incident. But they all left by police order. But as many experienced friends told that they usually came back with more troops, so the organizing committee asked us to stay together waiting for our bus, and didn't allow us to leave the conference room, just in case they waited us outside. There's only one gate lead to the main road. It took almost 2 hours until the bus arrived; we even had a chance to have dinner.   Apparently, those red uniformed people waited and took the arriving bus as a sign for us to leave, so 5 minutes after the bus arrived, they attacked us. Later I know, there were about 20 of them. (I didn't know exactly whether they were armed or not, but later a student participant told me that he was kicked and hit by one of them, so even if they were armed, they didn't use it.)  The moment we noticed a sound of car with lots of noises screaming: "Attack! Kill the communist!", we got panick[y] and  all ran out from the conference room. I ran as fast as I can. I heard someone called for Dita Sari (FNPBI), so I followed that guy. I had this quick thinking that they would do anything to keep Dita safe, so hopefully they wouldn't abandon me. I was right.  We ran into the deepest rainy night, through a lake, paddy fields and golf yard, tried to avoid the main road. Once we had to hide between bamboos and bushes for we noticed 3 guys passing through.  We were not sure who, but obviously, they're not our friends. I prayed, Dita prayed without a pause. I felt so fragile, defenseless, hopeless, but not exhausted yet. I wonder where my strength came from, because I got very sick on the 1st day and still took some medicine that day.  At the end of the golf yard, we met 2 groups of our friends, and that made us 23 men and 2 women all wet and exhausted, too frightened to cry. We met a couple of local people (they're dating there, actually, and it was funny we met them that way) and they led us through a hole they made to enter the golf yard, and we had to walk about 2 km between houses of a village till we found another main road. We took separate transport, but I was... with Dita Sari. We went to a PRD activist's home. It almost 10 pm. We knew from TV news that the red-uniformed  people claimed themselves as Angkatan Muda Kaabah (Young Generation of Kaabah;  Kaabah is a religious place at Mekkah where Moslem throw stones during a ritual of Haj; these AMK are well-known for their militant way to defend  Moslem way of life, for example they destroy a cafe for the reason of  degradation of morality).  Dita and friends soon made phone calls, and in the end 2 LBH staff came pick us up. Dita & Hendardi (PBHI) made an appointment to meet at Cikini, so on the way there they drove me home. It was 2 pm.  Dita later told me that 4 wounded plus 1 dehydrated and hospitalized, but I believe there are more than 10 friends who also got kicked and hit but didn't see as wounded.  I suspected the police knew that those AMK would be back, that's why they insisted to take all the foreign participants. They even intended to leave Budiman with us, because they didn't ask him to come along with those foreigners at the first place. As you might know, not long ago Budiman was threatened to be killed by a group of Moslem militia.  I'm sorry that you have to read this long email. I need to make it out of me, so I won't afraid to sleep. You can see that a life is invaluable in front of blind fanaticism, and also, even in the reformation era, they still apply new order's way of repression not just by the police or army, but also by civil militia. My God, how easy they painted us all as communist... I don't even know by what criteria someone claimed as socialist or leftist.  I was and still am exhausted. But don’t worry, my friends take good care of me. 

Thanks so much for your extra time reading this...

Yannis argues such questions about stories miss the ways they are “open valuable windows into the emotional and symbolic lives of organizations, offering researchers a powerful research instrument” but not one mired in facticity (1998: 135).  I argue that asking such questions is essential to tracing the fantasy-creating storytelling machine that can easily make us into corporate apologists.


When women in the Nike storytelling machine voice their stories, they can become victims (Lap, 2000; Boje, 1998). Ms. Lap Nguyen was forced out of her Nike factory job in Vietnam following her interview with the ESPN program that was televised. She was also interviewed in the 1996 60 Minutes expose on Nike in Vietnam.  The point is that being interviewed for one's story can have disciplinary results in the Nike Tamara.

Table 1: Nguyen Thi Lap’s Story






Drum rolls



Today I want to re-tell my experience at the Sam Yang Company (Translator's Note:  shoe factory for Nike Corporation  in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam).  I started in October 1995.



Please tell us your name



My name is Nguyen Thi Lap., I worked for Sam Yang company.  Employee number 11204.  I joined the company in October 1995.  In March 1996, I was promoted to section leader of Sewing Line No: 15.  At the time, the company only has 15 sewing line.  I was the leader for the sewing line number 15.  Since then, I have contributed a lot to the company.  I was given bonuses and awards.  



For example, when the company started a program to encourage people to finish their quota faster, I was ranked the Number 1 worker for the year.  I was given $7 Million Dong (Translator Note: $530 USD)






Today I want to talk about my current problem with the company, how it treated me, how the Korean manager treated me.  I went to work sick one day.  I asked for a sick leave.  The manager told me that as a section leader I cannot take sick day.  I know my responsibility as a section leader is to get the section to complete the quota, but there were just too much over time.  In Feb & Mar (1998), I worked 113 hours of overtime.  For several weeks in a row, I worked over 18 hours of overtime.  In one month, I worked two Sundays overtime in  a row..  (no day off for 3 weeks)



When I became sick, I went to the clinic.  The doctor said that I have fever of 37 degree C..  On the  Sunday the 29th while working overtime, I was working very hard and being sick at the same time, so I got a really bad headache.  So I put my hands on my head.  The manager then hit me in the arm.  After the manager hits me, I could not work so I went to the nurse to take the rest of day off.  I took another day off the Monday.  When I came back on Tuesday,  the personnel manager Tran said that section leader cannot take sick day, and demoted me to become a sewer.  But the plant manager did not let me sew.  Some day they made me cut threads, some day they made me do pressing (?) and continued to move me around from one job to another.  



So I filed a complaint with the union and asked the union resolve the conflict.  During the time while waiting for the union’s action, they make me do very menial work.  Let me tell you, I was a section leader overseeing 50 workers.  Why do they have to punish me this way?  Why don’t they recognize my past contribution to the company?  There were times they make me mop the floor on the second floor.  Because I was a section leader, I am too ashamed to carry a bucket of water and so I asked a friend to take the bucket up for me.



While I was mopping the floor, I was crying.



Lap starts to cry.



Do you think the treatment was related to the interview (translator note: with ESPN)?



When the union asked me to do the interview,… right before I did the interview, the manager told me that since I’m an employee of this company I should said nice thing about the company, that the company is currently facing problems.  After the interview, the manager (Bak) called me up and asked me what I told the reporter.  I told her that I only talked about wages.   She asked me if I told the reporter whether the company still beats workers. As soon as she questioned me, she asked me to leave.   



After the interview, I was asked to lead another sewing line in a different plant.  But the people the company staffed the line were not experienced sewers and they were trainees.  I told the manager that without experienced sewers, it’s going to be hard to get the quota done.  The manager told me that it would take time for people to gain experience.  I told the manager that it would be hard for me to complete my quota with only trainees.  The manager assured me that she understood the situation.  



So it’s hard for me to understand where I did not do a good job, I don’t know how I could not anything wrong as a section leader.  I know that the company was watching me.  They have people followed me around.  The next person who supervised that same line, the one with trainees and the worst sewers did the same amount as I did.  The line was staffed with only 40 sewers not 50, and most of the sewers are not experienced.  They were from other sections: pressing, gluing and were definitely not sewers.






The personnel manager Tran told me that if I don’t want to work in different jobs, then I should quit  But I did not want to quit and did not sign the paper that day.  Two days later they keep punishing cruelly me to the point when I cannot take it any more.  So I signed the paper to quit.



Do you still wants to work at that place?  Did they force you to quit?



I just want my job as a sewer.  I don’t want them to punish me by making do menial works, switching me to different jobs.  My hand were getting swollen from repairing the shoes and their punishment.  So I asked the union to resolve the problem.  



Lap is crying



(while crying) It’s not like I did not work hard for the company.  It’s not like I just work and get my monthly paycheck.  I have accomplished a lot as an employee there.  I started in October and was promoted to section leader in March.  I spent many days working overtime.



On Sunday I was sick.  On Monday I took the day off.  Even though I was not well, I went back to work on Tuesday because I am afraid of losing my job.  As soon as I entered the plant, the manager asked me “why I took the day off?”.  I told the manager that I was sick.  He yelled at me and cursed at me, and said that he does not need me as a section leader.   Then he made me sitting down to sew.  






The workers are mainly concerned with wages.  We want to have the new contract to be based on floating US dollar rate and not on a fixed rate.  In the previous contract, the wages was pegged to the US dollar on fixed rate and the dollar went up and we lost a lot of money.  That contract was signed in 1997.



In 1997, the company made every worker signed the contract individually and we were told to sign the contract or sign a letter or resignation.  After many workers signed the contract, we realized what happened and went on a strike.  The contract was eventually approved by the union but it was not done under fair conditions, it was done under a threatening condition.





Time Line for Lap Nguyen and Nike

For complete time line of events See Nike In The News; For items relevant to Nike's Stock Prices, see Nike stock stories. See year by year Nike chronology.

1995 - October -  Nguyen Thi Lap starts working for Sam Yang (Korean owned) sneaker factory in Ku Chi, Vietnam. Her employee number is 11204.  March, 1996 she was promoted to section (team) leader of sewing line number 15. 

1996 - March 31 - The headline story in The Vietnam Worker newspaper on March 31, 1996 proclaimed, "Foreign Technician Strikes 15 Vietnamese Workers." The same newspaper, on April 1, 1996, proclaimed: At Sam Yang Company, Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City , Korean Technical Employee Strikes Many Vietnamese Female Workers. It went on to say that immediately after the incident took place, 970 workers on strike to protest the mistreatment of their fellow workers (See Vietnam Labor Watch Report).

1996 - October 17 - CBS News 48 Hours transcript, October 17, 1996. CBS News. (c) MCMXCVI, CBS, Inc. Transcript of Roberta Baskins on site visit to Nike in Vietnam   This was the first interview with Nguyen Thi Lap a team leader in Nike's Sam Yang (Korean owned) sneaker factory in Ku Chi, Vietnam. 

1997, March 29 Vietnam Labor Watch Report is released that includes study of the Sam Yang factory.

1998 - April 2, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" ran an hour-long show on Nike and Reebok sweatshop abuses in Vietnam (Sweatshop Watch). This was based on ESPN's visit to Vietnam factories in February, 1998 (See Globe Project, Vietnam). 

1998 - May 12 - Knight spoke May 12th,1998  to the National Press Club Luncheon. 

2000 - Thuyen Nguyen's interview with Nguyen Thi Lap (a second copy is on the Clean Cloths Campaign Web site, and what happened to Lap). Thuyen Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American business man who has traveled to Vietnam to verify working conditions first hand.  Thuyen issued the Vietnam Labor Watch Report on March 29, 1997, after he returned from 16-day Fact-Finding Tour of Vietnam Factories in Vietnam.

2000- Chairman Phil Knight withdrew a $30 million contribution to the University of Oregon, which is Knight's alma matter. It is one of 45 universities that have joined Worker's Right Consortium (WRC), a student-backed anti-sweatshop group (See New York Times,  "Sweatshop King: Nike Exec Reneges On $30 Million Pledge" by Steven Greenhouse, April 25, 2000). See also Knight, P. H. 2000, 'Statement from Nike Founder & CEO Philip H. Knight Regarding the University of Oregon', Nike's web
site , Portland. 

2000- December - ESPN's Monthly Outside the Lines 10th Anniversary show which aired in December, 2000. This was their 10th Anniversary show. (See Globe Project, Vietnam). 

In sum, I read such stories everyday, sent to me by a circle of NGOs and friends who know I track Nike Corporation stomping and jumping around the globe. Why do I do this?  I am interested in the Nike storytelling organization, and in its relationship to other storytelling organizations, such as NikeWatch, and in leaders such as Dita Sari and victims like Lap Nguyen in this transorganizational network of storytelling organizations. I would like to give you some sense of this Nike Tamara.  At the root of Nike Tamara is what I have come to call the struggle over ‘narrative framing’ and a concept I am inventing called ‘antenarrative.’


Part I: Narrative Framing


Narrative Frames - In the past decades I have been conducting a number of class experiments and supervising research projects and dissertations into what I call “narrative frames” (Boje, 2000d; Luhman & Boje, 2001; Landrum 2000a, b; Landrum, 2001; Gardner, 2001). 

Narrative frames have a plot, as well as coherence, but not everyone in an organization subscribes to particular frame. The work to define and study narrative frames begins with a JABS article on mythmaking, then the 1991 ASQ article on the storytelling organization work of an office supply firm.  Research on the book with Dennehy (1993) tried to isolate premodern, modern, and postmodern narrative framing. Students conducted interviews to collect stories and then did a content analysis of their texts (Luhman & Boje, 2001).  For Managing in the Postmodern World book, and in the AMJ (1995) article, I analyzed Disney stories using the Tamara metaphor of storytelling organization, and looked at premodern, modern, and postmodern interpenetrating discourses of Disney’s official storytellers and the many unofficial counter-story narrators. 

SciLab Narrative Frames - My main premise is that even the most rigid bureaucracy, has spaces here and there where chaos intrudes, and where people have some freedom to be postmodern.  In the past four years, I have conducted a number of narrative frames experiments with a Science Lab (SciLab) in New Mexico.  The SciLab has been around since World War II and began as a militaristic, university-based bureaucratic narrative.  SciLab interviews, focus groups and recordings of talk at their meetings strongly suggest that SciLab has viewed itself through a bureaucratic narrative frame since World War II. When a new director took charge of SciLab in 1996, he began to counter the bureaucratic frame with his own rendition of chaos and complexity. 

This is really what I guess I mean by edge of chaos is that if you have an organization that's structural hierarchical and everybody's looking for these tasks to occur. It’s a very limited organization. It’s a high control organization. In other words, what you plan for or control for may well happen, but nothing else is going to happen and if you are at all wrong about where you're going or if you require thinking at various levels, it’s not going to happen. They're going to do what one person conceives for the whole organization. Now I'm a believer that one person who’s leading an organization should work with the organization to set a direction, but I'm a believer that that one person is a lot less effective than the three hundred other ones that work here.

So now I've got an organization, if it's an organizational mode, that is able to employ a variety of ways to match into the economy of the world. OK, a lot of people thinking, a lot of different energy states in which they're working in. Rather than all down at one, following one leader. Edge of chaos to me means that's where you are. You've got everybody occupying energy state where's there's this real mesh/ they're all really looking to see what's the best thing to do, how best to do their process. They're thinking ahead about where they think the organization should go. But there is an overall constraint and to say 'I've got to do it within this plan' sort of speak. So it does not all bubble away. You know what, everybody's not going every direction possible and you lose complete control.

Right at the edge of chaos is where you've got the maximum energy content without losing the structure.

One of the things they tried to do about eight years ago, is to change the structure by making (it) flatter. But they just renamed offices. They didn’t make it any flatter, they just renamed them. It stayed the same, with different names. I was no longer a supervisor, I was a team leader. (I did the) same thing. The organization stayed the same, and we got moved along into different areas, which, like I say, at the time it was not a good move.

This director wanted to shake up SciLab by introducing chaos and complexity as a disrupting narrative. 

And they run a team, and it’s much more chaotic and disorganized than the other part of the group. And the mistakes and craziness that's happened there, that upsets the people on the other side, because they think, "well we told you all along, it's going to get out of control." But, the amount of new ideas that is coming from it is tremendous. I mean it's just a generator of new ideas. Unfortunately those new ideas aren't leading into the other organizational elements. So part of it is how do you bring people into this culture. Because who wants to come to a culture like this?

Reactions to chaos and complexity framing were not all appreciative:

People DO NOT LIKE to work an organization that has edge of chaos. I've had people that will come to you and say, "I just don't know what's going on any more. Before I knew what I was supposed to do. What was going on." Of course what they knew to do was not the things we needed done.

We've had change and where we've made the changes it’s been very successful, but the organization doesn't want to go there.

In conducting our research we noticed that the SciLab employees and managers frequently recounted a third type of narrative frame, which we soon labeled “quest.”


We restructured into what was called a ‘Matrix’. All software people were in this group, and hardware people in this group, and when the project came around .. You took a programmer from here, and an engineer from here. (3) So that seemed to be a little bit more reasonable. There wasn’t quite as much fear.


Quest is a Joseph Campbell term for a journey in which the hero picks up traveling companions to obtain and return with the boon. For SciLab these were attempts to transform the bureaucratic discourse and practice and replace it with some other boon. In their case a matrix design in the 1970s, then in the 1990s the chaos and complexity narrative, and most recently attempts to convert to postmodern forms of organizing such as the network of semi-autonomous business units. 

So what edge of chaos is to my way of looking at is. Is looking at as a ... pot of water boiling so to speak. Or changing the temperature of a pot of water. You (2 second pause) as you first start boiling water. Let's say [WE ARE] an organization in its hierarchical form represents the water surface sitting there boiling. But as I move from that kind of fixed thing or even fixed flows that are occurring OK I start moving up to an area where when I get to boiling everything goes to chaotic mode OK/ there's turbulent behavior, you can't predict anything. That type of thing. But as I get close to boiling what happens is and I almost have to use a physics model. Have any of you had any physics?

It is my fault that SciLab became infected with the postmodern narrative frame. I could not resist introducing this lens to their sensemaking. The postmodern condition is one of fragmentation, the storytelling in which coherence is lacking and fragments are everywhere. This ideal frame was quickly perverted into discussions of networking, flux, and hybridity.  As one SciLab person put it:

Postmodern may actually be the best type, as far as technical support goes. Bureaucracy, to some extent, may be necessary to maintain an effective structure across the entire organization.

Many of the technical groups, as a sub-organization, already fall under this type of structure by default. The group needs to function as a team with empowered members that can react to the challenges without having to work through management.

Yannis (1998) argues that researchers who use stories as a research instrument, sacrifice some core values of their trade, such as being “objective, reliable, accurate etc.” (p. 136).  In this duality, researchers generate “factual account[s],” while storytellers depend on “an emotional engagement.”  At some point I crossed this boundary.

Together, in our action research, we developed a typology of bureaucratic, quest, chaos/complexity and postmodern/network narrative frames. We also crossed and recrossed the boundaries between emic (insider) and etic (outsider/researcher) categories, language, and frames. We repeatedly went back to SciLab collected more interviews, focus groups, and workshops to get feedback on these frames, to see if SciLab was a hybrid, competing multiple frames.

Table 1: Five Narrative Frames  

Bureaucratic Narrative

Chaos Narrative

Quest Narrative

Postmod Narrative

What is Antenarrative?

Narrative Frames Surveys



Since not everyone could attend focus groups or interviews, we developed an online method whereby SciLab members could enter stories of the various narrative frames and see the stories we had collected in interviews and focus groups up to that point (their stories are confidential and are not shown, See Narrative Frames Surveys).


Table 2 – Buffalo and Network Model


Geese – Postmod/Network

  • Hierarchy
  • One Leader
  • One voice
  • Leader will fix it 
  • Co-dependency
  • Leader owns work responsibility
  • Slow learning
  • Leader is head buffalo
  • Leader is boss
  • Fit for stable times
  • Net of Teams
  • Everyone a leader
  • Many voices
  • Everyone fix it
  • Empowerment
  • Person working owns work
  • Fast learning
  • Leaders coach
  • Customer is boss
  • Fit for changing times

 Boje (2000a, b, c) gives you some insight into the attempts to move SciLab along its quest from bureaucracy they came to call the “Buffalo” model, to the Network/Postmodern they came to call the “Geese” approach.

Table 3: Five Narrative Frames


Monophonic                                                                Polyphonic
ß - -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -à Narrative




  • Hierarchy (Etic/Emic)
  • Red Tape
  • Functional
  • Stuck in Tradition
  • Bureaucratic Leadership



  • Chaos (Etic/Emic)
  • Complexity
  • Adaptive Systems
  • Edge of Chaos Leadership



  • Call 
  • Journey 
  • Return 
  • Reorganization and change Adventures (Etic/Emic)




  • Between the Boxes
  • Flows between Cells
  • Intertextual
  • Polysemous
  • Multi-Layered & Embedded
  • Story networking behaviors
  • Excess not in this Taxonomy
  • Hybrids
  • Leadership to find a way



  • Post-Industrial
  • Post-Fordist
  • Late Modern
  • Postmodern (Etic/Emic)
  • Network leadership





The Fifth Narrative Frame – Antenarrative - In studying the various narrative frames of SciLab, it became necessary to theorize how stories were attempts to make sense of what had yet to be constructed into a story. The fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, and unplotted, and improper storytelling is what I mean by the fifth narrative frame, I call "antenarrative."  Antenarrative is the fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, unplotted, and pre-narrative speculation, a bet. To traditional narrative methods antenarrative is an improper storytelling, a wager that a proper narrative can be constituted.  This became the theme of my recent book with Sage-London on “Narrative Methods for Organizational and Communication Research” which I hope will be released in a few weeks.  To me, antenarrative is an important concept, responding to the crisis of narrative method in modernity: what to do with non-linear, almost living storytelling that is fragmented, polyphonic (many voiced) and collectively produced.

Table 4: Antenarrative Approaches to Story Methodology

Antenarrative Approaches

The fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, and unplotted, and improper storytelling, is what I mean by the term "antenarrative."

1.      Deconstruction

It is antenarrative in action, in ongoing acts of narrative self-deconstruction. The narrative is not fixed, but moves and flows with networks of embedded meaning. The analyst joins in the antenarrative by becoming part of the ongoing textual deconstruction of interpenetrating processes and weaves of reconstructing, unraveling and constructing stories.

2.      Grand Narrative

It is antenarrative in how one story can be told in ways that erase a prior way of telling the story. The ambition is to shatter grand narrative into many small stories and to problematize any linear mono-voiced grand narrative of the past by replacing it with an open polysemous (many-meanings) and multivocal (many-voiced) web of little stories. Not everyone wants Grand narratives banished, which gives the tension between dominant or Grand narrative, and the ante-narrating of little stories.

3.      Microstoria

Antenarrative because they are quite against the narrating in deconstruction, postmodern, grounded theory, and macrohistory. They prefer to situate their "little" story approach in Peircean "abduction" (abduction stands between induction and deduction). They prefer local antenarrative knowledge, the "little people's" histories and seem to just ignore the macro narrative "great man" accounts that are so fashionable in organization studies. Finally they resist interpreting "little" people's stories of times long past into contemporary modern or postmodern narrative fashion.

4.      Story Network

Stories can become nodes or links in a narrative network analysis, mere architectural display. By contrast, in antenarrative analysis the analyst traces the storytelling behavior in the organizing situation. The organization is seen as a storytelling system in which stories are the medium of exchange. Antenarrative focuses on the ground that moves not on the map and analytic portrayal.

5.      Intertextuality


It posits its own antenarrative network, a dialogic conversation among writers and readers of texts. Intertextuality gets at the process issues that narrative network analysis seems to miss. Intertext is a plurality, the polyphony of voices, a veritable textual system that is stereographic and almost living to use Barthes images.

6.      Causality

The antenarrative alternative is to study situated acts of storytelling that retrospectively erect and re-erect causality attributions. The causal field is messy and often unfathomable and acts of narration camouflage the antenarrative fabric.  To study the non-linear antenarrative pathways of story reconstruction before retrospective sensemaking is an alternative to causal map methodology.

7.      Plot

Plot analysis is based in Ricoeur's theory of emplotment, which allows for conditions of antenarrative, such as when there is not sufficient pre-understanding or coherence to grasp together a plot. Relevant to organization studies is questions of who gets to author the narrative in emplotments of complex organizations and what other emplotments are feasible?

8.      Theme

An antenarrative approach to theme is opposed to taxonomic classification. Taxonomy cells are little narrative cells to trap stories. Antenarrative can not be caged in taxonomy or the hierarchy of classification. Antenarrative highlights the storytelling moves and flows beyond such limits. Theme analysis would divest story of time, place, plurality, and connectivity.  Theme and taxonomy from an antenarrative view is a terrorist discourse, an analysis reduced to stereotypes, and a foreclosure on storytelling polysemy and a degradation of living exchange. It is the excess and in-between of theme analysis that concerns us here.  Beyond the logic of theme the cells of taxonomy is the messy plenitude. Antenarrative theme analysis steps outside containment to engage fragmentation, becoming, and undoing.


SciLab, like Nike Tamara, inhabit a postmodern and chaotic soup of storytelling that is somewhat difficult to analyze by traditional narrative approaches. This is because, for me, stories in organization are self-deconstructing, flowing, emerging, and networking not at all static.


What is Antenarrative? I give "antenarrative" a double meaning. First, as being before and second as a bet.  First, story is "ante" to narrative; it is "antenarrative."  A "narrative" is something that is narrated, i.e. "story." Story is an account of incidents or events, but narrative comes after and ads, "plot" and "coherence" to the story line. Story is therefore "ante" to story and narrative is post-story. Story is an "ante" state of affairs existing previously to narrative; it is in advance of narrative. Used as an adverb, "ante" combined with "narrative" or "antenarrative" means earlier than narrative.

Ante is also a bet, something to do with gambling and speculation. The noun "ante" has an etymology dating to 1838 that is defined as "a poker stake usually put up before the deal to build the pot <the dealer called for a dollar ante>" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In horse racing, "ante-post" is a wager made on a horse before that day of the race.  As a verb, it is anteing. 

Stories are "antenarrative," when told without the proper plot sequence and mediated coherence preferred in narrative theory. These are stories that are too unconstructed and too fragmented to be captured by retrospective sense making. "The important point" says Weick (1995: 27) "is that retrospective sensemaking is an activity in which many possible meanings may need to be synthesized, because many different projects [stories] are under way at the time reflection takes place" (additions, mine).  There is an implicit bet that such retrospective form may emerge, but it does not always take place. More sensemaking keeps displacing closure. Antenarrative is not the same as "anti" narrative. In anti-narrative, the person cannot narrate plot or closure, but is in the present moment. The telling of a personal experience story, for example Nancy whose mother has Alzheimer's:

And if I'm trying to get dinner ready and I'm already feeling bad, she's in front of the refrigerator. Then she goes to put her hand on the stove and I got the fire on. And then she's in front of the microwave and then she's in front of the silverware drawer. And - and if I send her out she gets mad at me. And then it's awful. That's when I have a really, a really bad time (Charmaz, 1991: 173 as cited in Frank, 1995: 99).

Antenarrative is about the Tamara of storytelling (Boje, 1995). In Tamara, Los Angeles' longest-running play, a dozen characters unfold their stories before a walking, sometimes running, audience. They are trying to find out "who done it?" Instead of remaining stationary, viewing a single stage, the audience fragments into small groups that chase characters from one room to the next, from one floor to the next, even going into bedrooms, kitchens, and other chambers to chase and co-create the stories that interest them the most. If there are a dozen stages and a dozen storytellers, the number of story lines an audience could trace as it chases the wandering discourses of Tamara is 12 factorial (479,001,600). 

Tamara is a way to describe how storytelling as antenarrative occurs in complex organizations. It is before narrative closure; it is speculative, and it is in the flow of experience.  The Tamara ante narrative speculation highlights the plurivocal interpretation of organizational stories in a distributed and historically contextualized meaning network -- that is, the meaning of events depends upon the locality, the prior sequence of stories, and the transformation of characters in the wandering discourses.

Antenarrative is collective memory before it becomes reified into the story, the consensual narrative. It is before the plots have been agreed to; it is still in a state of coming-to-be; still in flux. Since people in organizations typically are chasing multiple story lines, and are aware that overdetermining the story is risky, the collective memory is always being reworked and worked out, but never completed. It is reflection that is underway.

I turn now to exploring antenarrative and narrative framing in the Nike Tamara.


Part II:  Nike Tamara

I think of Nike Tamara as a conversation in which stories and counter-stories, and deconstructions of others’ stories is the currency. I am a participant in that Tamara, and I am studying Nike Tamara. Nike Tamara is both storytelling and theatrics, riddled with intertextuality. Like an addict, Nike, Reebok, Adidas, and New Balance are addicted to sweatshops, but must form cover stories of denial, promising reforms, hiring enablers to keep the fantasy of transformation alive, and confronted at every turn by NGOs, activists, media, and one or two academics who deconstruct the storytelling machine. The Nike Tamara has a rhythm, a history, and is forever restorying its collective memory. Figure One gives examples of the players in Nike Tamara-Land, the storytellers, the stages, and postmodern carnivalesque forms of resistance, and Nike's storytelling machine.


Nike Corporation orchestrates many voices to tell stories to different stakeholders that must spin the stories about Nike subcontract factory conditions.  Phil Knight, Nike’s CEO, signs letters to shareholders, gives an occasional speech, or appears in Michael Moore’s Movie (The Big One). Moore presented Phil with two plane tickets to Indonesia and asked that he visit the factories where 14-year-old children work 17 to 20 hours a day for less than $5. Knight refused.  Nike contracts the services of some pretty major storytellers to do its PR and present its story to the masses. Nike’s stable of sports stars includes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, the Brazil soccer team, and a legion of college and professional teams.

According to Business Week (February, 2000), Nike’s corporate responsibility staff headed by Maria Eitel, numbers 95. Jeff Ballinger (2001) observes, “Part of the reason for diminished coverage of anti-sweatshop campaigns is the aggressive PR/ ‘corporate responsibility’ tactics deployed by companies like Nike.”  I contend that there is an ongoing battle between the NGOs who exercise forms of postmodern carnival, staging anti-sweatshop fashion shows, boycotts of NikeTown, Footlocker, university apparel stories, and shareholder meetings.

Nike's War Room - Inside Nike, is a “war room” (their emic term). Dusty Kidd, former Ernst & Young auditor (now VP of Labor Practices) heads up the war room, along with Amanda Tucker, formerly of the ILO, Veda Manager (hired in 1997 as Nike’s director of Global Issues Management), who tracks the activist protests on universities and NikeTown, Todd McLean, who flies around the globe putting out fires, and finally Maria Eitel, Nike’s VP and Senior Advisor, Corporate Social Responsibility.  Like a war room in a political campaign, the job of the 95 staff members and VPs is to combat one Nike scandal after another.  This is done by contracting with PwC, GA, and the approved monitors of FLA to issue reports suitable for media consumption.  But there is a more combative role, doing surveillance on any student, academic, or activist that is critical of Nike. Nike maintains a network of spies through its FLA affiliate universities that give early warning of factory, campus or NikeTown visits and demonstrations.  I picture a room where on the wall pictures and dossiers of activists adorn the walls like wanted posters.  Security forces and off-duty police can then be dispatched like bounty hunters to the seen. 

[Vada] Manager has broad power to assemble "virtual teams" of executives and outside consultants to respond to any challenge. He hired pollsters to study the sweatshop controversy, and says the results so far show that while "many" consumers do associate Nike with sweatshops, a "negligible" few care enough to stop buying Nikes. In a series of ads in major college newspapers, Nike invited students on Truth Tours to see Nike factories for themselves, and spoofed anyone who would get facts from "the guy carrying a poster and chanting, 'Nike sucks'."…

“When the students saw the growing security and police presence, it had a deterrent effect, and I think it went very smoothly. Nike approaches this as it approaches everything—as competition. And we aim to win.”

     — VADA MANAGER Nike director of global issues management…

Things got ugly on day one, Aug. 3, in New York. The students pulled up outside Niketown on 57th Street in an RV rented and driven by members of the needleworkers union. Before they could drop a single banner, dozens of burly Nike security officers swooped in, setting off a melee that spilled over five floors of the megastore and left one needleworkers organizer, Jim Grogan, with a cracked rib. Manager got advance notice of the tour through a network of paid student sales reps and friendly administrators at more than 200 universities with Nike apparel deals. He monitors college papers and anti-sweatshop Web sites, and describes listening on the phone while administrators report on anti-Nike protests outside their windows. "I've never called Nike in alarm, but we do watch," says Mike Low, licensing director at the University of Arizona, a major Nike school….

Nike won't back off. "It's just not in the culture here to retreat, or to keep your mouth shut," says war-room team member Amanda Tucker. Manager says his political polling and intelligence tell him the students are a "marginal" group who arouse little sympathy from peers or consumers…

It was easy to prepare an intimidating welcome for the Truth Tour. The Nike team took videotape of the New York fracas and relayed it, along with bios of the RV activists (downloaded from the Truth Tour Web site), to police all along the route. In Chicago, Nike hired off-duty police to beef up security, and they greeted several startled Truth Tour protesters by name before hustling them out. "They were like, 'Hello, Carrie, you're not welcome in the store today'," says Carrie Brunk. The tour sputtered to a stop at a USAS organizing conference in Eugene, Oregon, where leaders of the movement predicted Nike's "crackdown" would only inspire wider protests this spring (Emerson, 2001).


You may wonder how it is that a transnational corporation comes to have a war room.

Knight and other industry leaders created the Fair Labor Association in a Rose Garden ceremony with Bill Clinton in February 1999, and the response was swift.

Dismissing the White House plan as "PR cover for Nike," the United Students Against Sweatshops mobilized to demand that schools give workers and students power to inspect factories making collegiate apparel for Nike and other brands. They built a shantytown at Yale, occupied administration buildings at Michigan and Wisconsin, chained themselves together by the neck in a boardroom at Kentucky. As the protests swelled into the biggest campus uprising since the early 1980s, Nike was the only manufacturer to answer in public. When the University of Oregon said it would agree to the USAS inspection plan, Knight withdrew a $30 million personal gift and lashed out at the school, his alma mater for "meddling in the world economy where I make my living” (Emerson, 2001).

 An Nike is at War not just in the U.S. but around the globe. On June 10th, 2001 a Melbourne protest of NikeTown took on all the theatrics of carnival (Elder, 2001).  The carnival (writer calls it a circus) is in its 10th week, showing no signs of ending.


Lined up against the store's window, on the mall, are 36 police officers, standing squashed elbow to squashed elbow, quiet and unblinking as a woman's amplified voice cuts the evening. She's talking about them, about how they have been ``sent to intimidate us''.

  ``Us'' being the thick huddle of people - 200 or 300 - waving protest placards, and barking mad at the Nike corporation and its exploitation of child workers in Third World countries. In the half-light, it's hard to read many of the placards, beyond the words ``$2 a day''.

  Last Monday, a bail justice banned five protesters from the CBD for a month following their arrest on charges of besetting premises and obstructing police. On Thursday, a magistrate lifted the ban on condition that they wouldn't obstruct Nike's doorway.

  Just in case they get cheeky, there are police standing sentry on either side of the store's door. Further up, six police horses are parked in a row against the footpath, like bicycles. In a dark doorway, three senior officers talk quietly while watching the placard people. In surrounding blocks, police have taken over the crossings from the traffic lights.

  For the shoppers, the circus is something else to look at - or, for most of them, to ignore. Some of them duck their heads as they drag their children by the hand through a velvet gauntlet of police, on the one side, and television news reporters talking grim to their cameras on the other. Others walk through as if they're taking a sedated stroll down sideshow alley, nodding vaguely at the protesters offering them leaflets, nodding and walking on as you do when declining to play the Laughing Clowns.

  If you stop to stand among the protesters, you're immediately assumed to be one of them. Three seconds there and a man - middle-aged and small -walks up, asks if I've heard about Marcus Brumer's troubles with the law. Brumer is the silly lad who gave the Premier a cream-pie beard. I actually gave Brumer his first job, as a cadet reporter at Truth. Had talent. Wished he stuck at it. But this man - this official Friend of Brumer - doesn't want to hear any of it. He wants to talk. About Brumer going to court, to jail. And how typical, eh?

  Then he urges me - with the gravity of one who can hear bombers coming overhead - to listen to what's being shouted over the megaphone. But it's clear the megaphone people are struggling to find something new and fresh to say.

  Meanwhile, across the street, two girls, having wrestled their protest placards into a phone booth, are now wrestling with the phone itself. Both trying to talk, both trying to listen. Giggling and wriggling.

They're so excited you would think they had just been kissed at a school dance. ``It's so much fun. You've got to come down. Yeah! It's even better than last week.''

Elder, 2001; see also

On May 19th, the World Bank fearing the carnivalesque anti-globalization protest street theater canceled Madrid as the site of their next meeting (Reuters). 

How does the Nike Tamara process, craft, and disseminate stories? At a transorganizational level, there is the triad of the Global Alliance for Workers and Communities (GA), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), and Fair Labor Association (FLA) in Nike’s multi-storytelling organization network. These are storytelling organizations contracted by Nike to monitor its factories, give over the reports to Nike, and let Nike do the PR. FLA is an outgrowth of the Clinton administration Apparel Industry Partnership Agreement, following the Kathie Lee Gifford scandal in 1996. It originally included corporate, NGO, government and union involvement, but the unions and NGOs bailed when the code failed to include right to bargain and living wage. The FLA certifies monitors and is funded by corporate money. Maria Eitel, Nike VP, is on the board of GA which received $7.8 million for two studies of Nike subcontract factories. I did some deconstructing of the GA study of Indonesia comparing it to a study done by workers and trade unionists (Boje, 2001c). SA8000 (Social Accountability International) and ISO140001 provide certification for apparel industry monitors who work for organizations such as GA, PWC, or are referred by FLA. Yet, in these certification programs, the monitors are not taught how to monitor human rights abuses; rather, they become schooled in managerialist ideology. After the 1998 speech by Phil Knight to the Press Club, Nike web sites touted their intent to have their subcontract factories certified by ISO14001 standards. In sum, the Tamara of the Athletic Apparel industry at an a transorganizational level has key players who provide the legitimacy of certification to monitors who can give narrative accounts that further legitimate subcontractor compliance to codes of conduct for use by PR staff by Nike and other "virtual" corporations.

Labor Rights in China, Asia Monitor Resource Center, Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions signed up for SA800 training and found major problems (HKCIC, 1999).

  1. The legitimacy of certified SA8000 auditors as arbitrators of social justice rests on shaky ethical grounds. The notorious Ernst & Young report clearly demonstrates this by creating a rosy picture of Nike's environmental practices in Vietnam (p. 11).  Had it not been leaked to the public, who would have known? SA8000 is constructed as a way to polish  tarnished transnational corporate images. so they can advertise them selves as certified and therefore better than their competitors (p. 12).

  2. For monitors to be certified they attend a series of SA8000 training courses and become certified (after a time) as lead auditors. But there are no standards for how this auditing is to be conducted (p. 6).

  3. Trainers for SA8000 (some of them) have no training in Human Rights and no background with NGOs (p. 7).

  4. The SA8000 courses use trainers with a pro-management mentality; auditing is a business, and most of those certified are auditors for corporate accounting and auditing firms (p. 8).

  5. There is no fixed rule for the composition of the auditing team.

  6. The façade  of public monitoring:  A company can be SA8000 certified even though they violate 10 of the standards.  (p. 9). This way a company can say its certified by continue not to be in compliance.

  7. Standards are designed to be "flexible" and easily re-interpreted by corporations; The "truth" can be molded and shaped to fit corporate public relations interests.

  8. With the shield of "commercial confidential" auditors only share data with corporations not even with NGOs subcontracted to do various pieces of an audit (p. 10).  This places accountability and the power for information control in the hands of corporate executives, rather than in the arena of public debate.

  9. SA8000 takes away the monitoring rights away from the workers and hands it to corporately-contracted and paid experts (p. 11).

  10. Finally SA8000 is constructed to usurp the power of the State in monitoring and controlling corporate practices; one more apparatus of neo-liberalism economics like WTO, GATT, APEC, OECD, and MIA (p. 12).

In 2001,Verité became the first certified FLA monitor to give its accounts of the crisis of Kukdong, a Nike and Reebok subcontract factory in Atlixco, Mexico (Boje, Rosile & Carrillo , 2001).  We examined four monitoring reports done on the Kukdong International factory in Atlixco, Mexico. These are the Verité (2001), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC see Austermuhle, 2000 & Kepne, 2000), International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF, see Alcalde, 2001), and  Workers Rights Consortium (WRC, 2001b, c, d) monitoring studies.

Kukdong "slide show"

The Kuk Dong story is about how mostly young women workers struggled against a national union called FROC-CROC, Korean maquiladora owners and managers, and Nike and Reebok corporate PR teams so they might exercise collective bargaining rights guaranteed to them in corporate, FLA, and WRC codes of conduct as well as by Mexican law. In short, they tried to set up their own independent union (SITEKIM).  From January 9 to 11 they took over the factory and locked themselves inside.  Family members and friends brought them food and blankets. On January 12th, Melquiades Morales Flores, the governor of the state of Puebla, sent 200 Mexican police dressed in full riot gear. The police force was led by Renee Sánchez Juárez, FROC-CROC secretary-general for the state of Puebla. The riot police were led by hired FROC-CROC construction workers, and this group did brutally attack 300, mostly female workers, beating those they could catch, with clubs, and sending 15 to the hospital. In our interviews with two workers and a local labor lawyer who were there, we found out that two of the women were pregnant, and lost their babies as a result of the attack. Despite the brutality, the workers held on and bargained for and signed a contract for an independent union.  But, as we shall see, the State, FROC-CROC union and the Korean maquiladora owners and their lawyers were able to co-opt the leaders of the independent union movement and intimidate workers with a continued police presence in the factory. Workers who were dismissed before, during, and after the factory strike were forced to sign agreements stating they now supported the FROC-CROC union, in order to obtain their jobs back and get an promised increase in pay. Interviews we obtained with a local attorney and two female workers who were present during the three-day strike, and who witnessed the breakup of the strike, give us information that was not reported in the Mexican press, nor the Verité monitoring report.

Academic Storytelling - I have been a debater or co-panelist with Nike's Amanda Tucker twice in the past year (Boje, 2000e; 2001b). Amanda along with Maria Eitel, and Todd McLean travel to academic conferences presenting Nike's side of the research story. Nike recruits and cultivates apologists in academia, sending them on carefully orchestrated factory tours, like the ones prepared for Ambassador Andrew Young and his GoodWorks consulting firm. At one debate with Amanda Tucker, she mentioned studies by Kahle, Boush and Phelps (2000) of the University of Oregon, Sports Marketing department as the kind of academic research that could be done. The Sports Marketing group toured a Vietnam factory and found that Andrew Young was right, that Nike's practices meet several standards of ethics, and that the media was circulated false claims about factory conditions.

The majority of academics are critical and skeptical of Nike's truth claims and storytelling. Stabile (2000), along with a score of other academics (See Listing at, are quite critical of Nike's rhetorical claims.   Stabile critically reviews the emergence of the sneaker controversies dating the first in 1971 when Reverend Jesse Jackson launched a boycott of Nike products because of the lack of African Americans in executive-level positions, while Nike used African-Americans to sell its sneakers. Nike in 1990 tried to rebound by claiming that Reebok had started the controversy (p. 196). The second major issue is 1991 when Nike and Reebok went into an advertising war to gain sneaker market share, but the fall out was inner-city violence (p. 187). The news coverage broke into the public view in 1992 due to children killing each other to get Nike and Reebok shoes.  At issue is the manipulation of popular postmodern culture of desire and the selling of African-American bodies while criminalizing market purchases.  Stabile builds on Anita Cole's (1997) work on an African-American critique of PLAY (Participation in the Lives of America's Youth) program created by Nike. PLAY restored the public image of Nike as socially responsible during a time of heavy media critique for racism and inner-city violence. For a study of the relationship between postmodern consumer, activism, and the postindustrial multi-tiered supply chains of Nike, see Carty's (1999) dissertation. For comparative work on Nike and Reebok rhetorical strategies, se Landrum (2000).

Some academics are no more than mercenaries. Mihaly and Massey (1997) supervised Amos Tuck Dartmouth University MBA's doing wage studies Nike could use to claim its factory workers were not only earning living wages, but could save money for motorcycles. Mihaly went to Indonesia to supervise an MBA study group and Massey went to Vietnam supervising an MBA study group). Dusty Kidd and Vada Manager of Nike, Labor Practices Department assembled a group of reporters for conference calls to the war room.  Reporters included Naomi Klein from Toronto Star, Bruce Ramsey with the "Seattle Post Intelligencer," Tim Shorrock from "The Journal of Commerce," and Jeff Manning from "Oregonian" Newspaper. (October 17th). Naomi Klein (1999) went on to write the popular No Logo book.  Landrum and Boje (2000) and Boje (1998b) along with NGOs and activists around the globe deconstructed the methodology and claims made in these studies. This study was finally removed from both the Nike and Dartmouth University web sites, in my view, because the critiques could not be rebuffed. We will return to the use of this study in Nike's story defense of its labor practices (See Phil Knight's speech to shareholders in 1997).  Maria Eitel continues to reference the (bogus) studies. For example Eitel (1999) said in her press release that "Nike's decision to raise wages on April 1 was an outgrowth of research conducted by a team of graduate students and faculty from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business..." (Eitel, 1999).

Mihaly and Massey did similar mercenary work for the Disney Corporation to legitimate the wages paid by their subcontractors in Haiti. 

In Nike Tamara, there are many uninvited, unauthorized storytellers.  There is the media, we academics, and a plethora of NGO’s who trace and deconstruct Nike, Reebok, Adidas, New Balance, and the subcontractors that produce for them, and then like cannibals, dissect one another.  Here is my top ten list of Activists and NGO’s monitoring the monitors of Nike and Athletic Apparel Industry:

1.      Jeff Ballinger, Press For Change (Harvard-based with focus on Indonesia).

2.      Tim Connor, NikeWatch (Australia)

3.      Medea Benjamin – Global Exchange (San Francisco)

4.      United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).

5.      Tied: are Thuyen Nguyen Vietnam Labor Watch (issued hard hitting report in 1997 on factory conditions in Vietnam) with Lek Junya Yumprasert of Thailand Labor Watch.

6.      HKCIC Hong Kong CIC (issues frequent reports on factory conditions in China).

7.      Unite whose leader, Charles Kernaghan does hard hitting reports on Asia, Central and South America, and did the initial 1996 report on Kathie Lee Gifford that stimulated formation of Clinton’s Apparel Partnership. 

8.      Sweatshop Watch

9.      Clean Clothes Campaign

10.  Leslie and James Keady Living Wage Project

Nike Tamara is a mansion with many rooms. Some are competitors, others monitors, and others monitor the monitors.  Storytelling is serious business.

45 Academics have decided to study the Athletic Apparel industry. We will focus on the following competitors, and their monitors, and global subcontractors.

Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and New Balance would have us believe that there are no alternatives.

The data says otherwise. For example, The Spanish apparel firm, Zara, spends less on advertising, more on workers' wages, and does not outsource to subcontractors. Could it be that Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and New Balance have far less control over subcontractors than their PR and monitoring campaigns would have use believe? The Athletic Apparel firms have given up control over production facilities in order to concentrate on being the virtual postmodern company, who just does marketeering and some R&D. Consumers are becoming more aware of labor conditions in shoe and apparel factories in authoritarian countries. Zara, by contrast, maintains direct control over its factories, and uses that control as a competitive advantage. The advantage is being able to react more quickly to market trend changes than its competitors; Zara can change its production designs in two to three weeks). It also means that Zara does not build up expensive inventories, and can move quickly to respond to shifts in consumer tastes. "Its design team produce an incredible 11,000 different
designs a year" (CNN, June 15, 2001).  They not only design and sell in 1,000 shops, but make the clothes. Zara has never run an ad campaign, paid for celebrity endorsements, and does not have a 100-person PR staff to fend off inquiries into its labor practices. Yet their sales increased 28% last year. Money saved on ads, PR staff, and monitoring reports can pay workers a living wage. Nike, on the other hand, spent $7.8 million on two studies of labor practices done by Global Alliance (See monitors). Direct control gives more accountability for labor conditions in factories and cooperatives  in northern Portugal and the surrounding area of Galicia. In short, there are viable alternatives.

Let us return to 1997 and look at the Nike Tamara. Phil’s September 22, 1997 speech to the shareholders has several good stories and is a place to begin to unravel the intertextuality of the Nike Tamara:

Twenty-five years ago, and even as late as five or six years ago, the workers in a rubber room in a sneaker factory basically all had to wear surgeon’s masks because of the fumes turned out and the pollutants turned out by the rubber mixers. You go into the new shoe factories in Indonesia and Thailand and Vietnam today, there are no surgeon’s masks, and you’ll find the air quality even in the rubber room is better than it is in Los Angeles.

Since this issue has come to the headlines literally around the world, I haven’t had a single Taiwanese or Korean shoemaker that I’ve talked to that’s been with us for a long time that hasn’t made the observation that if a shoe worker in Korea or Taiwan had gone to sleep in the shoe factory there ten years ago and wakened in a shoe factory in Indonesia or Vietnam today, wouldn’t have thought that he or she had died and gone to heaven; the conditions have improved dramatically.

Of course activists tell a different side to Phil’s stories. Phil’s stories are crafted in response to prior tales and in anticipation of future tales yet to be told by NGOs, activists and journalist.  This next segment anticipates an exposé about the accounting firm Ernst & Young that will become worldwide news in November 1997:

In 1992, NIKE became the first company in our industry to have a Code of Conduct--in 1994, we became the first company, I believe in any industry, to have that Code of Conduct monitored by an independent third party. The party that we picked was a certified public accountant, Ernst &Young.

In November 1997, Dara O’Rourke, working as a consultant to the UN, was handed a copy of an Ernst & Young monitoring report of a Nike factory in Vietnam. Activist sites lit up around the globe, there were letter writing campaigns and protests. Nike was on the hot seat not only in Vietnam, but also in California, where a class action suit was filed claiming Nike ads about labor conditions constituted false advertising. Then there was the annual shareholder’s meeting in which United Methodist Church, was attempting to make a motion about independent monitoring.  At this same stockholder’s meeting, Videttte Bullock Mixon, representing the general board of pension and health

benefits for the United Methodist Church, which owns 122,200 shares of Nike, Inc. stock ($9.5 billion dollars on behalf of 65,000 active and retired participants) summarized five conditions Nike had agreed to in an (emergency) August 1st meeting with Nike executives:

First, by January the 31st, NIKE will consider proposals, and I’m pleased that Mr. Knight has indicated today that such a proposal has already been entertained and will be made available to shareholders. And we believe such a study should prove beneficial to NIKE as a source of verifiable data to support statements that contract workers, and I quote "earn enough to live comfortably, spend money on discretionary consumer items, save money and share money with an extended family" end of quote. And we as NIKE constituents and shareholders, we eagerly await the results of this study

Note, this is the Amos Tuck wage study, Phil will refer to below. To continue with Mixon’s conditions (Note until recently Nike is all caps in its texts):

The second condition included NIKE’s commitment to continue its participation in the independent third-party monitoring process utilizing non-governmental organizations.

And NIKE is to be commended for being in the vanguard of companies to join President Clinton’s Apparel Industry Partnership. Many challenging decisions need to be made concerning independent third-party monitoring, a process for investigating labor abuses and product certification. Among members of the partnership, these important decisions have the potential to be divisive

and potential deal-breakers. But it is very encouraging that NIKE management has agreed to remain at the table until mutually agreeable positions can be established that will be in the best interests of companies, shareholders, workers, and consumers.

Note: out of the Apparel Industry Partnership, the Fair Labor Association will be funded and by 2001 sign up over 100 universities to subscribe to Nike’s version of monitoring.

And the third condition, NIKE has agreed to quarterly conference calls and conversations, and we as proponents of the shareholder resolution look forward to these calls over the next 24 months to discuss the status of various initiatives being undertaken by NIKE to address questions, opportunities, and challenges related to labor practice issues.

The fourth condition: NIKE has extended an invitation to shareholders who met on August the first to visit company production facilities in Southeast Asia, and we accept the invitation and we appreciate the opportunity to become better informed about our company.

Finally, it was agreed that a proponent could attend the shareholder meeting. And therefore Mr. Knight, on behalf of the resolution proponents, I congratulate NIKE on its 25th anniversary. At this milestone in the company’s history, it is appropriate to reflect on the past and look to the future.

Mr. Chairman, we agree with your decision as printed in the 1997 shareholder annual report, which reads, and I quote, "NIKE has taken some time to look at how far we have come and how far we have to go," end of quote…


Phil’s speech to the shareholders continues, and please note the intertextuality of the remarks:

[Heading] Ambassador Young Independent Assessment of NIKE

We pledged in our meeting that we had with you last year, if you were here, to have a review of our foreign factory practices by an independent monitor other than a certified public accountant. Essentially our first and only and best choice was GoodWorks… out of Atlanta, headed up by Ambassador Andrew Young, who we felt at the time, and feel even more so today is a man of great intellect, enormous accomplishment, and unquestioned integrity… It found, as we believe any truly independent monitor will find, that basically NIKE is acting as a good citizen in those communities and is running essentially good factories; that the incidences that you hear about and have gotten so many headlines are just that. They are basically exceptions to what goes on in those factories.

In March 1997, the former ambassador visited factories in China and Indonesia and Vietnam.  When his report was released, along with Nike’ press releases, and this speech to the shareholders by Phil, an already out of control storyteller’s firestorm burned even more acreage. Phil is aware of the firestorm, and his next remarks pre-announce a wage study by Amos Tuck Business College:

[Heading] Independent Wage Study Commissioned

So I think that we continue to make good progress, and I think that any independent party will find as Andrew Young, that we are operating morally. I think that his report basically in some ways shifted the issue. You saw the issue shift from being the fact that NIKE was having workers abused in their factories to the fact that they weren’t paying adequate wages in those factories. Basically we’re quite confident that we will win that issue as well, that it’s simply a case that those are the best jobs in those countries, and that we do pay more than minimum wage. In fact, those studies that we have had presented to us lately have shown that it’s substantially more in Indonesia and somewhat more in Vietnam.

In addition to that, we have commissioned a prestigious university to do a study on wages throughout Southeast Asia and in the NIKE factories to give you a report on just what is going on as far as the wages in those countries is concerned. That report will be issued fairly shortly, and we’re sure that once again, it will exonerate us.

To put it mildly the Amos Tuck wage study, the Ernst & Young factory audits, and the Ambassador Young GoodWill consulting reports did little to quench the thirst of the firestorm.  Instead of being exonerated, each story and its truth claims became subject of journalistic, NGO, and academic deconstruction.  In 1998, Phil decided to implement (at least promise) sweeping reforms. He made his announcement at a luncheon speech to the Press Club of Washington D.C. (Knight, 1998).  Before getting to the reforms, take note of what Kristeva and Bakhtin call intertextuality:

The thing that I'm going to focus on today is essentially the cloud that has been over Nike's head over the last couple years, and it has to do with our global manufacturing processes. A recent story I think is interesting from Nike's perspective. Mark Thomashaw, a long-time Nike employee, has had a ten-year correspondence with Garry Trudeau, the cartoonist who has been bashing Nike lately. The correspondence went like this: "Hey, Garry, would you like to see some facts on this issue," to which Garry Trudeau answered, "No, I'm not interested in facts. I'm not a journalist; I'm a social satirist."

Forgive us; out in the Pacific Northwest it's a little hard for us sometimes to tell the difference.

In recent times, Philip Knight has been described in print as a corporate crook, the perfect corporate villain for these times. In addition, it's been said that Nike has single-handedly lowered the human rights standards for the sole purpose of maximizing profits. And Nike products have become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse. One columnist said, "Nike represents not only everything that's wrong with sports but everything that's wrong with the world."

So I figured that I'd just come out and let you journalists have a look at the great Satan up close and personal. But as long as I was going to do that, I thought that I might as well take along some of the Satanettes who are sitting out among you. Six of the owners and managers of Nike foreign factories are out there as well as four of the owners or managers of U.S. apparel manufacturers for Nike are out there as well.

Here is a summary of the reforms:


1. The first one has to do with health conditions within the factories. I believe it is true that every Olympic marathon champion in this century but one has run the 26 miles, 286 yards in shoes made with harmful chemicals, including the much-publicized toluene. It is just the way rubber soled athletic shoes have always been made. And the one marathon exception, of course, was Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Tokyo running barefoot. Today, marathoners and most other athletes for the first time have a choice. After four years of extensive research and hard work with our partners in Asia, we have developed and put into practice water-based adhesive which allows shoes to be cemented without the use of the most solvents, including toluene. Today we use water-based cement in 80% of all our shoe production…


2. We have raised the minimum age of all footwear factories to 18. And at all apparel and equipment factories, the minimum age is 16 - the same as it is in the United States. And I really do have to add this: There has never been a time in Nike's history where child labor has been a problem. And I also say that it really hasn't been a problem in the shoe industry as a whole.


3. We've publicly recognized the need for expanded monitoring to include NGOs and the need for a summary statement about this monitoring. We are not ready to announce how that will be done, but our current guess is it will include a CPA firm as well as health and social auditing by an NGO one, two, or three. The specifics of this obviously will come some time down the road, but we are working hard to put this into effect.



4. We are expanding our education program in our footwear factories. It began this year in Vietnam and it includes middle and high school equivalency course availability for all workers in Nike footwear factories.


5. We've increased support of our current Micro Enterprise Loan Program to a thousand families each in the countries of Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Thailand.


6. We will fund university research in open forums to explore issues related to global manufacturing and responsible business practices such as independent monitoring and health issues. We will begin by funding four programs in United States universities in the 1998-99 academic year, and we'll have our first public forum in October of this year in Hong Kong.




Nike Tamara is not about implementing reforms, one only has to tell a convincing story of a reform, make it believable to the stakeholders.  At the same time, Nike is on occasion caught in a spin, and must make actual changes in some labor practices to keep face.  But, again, too much change is not really necessary, because for all the hundreds of Nike watchers and monitors, most of the buying public will associate Nike with the winning heroics of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. What we analyze here in terms of narrative frames, antenarrative, or Nike Tamara, in the economic scheme of things doesn't change much, does it?


Boje, D. M. (1998a) Nike, Greek Goddess of Victory or Cruelty? Women's Stories of Asian Factory Life Journal of Organizational Change Management. Vol. 11(6): 461-480. There is an interesting story behind this one. 

Boje, D. M. (1998b) Amos Tuck's Post-Sweat Nike Spin Pp 618-623. In Business Research Yearbook: Global Business Perspectives, Vol. V. Biberman, J. & Alkafarji, A (Eds.).

Boje, D. M. (1999). "Is Nike Roadrunner or Wile E. Coyote? A Postmodern Organization Analysis of Double Logic." Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship. Special Issue (March, Vol. II) 77-109.

Boje, D. M. (2000a) "Developing PSL into a Network Organization" - Based on Flight of the Buffalo.

Boje, D. M. (2000b) "Is this Critical Postmodern." This is A Radical Critique of Flight of Buffalo

Boje, D. M. (2000c) "Leadership: In and Out of the Box"

Boje, D. M. (2000d) “Using Narrative and Telling Stories” May 10.  To appear in the Book: The Manager as a Practical Author  Editors (David Holman and Richard Thorpe)  Publisher: Sage

Boje, D. M. (2000e). Nike is Just in Time" presentation in "Time and Nike," an All Academy Showcase Session of the Academy of Management Meetings in Toronto Canada. Session #170 Wednesday 8:30-10:20 Royal York Room, August 9th, 2000. Nancy E. Landrum and David M. Boje co- chairs.

Boje, David M. (2001a). Plot and Emplotment. Summary notes from Boje (2001) Narrative Methods for Organizational and Communication Research. London: Sage Publishing. Available online at

Boje, D. M. (2001b). The Anti-Sweatshop Movement and Corporate Codes of Conduct. Panel chaired by Margaret Hallock International Relations Research Association. January 5, 2001.

Boje, D. M. (2001c). "Comparison of the Urban Community Mission (UCM) Survey Report December 1999 to the Global Alliance, Center for Societal Development Studies (CSDS) 2000 study"

Boje, David M. and Dennehy, Robert (2000). Managing in the Postmodern World. 3rd ed., Chapter 4, Influencing Stories. Available online at

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Eitel, Maria (1999) Nike to Improve Minimum Monthly Wage Package for Indonesian Workers: Company VP Tells Portland City Club Audience Also outlines Nike's social responsibility agenda. (March 19, 1999).

Emerson, Tony (2001) Swoosh Wars: Nike Takes On Its Enemies. Newsweek. March 12. Accessed Aug 8 2005  orignal at is now off the web

Frank, Arthur W. (1995) The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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HKCIC (1999) Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee - No Illusions: Against the Globally Cosmetic SA8000

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Knight, Phil (1998) Remarks by Phil Knight, Founder and Chief Executive Officer Nike, Inc. to National Press Club, May 12, 1998 – New labor initiatives are announced.

Lap, Nguyen Thi (2000) Interviews with Nguyen Thi Lap. Translated by Thuyen Nguyen of Vietnam labor Watch See also second interview,] Third interview by Bob Herbst or Additional interview excerpts For chronology of Lap’s encounters with Nike and the media see Finally, for more on Vietnam Labor Watch Report See Kidd (1999) above, for Nike’s side of the story.

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Landrum, Nancy Ellen - ( 2000b) "Environmental Rhetoric of Nike." Academy of Management All Academy Showcase Symposium on "Time and Nike," David Boje and Nancy Landrum (co-chairs), August 9th, Session #170.

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Landrum Nancy E. and David M. Boje (2001) Kairos: Strategies just in time in the Asian athletic footwear industry.  Pre-publication Draft of Chapter 6, To appear in Book titled: Asian Post-crisis Management Edited by Usha Haley, expected publication date 2001.

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Mixon, Vidette Bullock (1997) Remarks by Vidette Bullock Mixon, Director of Corporate Relations and Social Responsibility of the General Board of Pensoions of the United Methodists Church at the NIKE, Inc. Annual Shareholder’s Meeting, Oregon Convention Center. Portland, Oregon on September 23, 1997.

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