Who is ‘the middle manager’? On constituting an organizational self

Nancy Harding, Hugh Lee, Jackie Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Citations (SciVal)


Middle managers occupy a central position in organizational hierarchies, where they are responsible for implementing senior management plans by ensuring junior staff fulfil their roles. However, explorations of the identity of the middle manager offer contradictory insights. This article develops a theory of the identity of the middle manager using a theoretical framework offered by the philosopher Judith Butler and empirical material from focus groups of middle managers discussing their work. We use personal pronoun analysis to analyse the identity work they undertake while talking between themselves. We suggest that middle managers move between contradictory subject positions that both conform with and resist normative managerial identities, and we also illuminate how those moves are invoked. The theory we offer is that middle managers are both controlled and controllers, and resisted and resisters. We conclude that rather than being slotted into organizational hierarchies, middle managers constitute those hierarchies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1213-1237
Number of pages25
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number10
Early online date9 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014


  • control
  • identities
  • interpellation
  • Judith Butler
  • middle managers
  • resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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