Contests in meaning: The rhetoric of participation.

  • Robert Ian Westwood

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis takes seriously the injunction to make accounts of social affairs adequate at the level of meaning. The substantive focus of the study is an attempt by a large pharmaceutical company to introduce a worker participation scheme. The thesis, then, stands firstly as an extended case study of a worker participation scheme. The theoretic interest was with the processes by which 'participation' came to have meaning in the context of this company for those involved. An approach to meaning was initially taken via the concept of the definition of the situation. This was useful to a point but also flawed in some respects. Thus, the research practice, and now the thesis, begins to build an approach based on some of the conceptions of language and meaning developed by the post-structuralists and semioticians. The thesis develops around a dialectic engendered by the relation between these ways of theorising and the emerging data. At the heart of that dynamic is a creative and irresolvable tension between the theoretic notions of the productivity of language, the proliferation of meaning, and that pragmatic effort at closure engaged in by persons in their routine, practical activities. That relationship drives the analysis and leads to a consideration of the processes of attempted closure, its failure and the possibility of a counter-move. It is concerned, then, with the place of rhetoric and ideology in those processes and ultimately conceives of the act of signification and the defining of situations as an exercise of power.
Date of Award1983
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath

Cite this