A Critical Theory approach to human resource management - Mapping out the ideological evolution of HRM in the era of multinational corporations

Sami Itani

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


This thesis explores the ideological evolution of Human Resource Management (HRM) from the 1950s until the present day in a twofold manner. Firstly, the study maps out the development of HRM practices as ideological control mechanisms naturalizing organizational power asymmetries, hence providing employees under modern capitalism with emancipatory awareness and opening up avenues for the theoretical development of Critical Theory. Secondly, it contributes to the needed metatheoretical development of the HRM field by illuminating the ideological dimensions and the normative ideals that HRM scholars create, reflect, uphold or resist in their research. The thesis analyses a data set of the most impactful HRM articles over five decades by combining Giddens's (1979) five forms of ideology and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), utilizing particularly the Discourse-Historical Approach of CDA. The findings reveal five distinct time periods during which HRM research and practices have been applied to control employees with varying ideological intensity. The ideological intensity has ranged from comprehensive suppression (i.e. all five ideological forms were present without any alternative reasoning or critique) to a brief moment of emancipatory resistance, where the ideological content was not only scant, but organizational frictions and inequalities were analyzed mainly from subjective and non-managerialist perspectives. In addition, the analysis indicates that HRM research in the leading academic journal made a relatively brief but still prominent epistemological shift in the 1970s, and also constant movement within the dominant functionalist paradigm (Burrell and Morgan 1979) was evident. Finally, the discursive strategies of HRM researchers principally imply an uncritical stance towards employment relationships and academia's own role in legitimizing them, which accentuates the need for creating cooperation and better understanding across paradigm borders.
Translated title of the contributionKatsaus henkilöstöjohtamiseen kriittisen teorian näkökulmasta - Henkilöstöjohtamisen ideologinen evoluutio monikansallisten yritysten aikakaudella
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Piekkari, Rebecca, Thesis Advisor
  • Häyry, Matti, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6980-7
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6979-1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • human resource management
  • HRM
  • ideology
  • history
  • evolution
  • multinational corporations
  • critical theory
  • critical management studies


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