Power, management and complexity in the NHS
: a Foucauldian perspective

  • Jean Matthews

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis is a critical and post-structural exploration of the discourse of managerialism in the NHS secondary care sector in Wales. Its central intent is to destabilise the dominant thinking about NHS management practice and to evoke intellectual debate about alternative discourses of management that ontologically perceive the organisation as a complex adaptive human system. The emergent theoretical framework conjoins the discipline of Complexity with post-structural conjecture, posing a novel conceptualisation of a fractal self where relations of power are seen as essential for harmonising diverse influences and legitimising a local discourse that informs and regulates practice. Using Foucault’s insights on power and knowledge the thesis critiques the strategic nature of NHS discourse, exposing the discursive dominance of managerialism and its inherent relations of power and debates what this predicates for a local negotiation and a flexible, safe and innovative environment. The methodological approach employs a reflexive and micro-level interpretative strategy to emphasise the singularity of agents and to explore the way in which the discursive constitution of the self influences agent practice. My profound experience of the secondary care system requires I situate my self reflexively within the context where I explore and liberate my own voice in conjunction with my participants. The research adopts a biographical narrative method of data collection and uses Foucauldian discourse analysis as a framework for exploring the underlying discourse in agent stories. The findings demonstrate the polyphonic nature of the secondary care context and reveal the demonstrate the polyphonic nature of the secondary care context and reveal the diverse ways in which agents legitimise, negotiate or resist the conflicting truth claims of various discourse in order to strategically sustain an image of health care historically constituted in their self. The results portray a web of discourses that endorse conformity or complicity through oppressive mechanisms of disciplinary control and surveillance, perpetuating authoritative and dualist structures, dissipating relations of trust and removing intellectual thinking from the front-line. The conclusion asserts that this significantly jeopardises the ability of agents to legitimise local ‘discourse’, severely limiting their capacity for adaptive practice and the generation of new order.
    Date of Award2009
    Original languageEnglish


    • National health services
    • administration
    • Great Britain
    • National Health Service

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