Commentary on: The Office Politics of Sexuality

Commentary by Zena Spiers

This article presents an intriguing insight into the modern workplace employing the use of the writer’s own personal experience to explore the treatment of sexuality in “inclusive” businesses. The writer specifically, and successfully, draws comparisons between the ever-prevalent open plan office space and Bentham’s conception of the panopticon in maintaining a gendered, heteronormative sense of power. 

The writer blends together Foucault’s perception of power, which draws on Bentham’s vision of the panopticon, whilst confidently discussing gender and queer theory. A key point of reference in this article is Judith Butler’s heterosexual matrix which is used repeatedly by the writer to underline the continued reference to essentialist views of gender and/or sex. Although these views arguably pre-date the workplace, the writer makes it clear that the open plan office space provides an environment in which they can thrive and are reinforced daily through verbal encounters and speech-acts of the body. 

The article’s key point of interest, however, lays in the writer’s own field notes which understandably drove this line of inquiry. The writer’s account of the heteronormativity that he was subjected to is a brave example of self-disclosure and does much to bolster the argument within the article. What is most striking however, is not just the comments made, or the speech-acts of the body demonstrated, but the ways in which these made the writer feel, which can often be difficult to conceptualise in an academic piece of writing. The writer has much success in both academically and emotionally discussing the heteronormativity within the workplace and the way in which this is perpetuated by the contemporary panopticon. 

One point of criticism would be that at times, the writer’s individual experience overshadows the potential for further analysis of the conception of power being perpetuated and upheld within the workplace. As such the writer could present a more intersectional approach to the analysis of office politics, in particular the heteronormative, able-bodied, white and masculine view of power. However, I acknowledge that this is a very personal account of the experience of heteronormativity within the office setting and find the writer’s use of personal experience exceptionally compelling to the analysis of the open plan office space as a contemporary panopticon. This being said, I think it would be prudent for the author to acknowledge the components of their identity which could be understood as privilege and noting that others may experience policing through the contemporary panopticon along the lines of gender, ability, or race. 

Despite this point of criticism, I think this gives the writer the opportunity to develop this line of inquiry further in the future. I hope to see the writer gather more primary sources from individuals who identify with non-conforming or marginalised identities in similar workplaces. I think a greater analysis could also be drawn by taking accounts from experiences throughout the UK, which may provide an opportunity for understanding regional differences, especially in nationwide companies.  

Read the full article here.

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