Drawing upon contributions of scholarship on power and resistance in critical organizational communication studies, this essay explores resistance as a form to shape and reinforce professionalism from Taiwanese commercial airline pilots' performed discursive practice. Interviews were conducted with Taiwanese commercial airline pilots to excavate their personal narratives, which are then presented in poetic transcription. Through the poetic transcription, this essay demonstrates Taiwanese commercial airline pilots' resistance as embodied performance of work-practices in everyday organizing; thus calling for a performative turn to study organizational power, resistance, and professionalism.

Civil aviation has been considered among the most significant and fastest-growing areas in the transportation field. This industry is peculiar because it can be difficult to manage employees, especially airline pilots, because they are atypical of most of the employees in a company. Historically commercial airline pilots “possess substantial industrial power in comparison with other[s]… due to their non-substitutability, the immediate impact of any industrial action on their part, and the extremely tight labor market for pilots with [their] experience.”1 A. N. J. Blain points out that “an airline pilot is… a hero of the air combining the gallantry and resource of a fighter pilot who has won the Victoria Cross with the skill and judgment and navigational ability of the Captain of an Atlantic liner.”2 However, more and more commercial airline pilots feel they are seen as bus drivers, and their status has been devalued because flight decks of modern airplanes are increasingly automated.3 Simon A. Bennett suggests that pilots may be disempowered and deskilled because today's highly automated glass cockpits may shift the “balance of power” between the pilot–craftsman and the technologist.4 This notion has long-term implications for the profession. Though commercial airline pilots may be deskilled, they are the fundamental component of civil aviation.5 Thus, the stories of pilots are fruitful as they demonstrate manifestations of curiosity, culture, intellectual puzzlement, and social attitudes generally, and inflight operation in particular.6 

Research on commercial airline pilots has benefited from different fields, such as psychology, ergonomics, management, and sociology. As Bennett mentions, commercial airline pilots believe their job changed in essence even when they try to think about their occupation in a positive way.7 In his research, Bennett suggests that some pilots consider themselves “unionized train drivers,” “computer-operators,” or “just another worker.”8 Contributing to these responses is the fact that computers have trumped the importance of airmanship, and commercial flying has become more bureaucratic.9 Respondents in Bennett's research point out that the pilots' airmanship ability has diminished, which may impact flying safety margins, and management is constantly criticized for being remote and uncaring. Bennett's effort to draw a bigger picture in discussing the sociology of commercial airplane pilots creates a space for communication studies to enter the conversation. His research reveals “a complex form of resistance to occupational diversification [while] beneficiaries of professional privilege struggle with the emotional experience of declining control.”10 These contested meanings of commercial airline pilots' labor, body, and identity are not just about selves, but are “a discursive struggle for the right to occupational control, professional class status, and the [socioeconomic] standing of a job.”11 While commercial airline pilots' workplace is “multiple, dispersed, shifting and mobile,” they still share a strong sense of identity and culture within organizations, and across the occupation, even if they may not need to interact with or confront management.12 

After suffering from notoriously low safety records in 1990s, starting in the early 2000s, Taiwan based China Airlines (CAL) took every step to ensure pilots received proper training and followed every standard procedure. Some CAL pilots expressed concerns with the company's management because they felt they were invading the pilots' “professional” field. They further pointed out other structural problems, such as the lack of support systems for pilots. Although CAL's pilots understood that the reform of flight operation was needed and necessary, they felt disrespected by management for not considering their professional suggestions when making decisions related to flight operations (which have the potential to harm the flight operation). To investigate these issues of power and resistance, this essay specifically asks the research question: “How do Taiwanese commercial airline pilots challenge a company's administration about management issues in their occupation?” I explore this question through a dialogic performance approach to interviewing. As a critical scholar employing a performative approach, my goal is not to generalize, but rather to shed light on the complexities of the lived experiences of some of these pilots. Therefore, I begin by reviewing relevant literature about power, resistance, and professionalism from an organizational communication perspective to set up a conceptual framework for studying Taiwanese commercial airline pilots' resistance. Drawing upon contributions of scholarship on power and resistance in critical organizational communication studies, I argue that resistance is not simply a phenomenon presented by Taiwanese commercial pilots. Rather, it is their performed discursive practice generated from their lived experiences that ultimately shapes and reinforces their sense of professionalism.


Rearticulating Michel Foucault's view in genealogical writings on power with knowledge and discourse, Dennis K. Mumby argues that power is a structural phenomenon in both product and process, and organizational members constantly engage in its activity.13 Mumby is concerned with situations in which power functions in a hegemonic fashion to structure the system of interests in organizations. Thus, Dennis K. Mumby and Cynthia Stohl suggest that power needs to be theorized as “a pivotal concept in explaining the process by which certain organizational and institutional structures prevail over others.”14 By treating organizations as various texts and contexts, researchers can show how discourse functions constitutively to construct organizational reality in power relationships.15 

Mumby and Stohl further suggest that power is a deep structural phenomenon that shapes how organizational members develop their sense of identity, connecting fragmented interests to coherence.16 In this case, power should be conceived as the process through which consensual social relations are articulated within the context of certain meaning systems.17 Mumby also points out that “the anatomy of power… examines the ways in which it produces obedient bodies and forms of self-knowledge at the level of everyday discourses and practices.”18 This connection reveals how self-directed organizational teams engage in forms of self-surveillance.

Mumby and Stohl also explain that power plays a relatively productive role in the construction of social reality in discursive structures because, as Foucault reminds us, discourse is a manifestation of the will to power and produces regimes of truth, which are linked to practices and institutions.19 Hence, discourse can be examined in a site of power producing organizational subjectivity or identity because discursive practices function as a form of discipline that includes organizational members in certain ways “within a particular power and knowledge regime.”20 Thus, discourse and rules can function to establish a particular organizational “regime of truth,” while organizational members can be simultaneously objectified, seeing themselves as subjects in this situation.21 

Power can also be viewed as a structured and relational feature of organizational life, constructing both identity formations and the disciplining of organizational members. Mumby and Stohl suggest that power envisioned as hegemony is present in everyday aspects of ongoing organizational practices that operate to constitute individuals as organizational subjects.22 Moreover, power cannot be conceived as located in individual action or determined in features of organizational structure. Rather, power must be seen as constructed in the discursive practices structuring organizational life. By viewing power as a structural phenomenon, its interdependence with the “everydayness” of organizational life is embodied in communicative practices.23 

Deriving from Foucault's view of power as a productive, disciplinary, and strategic phenomenon without a specific center rather than as an external repressive and constraining force on the subject, Mumby proposes that the “postmodern turn” emphasizing “local knowledge” has paid more attention to resistance of organizing processes.24 Mumby further points out that some organizational communication scholarship has mentioned that relations of domination must be interpreted as a process in which subordinated groups participate in the construction of their own subordination. Placing this within a larger social context, a social group will remain in power by preventing other groups from framing thoughts and interests that might challenge the position of the dominant group.25 In order to examine this conception of hegemony through discursive practices, the study of organizational storytelling, which focuses primarily on the ways in which members' stories reproduce the status quo, can be a proactive area.26 This discussion is not simply to criticize the failure of the dominance model, as this model has greatly augmented scholars' understanding of the relationship between communication and politics of everyday organizational life. Rather, the concern is that the dominance model is based on a narrow and undialectical reading of the concept of hegemony. Therefore, Mumby calls for further examinations of the phenomenon of resistance27 because power can be studied by analyzing “forms of resistance against different forms of power.”28 

The discursive practices of organizational members as they attempt to create spaces of resistance subvert the dominant social order.29 However, Foucauldian studies discuss large amounts of agency of managerial forms of control while devoting relatively little attention to the employees who struggle with them in everyday organizational life.30 Resistance is constructed in individual terms, and any sense of collective worker consciousness and struggle includes interpersonal forms of conflict.31 Poststructuralist analysis considers workplace resistance as a discursive practice that needs to be analyzed not as “a specific, identifiable phenomenon, or set of behaviors, but as a complex, contradictory, and socially situated attempt to construct oppositional meanings and identities.”32 In sum, Mumby concludes that the most powerful conceptions of resistance are (a) the practice of a wholly coherent, fully self-aware subject operating from a pristine, authentic space of resistance or (b) the activities of social actors who are subsumed within, and ultimately ineffectual against, a larger system of power relations. He calls for further exploration of resistance through the tensions and contradictions embedded in the dialectical practices, as this can create possibilities for organizational change and transformation.33 

Constructions of professional and professionalism are also embedded within organizational struggles around power. Professional is “less an instantiation of given or established structural categories and more a set of discursive and material processes [enforced and negotiated] by various aspects of social identity and relations.”34 From a communication standpoint, professional can be understood as a division of labor in modern society, as a claim-to-expert class, and as normative-ethical obligation. Moreover, the embodied, physical, and material dimensions of professional identity should be further developed through a communicative voice.35 Although professional has become a taken-for-granted term through appearance, decorum, behavior, and attitude—as well as by spoken and written words—being a professional actually includes “multiple aspects” of performance.36 Therefore, personal identity and organizational performances should be brought together to discuss professional identity, and extra-individual forces (including organizational discourses and societal/cultural discourses) should be considered agents functioning in the construction of identity.37 

Additionally, the professional is a political formation that can manipulate divisions and hierarchies of labor based on different human factors because “labor and laboring bodies are generally configured, coded and evaluated, in terms of discourses of difference.”38 Furthermore, discourses of difference always function to organize professional identity, and reproduce the division and hierarchy of labor.39 Therefore, how professional groups construct and secure their own interests in this discursive practice, and how dominant cultural and institutional codes influence professional behaviors, are reflected in discourses of difference, such as resistance of professional norms.40 While it is important to recognize that political dimensions are not always relevant to cultural expressions of the professional, “the professional is a productive nexus, or organizing construct, around which to deepen our understanding of intersectionality at work.”41 Overall, insights from communication perspectives associated with the issues of labor, experts, and ethical obligations in modern society may help to challenge “how classes and relations of labor emerge in discourse [and] how labels, metaphors, and narratives evolve and function in everyday practice.”42 Building on the work of George Cheney and Karen Lee Ashcraft, George Cheney et al. further recognize that ethics is embodied in everyday life and in the symbol systems we use; thus, we need to be “critical” and “emancipatory” in order to evaluate right and fault, and to strengthen our ethical systems.43 Cheney et al. suggest that organizational communication studies should examine how ethical principles are practiced through language to reflect, revise, and reinforce organizational beliefs.44 


Dwight Conquergood's concept of dialogical performance, which he later transformed to co-performative witnessing, is a way to locate the moral center and ethical behavior in ethnography by centering dialogue between a researcher and their interlocuters.45 This stance struggles to bring different voices, views, value systems, and beliefs into conversation with each other. Dialogical performance seeks “intimate conversation” between cultures.46 The critical performance paradigm Conquergood offers is a reaction to a history of ethnography that spoke for Others rather than spoke with Others.47 Building on Conquergood's work, D. Soyini Madison concludes that “coperformance as dialogical performance means you not only do what subjects do, but you are intellectually and relationally invested in their symbol-making practices as you experience with them.”48 Thus, Conquergood highlights that the challenge of a performance paradigm should “refuse and supersede [the] deeply entrenched division of labor, apartheid of knowledges,” and distinguish “the difference between thinking and doing, interpreting and making, conceptualizing and creating.”49 

The interviews conducted for this essay were informed by the ethics of a critical performance paradigm.50 Madison explains that the ethnographic interview provides realms of meaning that permeate beyond rote information or finding the truth of the matter, and instead “emphasize[s] the living communication of felt-sensing, embodies interplay, and engagement between human beings.”51 Madison further points out that ethnographic interviews may involve personal narrative. Personal narrative offers “an individual perspective and expression of an event, experience, or points of view” while topical interviews provide a particular subject for points of view, such as an issue or a process. She argues that these forms do not exist independently and can cooperate with each other.52 This methodological approach, which focuses on dialogue and stories, is ideal for understanding the experiences of pilots, who are hidden in the cockpit and often disembodied as just voices that come over the airplane speakers.

Snowball sampling was used to identify participants.53 Interviewees needed to identify as being Taiwanese by nationality, and working as pilots of commercial airlines in Taiwan. I started by introducing this project to two of my friends who are commercial airline pilots in Taiwan and encouraged them to pass along the information about this research to their colleagues who could help with recruitment. The interviews were conducted in Mandarin Chinese. I transcribed both audio-recordings and interview notes to Chinese first and then translated to English.54 Given that the critical performative paradigm is about understanding the complexity and nuances of performances of everyday life rather than generalization, three interviews were granted and conducted in Taiwan between September and December 2012. In order to keep the confidentiality of my participants, I assigned a pseudonym to each.

I organized participants' personal narratives through poetic transcription, inspired by the work of Madison and Bernadette Marie Calafell. Madison argues that poetic transcription makes

words alive with sounds that condition their meanings. By placing words on a page to resemble the rhythm of the human voice and the speaker as a social-historical being that colors each word based on existential fact, the text comes closer in capturing the depth inherent in the indigenous performance of… speech.55 

Calafell further indicates that poetic transcription “privileges orality and specific speech patterns [and] embodies through words the importance of the gestures and meanings that are said and performed in interviews.”56 Madison argues that “in poetic form, words are not in isolation from movement, sound, and sensory body that give them substance. Words are not placed on a page in blocks of prose divorcing them from the actions and meanings of their speaker.”57 Therefore, poetic transcription not only embraces the personal utterances of the performer, but also reassures ownership of the speaker's words.58 By using poetic transcription to present participants' personal narratives, I highlight how Taiwanese commercial airline pilots speak for themselves in terms of choice of words, meaning in language, and vocal presentation in order to construct the discursive meaning of pilots' performance of resistance. Furthermore, poetic transcription aims to highlight power in utterances and storytelling, which works with a critical organizational communication perspective, which seeks to understand power.


Power, Fear, and Professionalism

Through my conversations with pilots, I found that power usually operates in a hegemonic fashion, inserting itself into pilots' ongoing organizational practices every day and constituting individuals within organizations as subjects. It is also worth noting that pilots' discourses as laboring bodies revealed that power flows in various everyday communicative activities with other employees and upper management. Pilots' professionalism is a political formation that can simultaneously coordinate and deny divisions and hierarchies of labor within the organization.59 Traditionally, airline pilots have been treated as demigods who have immense skill and judgment.60 In the contemporary world of commercial flying, skill and judgment are still important, but proper cooperation between pilots is key, and the spirit of cooperation is further extended to the whole crew, including flight attendants. Teamwork is essential in this career. Therefore, commercial airlines apply a training program called crew resource management (CRM) to improve interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision-making among crews. Captain Lin highlighted that this is related to the (cockpit) cultural change of flight operation in his company:

It is hard to change the
5,000 years
of “Chinese Culture” immediately.
Same thing goes to the cultural change of my company.
We are in the phase of transformation.
the internalization of cultural change is very important.
In fact, my company has changed a lot already.
You will not be able to see the differences in a short time,
but in the long term.
this cultural change is slow
from the bottom to top
in a traditional company like ours…
To be honest with you,
the internal education in my company is not consistent.
The division of flight operation walks faster than other divisions.
The company especially requires pilots to meet
the highest standard,
but ground staff and flight attendants do not really follow-up.

What do you think is the factor(s) that contributes to this?

I think this is related to company culture.
Management considers that pilots should be professional.
Ground staff and flight attendants are just general.61 

Captain Lin's narratives suggest that the company has implemented certain changes in terms of flight operations, but there are some challenges in this changing process. Apparently, this internal cultural change is not simultaneously consistent with other divisions. Upper management sets a higher standard for pilots, especially when management considers that pilots should be professional (based on the company's expectations), but others are not held to the same standards. This blurred line of “being professional” creates the pressure and fear for pilots about their regular job performances or even possible joblessness. Both Captain Lin's and Captain Chang's accounts show that pilots have these pressures and fears from upper management. Captain Lin said:

Every six months, we need to have our regular medical exam.
If we do not pass certain requirements,
we will be temporarily suspended from flight duty.
We also have
regular proficiency checks (PC)
and proficiency training (PT)
every six months.
Same rules apply!
If you do not pass,
you might receive different treatments,
ranging from retraining to temporary suspension of duty.
These regular checks can be dreadful nightmares for every pilot.62 

Captain Chang poked fun at the whole process of these regular checks by referring to the flight simulator as the Torture Chamber and discussed an incident in which upper management used these proficiency checks to fire some unqualified pilots:

I joke around by calling the flight simulator a Torture Chamber.
Every six months we have our PC and PT.
This means if you are lucky, you only get into the torture chamber four times a year.
When we are in the flight simulator,
we will be assigned to deal with
different emergency situations
or eliminate malfunctions of airplanes.
In the real world,
we may not encounter these problems at all.
That is why we need to practice in the simulator.
In addition to my own regular checks,
we may be required to support other training missions.
Even if we only support the mission,
we may be
if we don't do the job right.
Once I was supporting a training mission,
the check pilot (CP) was asking the first officer (FO) a question.
The FO did not know the answer.
The CP turned to me and demanded an answer from me.
I responded,
“I was only here to support this training mission.”
The CP said,
“It does not mean I cannot ask you questions.”
I was glad that I could answer that question.
A few years ago
when my company started straightening out the flight operations,
we overheard that
there was a list.
Every pilot was scared.
I talked to another senior pilot and mentioned that
we were going to pair up for PC and PT.
This senior pilot whispered to me,
“Don't worry! Neither of us were on the list.”
To be honest,
pilots who were fired by the company during that time
were actually
for this job.
However, they were sacrificed by policy.
Most of them retired from the air force in their 40s
and transitioned to commercial airlines.
They were not trained systematically decades ago.
The company only asked for them to be able to fly the plane.
It depended on which captain (instructor pilot) you were assigned to.
No standard procedures to follow.
Only techniques and tricks.
We called that the
“Glorious Era”
for captains in our company.
Some captains were assholes,
and everybody hated them.
Those pilots followed what used to work in the cockpit.
the company asked them
to study
and set up different exams for them to take.
Many of them were in their 50s or close to 60 years old.
It was very tough for those old pilots.
Most of them who were on the list did not survive.63 

When Captain Chang shared this story, he mentioned that literally every pilot was afraid of the company at that moment because both technology and knowledge were used by upper management as possible disciplining mechanisms and to determine what counts in the construction of “professional airline pilots.” Among the pilots, there was a deep fear of losing their jobs if they could not pass their regular proficiency checks and trainings. Pilots knew they were ultimately responsible for flight safety, and flight safety required that pilots have full knowledge and flying skills. Through the regular PC and PT checks in the simulator, pilots were evaluated to make sure they were qualified to fly and equipped with better understanding to handle emergency situations. On the other hand, pilots were also in a passive position in terms of these regular checks. Although I agree with Captain Chang that certain pilots were definitely not qualified to fly and were listed to be “eliminated” through those regular but tougher exams, older pilots were undeniably in a less favorable position. This process also delivered a message to the other pilots who survived: “If you do not work hard, you might be next.” Mumby argues that power is sometimes used against the interests of certain organizational groups and in favor of others.64 In the case of Taiwanese commercial airline pilots, power functioned in a hegemonic way to structure the needs of upper management—unqualified pilots needed to be removed because safety measures had to be upheld.

The pilots in this study mentioned that pressure and fear are always present. They must learn to overcome them and make sure not to let them affect their everyday lives. It is their ethical obligation to fulfill these “professional requirements” although they may disagree with certain measurements implemented by upper management. Captain Chang's narratives revealed how the company's upper management scrutinized every move and decision of the pilots during flight operations in order to discipline them:

we only have a very short time
to make the decision and
to solve the problem
in the air,
but management
takes a very close look at
our decisions and
in the cockpit
to judge
whether we follow the rule(s) or not.
If not, we might get disciplined.
Do I have any choice?
I just need to tell myself
“be careful”
before I make a decision
and take any action.
One small mistake is too much for my career!65 

Resistance through Consent

Although there is the impression that pilots believe upper management has the power to “eliminate” (unqualified) pilots, their dissatisfaction has implications for realizing the rights and responsibilities of both a company's management and its employees.66 Dissent is one form of resistance regarding employees' voicing of disagreement or contradictory opinions in the workplace.67 In my interviews with the pilots, one of the questions triggered an intensive discussion about resistance. I asked them: “Do you think certain rules and regulations set by the company's management impact and affect the construction of your professional identities?” Captain Chang shared this long story regarding his experiences with flight operations during bad weather and his concerns about the company he works for:

In my company, we have a division called
Operational Control Center.
Operational Control Center is responsible for
signing off flight, aircraft, payload, handling emergency situations, etc.
The company requires pilots to contact Operational Control Center first
when irregular operations occur.
Pilots need to report issues, situations,
and solutions implemented during flights.
Operational Control Center will give pilots further instructions.
To be honest with you,
Operational Control Center
gives any instruction when an issue or a situation happens.
If we keep asking them,
they will say,
“Pilot in command (PIC) makes the final decision”
because Operational Control Center does not want to take responsibility.
Three typhoons hit Taiwan
between summer and autumn a few years ago.
When the first and second typhoons came,
the company did not cancel any flights.
All pilots and other employees worked their butts off
to finish each flight operation.
When the third typhoon came,
that was such a disaster for our operations.
I was on round-trip flights between Kaohsiung and Japan.
When I arrived at Japan that afternoon,
we received the flight and weather information.
The forecast showed that weather in both Kaohsiung and Taipei was
and did not meet the minimum requirement for landing.
Operational Control Center did not advise us to cancel the flight,
and PIC did not have the authority to cancel the flight.
We had to go!
When my flight approached Kaohsiung,
the weather was in the margin
to meet the minimum standard for me to land the plane.
We were in the holding pattern for 50 minutes.
I asked for advice from Operational Control Center and got this:
“PIC makes the decision.”
My flight was getting close to the minimum fuel for diversion.
I had to divert to Hong Kong.
On our way to Hong Kong,
we heard from the radio that
many of the company's other flights were also headed to Hong Kong.
It was a spectacle…
We landed at Hong Kong,
and it was just the start of a nightmare.
We did not know what we should do next.
No one knew actually!
We waited for two hours, and passengers started “going bananas.”68 
We also heard other pilots sharing “the situation on the battlefield.”
Operational Control Center still had
advice at all.
We asked for catering, fuel truck, and flight plan.
We started worrying about crew overtime problems.
The chief pilot's flight was at Hong Kong as well.
He asked everyone to report the deadline for departure.
If there was the possibility that both working hours and flying hours
would exceed the maximum,
captains should make decisions to end the flight duty.
Operational Control Center still gave us
“PIC makes the decision.”
But, I thought PIC has
authority to cancel the flight?
Forecast predicted
Visibility in both Taipei and Kaohsiung were still under minimum standard.
Should I go under this situation?
I had to.
After waiting for almost four hours,
many diverted flights started heading back to Taiwan.
Same thing happened again when we approached Kaohsiung.
I was in the holding pattern again for 20 minutes.
Although I still had enough fuel,
I would encounter overtime issues and violate the rule if I did not divert.
I contacted the company and told them I would divert to Taipei.
We climbed up to almost 20,000 feet.
Air traffic control suddenly contacted us that
the visibility in Kaohsiung improved
and met with the required minimum landing standard.
I turned back and landed at Kaohsiung in this typhoon weather.
My total working hours were about 16 hours on that day.
My total flying hours were 9 hours 20 minutes.
I was in such high pressure during the whole [flight] duty.
This was a dangerous factor to cause pilot's fatigue and risked flight operation.
Where was
our Operational Control Center???69 

Captain Chang's story suggests the company did not provide enough support for pilots, especially during irregular operations. He expressed dissatisfaction that the Operational Control Center was not willing to take responsibility, instead shifting it to pilots. He also mentioned that this has been a long-time issue bothering pilots, but upper management seems to have no interest in solving the problem. Captain Chang was also not thrilled with this situation, complaining that he might be punished not only because of the violation of the maximum working and flying hours mandated by law, but also because he worked in such a high pressure environment on that day. He further addressed the uncertainty regarding flight operations over the severe weather, which can turn out to be a potential risk in terms of flight safety. Not only do pilots have to deal with physical fatigue after a long working day, but the uncertainty regarding flight operations during severe weather can also be a potential risk in terms of flight safety. Moreover, when the company does not provide enough support and tends to push pilots to make final decisions during irregular weather operations, pilots believe the company is simply trying to shift responsibility to them. Psychologically, this situation further upsets pilots because it contradicts their “practical and moral responsibilities”70 as professional commercial airline pilots.

Employees may articulate dissent within an organization to influence organizational adjustment openly and effectively. Latent dissent can also be applied to express employees' “contradictory opinions and disagreements aggressively to ineffectual audiences across the organization or [to other] frustrated employees.”71 Therefore, dissent as the voice of organizational members can be “an active resistance to consent processes [… . and] opens [the space for] the corporation and individuals to learn through reclaiming differences and conflicts overlooked or suppressed by dominant conceptions and arrangements.”72 Captain Lin's narratives demonstrate how pilots resist the company's flight operation policies, and how they compromise with the company's management to deal with what they perceive to be unnecessary rules.

Most of the time,
pilots can internalize issues of flight operation.
The company will always change certain rules or policies
after accidents or incidents happen.
To be honest with you,
we have had enough rules or policies for flight operation.
It just depends on
pilots to follow and execute those rules and policies.
I can tell you this—
Most of the policies or rules are useless.
We have one controversial policy
regarding flight operation about speed limit.
When the airplane is below 10,000 feet,
we can only fly 250 nautical miles per hour.
For the Boeing 747,
especially the trans-pacific flight,
the 250 nautical miles is not enough
because the airplane is very heavy in the phase of takeoff.
Therefore, a high speed is necessary,
but will violate the company's policy.
In contrast, when the airplane is approaching,
the 250 nautical miles limitation may disrupt the flow of arrival traffic.
If you are number one to approach,
you block all other planes behind you.
this policy is clearly stated in our Flight Operation Manual (FOM).
If air traffic control asks you to go beyond 250,
you have to report
according to the rule.

According to the rule? This sounds like an ambiguous call! Have pilots ever discussed with flight operation management about this “useless” policy? What is the response from management?

Of course we have.
We have mentioned this issue in meetings with management
many times.
However, management from the flight operation division
does not want to change this policy.
They are concerned about
something happening
after they changed the policy.
Who is going to take the responsibility?
It is fine to add more policies or rules,
but management will take serious consideration
to get rid of one policy
because taking a conservative approach
is better than getting fired from their management positions.

How ironic! Management in the flight operation division are also pilots. It always baffles me that when employees are promoted to management positions, they change their perspectives, too.

“When you change the position, your brain is changed as well!”73 
I am not saying that those in management positions
change into different people.
The truth is
they see things differently from a different angle now.
They will only ask pilots to follow.
Otherwise, management will have problems
managing pilots.
My company's policy—
safety first,
   passenger comfort,
       and economics.
Since safety is the priority,
upper management is reluctant to
adjust the policy of 250 nautical miles below 10,000 feet.74 

From my conversation with Captain Lin, it is clear that pilots share their concerns toward certain flight operation policies with management, but management hesitates to implement pilots' suggestions or concerns. Hence, the pilots' hands are tied by management's attitude about who will take responsibility for changes and choices. Furthermore, it is interesting that Captain Lin did not clearly state whether he follows the 250 nautical miles speed below 10,000 feet in practice. I assume that pilots would still follow this policy because it is essential to execute exactly what their FOM requires them to do. Although an oppositional discourse is provided by organizational members' concerns to challenge the master narrative constructed by management, resistance as oppositional practice not only allows them to voice dissatisfaction and discontent, but also creates space for exercising autonomy while increasing their ability to accommodate and survive organizational control.75 This is echoed Captain Lin's concern about the issue of PT and specific flight operations when he tried to rationalize why management takes this approach:

In each fleet,
we set up a performance index.
Every pilot in the fleet is assigned a
We don't know what number we have.
It is for management's eyes only.
For example,
both captain and first officer (FO) need to have certain scores in combination
to qualify for the flight duty together.
Management monitors some high-risk airports
such as Anchorage, AK,
and it is a major stop point
for the company's 747 cargo flights.
Because of the high operational risk,
there is a high chance for pilots to get FOQA.76 
The company's management has decided that
only captains are allowed to land at Anchorage.
Is it an effective way?
Statistics prove it.
After this policy was implemented,
the FOQA rate was lower in the 747 fleet.
Pilots, especially FOs, started complaining,
because they worried that once they got promoted to captain,
they would not have any landing experience in Anchorage.
My opinion is that
it is related to flying skills
because pilots can learn
similar experiences through approaches and landings to other airports.
FOs will learn from their previous experiences,
and most captains will share their own experiences with FOs.
This is a learning process.
There was an assistant in flight operation division who used to say,
“It is easy to manage pilots.
Just like whipping horses.
They feel the pain but continue to thrust forward.”
It is normal for pilots
to complain about every policy,
but the company management only cares about
the key performance information.
Statistics are everything.
If statistics prove
effective and helpful to flight operations,
it is hard for management to change their mind.
They know pilots will always complain
but still execute those policies.
From management's perspective,
efficacy is the most important thing.77 

The pilots' narratives revealed that resistance, as a discursive practice, is not only a specific and identifiable behavior, but also a complex and contradictory attempt to construct their professional identities.78 Negotiating the company's value of statistics with their lived experience and embodied knowledge, pilots choose less visible and less direct forms of workplace confrontation.79 In this way, they do not feel threatened when opposing the practices of organizational norms in the larger system.80 

In our conversations, pilots highlighted that it is hard to challenge certain unnecessary changes to flight operational policies initiated by upper management. Whether they like it or not, pilots are required to carry out every policy written into the FOM because this reflects on their professional expertise and attitude to ensure flight safety. As James C. Scott suggests, this is the public script for management to insert the dominant values and discourses, which is safety first, and “it is in the interest of the subordinate to produce a… credible performance” aligning to these values and discourses because that is what they are expected to do.81 Furthermore, while my participants did not explicitly address the issue of lacking union protection in Taiwan, this might also be one possible reason why pilots opt not to confront management directly.82 In this case, pilots' resistance may not be visible because they choose to elaborate and perform subordination83 under significant tensions between themselves and management. They not only perform subordination, but also use humor, irony, and cynicism as discursive strategies to avoid direct confrontation when they resist management's control.84 When Captain Chang mentioned his experience of long working hours on the day of the typhoon, he joked that his company was always the bravest one, not canceling flights on that day. Captain Lin also talked about how upper management thinks that managing pilots is like managing horses. This assumes a situation in which expertise and knowledge lies with management, and pilots simply take/follow orders. Scott further suggests “the power of social forms embodying etiquette and politeness requires us often to sacrifice candor for smooth relations with our acquaintances.”85 Pilots understand that sometimes they have to maintain their pleasant public performance while challenging and resisting upper management. On the other hand, my participants also pointed out that more and more pilots voice their dissatisfaction or write up informational posts on private online discussion forums and social media as the “hidden transcript”86 to contradict, inflect, and challenge management. By having a variety of discursive practices, pilots create space against organizational master narratives and perform resistance by embracing (unnecessary) changes in both public and hidden fashions.

Captain Lin also mentioned that some pilots challenged management more vocally in regard to unnecessary policy changes for flight operations. Many of those pilots decided to leave the company because they felt their professionalism was not respected by management. This actually endangers flight safety. Albert O. Hirschman argues that when organizational members face dissatisfaction, they may choose to either speak out or exit.87 Speaking out can be taken as an early stage of deterioration in organizations, but exiting may be a last resort once speaking out has failed in this process.88 Although none of my participants mentioned whether they had considered leaving their current company, they all agreed that upper management or other departments did not respect pilots' professionalism. The tension between pilots and upper management, fueled by the lack of respect of pilots' professionalism, runs high, and eventually is one key factor driving some pilots to leave.


The field of organizational communication studies has generated significant scholarship on resistance at work—it is often framed as a multifaceted, fragmented, and conflicted process through labor identity construction.89 This essay explores Taiwanese commercial airline pilots' embodied performance of fear, resistance, and professionalism revolving around the production, maintenance, and transformation of power relations between themselves and company management.90 Participants in this study specifically mentioned that there is tension between pilots and upper management on issues of flight operations. Although pilots are dissatisfied with upper management not providing enough support and tending to shift the responsibility to them, they rationalize that the company implemented certain policies to manage pilots because of the company's past safety records. In this case, pilots acknowledge “their control [of professional knowledge] to be eroding and they responded [to certain issues] in kind.”91 This acknowledgement of declining control reveals pilots' fear of losing their jobs and explains their choice to embrace the company's management in their discursive practices of resistance.

This analysis also generates important theoretical considerations. The totality of organizational control and resistance between Taiwanese commercial airline pilots and company management reveals the significance of discussing marginal voices and politics in constitutive sites of organizational power, resistance, and professionalism.92 Employees' resistance can be considered at the margins of organizations, of discourse, and of experiences because these are the unmanaged spaces where they are beyond the surveying gaze of organizational control.93 While commercial airline pilots may not be framed as marginal in the configuration and practice of work because of their socioeconomic status, their privileged status in the workplace is certainly in decline. The discursive reality is that although management pushes pilots to perform their duties in a professional way to ensure flight safety, it ignores and marginalizes pilots' professional suggestions in regard to flight operations. As Karen Lee Ashcraft points out, “it makes little sense to invoke evident institutional, material realities to deny discursive truths [and] is an unnecessary… prerequisite for [studying] resistance” if we do not take the discursive construction of reality seriously.94 By focusing on pilots' narratives as the discursive process of organizing, power, and resistance, the examination of connections among hegemony, counter-hegemony, and transformation can propose new formations and expressions between pilots and management.95 Hence, the discursive practices of resistance can be an approach to open new dialogue between employees and management, particularly for those equipped with highly specialized knowledge and skills—such as commercial airline pilots—with the hope of leading to a critical and collective organizing action.96 

Another significant insight from this analysis is the role technology plays in shaping pilots' professionalism and resistance and in addressing the declining privileged status of pilots. Flying has changed since the pioneer era because contemporary airplanes are equipped with better technology to help pilots. My participants indicate that pilots have to learn and understand more about the computer systems and technologies of planes because computers can only assist pilots—they have to make final decisions and solve problems based on information they receive from computers. From the pilots' perspective, technology does not really diminish their flying skills, but requires them to embody or perform their knowledge and experiences. Nevertheless, when technology and knowledge are used by the company's upper management as a mechanism of discipline, the tension and resistance from pilots toward management can tighten. It is almost as though pilots may not be able to win the battle to control their own professional knowledge and skills because a company's management can and will use mechanisms such as regular proficiency checks and trainings, and pay close attention to every move pilots make to determine whether they can keep their jobs. Pilots may not be disempowered, but may actually be enslaved by the technology.

Finally, this article calls for a performative approach to critical organizational communication studies. Scholars like Michael E. Pacanowsky and Nick O'Donnell-Trujillo have long argued that organizational communication as a socio-construction process should be treated as communicative performances, and communication in organizational sites are “culture performances” because it brings structural meaning within the organization.97 In this case, organizational performances are dialogically “interactional” and are embodied in the reality that organizational members bring to completion.98 Furthermore, Stanley A. Deetz argues that dialogical studies reveal the partial reality and complexity in organizational environments and pay close attention to how suppressed organizational members continually transform the space using their own voices.99 Still, Cheney and Ashcraft point out that the field of organizational communication has hugely neglected both physical and material bodies within organizations.100 Hence, critical performative methodologies, such as performative writing and poetic transcription, provide “a world of possibility” for studying organizational communication because embodying aspects of performative methodologies are the “practice of engagement” needed for us to understand everyday organizational life and power.101 


Geraint Harvey, Management in the Airline Industry (London: Routledge, 2007), 6.
A. N. J. Blain, Pilots and Management: Industrial Relations in the UK Airlines (London: Allen and Unwin, 1972), 63.
Harvey, Management in the Airline Industry.
Simon A. Bennett, A Sociology of Commercial Flight Crew (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006), 64.
Harvey, Management in the Airline Industry.
Roger D. Launius and Janet R. Daly Bednarek, eds., “Introduction: Whither a Century of Flight,” in Reconsidering a Century of Flight (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 1–12.
Bennett, Sociology of Commercial Flight Crew.
Ibid., 92.
Karen Lee Ashcraft, “Resistance through Consent? Occupational Identity, Organizational Form, and the Maintenance of Masculinity among Commercial Airline Pilots,” Management Communication Quarterly 19, no. 1 (2005): 85.
Karen Lee Ashcraft, “Appreciating the ‘Work’ of Discourse: Occupational Identity and Difference as Organizing Mechanisms in the Case of Commercial Airlines Pilots,” Discourse & Communication 1, no. 1 (2007): 28.
Michel Foucault, “Intellectuals and Power,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selective Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980), 205–17; “Truth and Power,” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon et al. (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 109–33; “The Subject and Power,” trans. Leslie Sawyer, in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd ed., ed. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 208–26; Dennis K. Mumby, Communication and Power in Organizations: Discourse, Ideology and Domination (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1988).
Dennis K. Mumby and Cynthia Stohl, “Power and Discourse in Organization Studies: Absence and the Dialectic of Control,” Discourse & Society 2, no. 3 (1991): 313.
Dennis K. Mumby, “The Political Function of Narratives in Organizations,” Communication Monographs 54, no. 2 (1987): 113–27.
Mumby and Stohl, “Power and Discourse in Organization Studies.”
Mumby, Communication and Power in Organizations.
Dennis K. Mumby, “Nomadic Theorizing with a Power Compass: Clegg, Interstitiality, and Critical Organizational Communication Studies,” Management Communication Quarterly 18, no. 1 (2004): 123.
Mumby and Stohl, “Power and Discourse in Organization Studies”; Foucault, “Intellectuals and Power.”
Mumby and Stohl, “Power and Discourse in Organization Studies,” 316.
Ibid., 317.
Foucault, “Intellectuals and Power”; “Truth and Power”; “The Subject and Power”; Dennis K. Mumby, “The Problem of Hegemony: Reading Gramsci for Organizational Communication Studies,” Western Journal of Communication 61, no. 4 (1997): 357.
Ibid Mumby, “The Problem of Hegemony.
Mumby, “The Political Function of Narratives in Organizations”; Communication and Power; “The Problem of Hegemony.”
Mumby, “The Problem of Hegemony.”
Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” 211.
Mumby, “The Problem of Hegemony.”
Dennis K. Mumby, “Theorizing Resistance in Organization Studies: A Dialectical Approach,” Management Communication Quarterly 19, no. 1 (2005): 19–44.
Ibid., 36.
Ibid., 37.
George Cheney and Karen Lee Ashcraft, “Considering ‘The Professional’ in Communication Studies: Implications for Theory and Research Within and Beyond the Boundaries of Organizational Communication,” Communication Theory 17, no. 2 (2007): 153.
Cheney and Ashcraft, “Considering ‘The Professional’ in Communication Studies.”
Ibid., 158.
Mats Alvesson, Karen Lee Ashcraft, and Robyn Thomas, “Identity Matters: Reflections on the Construction of Identity Scholarship in Organization Studies,” Organization 15, no. 1 (2008): 5–28.
Cheney and Ashcraft, “Considering ‘The Professional’ in Communication Studies,” 163.
Ashcraft, “Appreciating the ‘Work’ of Discourse.”
Cheney and Ashcraft, “Considering ‘The Professional’ in Communication Studies.”
Ibid., 166.
Ibid., 168.
Cheney et al., Just a Job? Communication, Ethics, and Professional Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 58.
Cheney, et al., Just a Job.
Dwight Conquergood, “Performing as a Moral Act: Ethical Dimensions of the Ethnography of Performance,” Literature in Performance 5, no. 2 (1985): 1–13; D. Soyini Madison, “Co-Performative Witnessing,” Cultural Studies 21, no. 6 (2007): 826–31.
Conquergood, “Performing as a Moral Act,” 10.
D. Soyini Madison, Critical Ethnography: Methods, Ethics, and Performance (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005), 168.
Dwight Conquergood, “Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research,” The Drama Review: A Journal of Performance Studies 46, no. 2 (2002): 153.
Conquergood, “Performing as a Moral Act”; Madison, Critical Ethnography.
Madison, Critical Ethnography, 14.
Ibid., 26.
Patrick Biernacki and Dan Waldorf, “Snowball Sampling: Problems and Techniques of Chain Referral Sampling,” Sociological Methods and Research 10, no. 2 (1981): 141–63.
Because of the nature of pilots' jobs, my participants used English for some professional terms a lot during the interviews. I also discussed with my participants regarding proper translation from Chinese to English for certain words/vocabularies/idioms in order to make sure not to lose the original meanings participants intended to elaborate.
D. Soyini Madison, “‘That Was My Occupation’: Oral Narrative, Performance, and Black Feminist Thought,” Text and Performance Quarterly 13, no. 3 (1993): 216–17. See also “Story, History, and Performance: Interpreting Oral History through Black Performance Traditions,” Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology 8 (1994): 43–63; “Performing Theory/Embodied Writing,” Text and Performance Quarterly 19, no. 2 (1999): 107–24.
Bernadette Marie Calafell, “Disrupting the Dichotomy: ‘Yo Soy Chicana/o?’ in the New Latina/o South,” The Communication Review 7, no. 2 (2004): 179.
Madison, “Story, History, and Performance,” 46.
Madison, “Story, History, and Performance”; Calafell, “Disrupting the Dichotomy.”
Cheney and Ashcraft, “Considering ‘The Professional’ in Communication Studies.”
Blain, Pilots and Management.
Captain Lin, Personal communication, 17 September 2012.
Captain Chang, Personal communication, 22 December 2012.
Mumby, Communication and Power.
Captain Chang, Personal communication, 22 December 2012.
David M. Saunders, “Introduction to Research on Hirschman's Exit, Voice, and Loyalty Model,” Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal 5, no. 3 (1992): 187–90.
Jeffrey W. Kassing, “Development and Validation of the Organizational Dissent Scale,” Management Communication Quarterly 12, no. 2 (1998): 183–229; “From the Looks of Things: Assessing Perceptions of Organizational Dissenters,” Management Communication Quarterly 14, no. 3 (2001): 442–70; “Speaking Up: Identifying Employees' Upward Dissention Strategies,” Management Communication Quarterly 16, no. 2 (2002): 187–209.
Captain Chang's original word in Chinese was 鼓譟 [gǔ zào], and I asked him what he considered the better translation in English with this phrase. Captain Chang thought “going bananas” is a good way to describe passengers on board with the diversion situation.
Captain Chang, Personal communication, 22 December 2012.
Cheney et al., Just a Job, 149.
Kassing, “From the Looks of Things,” 445.
Stanley Deetz, “Discursive Formation, Strategized Subordination and Self-Surveillance,” in Foucault, Management and Organizational Theory: From Panopticon to Technologies of Self, ed. Alan McKinlay and Ken Starkey (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998), 159.
In Chinese, 換了位置就換了腦袋 [huàn le wèi zhì jiù huàn le nǎo dài]. This means organizational members see things differently in management positions and often entails a negative meaning.
Captain Lin, Personal communication, 17 September 2012.
Loril M. Gossett and Julian Kilker, “My Job Sucks: Examining Counterinstitutional Web Sites as Locations for Organizational Member Voices, Dissent, and Resistance,” Management Communication Quarterly 20, no. 1 (2006): 63–90; Paul Edwards, David Collinson, and Giuseppe Della Rocca, “Workplace Resistance in Western Europe: A Preliminary Overview and a Research Agenda,” European Journal of Industrial Relations 1, no. 3 (1995): 283–316.
Flight Operation Quality Assurance (FOQA), also known as Flight Data Monitoring or Flight Data Analysis, is a method of capturing, analyzing, or visualizing the data generated by an aircraft moving through the air from one point to another. Using FOQA data helps improve flight safety and increase overall operational efficiency.
Captain Lin, Personal communication, 17 September 2012.
Mumby, “Theorizing Resistance in Organization Studies.”
Anshuman Prasad and Pashkala Prasad, “Everyday Struggles at the Workplace: The Nature and Implications of Routine Resistance in Contemporary Organizations,” in Research in Sociology of Organizations, vol. 15, ed. Peter A. Bamberger and William J. Sonnenstuhl (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1998), 225–57.
Gossett and Kilker, “My Job Sucks.”
James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 4.
Participants in this study were interviewed in 2012. There was no independent pilots union in Taiwan at that time. The first independent pilots union in Taiwan was established in 2014.
Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance.
Peter Fleming and André Spicer, “Workers' Playtime? Unraveling the Paradox of Covert Resistance in Organizations,” in Management and Organizational Paradoxes, ed. Stewart R. Clegg (Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins, 2002), 65–85; “Working at a Cynical Distance: Implications for Power, Subjectivity and Resistance,” Organization 10, no. 1 (2003): 157–79; Randy Hodson, “Worker Resistance: An Underdeveloped Concept in the Sociology of Work,” Economic and Industrial Democracy 16, no. 1 (1995): 79–110; Prasad and Prasad, “Everyday Struggles at the Workplace.”
Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, 1.
Ibid., 4.
Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970).
Ibid., 37.
Ashcraft, “Resistance through Consent.”
Dennis K. Mumby, “Power and Politics,” in The New Handbook of Organizational Communication: Advances in Theory, Research, and Methods, ed. Fredric M. Jablin and Linda L. Putnam (Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001), 585–623.
Ashcraft, “Resistance through Consent,” 84.
Kathy E. Ferguson, “On Bringing More Theory, More Voices, and More Politics to the Study of Organization,” Organization 1, no. 1 (1994): 81–99; Mumby, “Power and Politics.”
Yiannis Gabriel, “Beyond Happy Families: A Critical Re-Evaluation of Control–Resistance–Identity Triangle,” Human Relations 52, no. 2 (1999): 179–203.
Ashcraft, “Resistance through Consent,” 84.
Stanley A. Deetz, Democracy in an Age of Corporate Colonization: Developments in Communication and the Politics of Everyday Life (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992); Shiv Ganesh, Heather Zoller, and George Cheney, “Transforming Resistance, Broadening Our Boundaries: Critical Organizational Communication Meets Globalization from Below,” Communication Monographs 72, no. 2 (2005): 169–91.
Ganesh, Zoller, and Cheney, “Transforming Resistance, Broadening Our Boundaries.”
Michael E. Pacanowsky and Nick O'Donnell-Trujillo, “Organizational Communication as Cultural Performance,” Communication Monographs 50, no. 2 (1983): 129.
Ibid., 131.
Stanley Deetz, “Conceptual Foundations,” in The New Handbook of Organizational Communication: Advances in Theory, Research, and Methods, ed. Fredric M. Jablin and Linda L. Putnam (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001), 3–46.
Cheney and Ashcraft, “Considering ‘The Professional’ in Communication Studies.”
Bernadette Marie Calafell, “Challenging the Textual Bias of Rhetoric through the Theory of the Flesh,” in Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods and Methdologies, ed. Eileen E. Shell and K. J. Rawson (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), 112; Bryant Keith Alexander, “Performance Ethnography: The Reacting and Inciting of Culture,” in The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 3rd ed., ed. Denzin K. Norman and Yvonna S. Lincoln (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005), 430.