Abstract

This review considers a class of political activity that has largely been ignored by researchers extending social movement theory into organizations: covert political conflict. Although much of the literature we discuss focuses on contemporary corporations where the bulk of research on covert conflict has occurred, we also explore studies of covert conflict in a range of historical and organizational contexts that fall outside the contemporary work world. As we define it, covert political conflict encompasses four interrelated elements: contestation of institutionalized power and authority, perceptions of collective injury, social occlusion, and officially forbidden forms of dissent. Beyond these elements, covert conflict varies in its material and symbolic forms, collective dimensions, social visibility, and outcomes. We also examine explanatory approaches for covert conflict at the micro, organizational, field, and macro levels of analysis. Finally, we suggest a number of areas for future research on covert conflict that include developing theoretical frameworks across multiple levels of analysis, stronger linkages between organization theory and the study of covert conflict, strategies for measuring outcomes (including the emergence of overt political voice and organizational change), and new methods for empirical inquiry.

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doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.095927

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