Rethinking how we work with Acker's theory of gendered organizations: An abductive approach for feminist empirical research

Trudy Bates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article I demonstrate the methodological value of working abductively with Joan Acker's theory of gendered organizations, as an approach for feminist empirical research. Although the value of Acker's theory is acknowledged, I note it is most frequently used to legitimize the idea that organizations are gendered, not to test whether they are. Few use her theory fully or as it was originally intended. Fewer still have questioned it. This, I argue, contributes to the stagnation of her ideas and results in blindness toward, or disregard for, data that does not support her theory. To realize the analytical potential of Acker's theory, I call for future studies to work abductively with data unaccounted for in the expectations and predictions set by Acker, while operationalizing her five-dimensional framework in its entirety. Abduction is about discovering new concepts, ideas, and explanations by working with surprising phenomena or data that cannot be explained by pre-existing knowledge. To demonstrate the utility of this approach, I draw upon a qualitative case study of one atypical Australian trade union. I outline the creative process of drawing inferences to best explain anomalous observations using other theoretical resources in the gender studies field, which together with Acker, constitute a plausible explanation for questions that arose during analysis. This analysis not only surfaces how masculine power is maintained by having women in leadership positions, who serve as “role models” while quieting “others,” but that women and men cooperated as a “team” to support a feminine public impression of the union that was knowingly contradicted in private, indicating a more “truthful” performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1041-1064
Number of pages24
JournalGender, Work and Organization
Issue number4
Early online date23 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


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