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Office politics: A working letter:

I’ve noted before how phrases and concepts often “do work” beyond just what their presumed meaning might relay. The term “office politics” is one of those phrases. It turns an important part of the inner workings of an organization—how people negotiate power and authority—into a futile and dispiriting game that no one in their right mind wants any part of. It serves to disenfranchise people from participating in decision-making that affects their lives. It reduces politics to power-grabbing without any analysis of the consequences of who wields that power, and in doing so coats any discussion of political values in a film of disgrace.

It’s within that framing that proscriptions of discussing politics at work arrive, making it especially difficult to interrogate them. It’s trivially easy for those with more power to simply declare that political discussions are, by their very nature, unpleasant and pointless. But that declaration obscures the judgment of what counts as a political discussion.

Politics is the practical work of navigating, manipulating, and adjusting the power structures that our society has built up around us. Whether it is in the office or in everyday life, claiming that you “don’t do politics” is nearly always an indication that the current power structures are working in your favor and you are okay with that.

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