In this paper we use one form of communicative action, “brownnosing”, as a social lens for understanding power relations in both formal, organizational contexts and interpersonal relationships. We investigate this phenomenon by assessing processes of ingratiation at school and work settings. We do so using data collected from over one hundred student respondents to ascertain the meanings, uses, and outcomes of brownnosing. The study finds that members of the “millennial generation” develop skills in both the act of brownnosing and the detection of this form of communication as they participate in a variety of contexts, including family, school, work, and interpersonal relationships. Utilizing power-dependence models for analysis, our data suggest that brownnosing, as an organizational resource, commonly reflects the structural arrangements of both school and the workplace. We draw upon organizational and exchange theories in the interpretation of the data.


Ingratiation, Organizational Culture, Hierarchy, Power, Power-Dependence, Brownnosing, Qualitative Research

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