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Rationality revisited: An alternative perspective on reason in management and planning

Richard S. Bolan (Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, USA)

Journal of Management History (Archive)

ISSN: 1355-252X

Article publication date: 1 March 1999


This paper is concerned with enlarging the traditional view of rationality that has dominated management and planning in modern times. The inquiry begins by re‐examining Weber’s discussion of rationality as interpreted by contemporary analysts. Weber saw rationality as multi‐faceted and included notions of a social rationality involving more than simple instrumental or “practical” rationality. Habermas’ ideas concerning communicative action are then introduced as the basis for parsing out Weber’s differing conceptions of rationality based on the dual underlying motivations of pursuing social agreement along with technical or instrumental goals. In dialectical fashion, the paper introduces the concept of adaptive rationality involving a synthetic form of reason that mediates between substantive, or social, rationality and instrumental, or technical, rationality. This adaptive form of reason is seen as the heart of management and planning and requires a combined technical, political and moral imagination in the service of creating new forms of social practice and marshaling both the collective will and resources for their fulfillment. Thus, the paper argues for a wider conception of rationality that explicitly acknowledges social norms and the distribution of power and concludes with the hope of a renewed focus of research for a richer understanding of rational action.



Bolan, R.S. (1999), "Rationality revisited: An alternative perspective on reason in management and planning", Journal of Management History (Archive), Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 68-86.




Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited