Taking our future seriously

Slawomir Jan Magala (Department of Organisation and HRM, RSM Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 10 August 2015


Magala, S.J. (2015), "Taking our future seriously", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 28 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-05-2015-0075



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Taking our future seriously

Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Organizational Change Management, Volume 28, Issue 5.

Do we take our future seriously? We probably do, hence the decision that Journal of Organizational Change Management (JOCM) as of 2015 is not being printed in hard copies anymore, but will continue purely virtual, immaterial and ghostly existence, haunting databases and other librarian locations.

Is it OK to go virtual and online and to cut the umbilical cord with the past storage facilities for printed paper? Well, we are taking a calculated risk. A risk we should have taken, though the Emerald publishing company could have been less secretive about this process. Public intellectuals, the finest super-experts we can read not only in New York Review of Books but also in fine translations from original Spanish, would agree:

The principal task for democratic political system is to reach an agreement among past legacies, present priorities and the challenges of the future (Innerarity, 2012).

Do we take changes in social production of knowledge seriously? Well, we are trying to, especially in view of the fact that advances in the most fashionable knowledge producing centers (radio telescopes spying on the universe and underground accelerators spying on subatomic particles) have already resulted in two major revisions. One of them is the upgrading of biology and history on the ranking list of the most sexy disciplines of scientific knowledge production and another is the critical deconstruction of the actual quantum mechanics. The Einsteinian/Oppenheimerian clubs left the unfulfilled promises of a unified field theory. Nor did they manage to construct an acceptable reinterpretation of the theory of relativity. The most lucid explanation of the entire process can be found in Unger's and Smolin's passionate manifesto “A Singular Universe,” and the best summary of the conclusions can be found in Daniel Innerarity's essays The Democracy of Knowledge:

A knowledge society is one in which knowledge, rather than science, is afforded a great significance. […] That is why knowledge politics must become the politics of the diversity of knowledge (Innerarity, 2013).

Why do we need this broad reflection in mid-2015? The present issue of JOCM brings us to the second half of 2015 and to the two opening papers of a regular kind. The first, written by Victoria Bellou and Ioanna Chatzinikou is entitled “Preventing employee burnout during episodic organizational changes.” This may still look like business as usual, but the second regular paper, authored by Max Visser and Beatrice van der Heijden draws our attention to the risks of organizational context by focussing on “Nursing under inconsistent organizational conditions: evidence of double bind situations?” Business which looks like usual is everything but usual. Why? Because stabilizing organizational parameters is to a large extent an illusion imposed for the sake of facility and expediency. Improvisation is necessary, but the less it resembles itself and the more it looks like a routine, the better for the impression of continuity, stability and robustness. The only problem is that our accelerating pace of knowledge production does not offer too many chances for stability (black holes are hiding not only in other galaxies but also inside and in-between our organizations), continuity (libraries are almost gone, shopping malls have to reinvent themselves, while universities still pretend to be holy sites of creative serendipities, although they are increasingly disciplined by NPM/MBA robots) or robustness (if one follows a long conversation of Google's CEO with the prisoner of Wikileaks' success, one sees that neither Google nor Amazon.com nor Facebook are robust).

The knowledge production, however, goes on, because it is a show, which cannot stop, if our increasingly complex societies are to secure at least a minimum of comfort for growing populations. Hence two themed sections: the one guest edited by Yochanan Altman and entitled “Advances in cultural theory: in honour of Gerald Mars,” and the one guest edited by Rosa Caiazza and Daniel Dauber with a longer title “Research on M & As – time for consolidation.”

The former one, “Advances in cultural theory: in honour of Gerald Mars,” is composed of four papers. Taran Patel has written on “Crossing disciplinary, epistemological and conceptual boundaries in search of better cultural sense-making tools: a review of principal cultural approaches from business and anthropology literatures” while the guest editor, Yochanan Altman, together with Claudio Morrison, came up with “Informal economic relations and organizations: everyday organizational life in Soviet and post-Soviet economics.” Perri 6 (who has been known to some of the readers as David Ashworth until he decided to change his name in 1983) wrote on “Quiet unintended transitions? Neo-Durkheimian explanation of institutional change”. Ikechukwu Umejesi and Thompson Michael authored “Fighting elephants, suffering grass. Oil exploitation in Nigeria”. I think that the title of the essay by Perri 6 is the most suitable covering label for these papers. They are all dealing with growing risks of almost imperceptible, quiet but very significant and relevant although certainly unintended organizational changes. Knowledge society is one of these unexpected consequences of the industrialization and digitalization of higher education – but attempts to pacify knowledgeable citizens by driving them into consumer boxes are clearly failing. Needless to say, neither the informal negotiations of post-communist realities in organizational settings of Russian industrial plants nor Nigerian improvisations around the oil boom in Niger delta can be easily understood within the framework of the mainstream academic theory of organization, management or change. But they are real developments and we have to be ready with really working theoretical instruments. Tresspassing other disciplines, specializations, knowledge domains, making risky comparisons and transplanting methods? Indeed, this is what these papers suggest and encourage.

The latter one, “Research on M&As – time for consolidation” can probably be best summarized in a major theoretical oeuvre of Gerhard Fink and Maurice Yolles entitled “Collective emotion regulation in an organization: a plural agency with cognition and affect.” Fink and Yolles are aware of changes in social production of knowledge and they try to plot a new area of knowledge studies – focussing namely on the role of mediating processes, some of them very clearly emotional and persuasive, in co-shaping the emergent knowledge deliverables. Perhaps they will succeed in persuading their peers to look not only at the marketplace of attention (James Webster had just published a study under this title, with a more sociological subtitle “How audiences take shape in a digital age”), but also at the role of emotions in encouraging or discouraging entire branches of knowledge production (e.g. anti-genetics of Lysenko in Russia, anti-eugenics in the west after German experiments under Nazi rule). The other papers in this section include Surender Munjal's and Vijay Edward Pereira' s “Opportunities and challenges for multiple embeddedness through mergers and acquisitions in emerging economies,” Selena Aureli's “Performance of unlisted Italian companies acquired by multinationals from emerging markets. The case of Indian acquisitions” and Shweta Maheshwari's and Veena Vohra's “Identifying critical HR practices impacting employee perception and commitment during organizational change.”

Judging from these contents, the production of knowledge is going well. Ten papers, some of them quite substantial. No worries, then? Well, yes, we can worry about some aspects of our production processes, because some of our institutional and organizational constraints are frozen over. Let me close with a personal example. For a few weeks I kept receiving requests to upload my review of my own book Cross Cultural Competence which allegedly had been published by the undersigned in International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management (IJCCM) in 2008. I had at least 37 such requests. My peers must have wondered why on earth did I review my own book? Perhaps I wanted to promote myself in this way? Luckily for me, the editor-in-chief of IJCCM, Terence Jackson, had noticed that this mistake went online and corrected it immediately with an erratum, explaining to all individuals who went to the databases and to the web site of the journal itself that the actual author of the review is a young Turkish female researcher by the name of Serap Yavuz, and not the author of the book under review. This is a trivial episode, but a non-trivial conclusion can be drawn from my attempts to quickly access the review in order to check the name of the author. Since I had first tried not to do it from my university PC, which has access to Sage journals, but from an iPad at home, I had encountered locked doors and demands of 32-dollar fee for a 24-hour access to the book review alone. Now, this is the real barrier to knowledge growth. And Sage is not an exception. What should we call it? This is not the tragedy of the intellectual commons. It is the repetition of a tragedy, which means, as the old leftist critic had once expressed it in his study of the coup d'etat executed on 18 Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte – that it is a farce.

Slawomir Jan Magala


Innerarity, D. (2012), The Future and Its Enemies. In Defense of Political Hope, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA

Innerarity, D. (2013), The Democracy of Knowledge, Bloomsbury Acdemic, New York, NY