CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Organizational Change Management, Volume 27, Issue 5
Introduction: situating rhetoric of management
For understanding the higher aims, values and meanings of rhetoric of management and for realizing the importance of building, justifying and consolidating this new discipline, it is convenient to situate it in the field of academic discourses, in the stages of development of a couple of disciplines with significant tensions between them. We can trace back this tension to the fourth century BC in Athens, with the opposition between the first institutions of higher education: the rhetorical school of Isocrates and the philosophical school, namely the Academy of Plato. At that time, the former school was clearly a winner, it was much more influential and attracted more students than the latter.
As both rhetoric and philosophy have been very influential in the development of the western culture, their tension strongly influenced its way of thinking. Bruce Kimball, in his book Orators and Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education (1986) claims that "the history of liberal education is the story of the debate between orators and philosophers" (p. 2).
In the dialogue Gorgias, Plato criticized both rhetoric as such and corrupt practices of its disciples. He suggested replacing rhetoric with dialectic, or with logical debates. Aristotle, in his book On Rhetoric (translation by George Kennedy, 1991), re-founded this discipline, introducing a theory of rhetorical arguments and integrating it with other means of persuasion and eloquence. His text was addressed to students of dialectic and philosophy (pp. 14, 28, 29), but, besides this unitarian approach to rhetoric and philosophy, he also excluded the rhetorical art from learned debates of philosophy and science and situated it in popular presentations. In the Roman culture, with the great works of Cicero, rhetoric enters the basic training of the ruling class – of people who administrate the city, the Republic and the Empire. In the early Middle Ages, philosophy was the dominant discipline, but in the Renaissance, rhetoric again assumed a privileged position as the Queen of Arts and Sciences. Since the seventeenth century, with the introduction of modern philosophy by Descartes and Locke, and modern science by Galileo and Newton, philosophy and science have dominated the western thought. Rhetoric has been placed outside of a substantial argument in scientific disputes and thus it has been reduced to a toolbox of literary technics.
Rhetoric has a bad reputation (Flory and Iglesias, 2010); it is considered superfluous, inappropriate in management research and manipulative in the exercise of power and control over employees. We think that this negative reputation results at least partly from corrupt abuses of rhetorical techniques, but more significantly – from its discrimination by philosophy and science. Moreover, we think that the low productivity of rhetoric in introducing new concepts and theories after the seventeenth century (when philosophy and sciences were integrated in an intensive pursuit of cognitive progress) was strongly influenced by the abovementioned philosophical discrimination. In the twentieth century, with the introduction of rhetoric of science, as a legitimate domain of study, the situation changed again.
Rhetoric of Science has emerged in the 1980s with the idea that doing scientific research and applying knowledge requires rhetorical skills. These skills are useful in identifying the rhetorical functions that are necessary in the development of science and in shaping its communication practices. This approach situates rhetoric at the heart of epistemology. If we take into account the historical tensions between philosophy and rhetoric, we will be aware of the higher aims and challenges of its approach, and we shall become aware of a chance to bridge the ancient divisions. If we focus on Deidre McCloskey's The Rhetoric of Economics (1985) and The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (2006), then we will realize that she integrates the humanistic aspects of rhetoric, history, literature and poetry, with the philosophical virtues and the epistemology of science. This is the "higher meaning" of rhetorical turn.
From the context that has made possible the introduction of the rhetoric of science we will point out the following events: first, the reintroduction of theories of arguments by Chaïm Perelman in The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (1958) and Stephen Toulmin in The Uses of Arguments (1958). Second, the works by Kenneth Burke such us A Grammar of Motives (1945), which focus on the rhetorical new subject of meanings. Third, the contemporary criticism of modern philosophy and epistemology, and the introduction of interpretative methods in social sciences. Gerome Bruner, in his book Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1985) emphasizes that these are two kinds of knowledge: the logico-analytical knowledge and the narrative knowledge and that both of them are necessary. Hayden White in The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (1987) distinguishes three forms of writing history: the annals, the chronicles and the stories. In this conceptual framework, he made clear the structure of stories with which they give meanings to historical facts: they organize events around a plot and they present a narrative ending. Different plots and narrative endings can give different meanings to the same events, but, for doing so we have many restrictions. Barbara Czarniawska has made important contributions to narrative research and is recognized as a leading academic in this field. Her book Narratives in Social Sciences Research (2004) has exerted an important influence on the correct use of narrative methods.
Rhetoric of management
Rhetoric of management is based on the fact that managerial activities involve the rhetorical functions of persuading people, interpreting situations, events and actions, and creating meanings. Reflections on these matters are quite recent because managers and researchers were not aware of them, or did not give them any especial importance. In this context, for instance, the following books point out to or deal with rhetorical subjects, even if their authors are not aware of them, do not use rhetorical concepts and do not explore this field.
Henry Mintzberg, in The Nature of the Managerial Work (1973), emphasizes that managers spend a lot of time giving "talks"; Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline (1990) identifies the kinds of conversations that foster the activities of creating and sharing knowledge; James March, in A Premier on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen (1994) opens the field of reasonable and persuasive arguments. Garret Morgan, in Images of Organizations (1988) classifies paradigms in management research using metaphors; Karl Weick, in Sense Making in Organizations (1995) introduces meanings and Majken Schultz, Mary Jo Hatch and Morgen Hotten Larsen, in The Expressive Organization (2000) work on persuasion. R. Eccles, N. Nohria and D. Berkeley, in their research on the expected emergence of flat organizations, found the persuasive power of the theoretical concepts diffused by management schools among the main determinants of organizational change and evolution of organizational forms. Their book Beyond the Hype: Rediscovering the Essence of Management (1992) can be considered one of the first texts on rhetoric of management.
Rhetoric of Management has emerged with the development of Rhetoric of Economics, from which it has adopted two main aims: first, the study of the means of persuasion, interpretations and meanings involved in developing theories, writing texts and participating in scientific debates. Second, the identification of the rhetorical functions involved in the epistemological principles and in practices of management research. But as management is a professional activity that continuously requires judgment, decisions and actions, rhetoric of management also focuses on managerial work.
At the present stage, Rhetoric of Management is building and consolidating, a new academic specialty, field or discipline, whose full development can lead to recognition comparable with the prestige attained by disciplines such as corporate learning and knowledge management. It deals with the functions performed by managers in their speeches and conversations for creating the identity of their organization, making decisions and implementing them, stimulating the engagement of their collaborators, negotiating and making agreements. These functions are necessary in defining the strategy and business policy of corporations as well as in the activities of all functional areas.
For approaching its subjects, Rhetoric of Management takes many theories from other disciplines, applies them, at the same time, and contributes to their development uncovering their rhetorical aspects, which were hidden in classical approaches. As an example, we can mention that theories of language, praxis, meanings, interpretations and discourse analysis are usually mentioned in this kind of rhetorical research.
The special issues on rhetoric and narratives
This special issue comes out from the Fifth Conference on Rhetoric and Narratives in Management Research, held at ESADE (Escuela Superior de Administración de Empresas), in Barcelona, on 25-27 of March 2013. The conference (held every two years) has a quite long history related to PhD courses, international collaborations and the work of a group of professors: in 1991, I had started a course for PhD students of ESADE, which included the basic concepts of rhetoric, in the line of the paper Rhetoric in Management and Management Research (2010). In the 1990s, Professor Hans Siggaard Jensen joined the doctoral programme lecturing on his perspective on philosophy, education and management. His lecture on Philosophy and Management, presented during the ceremony of granting him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa of the Ramon LLull University (ESADE, 19 November 2013) traces the academic evolution of the subject. At the beginning of 2000s, Professor Deirdre McCloskey introduced the problem of the role virtues play in economics, while she was working on the book The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (2009).
The common interests of these professors on rhetoric, science and management led them to the idea of organizing the conference with the idea of fostering, research on these joint subjects, diffusing the rhetorical approach in management and management education and creating a friendly network of researchers. Professor Barbara Czarniawska joined the group, bringing with her the subject of Narratives in Social Sciences (2004) and Narrating the Organization: Dramas oif Institutional Identities (1997). The first conference was celebrated in 2006, the second in 2007, the third in 2009, the fourth in 2011 and the fifth, as we have mentioned in 2013. Since 2009, the Conference has been co-organized by Rotterdam School of Management of Erasmus University. Journal of Organizational Change Management is supporting the studies of rhetoric and narrative methods in managerial sciences by publishing special issues with the main papers. In 2012 Dr Marja Flory, form the Rotterdam School of Management, who has worked on the Dialogic Theory of Mikail Bakhtin in The never Ending Story, Narrating the Paradox of Self-management in Organizations (2008) and Dr Oriol Iglesias, from ESADE, who works on brand management and corporate identity in A Brand Value Cocreation Model (Iglesias et al., 2013) have joined the scientific committee of the conference.
The papers selected in the special issue cover many topics and are related to many theories.
The paper Only Narratives can Reflect the Experience of Objectivity: Effective Persuasion, by Kyrill Goosseff presents a conceptual framework that compares objective knowledge of science with subjective knowledge of stories and narratives. Following Kant and early Wittgenstein, the author points out that an ideal of scientific knowledge is to get rid of meanings. Stories and narratives, however, are basic instruments for creating them. Meanings are not in the external objects, but within the agents, and cannot be directly transferred to other people. Persuading people about some ideas sometimes can be achieved by transferring knowledge and information, but usually it is a more complex activity. Persuading people to deeply engage in some kinds of action, as it is the normal case in management, requires us to share meanings. A main way to surpass the principle of intransferability is to share our experience with our fellow humans – and this is best achieved by using narratives. We can consider that the paper is a contribution to the theories of human agency, which underlie all models of management.
The paper Rhetoric and Narratives as Equipment for Living: Spinning in Borgen, by Ronald Soetaert and Kris Rutten, presents some of their findings in an educational research project that focuses on rhetoric and narratives. Its title is inspired from a quotation of Kenneth Burke (literature is "equipment for living") and its approach is influenced by the main theoretical assumptions of this author. Burke thought namely that the text synthetizes the following ideas: the human being is essentially the symbol-making, symbol-using and symbol-misusing animal; and that the discipline of rhetoric studies "the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce action in other agents". The paper studies the rhetorical aspects of a popular Danish TV serial Borgen. In it, the main characters are the President Birgitte Nyborg, the spin doctor (the manipulator of information) Kaspers, and the journalist, Katrine Fonsmark, who, in their public and private life, feel the tension between their ideals and their actions.
The paper Beyond Statistics: A New Rhetoric for Investment Theory, by Thomas Pistorious relies on rhetoric of economics as developed by Deirdre McCloskey and extends our research into the field of rhetoric of the binvestment theory, which has not yet been investigated. It uncovers the current rhetoric of the portfolio theory, introduced by Harry Markowitz in the 1950s, which is the standard reference for researchers and practitioners. This theory takes for granted the condition of predictability, which is common in the neoclassical economics and models it with subjective probabilities. The main criticism of the paper is that the distribution of probabilities is not stable and that therefore the basic concepts introduced by McCloskey in several publications should focus more on criticism of statistical significance and on the role of economic virtues when designing a new rhetoric for investment theory.
The paper Framing Financial Culture: Rhetorical Struggles over the Meaning of “Libortage”, by Sine Norholm Just and Nico Mouton studies the clash of different interpretations of the financial scandal, which took place in 2012 in the London Interbank Offered Rates (LIBOR). The main protagonists of this conflict were journalists, bankers and financial regulators. The text presents a history of the facts trying to stay neutral with respect to the meanings given to these events in order to present an objective approach. Its conceptual framework introduces two theories: the theory of frames, which consists of selecting some aspects of reality making them relevant for interpretations, and the rhetorical theory of stasis, proposed by Hermagoras of Temnos about 150 BC for understanding an action through the following questions: did it happen?, what happened? what are its (moral) qualities?, and who can judge it? (Kenneth Burke's pentad can be considered as a kind of a stasis theory). With these conceptual instruments the paper analyses the rhetorical struggles focusing on the subjects of the political game, which boiled down to the question: who is to blame?, the epistemological game, which boils down to the question what they should be blamed for?, the policy game, which boils down to the question what is to be done? and to the interpretation game, which boils down to the question what are the broader implications?
The paper Rhetoric and the Foundations of the Service-Dominant Logic by Chris Miles, offers a rhetorical study of the papers by Vargo and Lusch Evolving a New Dominant Logic for Marketing (2004), in which these authors had built and consolidated the new dominant paradigm in this discipline. Chris Miles claims that the rhetoric of this paper has deeply contributed to its impressive success and proceeds to its analysis in the following way. In the first part, Vargo and Lusch present a history of the theories of "Marketing", which begins in the nineteenth century and evolves in the following stages: marketing as an off-spring of economics, as a financial discipline, as an activity of management, as a crisis of "fragmented thought". The rhetoric of this part constructs marketing as the hero of the story, who evolves in his growth and arises at the point in which he needs to be saved from destruction. For framing the narrative the authors emphasize the tensions between the approaches based on goods and services and use the framing concepts of evolution, logic and paradigm that give to their presentation a scientific meaning. With these and other rhetorical instruments, the readers expect a proposal of "salvation". The second part is an exposition of "the eight fundamental premises" and the third part outlines the consequences of the emerging paradigm.
The paper Context and Time in Brand Image Constructions, by Anne Rindell and Oriol Iglesias, presents an empirical exploratory research on the roles that time and context play in the process in which consumers construct their evolving brand image. It introduces a conceptual framework based on the notions of image-heritage, related to brand-heritage, and image-in-using, related to branding. As in brand heritage studies, past and present merge in the present brand strategy and practices and as organizational studies focus on time dimensions to define organizational identities, the approach of the paper can be related to the theory of human agents. The empirical material comes out from the data collection conducted by a large Finnish coffee roaster, Pauling, in 2010, though an online survey that looked for "your more important coffee moments". Among more than 10,000 responses, 1,500 mentioned the coffee brand Juhla Mokka and the authors studied 164 brand-specific narratives exploring the role of time, places and kinds of social or individual events related to drinking coffee. The span of time was enormous, going from almost 50 years before to some recent events, the most frequent places were nature and home, combined several times in a pleasant experience in a cottage or holidays house. Many narratives presented a story relationship between the reminiscence of these kinds of experiences and the fidelity to a brand. The paper offer new views for developing a theory on how people live "through" their brand experience.
The paper Discourse Phronesis in Organizational Change: A Narrative Analysis, by Noora Jansson, presents a case study of an organizational change at a public university hospital in Finland, which is developed through the interpretation of its narratives. Its conceptual framework has two dimensions: first, the theory of practice, which helps to explain the actions of the agents upon their social settings, and, second, the classical concept of the virtue of phronesis, introduced by Aristotle as an intellectual virtue, as episteme and techné, that can be considered as a practical wisdom, the intellectual aspects of practice. It can also be understood as the practical rationality in making us aware where we are, where we want to go, and what is desirable according to a set of values and interests. Relating classical phronesis to modern theories of practice in which phronetic discourse is necessary: the field of practices integrates the positions of the academic, the political and the hospital fields, which present different rhetorics. The mandate practices deal with the justifications of authority for participating in the conversations. The priority practices justify the main decisions. The words practices choose the common and technical languages that are necessary for the success of the project.
The paper Visual Narratives on Organization Space, by Ritva Hoykinpuro and Arja Ropo, offers a conceptual framework and an empirical research on complementing narratives with visual images and drawings. The conceptual part points out the growing importance of the study of the space in management, which involves the subjects of distance, power and experience. It emphasizes the notion of visuality, and five approaches on visual research: archeological, practical, strategic, dialogical and documental. The empirical research was developed in a university campus in the following way: students of an advanced course were asked to write a narrative on their first encounter with the campus and to draw several drawings about it. The remembrance of long past experience, the choice and the five lines studied showed the importance of these encounters. The complementarity and relationships between the written and the visual narrative helps focus on the importance of these methods of research in organizational studies about the influence of the space.
The paper Exploring the Boundaries of Rhetoric: Kinds of Speeches, Dialectic and Judgment, by Eduard Bonet, points out three limitations of classical rhetoric which were only recently remedied by our contemporary approaches. First, the text Rhetoric by Aristotle shows that he was aware that persuasion by words intervenes in all kinds of situations, but he and the classical tradition only focused on public speeches. Second, Plato in Gorgias, rejected rhetoric on epistemological and ethical grounds, and lobbied for dialectic in order to replace it, and Aristotle, even if he studied the relationships between logic and rhetorical arguments, excluded rhetoric from philosophy and science, and condemned it to the field of non-academic debates. In the twentieth century, the lifting of such boundaries has extended rhetoric and lead it to the creation of rhetoric of science and rhetoric of management. Third, Isocrates, a contemporary of Plato, emphasized that the means for persuading other people are the same for persuading ourselves but the classical tradition did not build a theory on this subject. The paper emphasizes the role of rhetoric in our ways of thinking and introducing the notion of rhetoric of judgment, relating it to theories of sociology and the philosophical foundations of the theory of the human agency.
The paper Project Specification: Creativity and Rhetoric in Scientific Research, by Nuria Nadal Burgues, focuses on two main problems on managing research with the methods of project management, which since the World War II, are the standard way of doing it. The first problem is that project management, inspired by Taylor's Scientific Management, requires to specify a priori all the stages and operations, and this requirement cannot be always met. The second problem is that, even if project management fosters productivity, it marginalizes creativity. The paper deals with the subject on how almost all very precisely defined projects leave some room for creativity. Its conceptual framework is based on the philosophical foundations of sociology of Alfred Schutz (1899-1969) on human action. The paper points out that combining a number of actions that we have performed (repeated actions) the outcome is a complete new action, introducing this way a form of creativity. And it emphasizes that what we call repeated actions or routines are not identical but similar and the way of preforming them requires judgment, which introduces another source of creativity. This approach improves the theory of (human) agency by Emirbayer and Mishe (1998) and uncovers the role of rhetoric in judgment. The empirical research presents two case studies; the first is about mathematical models and parallel computing in demography, and the other on archeological studies.
Dr Eduard Bonet, Institute of Innovation and Knowledge Management, ESADE Business School, Ramon Llull University, Barcelona, Spain
Flory, M. and Iglesias, O. (2010), "Once upon a time: the role of rhetoric and narratives in management research and practice", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 113-119