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Theory as therapy: Wittgensteinian reminders for reflective theorizing in organization and management theory

Philosophy and Organization Theory

ISBN: 978-0-85724-595-3, eISBN: 978-0-85724-596-0

Publication date: 7 February 2011


In this chapter, drawing primarily on Wittgenstein, we argue that a representationalist view of theory in an applied or practical science such as organization and management theory (OMT) is unrealistic and misleading, since it fails to acknowledge theory's ineradicable dependence on the dynamics of the life-world within which it has its ‘currency’. We explore some of the difficulties raised by the use of representational theorizing in OMT, and mainly explore the nature of a more reflective form of theorizing. Reflective theory, we argue, invites practitioners to attend to the grammar of their actions, namely to the rules and meanings that actors draw upon in their participation in social practices. In this view, the role of theory resembles the role Wittgenstein ascribed to philosophy: it is theory-as-therapy. The latter seeks to make action more perspicuous by providing the conceptual means to practitioners to engage in re-articulating, not only their taken-for-granted assumptions and models but also their modes of orientation and their ways of relating themselves to the situations in which they must work. Reflective theory works to draw their attention to aspects of people's interactions in organizations not usually noticed, to bring to awareness unconscious habits, confusions, prejudices and pictures that hold practitioners captive, and, furthermore, to point out that other continuations of them than those routinely followed are possible. This view of theory – as perceptually reorienting rather than as cognitively explaining – is illustrated by looking at the Karl Weick's sensemaking theory.



Shotter, J. and Tsoukas, H. (2011), "Theory as therapy: Wittgensteinian reminders for reflective theorizing in organization and management theory", Tsoukas, H. and Chia, R. (Ed.) Philosophy and Organization Theory (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 32), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 311-342.



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