Chapter 8 Plugging the Theoretical Gaps: How Autopoietic Theory Can Contribute to Process-Based Organizational Research

Advanced Series in Management

ISBN: 978-1-84855-832-8, eISBN: 978-1-84855-833-5

ISSN: 1877-6361

Publication date: 14 October 2010


In examining what role autopoietic theory might play in furthering the agenda of process-based organizational research, it is worth noting that the biological notion of autopoiesis and derivative concepts have already achieved limited recognition in the broad organization studies field. A perennial debate has evolved around the question of whether organizations can and/or should be considered autopoietic (see Luhmann, 1986; Zeleny & Hufford, 1992; Mingers, 1992; Robb, 1989; Kay, 2001). Beyond that, the general approach seems to involve taking some defined aspect of autopoiesis and employing this to shed light on some defined aspect of organizational life. Thus, Krogh and Roos (1998) use the concept of autopoiesis to expound, discuss, and illustrate a distinctive perspective on organizational knowledge; Luhmann (1990) and Teubner (1984) use autopoiesis to create awareness of how the circularity and self-referentiality of legal, and social systems more generally, can prevent renewal and lead to a failure in adapting to problems in society. Autopoiesis has been used to enhance our understanding of how the functioning of computers relate to the evolution of human language, thought and action, (Winograd & Flores, 1987). In management, the concept of autopoiesis has been used, largely in a metaphorical sense, to understand the firm as a living evolving system that is characterized by “flux and transformation” (Morgan, 1986). In the therapeutic professions, various writers use autopoiesis to show how circular sets of self-reinforcing conversations can create severe dysfunctions with individuals (Efren, Lukens, & Lukens, 1990), in families and in other tightly knit social groups (Dell, 1982, 1985; Hoffman, 1988; Goolishian & Winderman, 1988). Elsewhere in organization studies, Kay (1997) applies autopoiesis to the facilitation of organizational change, and Beer (1981) uses the term “pathological autopoiesis” in understanding threats to organizational viability.


Brocklesby, J. (2010), "Chapter 8 Plugging the Theoretical Gaps: How Autopoietic Theory Can Contribute to Process-Based Organizational Research", Magalhães, R. and Sanchez, R. (Ed.) Advanced Series in Management (Advanced Series in Management, Vol. 6), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 149-167.

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