CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Complexity, reflexivity, and changeability
Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Organizational Change Management, Volume 23, Issue 3
Academic community, like most professional communities of practice (if not belief) is periodically shaken by the discovery of a low level of reflexivity. Once this happens, we usually perform some public “mea culpa” atonement rituals. For instance, we write that the institution of a university breaks down and we are practically working in ruins (Readings, 1996). We may also try to search for a more specific cure – if we diagnose the misinformed and misfiring program of resuscitating managerial sciences pinpointing, let us say, the 1955 Ford Foundation Project of having more PhD’s among business school teachers and saturating curriculum of a school of management with quantitative methodologies and behavioral sciences (as did Khurana, 2007). We may even go for a sociological study of decision-making bodies in peer-controlled promotion and tenure commissions, editorial offices, admission committees, and the like, concluding that we begin to know how standards of fairness are being negotiated and emerge from the chaos of clashes, power struggles, ideological confrontations, and personal campaigns (Lamont, 2009). All of this does not prevent the successive waves of critique based on a discovery of far too low level of self-reflection and reflexivity in general – because institutions have to generate routines in order to survive and serve our purposes and because we have to preserve a distance from what we are doing when we do what we are paid for.
Alfons van Marrewijk, Marcel Veenswijk and Stuart Clegg smuggle their plea for a higher level of self-reflexive hemoglobin in the blood vessels of academic communications (“Organizing reflexivity in designed change: the ethnoventionist approach”, a nice pun on ethnomethodology and interventionism) promising us a new synthesis of clinical inquiry, participative action research, ethnography, and their own invention and design – the ethnoventionist approach. They end up advising longitudinal studies and assessing the risks of “going native” (one does melt into the native interactions, but going native trains him or herself not to notice what is taken for granted, obvious, considered unremarkable). The longitudinal studies link us to memory. Darren McCabe proposes “Taking the long view: a cultural analysis of memory as resisting and facilitating organizational change” – what he does is he analyzes in a qualitative way some 80 interviews with employees in a British insurance company. Not very surprisingly, memory turns out to be a double-edged sword and it does not allow us to predict what happens if we either forget or remember, because change projects generate unexpected results and consequences. The infamous “nostalgia”, which fuels resistance to organizational change, is not the most probable outcome once and forever in all contexts. Overall conclusion – memory is not a simple “tool” which can be instrumentally used by the high and mighty: “memory does not work in this predictable, linear way, for memories are bound up with complex relations that are not easy to render or manage.”
Memory is often studied with its darker sister – forgetting or unlearning, and this is what Karen Becker devotes her attention to in “Facilitating unlearning during implementation of new technology”. She is interested in prior knowledge and established mental models which might be detrimental to the attempts to learn, develop, change. Becker developed a questionnaire about unlearning, which she then distributed among the employees of an Australian corporation, which had to change as a result of the implementation of the new ICT system (enterprise information system). The list of identified unlearning factors includes positive prior outlook, feelings and expectations, positive experiences and informal feedback and support, understanding of the need to change, historical awareness and indispensable organizational support, expressed, for instance, in training offers.
Learning and unlearning belong to the cultural evolution of human organizations – hence Anthony Hussenot and Stéphanie Missioner tackle “A deeper understanding of evolution of the role of the object in organizational process: the concept of ‘mediation object’”. They demonstrate the uses of Actor-Network Theory in tracing and analyzing interactions, associations, and objects in the evolutionary perspective and they explain how evolving objects help actors to structure their projects, interpretations and ultimately their organizational lives; interactions and activities. This conceptual study is followed by a more concrete, detailed and empirical investigation of Stephanie C. Reissner (“Change, meaning and identity at the workplace”), who compares the processes of organizational learning and change in three manufacturing companies, one from the UK, one from Russia and one from South Africa (an interesting triangle in its own right). Narrative interviews are the methodology of choice and the explanation involves the consequences of organizational transformations for personal identities. Self-esteem, the awareness of one’s own worth, one’s reconstruction of a past and a future from the point of the present shifts in his or her self-evaluations, all this follows attempts to adapt, to enact new behaviors, to invent new meanings, etc. Last not least, Leonel Prieto and Lei Wang investigate the real life case of a large-scale unlearning and learning during a major transformation – “Strategizing of China’s major players: a Bourdieusian perspective”. They explain the transformations of large enterprises, formerly owned by the Chinese state, into new players in a changed socioeconomic and political space and they do so with the aid of the theory of practice as proposed by Bourdieu, hence references to field theory, habitus, cultural and social capital, granulation, fractality, and heterogeneity. Their classification of the former state-owned enterprises (SOE’s) into those that failed to survive, those that were fully or partially privatized and those, which remained state-owned but were exposed to the dynamics of a “free market” (free market is in quotation marks, since it is not particularly free, especially in China) deserves attention. Their suggestion, although extravagant, so to speak, is the most interesting interpretative proposal since Max Boisot tried to explain the specificity of the Chinese post-communist transformations with the difference between a strategy of cognitive reduction (symbolized by the Gutenberg Press reducing all future texts to 24 mobile wooden printing blocks) and interactional distrust reduction (standardizing relations and interactions on a scale of a Confucian morals and manners throughout the empire of the middle).
The present issue closes with Brad S. Long’s and Jean Helms Mills’ “Workplace spirituality, contested meaning, and the culture of organization: a critical sensemaking account”. The authors conclude that a workplace, as compared to family, church and civic society, is placed more “centrally” and systematically in our lives, thus its role is – at the present stage of the evolution of human societies – more central. Not a very surprising discovery, but the one we never actually become aware of, since our identity construction is still traditionally linked to the family name and family given surname, the family event of both the birth and early upbringing, and to the family building events such as births, deaths or marriages and divorces. This, in turn, does not prepare us well for the manipulative and Machiavellian uses of workplace socialization practices and the authors rightly quote Max Weber powerful accusation of “the idea of duty in one’s calling that prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs” and Deirdre McCloskey’s (but also Cox’s and Novak’s) cynical view that the capitalist economics are being sacralized “through the rise of economic theology”. An alternative – critical workplace spirituality approach, which:
[…] offers the opportunity to unite people around values of humanity, equality and liberation. It is our hope that scholarship in this direction becomes sufficient to constitute a “movement” with a unity of purpose and a shard understanding of the construct that includes the above notions. What may result is an elevated social consciousness necessary to reconstruct the workplace in a manner that challenges the structural inequalities, exploitive tendencies, unsustainability and marginalization produced by modern managerial practices in the pursuit of material gain.
Khurana, R. (2007), From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
Lamont, M. (2009), How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
Readings, B. (1996), The University in Ruins, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA