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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Organizational Change Management, Volume 24, Issue 5
As of the present writing, entire populations of states located in Northern Africa and Middle East are busy demonstrating their newly gained civil subjectivity and experimenting with both non-violent (Egypt) and violent (Libya) forms of civil disobedience. What we see and hear resembles an indigenous mobilization of individuals critical of long established dictators and enforcing a definite change of the rules of a political game. What do we have to say about these changes, about a slow incremental buildup of free civil spaces? Serious political scientists have felt that reduction of citizenship to a bowling alley behavior is silly:
Democracy is not about bowling together, but about managing together those powers that immediately and significantly affect the lives and circumstances of others and one’s self (Wolin, 2008).
They have also felt that a contemporary political mobilization owes much to a sheer power of multi-mediated and hyper-communicated images, which give a certain “spin” to the huge flood of images and meanings we are daily supplied with:
The contemporary practice of spin originates from the inability of political actors to dictate the contents of the media (Brown, 2003, p. 159).
So far, so good. Are we equipped theoretically, research wise, to deal with such suddenly erupting processes? Let us first ask ourselves a question: how democratic is a parliamentary democracy?
Citizens of these countries, which define themselves as parliamentary democracies, participate regularly in political elections and vote representatives of political parties into their respective parliaments. Elected members of parliament count themselves and form a government, which manages the country on behalf of the voting citizens. In-between these elections, citizens watch their representatives; the way they manage the country, the consequences of their actions, a relative improvement or deterioration of the quality of life of fellow-countrymen (and women). Their political participation is usually limited to the deliberate preparation for the next vote. This limitation worries concerned citizens and delights political manipulators, because a closer examination reveals an exclusion of a voting majority from any influence upon political agenda of successive governments or upon choices between different forms of social action.
In countries which are functioning parliamentary democracies, many commentators express doubts about the actual salience, range and depth of a deliberate democratic participation of a majority of citizens in co-ruling their own societies. Therefore, political scientists, media commentators and politicians try to revive the ideal of informed and concerned citizens voluntarily undertaking individual actions in collective interest by supplementing the term “representative (parliamentary) democracy” with some correctional formulas, of which “participative democracy” (which works, for instance, through referenda and can thus mobilize citizens even outside of the regular election dates) and “deliberative democracy” (which works through informed citizens, stimulating them to go beyond the government-sponsored experts in shaping the public opinion).
In countries, which are not parliamentary democracies (although they often tend to imitate some of the rituals of representative democracy), the attempts at the participation and deliberation are usually thwarted and presented as random, scattered, rare and hopeless. Usually repressions and monopoly of both repression (secret police, unreliable judicial system) and persuasion (television, press) suffice to control the passive and closely monitored population, but not always. Citizens can reclaim their right to a democratic participation – as demonstrated by non-violent mass manifestations in Egypt’s and Libya’s largest cities (Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Tripolis, Benghazi, Tobruk) in February 2011. In face of the ongoing mass demonstrations, among a growing wave of industrial strikes and with a growing evidence of a neutral attitude of the army, Mubarak had to resign on February 11, 2011. President Obama acknowledged the merit of the Egyptian citizens in defending their right to live in a truly democratic country by issuing an appeal to the other protesting citizens in North Africa and in the Middle East – to follow the Egyptian example.
Hence the non-rhetorical answer to an apparently rhetorical question: “how democratic is parliamentary democracy?” includes two versions. If we answer it in a representative democracy, in which politicians really depend on an approval of citizens, and media are relatively free to feed criticism back into the public discussion, then we can measure the level of democracy by analyzing the quality and quantity of deliberations and the willingness of citizens to participate in political actions. If we answer it in a quasi-democracy (where neither free elections nor free media can be taken for granted), we have to look for civil disobedience and explore the dynamics of democratization (recent examples include a successful civil disobedience in Egypt, a partly successful disobedience in Tunisia and unsuccessful manifestations in Iran). In other words: in relatively stable parliamentary democracies citizens can improve the quality of democracy by deliberating and participating within the system, while in quasi-democracies citizens can improve the quality of democracy by contesting the camouflaged dictatorship and by building up bottom-up, grass-roots liberated zones of free speech and democratic deliberation.
In established democracies losers fall back into the routine of periodic voting, with less influence upon politicians in-between the elections. In dictatorships, losers are forced back to the role of the “excluded” from the political process. Stakes are thus different, payoffs and punishments, too, but risks are always high.
When the present issue of Journal of Organizational Change Management reaches you, dear readers both online and in hard copies, situation in the above-mentioned region will have evolved further, perhaps rendering some of the prognoses obsolete and frustrating some expectations. What do we have to say about mechanisms of change? Well, if we are to believe Olivia Kyriakidou, who wrote “Relational perspectives on the construction of meaning: a network model of change”, several vital components of organizational change (her analysis applies to the mezzo-level of organizations rather than states or individuals) can only be brought about by moderate and local adaptations. Young unemployed and overeducated, old, underpaid and marginalized and other members of Middle Eastern and North African societies must have accomplished a long process of incremental local adaptations before the large-scale episode of rebellion took place. Stefanie C. Reissner points out in her study of “Patterns of stories of organizational change” that at least three categories of stories accompany and document the struggle to negotiate a meaning of organizational change – stories of “the good old days”, of deception, taboo and silence, and finally the stories of influence (the author compared three companies, from the UK, South Africa and Russia). Some of her conclusions clearly point out to the relevance of a broader political context:
[…] the contexts of story-work are complex and extend beyond the organization into the geopolitical and historical environment it functions in. A focus on stories that contest the official change stories in organization allows researchers to gain a better understanding of the experiences and agendas of those organizational actors whose views are rarely sought and context the official stories.
Two subsequent papers, “The role of the HR department in organizational change in a British University” by Charlotte Edgley-Pyshorn and Jeroen Huisman, and Pierre Barbaroux’s “A design-oriented approach to organizational change: insights from a military case study”, deal with a relative underdevelopment of HR function at the universities, which – of all organizations – should have been the pioneers of subtle and proactive HR policies (hence, with a limited role of HRM in change processes) and with a NATO project aimed at increasing flexibility and responsiveness through better and quicker knowledge sharing and a more sophisticated use of standardization and codification. Richard Soparnot reflects on “The concept of organizational change capacity” and discusses a case of a change process in a car manufacturing company. Hila Chalutz Ben-Gal and Shay S. Tzafrir add a question mark to the title of their paper – “Consultant-client relationship: one of the secrets to effective organizational change?”
The issue closes with two papers on diversity and deviance, both of which appear to play a role in a mobilization for organizational change. Anne R. van Ewijk writes about “Diversity and diversity policy: diving into fundamental differences”, while Yishuo Hung, Heh Jason Huang and Mark Gosling write on “Deviation and escalation: decision-making pitfalls illustrated” (and pay due attention to the phenomenon of “powerlessness”, which became radically contested in a sudden and disruptive way in the case of the Arab spring of nations mentioned above).
Let me finish on a comparative note. Watching the drama of civil disobedience in both violent and non-violent forms shaking the dictatorships of the Mediterranean region I was stuck by analogies between social mobilization and exercise in courage manifested in February 2011 and the 1980-1989 process of the liberation of central and eastern Europe from the communist dictatorship started by the powerful movement of the Polish “Solidarity” in August 1980 and finished symbolically by the breakdown of the Berlin wall in November 1989. Let me quote a sociologist of social and political disobedience and change:
Acting as if they lived in a free society, the oppositions in Central Europe presented a democratic challenge to the Soviet Empire. Through everyday interactions in university seminars, students and professors have created, or failed to create, institutions of liberal education. […] When ordinary people got together around the kitchen table in the former Soviet bloc, they added a new dimension to their society. Their informal interactions proved that totalitarian policies and culture have social limits, structured by ordinary people interacting with each other outside of official definition. They defined their situation as being free of political controls, and for the most part it was. The power of social definition was likewise evident as the free zone of the nontotalitarian expanded beyond such intimate settings, to the bookstore and literary salon in Warsaw, and more spectacularly to Solidarity (Goldfarb, 2006).
The meanings of fairness and sustainability in a hyperlinked society are continuously debated and negotiated in our societies made garrulous by individualized and hyperlinked multimedia. Meanings are always “imported” and “smuggled” into the ongoing public “conversation” with “private” zones. Let me close the present editorial with a quote from my own book The Management of Meaning in Organizations:
[…] and thus the unfinished project of democracy can be retrieved, reinvented, rejuvenated and retried. Meaning, as language, should be regarded as a mode of action, not just a frozen trace of a thought with value in the background (Magala, 2009).
Brown, R. (2003), “Spinning the world: spin doctors, mediation and foreign policy”, in Debrix, F. and Weber, C. (Eds), Rituals in Mediation: International Politics and Social Meaning, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, pp. 154–72
Goldfarb, J. (2006), The Politics of Small Things: The Power of the Powerless in Dark Times, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL
Magala, S. (2009), The Management of Meaning in Organizations, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke
Wolin, S. (2008), Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ