Philosophy and Organization Theory: Volume 32


Table of contents

(18 chapters)

All chapters in this volume explore connections between certain streams in philosophy and OT. As the titles of the chapters suggest, most authors write about a particular philosopher or group of philosophers that makes up a distinct school of thought, summarize important aspects of his/their work and tease out the implications for OT. The central question authors explore is: ‘what does a particular philosophy contribute to OT?’ Whether addressing this question in historical terms (‘what has been the influence of a particular philosophy on the development of certain OT approaches?’), exploratory terms (‘what benefits to organizational analysis does a particular philosophy bring?’) or a combination of both, the end result is similar: particular philosophical issues, properly explained, are discussed in relation to important questions in OT.

In this chapter, we present a critical assessment of contemporary organization theory variously described as either multiperspectival or fragmented. We argue that analytic philosophy as one of the major tools used for theorizing about organizations has had a major influence on the development of organization theory and largely explains the current state of affairs. At its core, we argue, is a fundamental methodological fissure in analytic philosophy itself: the distinction between descriptive and revisionary methods. The principal focus of descriptive analysis in organization theory is how agents use everyday language in organizational contexts, often by invoking language games. In contrast, revisionary approaches, concerned about the privileging of theories embedded in everyday language, as well as the complexity and ambiguity of ordinary-language use, aim for explicit theory evaluation and greater clarity by recasting ordinary language in formal systems, such as scientific, especially empiricist, theories, characteristic of the mainstream of theorizing about organizations from the 1940s onward. For a number of theoretical and epistemological reasons logical empiricism or positivism is no longer a widely held view either in the philosophy of science or in the organization theory. We examine some critical issues regarding logical empiricist epistemological foundations and propose a methodological naturalistic framework that supports the ongoing growth of knowledge in organization theory, naturalistic coherentism. In developing this new conception of science we thus opt for a revisionary methodology, but one that is beholden to neither the traditional logical empiricist/positivist conception of (organization) science nor the relativism and conservatism of postmodernist theory, widely considered to be the successor of positivist organization theory.

In the past, critics have dismissed American Pragmatism as intellectually naïve and philosophically passé, but in this chapter we argue that it still has much to offer the field of organization studies. Pragmatism is especially relevant to those organizational scholars who are concerned with understanding the dynamic processes and practices of organizational life. This chapter lays out the historical development of Pragmatism, recognizing the originating contributions of Peirce, James, Dewey and Mead. Although each of these writers developed unique philosophical positions, their ideas are all permeated by four key themes: experience, inquiry, habit and transaction. The interplay between these themes informs a temporal view of social practice in which selves and situations are continuously constructed and reconstructed through experimental and reflexive processes of social engagement. We then use organizational learning theory as an example to illustrate the relevance of these four themes, contrasting the anti-dualistic stance of Pragmatism with the work of Argyris and Schön. Finally we turn to consider Weick's organizing and sensemaking, suggesting that Pragmatism offers three potential foci for further development of these theories, namely continuity of past and future in the present, the transactional nature of social agency and reflexivity in social practices. Similarly we see potential for Pragmatism to productively inform the theorizing of other organizational practices such as identity work, strategy work, emotion work and idea work.

In this chapter, we set out to demonstrate how organizational theory and analysis can benefit from the work of the distinguished philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. In the first part of the chapter we show how MacIntyre's conception of how rival traditions may move towards reconciliation has the potential to resolve the relativist conclusions that bedevil organization theory. In the second part, we show how MacIntyre's ‘goods–virtues–practices–institutions’ general theory provides a framework for reconciling the fields of organization theory and organizational ethics. In the third part, we provide a worked example of these two strands to demonstrate the implications of MacIntyre's philosophy for organizational analysis. We conclude with a research agenda for a distinctively MacIntyrean organization theory.

This chapter aims to how Marx's ideas and subsequent Marxist-inspired scholarship have contributed to the analysis of the various forms of work organization. It summarizes Marx's basic philosophy, theory of history, and critique of political economy; it distinguishes more critical and more optimistic variants of Marxist theory; and it then shows how these ideas have been used in the analysis of key organizational forms, contrasting Marxist versus non-Marxist approaches and critical versus optimistic versions of Marxism.

Jürgen Habermas is one of the most important authors in contemporary philosophy. In this chapter, we analyse his contribution to the philosophical debate on universalism and relativism and consider its implications for organization studies and organizations operating in an intercultural environment. We briefly describe the critique of a universal concept of reason that has been forwarded by sceptical and postmodern philosophers. As a response to this critique, we outline the contribution of discourse ethics and analyse the theories of Jürgen Habermas and his colleague Karl-Otto Apel. We explore the justification of discourse ethics and point out some problems in its argumentative logic. In the light of this critique, we outline some characteristics of an intercultural ethics that is based on constructivist philosophy and point to some encouraging prospects on the consolidation of the debate between relativistic and universalistic philosophers.

Our aim in this chapter is twofold: first, to review briefly the history of the hermeneutic traditions; second, to examine its influence in organization studies. We begin with a review of hermeneutic philosophy including ancient Greek origins and Biblical hermeneutics. We then delve more deeply into the work of 20th-century hermeneutic philosophy, particularly Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur, to demonstrate how hermeneutics became a field that is concerned not only with texts but also with verbal and nonverbal forms of action and the preunderstanding that makes any interpretation possible. Finally, we explore how hermeneutic philosophers claim that interpretation is the mode by which we live and carry on with one another. In the third section, we suggest that the field of organizational studies has discovered the relevance of hermeneutic theory, a rarely explicitly acknowledged debt. In particular, we outline the influence of hermeneutic theory on several figural areas, including culture, sensemaking, identity, situated learning, and organizational dialogue.

Phenomena are what we as researchers begin with, and to study phenomena is to appreciate how any determination of things and events always relates back to the context in which they appeared. Phenomenology is the study of such relations of appearance and the conditions of such relations. Appearance is an active rather than superficial condition, a constant bringing together of experiencing beings and experienced things (including sentient beings), in what the modern “father” of phenomenology Edmund Husserl called conditions of intentionality, and what his errant, one-time student Martin Heidegger called conditions of thrownness and projection. This chapter delves into the philosophical background of this mode of study, before opening up into consideration of, first, where phenomenology has been influential in organization studies, and, second, the potential of the approach. In so doing, we suggest much can be made of reorienting research in organization studies away from an entitative epistemology in which things are seen in increasingly causally linked, detailed isolation, and toward a relational epistemology in which what exists is understood in terms of its being experienced within everyday lives.

This chapter explores the connection between the philosophy of Jacques Derrida (i.e. deconstruction) and organizational analysis from an aporetic perspective. In the first part, I introduce Derrida's philosophy as a way to expose the aporetic nature of theorizing about organizations. I label this part of the discussion ‘Organizing Derrida’ as I attempt to organize parts of his philosophy. In the second part of the chapter, after reviewing the existing literature on Derrida and organization theory, I discuss three aporias – regarding environmental adaptation, decision-making and rule following – and show how Derridian philosophy can help us to better understand how the experience of the impossible acts as a necessary limit to our theorizing about the functioning of organizations. I argue that the recognition of aporias turns against well-established oppositions within organization theory and helps us to better understand the rich interplay between the formerly separated poles of these oppositions. This second part is labelled ‘Derrida Organizing’ as it shows what implications Derridian philosophy can have for organization theory.

Process is an ambivalent term. Its use in organizational research and theorizing is widespread. Yet, there are important subtle differences in how the term is understood and employed in the study of organizing/organization. In this chapter, we show that thinking in terms of ceaseless change, emergence and the immanent becoming of things, entities and events are central to a proper appreciation of what it means to truly understand process in genuinely processual terms. From this process philosophical perspective, social entities such as individuals and organizations are construed as temporarily stabilized event clusters abstracted from a sea of constant flux and change. Such an approach to the understanding of organizational phenomena draws its inspiration from a tradition of thinkers from Heraclitus to twentieth-century process philosophers such as William James, Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead and beyond all of who, in one way or another, viewed reality in terms of ceaseless process, flux and transformation rather than as a stable world of unchanging entities. In what follows, we outline the key principles and axioms of process philosophy. We show that from a process philosophical outlook, primacy is accorded to becoming over being, difference over self-identity, and time and temporality over simple spatial location. We then examine the implications of process thinking for understanding organization as an ongoing ‘world-making’ phenomenon and show that the current interest in organizational sensemaking, organizational identity and entrepreneurial logic provides good illustrations of how and when process and emergence are taken seriously, our understanding of organizational situations can be vastly enriched.

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.

We propose that management scholars can improve their research by triangulating alternative philosophies of science to gain a richer and more holistic understanding of complex managerial problems. We illustrate the proposition by triangulating with three scientific philosophies – positivism, postmodernism, and critical realism – to design a study in response to a debate in the sociology of professions. After summarizing and applying positivism, postmodernism, and critical realism to reveal their differing research approaches, we discuss how to deal with the convergent and divergent information often produced by triangulating philosophies of science. Although common views of triangulation emphasize reliability by focusing on convergent information from different methods, we emphasize validity by discussing how divergent information from different methods reveal important aspects and values of a complex phenomenon that often go unrecognized without triangulation.

This chapter presents selected elements of Richard Rorty's philosophy, with special emphasis on his role in re-introducing women to philosophy. It pleads for a greater attention to new pragmatist thinking in organization theory.

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Book series
Research in the Sociology of Organizations
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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