A Deleuzian Future for Organization Theory?

By Thanem, Torkild | Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Deleuzian Future for Organization Theory?


Thanem, Torkild, Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science


The past couple of decades have witnessed an expanding interest in the work of the French twentieth century philosopher Gilles Deleuze, inside and outside philosophy. Interpretations and applications of Deleuzian philosophy have been pursued by scholars across the humanities and the social sciences, including cultural studies, film studies, literary theory, women's studies, social theory, and more recently, certain areas of organization theory and management studies. Though Deleuze is often considered an obscure thinker, more elusive than contemporaries such as Foucault and Derrida, his contribution to Western thought has been extraordinary. From a sophisticated thinking of becoming and the virtual (Deleuze 1991, 1994), and through intense involvement with controversial thinkers such as Nietzsche (Deleuze, 1983), Bergson (Deleuze, 1991) and Spinoza (Deleuze, 1988, 1992), Deleuze has been a significant interlocutor in the critical rewriting and "buggery" of the history of metaphysics in ways that challenge the philosophical canon (see Deleuze, 1995), open up the world and expand Western philosophy's understanding of the world beyond being and the real. Reflecting both a biophilosophical and a methodological concern, Deleuze has sought to rethink the task of philosophy as the creative invention of concepts (Deleuze, 1994; Deleuze & Guattari, 1994) and problematize the relationship between thought and life, theory and practice (e.g. Foucault & Deleuze, 1977; Deleuze, 1995). As this has made Deleuze a controversial figure inside philosophy, it may seem that his work has been more palatable outside philosophy. In his sole-authored works as well as in his joint work with the psychologist Félix Guattari, Deleuze speaks directly to nonphilosopers through powerful notions such as the body without organs, nomadology and becoming-other, radically proposing a life to be lived differently from the established habits, norms and traditions of Western modern society (e.g. Deleuze, 1988, 1995; Deleuze & Guattari, 1984, 1988). And on a more concrete level akin to the agenda of organization theory, Deleuze has offered thought-provoking commentaries on the nature and workings of capitalism, bureaucracy and the State, juxtaposing these phenomena with schizophrenia.

Interestingly, Deleuze seems to have spurred more interest in organization theory than in many other social science disciplines (see e.g. Cooper, 1998; Chia, 1999; Bougen & Young 2000; Linstead, 2000; Carter & Jackson, 2002; Fuglsang & Sörensen, forthcoming), possibly because organization theory's strong interdisciplinary roots have made it relatively open to intellectual communication and exchange across disciplinary boundaries. Of course, intellectual openness and excess is by no means representative of the entire field, and what may be seen as a lack of scholarly discipline and a failure of disciplinary containment remains a rusty nail in the eye of the mainstream establishment that still aspires to turn organization theory into a distinct, united discipline by tightly regulating and severely restricting cross-disciplinary communication (see e.g. Donaldson, 1985, 1996; McKelvey, 2003). Thus, the recent arrival of Deleuze at the margins of organization theory is no less important, as it effectively interrupts the striving for unity, homogeneity and discipline by working to sustain organization theory as an open field[1]. Deleuze's commitment to the openness of philosophy, the openness of the concept and the openness of life itself may help organization theorists open up the understanding of organizations, organizational life and the concept of organization.

It is therefore with great joy that I introduce this special issue on Deleuze and organization theory, which, like Deleuze's own writings, is an effect of some exciting and surprising encounters between a variety of events and ideas. Viewing the Danish Employment Service as an expression of what Deleuze (1992) termed societies of control, Bent Meier Sörensen both extends and challenges previous work in Human Resource Management on the constitution of subjectivity.

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