Organisations in Action: Competition between Contexts

Organisations in Action: Competition between Contexts

Organisations in Action: Competition between Contexts

Organisations in Action: Competition between Contexts


This original and ambitious work provides a fascinating examination of organizations from both a postmodern and new organizational economics perspective. Combining strategy, international business and organizational theory, Organizations In Action represents a groundbreaking critique of prevailing mainstream modernist theories of organization. Distinctive features include: a comprehensive analysis of social and organizational theory; a discussion and exploration of knowledge capitalism; a critique of core competencies; and resource based approaches to strategy, human resource management and organizational behavior.



From modernism to neo-modern political economy


There is no doubt that profound changes have been unfolding and are occurring in the institutional fabric and individual lives within contemporary capitalist societies. Are these changes, especially those crowded into the last three decades, a rupture introducing a new phase of capitalism as Harvey (1989, 1996) suggests, or simply a radicalising of what has occurred earlier in the century as Giddens (1990) proposes? The question of how contemporary changes might be characterised and interpreted has some parallels in the debates between Weber and Schumpeter to reinterpret the theories and visions proposed by Marx. The similarity is deceptive and important differences are more apparent.

Figure 2.1 is a simple map devised to introduce the debates that have characterised the period since the mid-twentieth century. The Cold War era coincided with a strong restatement of the positivist themes in the management and social sciences within the wide scientific and intellectual movement known as modernism and shown as (1). Positivist tendencies and modern vision blossomed and peaked in the late 1960s, yet lingered on and on. Three major rivals to positivism and modernism developed. The post-modern movement (PoMo) shown as (2) had and has considerable implications for the study of organisations, yet in Organisation Behaviour and Organisation Studies (OBOS) much of the analytic interest was in the social construction of reality, symbolic and structuration perspectives (3). The realist turn (4) rejects positivism, incorporates social construction and borrows some elements from PoMo as well reinterpreting the project of political economy (Bhaskar 1975, 1989). Since the end of the Cold War and the rise of attention to market mechanisms a fifth perspective (5) may be observed: neo-modern political economy (NMPE). This re-focalises the firm in the global economy, yet aims to constitute forms of knowledge which are distinctive in their implications for work organisation.

This chapter aims to unpack Figure 2.1. My approach has certainly been influenced by Alexander’s (1995) notion that theories and intellectual movements intermingle. My map is slightly different, especially in the position of the realist turn and in my point of view on neo-modern political economy. The chapter starts

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