Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

"I Dream a World": Re-Imagining Change

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

"I Dream a World": Re-Imagining Change

Article excerpt

"I Dream a World": Re-imagining Change[1]

ABSTRACT

In this paper, I argue that perspectives on change would benefit from a consideration of literature by and about black women that is little known within organization studies. My goal is to introduce the literature itself, and argue that organizational change theorists should consider it as they envision and define change. I develop categories based on the literature that draw on the goals and assumptions of black women scholars and activists, and attend to ways organizations and research methods could be reimagined. The goals include: (1) changing systems to meet basic needs, (2) social and organizational change, and (3) changing the dominant culture. Assumptions include: (1) the importance of paying attention to those typically ignored, (2) black women's self-valuation and self-definition, and (3) black women have been and are powerful change agents. Re-imagining organizations includes: (1) considering who counts as leader or manager, (2) what counts as an organization, and (3) redefining/reclaiming organizational terms. Re-imagining research methods includes a consideration of (1) researcher roles, (2) participants, and (3) "variables."

INTRODUCTION

C. Wright Mills (1959) spoke about ordinary people being unable to "step back" and see the larger picture, and argued that sociology should give them access to the tools to do so. He believed that "personal problems" could thus be transformed into public issues (Garcia, 1997). He made the point that sociology (and I would add other disciplines) had become academic in the sense of "arcane and useless." I would also argue that the disciplines have found ways to ignore those who are not academic, those who would link their "ordinary" lives to academic questions and use their experiences to force the academy to help address social issues. Such people have been shut out in various ways (see Allen, 1995a; Collins, 1990; Grimes 2000,2001; Nkomo, 1992; Stanfield & Dennis, 1993) and continue to be shut out.

The discipline of organization studies and its academic literature influences what happens in organizations (which collectively make up the larger society) and are, therefore, crucial to considering societal issues. Decisions about resource use, ways of organizing, how people relate to each other, appropriate roles, what is valued, whose interests should matter, what counts as democracy are made and reinforced in and by organizations (Deetz, 1992). All of these areas are influenced by and influence the organization literature.

However, this literature systematically leaves out some topics that are crucial for a full understanding of organizations and social issues. For example, Cox and Nkomo (1990) found that less than 1.7% of articles addressed the topic of race when they searched 20 academic organization journals published between 1964 and 1989. Over the years, discussion of race became less frequent, decreasing from 11.7 articles per year in the 1970s, to 6.3 articles per year in the 1980s, to 3.6 articles per year in the last five years of the study (see Grimes, 1996). The near omission of such an important issue has a negative impact on change initiatives that are informed by the academic organization studies literature.

To begin to address this omission requires the consideration of ideas at the margins of or outside organization studies (see Nkomo, 1992). present perspectives on organizations and change informed by a group traditionally excluded-black women[2]. The black women I discuss theorize the need to rethink change in organizations and society. As a group, black women are uniquely positioned with respect to race, gender, work, and organizational issues. They have not been the recipients of race, gender or (seldom) class privilege. Black women's workforce participation has historically been high (see Almquist, 1979; Simms & Malveaux, 1987; Wallace, 1982; Woody, 1992). …

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