The Impossibility of Marking: Philosophy "On the Marks" in Organization and Management Studies

Article excerpt

There is a philosophy today at work in the grading and assessment of students' work in higher education that reflects the ubiquity of an "audit culture" (Strathern 2000), or what Jean-François Lyotard (1984) identified as the rise of "performativity." Moreover, there is a form of organization immanent to and complicit with the systematization and realization of this philosophy that Avital Ronell (2004) has recently identified as a "test drive." The predominant mode of thinking, publishing, and writing in the academy are co-constitutive of this test-drive and in seeking ways of testing and circumventing the boundaries of this disciplinary apparatus this essay may test the patience of its readers. It would then have served an important task. It focuses in on one aspect of this audit culture or the test-drive to examine the practices of examination "marking," and in so doing seeks to respond to recent questions raised in organization studies concerning the "utility" of philosophy in organization studies (Calori 1998; Kaulingfreks 2007).

In the first half of this essay I shall establish that there are strong grounds for suggesting that standards are falling. Even if students are getting better, the system is failing to accurately distinguish and discriminate in a meaningful way. Marking is therefore impossible because everyone gets a 2. 1 .'Marking, in other words, does not take place - it "spaces out" distinction, identity, etc. Second, I want to show that raising the problem of "consi stency" in marking invites an administrative solution that consolidates a restrictive understanding of "organization." However, it is doubtful whether the more collegiate systems of socialization and training for the academic can provide a sufficient response to the aporia that emerges out of a close examination of marking. Third, I shall propose that only certain kinds of knowledge are amenable to objective marking - but the value of this knowledge is frequently called into question and certainly its appropriateness or applicability to the problems of management and organization is at the very least dubious, if not dangerous. Finally, I will conclude that if the preoccupation with examination is historically contingent, it does form part of a rigorous and stubborn disciplinary system that ties together the individual as modern subjectivity, together with the family, society, and the modern nation state - in other words, it is part of the conditions of possibility for a more deep seated ontological sense of self and reality. Taken together, these sections of my essay suggest that marking might well be impossible.

What falls out from the mean-lime of this writing is that we are "after (this) organization" as we try to speak and hear in ways that solicit the predominant trend towards the reification or fetishization of philosophy. This reification is evident in both the celebrations of a "philosophical turn" in organization studies (Hassard and Pym 1992; Jones and Ten Bos 2007) and in those denouncements of its supposed philosophical indulgence that take flight from the empirical reality of organization or from the question of organization as an empirical problematic (Donaldson 2005). "It is entirely correct and completely in order to say, 'You can't do anything with philosophy,'" Heidegger famously wrote in his Introduction to Metaphysics. The only mistake is to believe that with this, the judgment concerning philosophy is at an end. For a little epilogue arises in the form of a counter question: even if we can't do anything with it, may not philosophy in the end do something with us, provided that we engage ourselves with it?" (Heidegger 2000: 13).

In developing the argument of this essay, I shall focus obsessively upon the details and minutiae of the logic of administration that defines the university examination. In fact, marking begins to do something to us when we calibrate the stages of our argument in this way. As this essay develops, in other words, it increasingly will resemble a series of "marks" left as traces that recount a struggle with marking that operates as a form of discipline to render individuals governable and calculable (in the Foucauldian sense). …


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