Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Organizational Inquiry as a Rhetorical Process: The Role of Tropes in Organizational Theory and Methods

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Organizational Inquiry as a Rhetorical Process: The Role of Tropes in Organizational Theory and Methods

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Although positivism has been discredited by many philosophers of science (see for example Bhaskar 1989), some of the assumptions and principles of positivism, such as verificationism and falsificationism, a pro-observational stance, that reality exists independently of our perceptions of it, and that language represents reality, still dominate mainstream organization theory (Chia 1997: 688-690). In this paper, we develop a discursive understanding of organizational inquiry in order to challenge the status quo characterized by a positivistic approach to organizational inquiry. Specifically, we focus on the positivist or representationalist assumption that theories about reality and methods are independent, and that methods tests theory (Brown 1976;Gergen and Thatchenkery 1996;Morgan 1980). To accomplish our purpose, we re-conceptualize organizational science as an inherently rhetorical process. We bring attention to the power of language to represent and construct, as well as obscure and clarify.

Moreover, we try purposefully to develop a positivistic framework (i.e., a framework with empirically testable hypotheses to test theory) to question positivism. Put differently, we use language to develop a positivistic model that shows the limits of language for developing positivistic models. Thus, the more you are convinced of our model, the more contradictory our model should appear. This is purposely done in order to create a provocative and critical space to reflect on how organizational scientists use language to recursively reflect and construct the process, objects, and findings of organizational inquiry. The systems of truths uttered in this paper are either inconsistent or incomplete. If it is viewed as complete, the audience will realize that it is inconsistent; if it is viewed as consistent, the audience will realize that it is incomplete. This is a natural consequence of the irony of questioning positivism with positivism: If (A) and (Not A) are simultaneously true, we must drop either (A) or (Not A) for consistency, but this leads to incompleteness.

We are also well-aware that the scientific process is way messier than our model suggests. Thus, the tropological sequence we suggest is just that: a suggestion. But if you dig deeper we also suggest that scientific life is a mess. We try to show that science cannot be decoupled from ethics and aesthetics. In fact, we view science as a house of cards. The whole edifice may be brought down if one card is moved. We exemplify this quality of science in our own paper. We try to write the paper in such a way that every section builds on an earlier section, and each paragraph and sentence in each section mirrors paragraphs and sentences in other sections. There is strong symmetry in our writing. To some, symmetry is one of the guarantors of truth. But at the same time, too much symmetry or perfection should create doubts in the audience: Nothing is so perfect. Similarly, to some, logic or logical reasoning is one of the guarantors of truth. The arguments in our paper are logical. But they end up with a logical contradiction. Nonetheless, it is this contradiction that allows human choice and judgment, and it is that contradiction that allows us to realize how integral a part ethics and aesthetics plays in science. In short, the purpose of this critical, complex, and self-referential paper is to bring attention to the power of language to both represent and construct, to make researchers more selfaware, morally reflective, and skeptical about the language they use, as well as raise questions about the role of language in the conduct of organizational science.

2. Rhetoric in organizational theories and methods

The positivist narrative suggests that theory and method are independent, and that method tests theory (Brown 1976;Gergen et al. 1996;Morgan 1980). Theories are characterized as direct representations of empirical phenomena, and methods as procedures needed to evaluate how well theories mirror or correspond to external reality (Alvesson and Karreman 2000: 138;Astley and Zammuto 1992: 444-445;Bourgeois and Pinder 1983;Brown 1976;Pinder and Bourgeois 1982). …

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