Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

OT and Power: The Significance of Value-Orientations and a Plea for Pluralism

Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

OT and Power: The Significance of Value-Orientations and a Plea for Pluralism

Article excerpt


The paper advances two propositions. First, that organization theory (OT) comprises a heterogeneous body of knowledge which, in effect, is a history of the (on-going) power struggles that produce it. And, second, that OT harbours different concepts of power and associated value-orientations through which it is possible to interpret the diversity and development of OT. These propositions give priority to the politics and ethics of knowledge production, and not differences of ontology, epistemology or levels of analysis. Its pluralist stance accommodates value-orientations which prompt and justify knowledge oriented towards 'rationalization', 'explication' and 'emancipation'.



Organization Theory





The rise of 'organization' as a category of modernity has given impetus to the formation of numerous forms of organization theorizing (e.g. 'classical', 'systems', 'postmodern', etc)11. In turn, this theorizing conditions, legitimizes, reinforces and subverts the modern(ist) sense of "being organized" and its associated organizational forms. As a key, performative signifier of contemporary, 'advanced' societies, 'organization' exerts a pervasive and multifaceted - beatific but also horrific - influence, or power. By reflecting upon the constitution of organization theory (OT), it may be possible to illuminate its conditions and its consequences for organizing.

In many accounts of OT, especially those found in textbooks, its development is presented as a series of stages in which deficiencies in previous forms of theory are progressively exposed and corrected. For example, systems theoretic thinking is pitched as a correction of classical theory; and some version of action or practice theory is proposed to correct shortcomings in systems theory. In a less unified narrative, a cyclical alternation of different modes of theorizing is identified - such as those emphasing rational design, and others that attend more closely to devotional features (e.g. Barley and Kunda, 1992). And, in a third account of OT, the emphasis is upon the parallel development of two or more distinctive or even incommensurable approaches (e.g. Pfeffer, 1982; Burrell and Morgan, 1979).

In such narratives, minimal attention is paid to what may be broadly termed the ethical, value-invested 'motivation' of knowledge of organization. In the first and second narrative, the (epistemological) emphasis is upon eliminating blind spots and bias in order to represent organizational reality more fully or faithfully. The first narrative presumes linearity whereas the second indicates recursiveness. And in the third narrative, attention is directed to divergent ontological assumptions about social reality and/or epistemological assumptions about social science - assumptions that are held to underpin and guide paradigms of organization theoretic knowledge. Each narrative of theory development is framed in terms of an incremental refining and revealing of one or more, progressively integrated bodies - approaches, schools or paradigms - of knowledge Yet, 'organization' is not a datum to be dis-covered. Rather, 'organization' is a contested category whose unstable and shifting meaning is struggled over within and between a number of materially embedded discourse(s) that include 'economics', 'political science' and 'sociology' as well as 'management'111.

'Organization' is a contested category because, as Reed (1999) puts it, the process of theory-making, whether lay or scholarly in provenance, is an 'historically located intellectual practice directed at assembling and mobilizing ideational, material and institutional resources to legitimate certain knowledge claims and the political projects which flow from them' (ibid: 27). In this sense, knowledge (of organization) cannot be dissociated from politico-ethical relations that animate and legitimize its production, even when the connection between knowledge, power and ethics takes an instrumentalized and so seemingly value-neutral form). …

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