Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Using Brechtian Ideas and Theatrical Practices to Reconceptualize Role Distance and Facilitate Learning in Organizations

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Using Brechtian Ideas and Theatrical Practices to Reconceptualize Role Distance and Facilitate Learning in Organizations

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this paper is to explore how the ideas and theatrical practices of Bertold Brecht may be applied in organizational contexts. A model is developed that builds on Brechtian conceptions of alienation and integrates organizational learning and role theories. Specifically, the model suggests that role distance may be reconceptualized as a reflective, dialectic process that builds on Brecht's ideas for alienating actors and audiences from the familiar to demonstrate the changing and changeable nature of behavior. This reflective process in turn may facilitate non-routine, role-related learning. Implications for organizational theory and practice are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this paper is to explore how ideas from the theater could inform organizational theory and practice. Specifically, the paper attempts to show how the ideas and theatrical practices of Bertold Brecht may be applied in organizational contexts. An exploratory model is developed that links individual learning in organizations (Argyris and Schon, 1978) to expectation enactment (Fondas and Stewart, 1994) via Brecht's ideas on alienation. It is hoped that this model may stimulate new and interesting ideas (Astley, 1985) in the field not only about how learning and role theories may be linked but also about how ideas from Brecht's epic theater may be used to build models that enrich existing organizational research and practice. Having said this, it should also be pointed out that the paper will cover a lot of ground and is designed to be more of an expose than a study demonstrating validity. The model presented is exploratory and prescriptive in nature and serves as an illustration for how Brechtian ideas may be applied to change rather than to describe existing organizational dynamics.

The point of entry for applying Brechtian ideas in this paper is the process of individual learning in organizational contexts (Argyris and Schon, 1978). This point of entry was chosen because learning has been identified as a critical process in organizations. Specifically, it has been noted that in rapidly changing environments organizations have to learn how to learn and become, what are called, learning organizations to remain competitive (Crossan, Lane and White, 1999; Fiol and Lyles, 1985; Senge, 1990). It has also been suggested that to do this, organizations need to balance their ability to learn in routine ways, exploiting what they already know, with an ability to learn in innovative ways, exploring new ideas and questioning underlying assumptions (Appelbaum and Goransson, 1997; Crossan, Lane and White, 1999; Fiol and Lyles, 1985; March, 1991). Consequently, organizational members must also be able to balance their ability for routine or single-loop learning with a capacity for innovative or double-loop learning (Argyris and Schon, 1978). Double-loop learning has been defined as an individual's ability to surface and question the assumptions that underlie behaviors, to change these assumptions and to form new theories-in-use, or to behave differently according to new and changed assumptions (Argyris and Schon, 1978), a process that seems to be difficult for most individuals and hence organizations (Argyris, 1976).

To examine how individuals and organizations may enhance their ability to engage in double-loop learning this paper seeks to integrate ideas developed for the theater by playwright Bertold Brecht with role theoretic conceptions of behavior in organizations (Katzand Kahn, 1966; Stryker and Statham, 1985). Role theory was selected as the linking process because roles have been found to be central to understanding behavior in social systems (Welbourne, Johnson and Erez, 1998) in general and some learning processes in particular (Driver, 2002). Therefore, the notion is advanced that learning may be facilitated by embedding learning processes into role behaviors. Particularly, Brecht's ideas about alienation may be used to reconceptualize role distance (Goffman, 1961) and to develop a reflective process that enables individuals in organizations to surface, question and alter role-related choices. …

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