The Production of Power in Organisational Practice - Working with Conflicts as Heuristics

By Busch-Jensen, Peter | Outlines : Critical Practice Studies, May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Production of Power in Organisational Practice - Working with Conflicts as Heuristics


Busch-Jensen, Peter, Outlines : Critical Practice Studies


The dilemmas of everyday life

Reading through the morning paper, we might frown with outrage if we come across a story about a local schoolteacher arrested for producing and distributing hard drugs in his neighbourhood. During the television series, Breaking Bad, however, millions of people held their breath whenever Walter White (a chemistry teacher producing and distributing hard drugs in his community), was almost caught by the police. This apparent paradox points to important and interesting aspects of social life. Of course, the ability to see problematic actions from 'the inside' doesn't necessarily mean they cease to appear problematic, but it often turns them into something less straightforward and therefore challenges our propensity to easily personalise social problems. This is simply because social phenomena that might seem wrong and indefensible from a detached third-person perspective, often transform into something more complex, recognisable and understandable when we are invited to see how they are actually lived, felt, made sense of, and accomplished by human beings in their everyday life.

The opportunity to see the world from other people's perspectives enables understanding and sometimes even empathy with actions we may otherwise find strange, wrong or even despicable. Thus, the art of mimesis - of providing us with the opportunity to 'visit other people's lives' and follow people around their everyday life and its dilemmas - involves invaluable qualities of life in common and peaceful coexistence. This, I believe, is both a precondition and a challenge for social collaboration, communication and peaceful coexistence. It is also one of the reasons why methods are important, and in any form are permeated by questions of ideology, ethics and power. All social representations are imbued with questions of our relationship to 'otherness', not only because they distribute and illuminate certain perspectives and areas of the world, but also because the way they do this matters. In relation to this it is interesting to contemplate the absurd but undeniable reality that, in general, it is not psychology, or social science for that matter, that most frequently challenges us to put ourselves in someone else's place, or to feel with, and empathise with other people. Mainstream psychology simply has very little to say about what it is like to be a human being living with specific dilemmas, relationships, necessities, challenges and pleasures, and therefore, most of us have learned more from films and literature than we have from psychology about, for example, what it means to be an unemployed single parent or a drug addict, what it means to live with a loved-one who suffers from Alzheimer's, or what it means to raise children when working as a middle manager in a high-performance company. It is important that we recognise the depth of this illogicality, its vast social implications and the importance of correcting it. Of course, we might consider the qualities of films, theatre and literature to enable understanding and even empathy with actions we may otherwise find wrong or despicable, as demonstrating precisely the dangers of art and, in extension, the dangers of qualitative research, and we might thus interpret the example as a warning not to get 'too close to some parts of reality'. Certainly this is how some argue, and certainly, the capacity of films, theatre and literature to communicate a specific perspective of reality is not innocuous, however, the problem here is not and cannot be the interest in taking a closer look at the lived reality of social phenomena. Rather, the problem stems from the dangers inherent in the enhanced or even overexposed organisation of a stand-alone narrator-perspective of social reality. This is, perhaps, where art and science must differ.

A scientific attitude towards otherness is not a residue-free solidarity with this otherness. Taking people's perspectives seriously, therefore, does not entail a residue-free solidarity with their perspective. …

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