1 Research Programme in Organisation and Learning, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Aarhus University2 Department of Learning, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Aarhus University3 Danish School of Education - Uddannelsesvidenskab, Emdrup, Danish School of Education, Arts, Aarhus University4 Danish School of Education - Uddannelsesvidenskab, Emdrup, Danish School of Education, Arts, Aarhus University
RESEARCHING ENTERPRISES BETWEEN ORGANISATION AND ORGANISING Ulrik Brandi & Bente Elkjaer, Department of Learning, University of Aarhus, Danish School of Education, Tuborgvej 164, 2400 Copenhagen NV, Denmark Short paper submission to the 26th European Group of Organization Studies Colloquium, Waves of Globalization: Repetition and difference in organizing over time and space. June 30 - July 3 2010, Lisbon, Portugal. Sub-theme 16: Investigating Organization as Becoming in a World on the Move Are organizations characterized by constant change and fluidity as the primary condition or are organizations also stable and ordered units where change only appears as short interim periods of disturbances? This seems to be the two core philosophical accounts trying to respond to the fundamental question of "what is an organization?" We argue for a middle way between flux and stability, which unfolds as an organizational rhythm between change and process as ubiquitous in organizations, while at the same time underlining the importance of routines and more stable elements as e.g. culture, narratives, materiality and space. Our argument is theoretically based on concepts from pragmatism mainly the works of John Dewey and Anselm Strauss. Based on a pragmatist theoretical framework we aim in this paper to propose concepts for organisation/organising that can handle process and structure, change and stability, order and disorder, history, present and future. We introduce the concept of a transactional relation between subjects and worlds and the notion of social worlds as a way to coin organisation/organising in order to stress the rhythm between fluidity and stability rather than to reify and order one above the other. The pace of the paper will be first to introduce our take on the relation between process philosophy and pragmatism followed by an elaboration of the transactional relationship between subject and world and the notion of social worlds. The final element in the paper is an empirical illustration - researching organisational learning in the midst of change that illustrates the rhythm of organization/organising. Process philosophy and pragmatism Many theories have over the years been coined about what is an enterprise within organisation and management studies. We have found ourselves many a time seeking help in Mintzberg and his Structures in Five (Mintzberg, 1983) and the notion of culture found in Schein (1992) when standing in front of the blackboard teaching our students. It was easy for students to comprehend that when you look at an organisation you can look out for structures and artefacts, and ask about values and through that find a way to coin the organisational structure and culture. The problem is that these concepts of structure and culture address an enterprise that is stable while you do your investigations into it. One solution to this problem is to view organizations as constant change inspired by process philosophy. The understandings of organizations as either firm and stable units or constantly changing occasions are frequently illustrated via the dispute between the two ancient pre-Socratic cosmologies of Parmenides and Democritus on the one side, and Heraclitus on the other hand (Chia, 1999; Tsoukas & Chia, 2002; Van de Ven & Poole, 2005). Parmenides and Democritus argues for reality as permanent and unchanging in its substance where changes only occur on a spatio-temporal level, while Heraclitus understands reality as fluid and changeable in its essence in which process is a fundamental trait. Through more refined and postmodern translations in the works of Whitehead (1929/1978) and Bergson (1946/1992, 1988), the cosmology of Heraclitus has been employed as point of departure for the development of process philosophy. E.g. Whitehead (1929/1978) develops a theory of the ultimate reality as derived from actual occasions or entities as the indivisible units of the universe. These occasions becomes actualized through processes of concrescence (becoming concrete) and perish at full determinateness. This process based theory of time and reality from Whitehead and Bergson has been conveyed into an understanding of organisations where "...organizations must be understood as an emergent property of change..." (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002: 570). Thus, present organization and management researchers based on process philosophy argues that actors' beliefs, routines, habits, practice, etc. are ceaselessly changing and are without a firm and final essence (see e.g. Bakken & Hernes, 2006; Chia, 1999; Clegg, Kornberger, & Rhodes, 2005; Feldman, 2000; Orlikowski, 1996; Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). Several philosophers (Myers, 2002; Neville, 2004; Rosenthal, 1998) argue that process philosophy and American classical pragmatism are closely related through their focus on realism, fallibilism, experience, etc. Additionally, Dewey made a very interesting assessment of Whiteheads philosophy (Dewey, 1937) with subsequent remarks from Whitehead on Dewey' assessment (Whitehead, 1937) underscoring the many resemblances between the two. However, as Rosenthal (1998: 272-275) and Neville (2004: 25-28) point out, there are also fundamental differences between the two. One important difference is the bifurcation in the conceptualizing of time. For Dewey time, and therefore change, is intuitively understood as something "emerging out of" while Whitehead sees time as processual "coming together of" (Neville, 2004: 27). For Dewey the problem with such an understanding is that it expresses a firm structure founded upon a web of ontological discrete temporal atoms, which in the end results in a finite and essential arrangement. For Dewey there are an infinite number of actual occasions that does not necessarily has to come together - this is dependent of the specific situation (Dewey, 1937: 177). Dewey's pragmatism examines how the use of different ideas and hypotheses, concepts and theories affects the result of inquiry. The pragmatist philosophical view of inquiry is to help define the uncertainties that occur in experience. The situation determines which concepts and theories are useful for an analysis of a given problem. One can often use various theories and concepts as tools (‘instruments') in an experimental process, the aim of which it is to transform a difficult situation to one that is manageable and comfortable for the subject. In the following, we introduce two terms, subject and worlds as a transactional relationship and social worlds as a term to include the organization/organising of this relationship. These terms are in our understanding helpful in stressing the rhythm of organization/organising, stability and fluidity. Organisation/organising as grounded in transaction Altman and Rogoff coin four different ways to understand the subject world relationship, namely as (1) trait, (2) interactional, (3) organismic (systemic), and (4) transactional (Altman & Rogoff, 1987). They take their point of departure in Dewey' and Bentley's concepts of how humans develop and become knowledgeable about their environment (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991). Dewey and Bentley differentiate between three understandings of how individual and environment are related. These understandings are termed ‘self-action', ‘inter-action' and ‘trans-action'. Dewey and Bentley define the concepts as follows: "Self-action: where things are viewed as acting under their own powers. Inter-action: where thing is balanced against thing in causal interconnection. Trans-action: where systems of description and naming are employed to deal with aspects and phases of action, without final attribution to ‘elements' or other presumptively detachable or independent ‘entities', or ‘realities', and without isolation of presumptively detachable ‘relations' from such detachable ‘elements'." (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991: 101-102) When the relation between individual and environment is understood on the basis of an understanding of the two as separated, self-acting entities, the assumption is that the function of physical and social phenomena is governed by an ‘inner self', internal essences, self-powers, forces, or intrinsic qualities inherent in these phenomena. It is the inner and stable traits in individuals and environments that determine their function. This means that physical and mental phenomena are defined and operate more or less independent of their environments. When the relation between individual and environment is defined as inter-action it refers to the fact that physical and mental elements exist independently of each other and possess specific properties. These elements can, however, interact on the basis of specific regularities or principles and in that way influence each other. Time and space can be included in the interaction but are normally treated as variables in the study of phenomena. When individuals and environments are related to each other on the basis of a transactional understanding hereof, time and space are inseparable. Time and space - history and context - are in the transactional understanding of the relation between individual and environment aspects of an integrated unity. In the transactional worldview of the relation between the individual and the environment, it is the study of processes and activities or humans acting in social and physical environments, which are in focus. Time is an inherent aspect of phenomena and makes up a dynamic element in individuals' relations to their social and physical environment. The emphasis on activity and process implies having an eye for the dynamic and often emerging qualities of phenomena, while maintaining that there is also rest or consummation. In a transactional understanding of the relation between individuals and organizations, the unit of analysis is not either the subject or the world but an occasion. This occasion is contextual and unfolds over time, and it is a unity of intertwined and complex phenomena whose parts are mutually penetrating and inseparable. Thus, an occasion can only be studied as a united whole. One cannot first tear it apart and then study its elements to understand the whole, as the whole cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts. In contrast to a systemic understanding of this relation between individuals and organizations, the transactional understanding of this relation allows for the study of unique occasions without necessarily referring to them as part of a larger pre-defined system. This, however, does not mean that one cannot find a pattern or order, only that the point of departure for constructing the whole is the situation or event - not the other way around. The understanding of the relation between subjects and worlds on the basis of a transactional understanding is helpful in conceiving of organization/organising embracing both individuals and the institutional context that makes up the organization. Having a transactional understanding of the relation between individual and environment, the unit of analysis is an occasion that can be studied as unfolding in time and context and together creates a pattern of organizational commitment. This is elaborated in the following when organizations are understood as social worlds. Social worlds The notion of social worlds has its roots in pragmatism (Dewey, 1922/1988) and symbolic interactionism (Mead, 1934/1967). The term, social worlds, is applied to understand organizational life as it unfolds amongst members of and in the context of organizations. It is the social worlds organised in social arenas that are the locus of analysis because one cannot understand an individual social world in isolation, because social worlds are always embedded in larger social orders (Clarke, 1991). It is important to note that social worlds are not social units or structures but are made up by a recognizable form of collective actions and transactions shaped by commitment to organizational actions and practices (see also Becker, 1970). Important features of social worlds are that they are not bounded by geography or formal membership but by "the limits of effective communication." Thus, a social world is an interactive unit, a "universe of regularized mutual response, communication or discourse" (Shibutani, 1955). As a result, social worlds influence the meaning that people impute on events: "[Social worlds are] [g]roups with shared commitments to certain activities, sharing resources of many kinds to achieve their goals, and building shared ideologies about how to go about their business" (Clarke, 1991: 131). In a social worlds perspective, the processes of transactions, tensions, competition, and negotiation are stressed. These processes unfold within and between social worlds, creating arenas of social worlds - and subworlds - in potential creative tensions and transactions. In arenas "various issues are debated, negotiated, fought out, forced and manipulated by representatives" of the participating social worlds and subworlds (Strauss, 1978: 124). Thus, the use of the notion of social worlds opens the eyes to see that participation not only involves striving for harmony but also to tensions and conflicts reflected in the different commitments to organizational actions and values (Elkjaer & Huysman, 2007; Hendley, Sturdy, Fincham, & Clark, 2006). In sum, we propose a middle way between process and structure by viewing organization/organising in their mutuality. We understand this mutuality through the concept of transaction between subjects and world and see transaction unfold in social worlds driven by the rhythm between fluidity and stability initiated by tensions and conflicts rather than smooth process. An illustration To illustrate the value of a social world perspective on organisation/organising we present a case story in which the notions of social worlds and tensions are used to understand organizational learning dynamics that unfolded during an organisational change process. 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