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Tag: Organization

What about phenomenology and phenomenological methods in organization studies?

TSElosophers meeting on 19.12.2023. Participants: Behnam Pourahmadi, Erkki Lassila, François-René Lherm, Kari Lukka, Mia Salo, Milla Unkila, Otto Rosendahl

Gill, M. J. (2014) The Possibilities of Phenomenology for Organizational Research. Organizational Research Methods, Vol. 17(2) 118-137.


Michael Gill argues that phenomenological methodologies exploring how people experience particular phenomena (p. 130), like organizational identity, are especially powerful in understanding subjective experiences and meanings. Hence, organizational research could benefit from utilizing more of them. To further this project, Gill develops a typology that classifies and contrasts five phenomenological methodologies originating from the disciplines of psychology, pedagogy, nursing, and organization studies. Each of these five methodologies is based on Husserlian descriptive or Heideggerian interpretive phenomenology, or a combination of them. Gill regards this philosophical distinction as foundational for distinguishing between different phenomenological methodologies. Additionally, by specifying aims, participants and sampling strategy, key concepts of data collection and analysis, of each methodology (p. 122, 127), Gill offers guidelines for researchers to select a suitable one for their research purposes.


As a whole, we welcomed Gill’s paper as it reminds organizational scholars of the phenomenological approach’s historical and current significance to our field, and of the fact that there is no standard phenomenological methodology, but instead, a variety of them. We also appreciated Gill’s effort in developing and presenting a classification of the most popular phenomenological methodologies across disciplines. However, above all, the paper lacked a more thorough analysis of the intriguing divide between Husserlian descriptive and Heideggerian interpretive approaches to phenomenological philosophy.

In Gill’s presentation, this foundational divide underlying his classification of phenomenological methodologies is, at first glance, a kind of taken-for-granted fact that he brings forth only shortly, without much justification. According to Gill (p. 119-120), the Husserlian approach aims to describe the essence of experiences through the method of phenomenological reduction (epoché). In contrast to Husserl’s epistemological focus, Gill argues that the Heideggerian approach has an ontological one (p. 120). In other words, Heidegger aims to explore the human experience of being (Dasein) and, for this purpose, employs his hermeneutic, i.e. interpretive method. Ultimately, the difference between Husserl’s reduction and Heidegger’s hermeneutics lies in whether a “fully detached reflection” (ibid.) is possible, that is, whether we can be free of assumptions or not.

We followed this line of thought but considered it as a rough generalization of both Husserl’s and Heidegger’s phenomenologies that both draw on distinctive ontological and epistemological assumptions. Specifically, we would have appreciated the notion of intentionality – the directedness of an experience or ‘consciousness of’ – to have been discussed in the paper and the role of subjective meanings to have been addressed in more detail. Concerning the classification of methodologies, many of us see a fruitful future study subject in how the aims of different methodologies relate to a more specified analysis of phenomenological philosophy (see Table 1 p. 122).

One of the main discussion points was the question, ignored by both Gill and many others tracing the origins of phenomenology to Husserl, of whether or not Husserl should indeed be considered the forefather of phenomenology considering his rather non-subjectivist suppositions. Both the act and the possibility of bracketing, and his insistence of there being something “essential” that can be derived through reduction seemed to some of us more reflective of the exactly opposite viewpoint that can be considered as the apparent strength of phenomenology – its emphasis on the subjectivity, contextuality and experience. In turn, Heidegger embodies these principles, and especially his notion of ‘Dasein’ seemed to some of us to maybe even be one of the earliest inklings of what has since become complex and adaptive systems thinking: the idea that the observer and the observed are part of one entity fully understandable only through accounting for their interconnectedness.

These ponderations lead one TSElosopher to even entertain the idea of renaming phenomenology as “noumenology”. Kant viewed phenomenon as such knowledge object that contained both the noumenal idea of the thing, and the sensory experience the thing yielded, essentially thus referring only to such things that had a form that could be seen, touched, or maybe heard. In contrast, a thing that had no such form was in Kant’s parlance a noumena (he used God as an example) that could be positive or negative depending on whether or not its existence was true or not. On the one hand, considering that phenomenological approaches focus explicitly on things without a form detectable by senses (like meaning, organization or organizational identity as suggested by Gill – in short, noumena), it raises the question of the origins of the label. On the other hand, the etymology of the label refers to “that, which is being made to appear” (passive, present participle of ‘phaino’), which suggests that a phenomenon is distinct from a noumenon in so far as it may be made to appear by the intentionality exercised upon it. Perhaps Wittgenstein was considering the complexity of intention and its acquaintance with both the existence of a phenomenon and our ability to know it when he stated “There is no such thing as phenomenology, but there are indeed phenomenological issues”[1] (1977, §53 and 248)

To conclude, we agree with Gill’s assertion that a “phenomenological researcher’s epistemological and ontological assumptions should inform his or her selection of a particular methodology(p. 127). However, we suggest the researcher builds their choice on a more profound basis of phenomenological philosophy than presented in this article – as Michael Gill’s paper stresses in its conclusions.

[1] Es gibt zwar nicht Phänomenologie, wohl aber phänomenologische Probleme.”

Meaning of effectiveness in work

TSElosophers meeting 23.9.2022. Participants: Eeva Nummi, Erkki Lassila, Mia Salo, Milla Unkila, Otto Rosendahl, Veli Virmajoki

Morin, Estelle M. (1995) Organizational effectiveness and the meaning of work. In T.C. Pauchant and associates (Ed.). In Search for Meaning. Managing for the health of our organizations, our communities, and the natural world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 29-64.


In her 1995 paper, Morin suggests an existentialist perspective on organizational effectiveness. She criticizes the priority senior managers place on the economic perspective in the evaluation of organizational performance. Morin argues that economic prioritization distorts the meaning of effectiveness and affects the meaning of human work and human existence. She proposes new ways to discover the meaning of work building on existential psychotherapy of e.g. Viktor E. Frankl and Irwin D. Yalom. She also offers empirical evidence on the narrow approach to organizational effectiveness among senior managers and suggests ”means that could be used to achieve more humane management practices based on the lessons of existential psychotherapy”.

Our discussion

TSElosophers agreed that Morin’s criticism about organizational effectiveness remains valid. It was also suggested that organizational goals seem to be divided: while the senior management values financial effectiveness, in everyday organizational life, the employees’ actions are to an increasing extent guided more by a broader set of values. An example of this value-incongruence can be found in the crisis-ridden work situation of nurses in Finland.

Through highlighting the broad range of existential meanings given to work, Morin opens up the avenue towards reflecting the role we individually and collectively give to work. Morin links the narrow definition of organizational effectiveness to the disappearance of the meaning of work; Organizations sometimes pursue things that have no meaning for individuals and their efforts e.g. on sustainability. Hence, individuals might need to take distance and find meaning from somewhere else than their identity as an employee. In our time, the loss of meaning in work manifests itself in many ways, for example burnout or quiet quitting.

We reflected on the fact that the existential perspective is contradictory in itself: how can we measure something for which the measurement itself creates a problem? The fundamental problem is that most of the things we need to take into our calculations are qualitatively different. To bypass the problem, we’re trying to position all we want to measure (and thus value) onto the one same standard of desirability (see March 1982, Thompson 1967), namely the financial one. Instead of health being a value in itself, the value of health is calculated in terms of how much a healthy or an unhealthy individual costs to the society. The discussion of ecosystem services does the same in the environmental side: we cannot appreciate nature in itself, but need to have a mechanism for articulating its value in money.

Overall, we found the paper relevant and interesting, although it seemed to address too many issues. We agreed that the humanistic approach of this paper successfully described many problems, but did less to solve any of these. For example, if we were to guide and control organizations based on a broader definition of effectiveness, perhaps one with less emphasis on money, how would we define the variables and methods of calculations that would fit to this purpose, and where would it lead organizations (scenarios)? Having read the article, we do not know. The article showed us a good direction for meaningful discussions about organizational effectiveness, but unfortunately it lost its own focus in the end.

Sartre, Weick, and existential sensemaking

TSElosophers meeting 24.2.2022. Participants: Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Eeva Nummi, Siddhant Ritwick, Otto Rosendahl, Mia Salo

Yue, A. and Mills A. (2008) Making sense out of bad faith. Sartre, Weick, and existential sensemaking in organizational analysis. Tamara 7:7.1, p. 66-80.


Yue and Mills propose a novel approach called ‘existential sensemaking’ to identity construction and organizational analysis by combining Weick’s sensemaking epistemology and Sartre’s phenomenological ontology. They suggest that in situations where the ordinary and ongoing sensemaking process fails, we ‘are presented with an opportunity for existential sensemaking’. This means that we are no longer dealing only with how we make sense of our world (epistemology) but also what the nature of our reality might be (ontology). Consequently, existential sensemaking shifts the focus from social to subjective, specifically, to the individual and their decision-making process in a particular situation. According to Yue and Mills, Sartre’s existential phenomenology with its emphasis on human free will to choose, responsibility, and the individual actor, offers ontological and ethical grounds for existential sensemaking. To illustrate their point, the authors analyze a case of a mountaineering expedition in the Andes, arguably as it captures an extreme situation, a question of life or death, that occurred.

Our discussion

The article prompted a lively discussion. In particular, we appreciated how the writers exploited Sartre’s existential phenomenology in their analysis. Putting the focus on the individual, their freedom, responsibility, and decisions based on ‘good faith’ has key relevance in many respects in practice and may have become – like Yue and Mills argue – too overlooked in social studies often focused on the role of structures. For instance, we discussed what is the meaning of scientific research today and whose concern is it whether we routinely conform to the publish or perish -mentality in academia. Many of us also pointed to the importance of better understanding the subjective perspective and inner dialogue alongside the social view and intersubjective dialogue. These came distinctive by the extreme decision-making moment (of Simon Yates cutting the climbing rope that connected him to his fellow mountaineer Joe Simpson, thus, sending Simpson to an almost certain death) depicted in the case study of the paper.

While the topic of the paper, existential sensemaking, caught our interest, we agreed on expecting more from the article, especially with respect to conceptual clarity and theoretical contribution. What surprised us most was that no key concept was defined, not even existential sensemaking at the core of it. This led us to discuss what the authors actually mean with different notions, for instance, existential, essentialist or non-essentialist individual, ethical behavior, bad faith in relation to sensemaking. An especially intriguing debate emerged from our different approaches to human behavior in an extreme situation, how this relates to our understanding of essentialism and, consequently, to Sartre’s ontological concepts of ‘being in itself’ and ‘being for itself’. To our disappointment, the paper’s contribution to organizational literature remained vague.

Finally, we discussed the connection between existential sensemaking and identity construction process, arguably a central theme in the article. Whereas existential sensemaking seemed to fundamentally refer to the use of free will in decision-making, we could not follow how existential sensemaking was connected to identity construction – not least as that should be necessarily viewed as a process, not only a passing event. Instead of identity construction, we found the paper illustrating an identity break when something radical happens, thus, extending beyond retrospective and ordinary sensemaking and, in this case, calling for existential sensemaking. In accordance with Yue and Mills (footnote 15), we arrived at stressing that extreme or crisis context is perhaps actually not ‘required for the presentation of existential sensemaking’, rather, it might be quite ordinary!

To conclude, we would have hoped this compelling article had received at least one more revision before publishing, especially with regard to definitions and contributions. However, as a conversation trigger, it provided an excellent base. We welcome future research on existential sensemaking!

Appealing argumentation for five types of theory

TSElosophers meeting 12.11.2021. Participants: Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Mia Salo, Milla Unkila, Morgan Shaw, Otto Rosendahl.

Sandberg, J., & Alvesson, M. (2021). Meanings of theory: Clarifying theory through typification. Journal of Management Studies58(2), 487-516.


Sandberg and Alvesson (2021) present a novel approach to define and classify theories. They argue that management and organization studies (MOS) definitions of theory tend to be narrow and/or built on a single social paradigm. Especially, they see a problem with requiring explanative theory in all research, seeing this as being related to researchers often presenting artificial pseudo-contributions and, effectively, making the entire idea of contribution a fetish. Instead, they classify explanative theory as only one theory type, which needs to be complemented by other types of theory in order to advance the knowledge of the discipline.

The authors adopt a wide constructivist lens and perceive theory as a human pursuit with various aspects. Through this lens they perceive altogether seven criteria for theoretical knowledge. The primary criteria which make difference between the various theory types are what is the purpose of theory and how the targeted phenomenon is assumed to exist. Indeed, based on the seven criteria, they develop a typology of five different theory types: explanative theory, comprehending theory, ordering theory, enacting theory and provoking theory.

Sandberg and Alvesson suggest that their approach to defining theory has potential to overcome many ontological and epistemological differences and thereby provides a more neutral way of communicating about the role of theory in the scientific pursuit. They make an extensive effort to hedge their contribution so as not to step on anyone’s onto-epistemological toes: their approach might still yield more theory types and, besides, any research is not forced to select only one theory type since theory types are somewhat overlapping.

Our discussion

On the positive side, the article is splendidly written. Its rhetoric is thoroughly appealing, which increases its potential to fulfill its own intended purpose of “pointing at a range of different theory types and levelling the playing field within the MOS community” (p. 491). The latter part of this purpose implies that the role of theory in the community should shift from “political-practical controlling device” (p. 509) towards enabling “researchers to advance knowledge development” (p. 490-491).

However, TSElosophers also found three significant shortcomings in the article. Firstly, we didn’t find much argumentation as for how the seven criteria behind the typology were chosen. It seemed as if the deep experience and professionalism of the authors were trusted to the extent that they could present their list of seven criteria without extensive analytical elaborations. Some of us felt the suggested set of criteria is too complex and formulaic; for instance the two-item formulation of Friedman (1953) goes arguably better to the point and is more helpful for researchers.

Secondly, the article seems to present a strawman of what explanative theory means. Especially problematic is the claim that Whetten (1989) defined explanative theory narrowly, since it misreads the scope of Whetten’s (1989, 490, emphasis added) short article, where the intent is merely “to propose several simple concepts for discussing the theory-development process.” Explanation can well be defined much more broadly; it is not just limited to ‘positivist’ notions of explanation typical of e.g. quantitatively oriented research! For example, Wittgenstein characterizes scientific explanation as profound understanding.

Finally, it was suggested in our discussions that the article provides less actionable advice about theorizing than e.g. MacInnis’ (2011) “A framework for conceptual contributions in marketing”. Therefore, Sandberg and Alvesson’s contribution might be reduced to raising awareness without urging for widespread changes.

Despite our criticisms, we consider that this article admirably follows the adage ‘better being approximately correct than exactly false’. As long as the reader keeps in mind that some of the appeal of its narrative is achieved with a tradeoff from its accuracy, we may endorse reading this article.

A glance to various performativities of performativity

TSElosophers meeting 1.2.2021. Elina Järvinen, Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Maija-Riitta Ollila, Morgan Shaw, Otto Rosendahl, Toni Ahlqvist.

Gond, J. P., Cabantous, L., Harding, N., & Learmonth, M. (2016). What do we mean by performativity in organizational and management theory? The uses and abuses of performativity. International Journal of Management Reviews, 18(4), 440-463.


The concept of performativity has been interpreted in many ways after John Austin introduced the idea of ‘performative utterance’ in the beginning of the 1960’s. This paper by Gond, Cabantous, Harding and Learmonth takes up this perhaps quite complex concept and tries to summarize the way how different versions of it have been utilized by scholars in the field of organization and management theory (OMT). There are indeed several different ways as for how the original version has been interpreted. Gond et al. introduce five conceptualizations of performativity in their paper:

  1. doing things with words (Austin);
  2. searching for efficiency (Lyotard);
  3. constituting the self (Butler, Derrida);
  4. bringing theory into being (Callon, MacKenzie);
  5. sociomateriality mattering (Barad).

These five conceptualizations are linked to four so called ‘turns’ in OMT, which according to Gond et al. can be identified as influencers for the upsurge of performativity studies in OMT. These four turns are the ‘linguistic turn’, the ‘practice turn’, the ‘process turn’ and the ‘material turn’.  Each of these ‘turns’ can then be linked to certain interpretations of performativity. For example, ‘linguistic turn’ may be linked to non-representational view of discourse, whereas ‘practice turn’ relates more to the interest in the actual doing or acting of organizational actors.

After providing these conceptualizations and the possible reasons for their success, Gond et al. make distinction between two dominant ways of using the theoretical concepts of performativity in OMT. The first way is described as ‘one-way process’, where performativity concepts are more or less just ‘borrowed’ from one specific source domain and then used to generate new knowledge in the organizational context. The other way is said to be more sophisticated ‘two-way’ exchange process, for example for theory-building.

The article presents several examples of such OMT studies which have approached performativity from certain angle, which in itself can be quite illuminating for anyone who previously might have had only narrow view on performativity. By presenting these different uses of theories and example studies, Gond et al. try to find a way to provoke a ‘performative turn’ in OMT, which might ultimately “unleash the power” of the concept itself “to generate new and stronger organizational theories”. However, even if this aim might be clear, the article had some deficiencies which might hinder its own performative aims.

Our discussion

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the concept of performativity was familiar to all TSElosophers who joined the discussion. However, the perspective towards performativity varied between TSElosophers depending on their background and their earlier readings related to these different concepts of performativity. All participants were familiar with the Austinian performativity as to how to do things with words and the famous example of “I pronounce you husband and wife”. If Austin was a common read to all, it was different with other foundational concepts and authors of performativity. Some were more familiar with the studies from such scholars as Latour, Callon and Mackenzie, while others knew better texts from Barad, Butler and Derrida or even Lyotard. Many had read Barad before (see TSElosophers blog post from last May). Therefore, everyone’s perspective towards performativity was perhaps a bit narrower than the overall collection that was presented in this paper. This was one of the appreciated features of the paper on which TSElosophers agreed on.

Participants also viewed positively the presentation how OMT scholars use performativity in their own domain. This section echoed some similarities with Lukka and Vinnari’s (2014) idea of distinguishing domain and method theory as two different roles which theories can play in a piece of research, even if it used a bit different way of presenting the idea. Gond et al. criticizes the way how OMT scholars had mostly borrowed performativity concepts from other domains without any attempt to adding anything on the concepts themselves. Therefore, the paper seemed to be provocative not only towards OMT scholars to think about using more of these different performativity theories as such, but also to the way how OMT researchers should aim for contributing to those theories which are taken from other domains and thus should try to generate stronger organizational theories.

Lyotard’s performativity as searching for efficiency was considered by TSElosophers as the odd one out of the bunch and ill-fitted in the collection of other selected authors and their critical approach towards performativity. One participant pointed out that the reason for this could be the way how the authors had chosen their literature just by picking up words related to performativity. There was a suggestion among the TSElosophers that the most fruitful way to view Lyotard’s perspective might be by understanding performativity as a form of self-optimization or self-improvement striving towards efficiency through measurement and optimization of the input/output ratio. The demand for efficiency creates circumstances for turning people into “their own tyrannical boss” according to critical management scholars Cederström and Spicer’s (2017) mirth-producing column in the Guardian.

Our discussion also disapproved with the paper’s dismissive stance towards the notion of critical performativity by Alvesson, Spicer and others. Gond et al. seemed to understand their critical performativity as supporting precisely the agenda that Lyotard had put his critical finger on: Making organizations show improved performance. In contrast, TSElosophers felt critical performativity is more broadly about using the performative features of human action for something that is socially desirable – being thereby often critical towards suppressing goals to only efficiency improvements, which effectively would tend to uphold the societal status quo.

As a conclusion, TSElosophers thought Gond et al. (2016) was, despite some misunderstandings, a good read about performativity, because it provided a broad overview on the various conceptualizations of performativity.


Cederström, Carl and Spicer, André (2017). We dedicated a year to self-improvement: here’s what it taught us. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/02/self-improvement-optimization.

Lukka, K. & Vinnari, E. (2014) Domain theory and method theory in management accounting research. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal. 27:8, 1308-38. DOI: 10.1108/AAAJ-03-2013-1265

Precious, precarious democracy

TSElosophers meeting 23.10.2020. Erkki Lassila, Kai Kimppa, Kari Lukka, Maija-Riitta Ollila, Milla Wirén, Otto Rosendahl.

Diefenbach, T. (2019). Why Michels’ ‘iron law of oligarchy’ is not an iron law – and how democratic organisations can stay ‘oligarchy-free’. Organization Studies40(4), 545-562.


Diefenbach’s article aims to refute Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy, which states that the essence of organization “gives birth to the elected over the electors, of the mandatories over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators.” The article divides Michels’ prosaic writings into six arguments:

1. Organisation is based on division of labour, leading to specialization
2. Specialisation creates specialists and leadership must be provided by specialists
3. It leads to a distinction between superiors and subordinates
4-6. Professional leaders cannot be influenced or controlled by the subordinates, strict compliance becomes a necessity for subordinates and leaders form a cartel or ‘closed caste’, making their ruling permanent

These points show a compelling slide from democracy into oligarchy. Moreover, the Iron Law cannot be empirically disproven, since any extant democratic organization might later turn into oligarchy. Therefore, Diefenbach sets to counter each of the above points on theoretical and methodological grounds.

The article approaches an important concern, but suffers from structural shortcomings. It is motivated to oppose the performativity of the Iron Law, which is sometimes simplistically applied e.g. to provide ironclad justification for the oppressors or a solid rationalization for the passivity of cynics and spectators. Ironically, the article itself adopts some simplistic stances due to its mechanistic approach and short length.

Our discussion

In contrast to the technic-functionalistic approach in the article, TSElosophers’ discussion omitted the point-by-point structure and concentrated on what was more or less overlooked in the article: power considerations, scale and type of organizations and perspectives from social psychology.

We felt that Diefenbach’s definition on legitimacy would have needed to include power considerations. Generally, we suggested that the underlying driver of the kind of processes like the emergence of oligarchies is seeking powerful positions, and once gained, keeping such positions intact. Diefanbach emphasized the acceptance of internal and external stakeholders, but remained mute on the relative power of stakeholders. Although oligarchy draws the support from the ruling elites and the related beneficiaries (plutocracy, class ideology, nepotism, etc.), democratic legitimacy comes from supreme power being subjugated to the tiniest of powers, especially the power of individual persons. Oligarchies can hardly demonstrate that their supreme power is subjected under a network of powers to include the poor, the sick and the nonconformists.

Diefenbach soon abandons the starting point of discussing all organizations in favour of pitting the (varying) legitimacy of democratic organizations against the (varying) illegitimacy of oligarchic organizations. TSElosophers discussion moved beyond this distinction to consider other important organizational qualities, such as scale and type. We agreed that the scale of organizations positively correlates with the prevalence of oligarchy; it requires less insight and institutional work to keep smaller organizations democratic.

Also, the political, business, educational, scientific and other type of organizations’ legitimacy concerns differ. For example, many business organizations are ruled by the few over the many with little qualms to their legitimacy. To the extent the business organization is perceived to serve customers who are informed symmetrically and provided with competing choices, it gains legitimacy as its survival depends on paying attention to the viewpoints of a plurality of stakeholders. In sharp contrast, we feel that the scientific and educational organizations, including University of Turku, too often centralize and standardize, although effectiveness could be substantially improved with more grassroots democratic administration and teaching practices.

We further contextualized the topic with psychological perspectives. One in our group found evolutionary psychological hypotheses useful for considering the gap between personal traits of good leaders and those adept at climbing the career ladder. Another referred to Fromm’s book ‘Escape from Freedom’ that posits a substantial minority of humans as inflicted by behavioral sado-masochism: with tendencies to desire strongman leaders and act as one if placed in a superior position. Still another emphasized prospect theoretical uncertainty aversion: Superiors might fear vengeance if their power position weakens and sub-ordinates might continue to tolerate the ruler if only because that’s the devil they already know.

Overall, the article diluted the Iron Law into the Iron Threat of Oligarchy. Not having read the original text on Iron Law by Michels, we remain unsure if any refutations were made or if Diefenbach merely framed the same issue with more positive overtones. The novel framing emphasizes the constant need to take care of democracy. As such, Diefenbach’s article is best to be read as a list of threats against democracy and the key mechanisms for internally nurturing democracy in organizations.

Power tensions dressed up as organizational paradoxes

TSElosophers meeting 28.1.2020, Kari Lukka, Milla Wirén, Mohamed Farhoud, Otto Rosendahl



The literature on organizational paradoxes pivots on themes such as ‘change – stability’, ‘exploration – exploitation’ or ‘competition – collaboration’ and predominantly views the simultaneous existence of these contradictions as sources of beneficial organizational versatility. Berti and Simpson want to join the discussion by highlighting the ‘dark side’ of paradoxes, building on a view that the extant paradox literature falsely assumes similar agency on both sides of the paradoxes. Their claimed key contribution is that the power disparity needs to be included into the discussion of organizational paradoxes, especially when, or if, endowing the paradoxes with beneficial qualities.

Berti and Simpson present several, genuine sounding and relevant themes where the power disparity in organizations indeed positions the employees in between the rock and the hard place. They also go further and propose means of mitigating the ensuing problems. These discussions are written well, with clarity and insight, and merit ample attention.

However, there is one notable problem with the paper. We TSElosophers were not convinced that the paper is actually about paradoxes at all. Paradoxes mean, well, by definition, simultaneously existing polar opposites that cannot logically coexist. Instead, what the authors focus on are tensions, that can (at least in theory, if not in organizational practice) be solved, remedied, or mitigated. Some circular reasoning occurs: At least some, if not all, of the ‘paradoxes’ the paper talks about might actually source from power differences – not only that power differences enter the picture later on when trying to live/deal with the paradox. Hence, resolving, or developing a remedy on, a paradox must mean somehow changing the power difference in question, which would in turn mean that no paradox would then exist. The problem the paper actually addresses is the power disparity that creates tensions, not the tensions-as-paradoxes themselves. There is little we learn of the “dark side of paradoxes”, but a lot about the impact of power differences for the organizational actor.

In our discussion we pondered whether this apparent mismatch with the literature into which the authors have positioned their discussion, and the discussion itself, could be due to the twists and turns of the review process. Yes, paradoxes may have more scholarly appeal than tensions, but TSElosophers were left wondering whether the authors could have originally been quite so blind to the issues of consistency that our discussion spotted.

Functional stupidity at the heart of organizing

TSElosophers meeting 30.1.2019. Kari Lukka and Otto Rosendahl.

Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2012). A stupidity‐based theory of organizations. Journal of management studies49(7), 1194-1220.

This time TSElosophers discussed the article by Mats Alvesson & Andrew Spicer entitled “A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations”, published in Journal of Management Studies in 2012. In brief, this article introduces the notion of “functional stupidity” to complement the earlier understanding of the limitations of rationality in decision-making and action in organizations. Alvesson & Spicer particularly stress how functional stupidity adds to this by including affects and power issues into the picture. Functional stupidity is defined as “an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications”.

The article also suggests a system dynamics model dealing with how functional stupidity works in organizations. The model includes two levels of analysis, the organizational stupidity management and the individuals’ stupidity self-management, which is reinforced by the organizational stupidity management, see figure 1 below. Stupidity self-management involves “putting aside doubts, critique, and other reflexive concerns and focusing on the more positive aspects of organizational life […] that are officially sanctioned and actively promoted.” (Please refer to the original article for explanation of other concepts in the figure below.)

The system dynamics of the model were only preliminarily discussed. Future research suggestions reflect the work-in-progress: authors suggest studies on functional stupidity evolving over time and individual’s stupidity self-management process towards greater/lesser reflexivity. This future research adds the idea of delay to system dynamic model. An interesting point of delay is between “reflexivity” and “limited internal reflexivity”. For example, organizations that curb stupidity management might expect a considerable delay before individuals start to demonstrate greater reflexivity.

TSElosophers were not entirely convinced of the analytical originality or strength of the article. Firstly, the difference from the already recognized forms of limitations to rationality in decision-making, taken the latter as a whole, does not seem that big. Secondly, the article does not develop the aspects that are claimed to make the major differences, i.e. affects and power issues, to any notable depth. Thirdly, there is much similarity between the notion of “functional stupidity” and that of “action rationality” of Nils Brunsson, introduced in his article in Journal of Management Studies in 1982 and his book from 1985. Both of these mean essentially wiping aside time-consuming and complicating reflection and profound analysis in order to get ahead in action and to get something done.

TSElosophers speculated about three archetypes of organizational participants with a view of functional stupidity. One of them sees through the system and, stressing the need to reflect and to offer justifications that are defendable in the long-term, takes distance to functional stupidity, even being active in counter-acting it. This may of course lead also to just cynicism or even leaving the organization. A second archetype would basically hold similar core views, but also appreciates the upsides of functional stupidity and therefore keeps normally low profile regarding countering its mechanisms. However, people representing this second archetype may still selectively choose to also resist functional stupidity, when they view resisting more necessary or beneficial than just accepting it. The third archetype refers to organizational participants who either very much buy the upsides of functional stupidity and therefore dismiss the downsides or do not recognize functional stupidity at all, but only behave in the organizational life as functional stupidity suggests/requires.

TSElosophers generally found this article interesting and inspiring. The buzzword at the heart of it is striking enough to raise immediate attention – especially as it seems to include an oxymoron: How can stupidity be functional? The article is pretty compelling regarding the argument that such functional stupidity can indeed have many “positive effects” regarding the smooth functioning of organizations, and that without it, managing modern organizations would be cumbersome. To some extent the article also deals with the other side of the coin: Stupidity, even with such streamlining and simplifying functionalities as depicted in the article, has also downsides. However, it is somewhat surprising – from researchers that are known of their critical approach – how much the article stresses the “positive effects” of stupidity, making the article notably more (short-term) managerially than critically tuned. This is in some contrast to the book on a similar theme by the same authors from 2016, titled “The stupidity paradox” (Profile Books). The book is much more balanced with a view of the upsides and downsides of functional stupidity.

Ethical ascetic practices – or how to resist as an underdog?

TSElosophers’ meeting  on 23.3.2018. Albrecht Becker, Katja Einola, Eero Karhu, Kari Lukka, Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, Ekaterina Panina, Otto Rosendahl, Joonas Uotinen, Milla Wirén

Organizational Ethics and Foucault’s‘Art of Living’: Lessons from Social Movement Organizations, Iain Munro 2014

The article by Munro (2014) discusses Foucauldian ‘art of living’ in organizational practice, specifically in social movement organizations (SMOs). Art of living focuses on self-creation, which goes beyond “exploitative neoliberal mechanisms of identity formation” (Munro 2014, 1128). According to Munro, neoliberal discourse reduces the self to a machine that produces, including the production of satisfaction with consumption. SMOs often act to balance the excesses of neoliberalism, which means that the art of living is more pervasive in this context. Munro (2014, 1142) points out that “SMOs provide a rich source of possibility for the development of alternative ethical exercises as well as opening up tactical points of reversibility to dominant neoliberal forms of subjectivity”. SMOs mentioned in the article include Amnesty Intl, Greenpeace, Methodism, Quakerism, Occupy movement and Slow Food.

Munro discovers four organizational practices relating to ‘ethical askesis’: Bearing witness, direct action to create alternatives, care for self, and the use of pleasure. Bearing witness refers to finding ‘the truth’ and experiencing its injustice and oppression, e.g. Greenpeace sailing a boat to nuclear test zone. Direct action stresses the creation and enaction of alternatives. For example, having dumped a ton of dead fish in front of a pulp industry company (i.e. bearing witness with a public dimension), Greenpeace helped the pulp industry to gather actors together to create less chloride-intensive solutions for bleaching paper (Håkansson, Gadde, Snehota & Waluszewski 2009, 49–61). The practice of care for the self is founded upon self-denial and personal sacrifice. This practice is legitimized by comparing it to the suffering of people that SMO members are trying to help, e.g. the Occupy movement’s meager protesting conditions reflects solidarity for the less fortunate. Nevertheless, the ethical ascetic practices also include the uses of pleasure that contrasts with pervasive neo-liberalistic institutions, e.g. adhering to slow food instead of fast food traditions.

The discussion at the meeting of TSElophers dug deeper into the unit of analysis in the article: It seemed that the levels of the individual and of the organization (here SMO) were conflated towards the latter part of the article. It seemed that Munro metaphorically endowed the SMOs the role of Diogenes the cynic, in which case the revealed ascetic practices did indeed signal resistance towards the wider structures in which that agent is embedded. However, if we look at the individuals within the SMOs, the logic doesn’t hold, as the individuals within the SMOs do not resist their organizations (the SMOs), but conform in order for the SMO to do the resistance. That said, we also deemed that as the article leaned more towards a desire to trigger thoughts and discussions than towards an attempt to deliver crystallized conceptualizations, this blurring of the analytical levels – while it led the group to ponder some issues of academic rigour – did not significantly diminish the merits of the article in terms of identifying modes of resistance.

Munro posits that art of living requires self-mastery, which enables reversal of the relationship to an external power. According to Foucault (2005, 252; in Munro 2014, 1134–1135), ”there is no first or final point of resistance to political power other than the relationship one has to oneself”. However, this asketic self-mastery is understood differently by Stoic and Cynic ethics. Stoics established a wider perspective, where askesis translates into mastering others through the mastery of oneself. Hence this type of askesis can arguably be connected to the development of capitalistic institutions. However, Cynics adopted an underdog perspective according to which self-mastery should be used ”as an act of permanent critique of the prevailing social order”. The Foucauldian concept of ethical askesis builds on the latter definition. In sum, the ethicality of askesis for Foucault concerns the practices that aim to transform institutionalized values.

This led the TSElosophers to ponder the potential modes of resistance we could engage in, if the structures resisted were to consist of, for instance, the publish-or-perish mentality often mentioned in our conversations. It was pointed out that criticizing can also be an act of validation, as both conforming to and criticizing the structures render them more visible and thereby increasingly ‘real’. Another way of rebelling against the structures is to disengage from the boundaries they suggest, by aligning ones actions towards other goals than the ones validated through conforming or criticizing. TSElosophers club in itself could be described as a form of direct action that supports alternative research approaches, stressing the meaningfulness of scholarly work beyond the boundaries of whether something is publishable or not.

However, art of living with non-mainstream approaches involves developing one’s abilities in caring for the self as securing just the basic income for living becomes more challenging. Engaging in acts of resistance from the (relative) security of a professorial position is different than resisting the structures from the position of a doctoral candidate dependent on grants. However, we all agreed that while the acts in themselves may differ, resisting – or at the very least, reflecting on one’s own ethical acts – is possible no matter the position.

In regards to for example our university, we also discussed that an ethical asketic could engage in ‘tests’ whether the institutionalized structures live up to their expressed and/or assumed ideals. For example, the expressed ideals of University of Turku are ethicality, criticality, creativity, openness and communality (University Strategy 2016–2020). While everyone recognizes that not all of these ideals are fulfilled, ethical asketism would highlight engaging into the development of alternative solutions – and possibly defending these with explicit references to the organization’s expressed ideals. The insights delivered by Munro in the article may provide ways to think about how to go about this in practice: How would the ethical askesis of bearing witness, direct action, caring for self and using pleasure look like when transformed into practices in our setting?

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