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Theory and organization studies: the need for contestation

Reed, Mike and Burrell, Gibson 2019. Theory and organization studies: the need for contestation. Organization Studies 40 (1) , pp. 39-54. 10.1177/0170840617745923

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Abstract

In this piece of provocation we focus on the words of people who we view as increasingly powerful institutional actors in the field of organization theory and what they signify about ‘what needs to be done’ and ‘how it needs to be done’ in order to rectify the many failings they identify. We suggest that their actions reflect a desire for an integrated, general theory of organizations and the conception of organization studies as a nomothetic science to which they (and perforce we) are philosophically and ideologically committed. These are seen to be intellectual and ideological forces at work on both sides of the Atlantic. We provide a critique of this emerging orthodoxy within contemporary organization theory, briefly drawing on Swift’s metaphor of Lilliputian ‘big enders’ and ‘little enders’ but also offer contemplation of the architectural metaphors of ‘cathedral’, ‘mystery house’ and ‘the tower of Babel’ (conceived of as ruination) to consider the alternative imaginary edifices that may influence the structure of our studies. Finally, we specify an alternative research agenda for organization theory which focuses upon ‘the organization of destruction’ rather than ‘the organization of production’ or ‘the organization of consumption’. Rather than seeing any contestation of intellectual traditions, analytical frameworks and methodological strategies as mental manacles and shackles which we need to ‘throw off’ to rediscover our true vocation as organization scientists, we contend that organization theory needs to reignite a fierce dialogue over ‘organization’ and its relation to order and disorder that has stretched over, at least, two millennia and still speaks to our lives today and tomorrow.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Publisher: SAGE Publications (UK and US)
ISSN: 0170-8406
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 1 August 2018
Date of Acceptance: 23 January 2018
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2019 15:23
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/113837

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