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Process, Sensemaking, and Organizing$

Tor Hernes and Sally Maitlis

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199594566

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199594566.001.0001

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Stop Making (Philosophical) Sense: Notes towards a Process Organizational‐Thinking beyond “Philosophy”

Stop Making (Philosophical) Sense: Notes towards a Process Organizational‐Thinking beyond “Philosophy”

(p.38) 3 Stop Making (Philosophical) Sense: Notes towards a Process Organizational‐Thinking beyond “Philosophy”
Process, Sensemaking, and Organizing

John Mullarkey

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

What happens when a new philosophy emerges from a supposedly non‐philosophical field? Must it follow the norm whereby a form of philosophy is recognized to be at work in this area (by a recognized philosopher, but one operating as an outsider), or by some kind of philosopher manqué (a native within the field) being discovered at work there (by this same outsider)? In other words, can something only be deemed “philosophical” in view of an implied subject who thinks in a particular way, discovering thoughts similar to those found in established positions of philosophy? What, alternatively, would it mean to think of a supposedly non‐philosophy realm, such as process organization theory, as immanently philosophical? This chapter explores the conditions by which, far from merely illustrating or applying extant philosophy (“Theory”), Process Organization Theory might actually be seen to create its own novel philosophical thoughts, immanently. By examining the non‐philosophy forwarded by François Laruelle, and the manner in which time and process resist any attempts to theorize them (to make sense out of them), we will outline a way of seeing process as a kind of resistant thinking (an idea first put forward by Henri Bergson) and, therewith, Process Organization Theory as a new form of philosophy. Interdisciplinary thought, on this view, is not about applying philosophy, but consists in philosophy renewing itself (making itself unrecognizable) by acknowledging how non‐philosophical realms (art, technology, science) might be capable of creating new philosophical thoughts. With that, however, must also come a transformation of what we mean by philosophy and even thought itself.

Keywords:   non‐philosophy, Henri Bergson, François Laruelle, Process Organization Theory, Nathan Widder, David Wood, Paul Rabinow

(p.39) 3.1 Introduction

“Process Organization Studies.” Were I to call myself a philosopher in general (be it in virtue of philosophizing about things in general or even about the general as such), or a process philosopher in particular (philosophizing about processes in general), the question of the nature of this inter‐discipline (process philosophy and organization studies) would, typically, be the first to arise in a study such as this. Is it a meeting of “two” disciplines only (or does each harbour even more intra‐disciplinarities within itself)? If so, what form of relation does this meeting constitute? To list just two options for now: is it one of application, where ideas from one field are used (or abused) in the field of the other; or is it one of illustration, where the concepts belonging to one discipline are given a more complete sense now that they find perspicuous examples in a new domain? And in which direction might such relations of application or illustration (or a merger of the two) run? Would it be from process philosophy to organization studies, or, counter‐intuitively, in the opposite direction. I say “counter‐intuitively,” because the norm in such relations is deductive, going from the general to the particular, and so, typically, from the philosophical to the non‐philosophical. But what might an inductive movement look like, one that generates a new philosophy specific to its own examples (in this case, organization studies)? To cut to the chase: the purpose of this chapter is to show how the normal direction from philosophy to non‐philosophy can be reversed, and so, thereby, to make the case for a process organizational‐thinking that does not rest on (apply or illustrate) extant models of philosophical thought.

How might such a reversal operate? Certainly not through arguing on the basis of a new set of generalities (on pain of performative contradiction). Though there are some theorists today who are interested in the non‐philosophical sources of philosophy, like Alain Badiou, too often the new relation in question, whereby art, technology, or science is shown to be capable of forcing new philosophical thoughts onto us, is nonetheless ratified as such on account of an existing conception of what philosophical thought looks like. As such, however, nothing has really changed: only on account of an image of philosophy, recognized by philosophers, is the “non‐philosophical” discipline allowed to create (or rather, re‐create) philosophical concepts, categories, or methods. In this chapter, I want instead to entertain the possibility that things could be otherwise: because I do not already have a (process) philosophy of organization studies (what do I know (p.40) about organization studies anyway?), nor even a fixed idea of what any philosophy per se might be (as will soon come to light), it might be possible for a genuinely new philosophy to be generated from process organization studies itself—to see process organization studies itself as a philosophy of the future.

Lest the charge of false modesty be directed towards me, let me assure the reader that I am truly convinced that I do not know what is Process Philosophy. Richard Rorty once described Henri Bergson's process thought as little more than just “whooshing about a bit” (Rorty, 1982: 182). In one respect, he might have had a point, in as much as this “whooshing” could be seen as an embodied, affective understanding of a process that does not lend itself to any static representation. Indeed, I will argue that process makes sense when it is enacted as an immanent movement rather than when it is seen as a representation of the object. This immanent movement is not an image of the object, so‐called, but is a part of the “object”—a sensemaking that goes from the particular to the general (to reflection, to representation, and as such, to what is currently called philosophy), but only by transforming what we mean by (make sense of) philosophy itself. For, in the end, what is philosophy? As we will see, this clichéd question—the stereotypical question of the armchair philosopher—must itself also be transformed. When we reverse the direction of thought, taking (or seeing) our example, organization studies, as philosophical, then the question is best re‐formulated as follows: what will philosophy become? Only by “whooshing about” in a new domain of thought may we find an answer.

At one level, then, this chapter concerns the philosophy of time, but it does so only to expose a general ignorance here—for there is no one philosophy of time, only specific, varying philosophies of something each calls “time.” There are myriad different approaches to time, processual, phenomenological, and political, to name but three very broad categories (examples of each being treated in turn below). However, it is not my purpose to replay an old relativist tune, but rather to investigate whether these different perspectives cannot be reconciled in another time that does not attempt to represent them all transcendentally (as right or wrong) but that participates in each immanently. This participation might operate both in terms of how these theories resist each other (and their attempts to subsume each other) and in terms of how temporal phenomena resist such grand theories' own attempts to essentialize time. The ramifications for applying a philosophy of time (to organizations, say) would be to turn the tables on philosophy: we no longer apply a philosophy to a field, top‐down, but each field, by (p.41) resisting theory, generates a new philosophy of time through its own processes—bottom up, and immanently.

3.2 The problem of time as the need for a theory of time

Time has mostly been a problem for philosophers who not merely needed it to be explained, but needed it to be explained away. For Parmenides, only an immutable, immobile Being could explain the illusion of all becoming. Less radically, though still with an eye to reducing time to the atemporal, Aristotle posited the need for substance to explain movement: an unsupported movement was impossible, change is a predicate that requires a subject (movement belongs to the thing that moves—see Aristotle, 2004: Book Z). This need to find the condition for time, understood otherwise as unsupported change, can be seen, however, as more of a problem for philosophy than for time itself. It may be that the anathema of unconditioned becoming says more about philosophers' knowledge, about the conditions of epistemic respectability, than anything else. In Book XI of his Confessions, St Augustine famously wrote: ‘What then is time? If no one asks me, I know, if I want to explain it to someone who asks, I do not know’ (Augustine, 2008: Book XI). From this one might ask whether the problem of time is really only a problem of knowledge, specifically, the philosopher's model of knowledge as a set of eternal, essential truths? If such knowledge is timeless, then, perhaps it is the medium through which time is refracted, and thereby stripped of its inherent becoming simply in order to be under‐stood (to stand under, in a sub‐stance).

Certainly, a whole line of modern philosophers have argued that the only way to understand time is through some timeless element. In particular, there are those philosophers of time called “detensers” in virtue of the fact that they deny that the processual tenses of pastness, presentness, and futurity are real aspects of time (Smith, 1994: 1). Conversely, seeing time as a dynamic movement makes no sense for them, given that this process of time would itself seem to require a time in which to proceed, leading us on to a vicious regress. If a dimension of time like the present is itself moving, according to what measure of temporality does it move? How fast is it? Must it move in another, second‐order temporality or ‘super‐time’ (Schlesinger, 1994: 218)? Yet, even if such a second‐order time existed, it too would need its own repository, another higher‐level super‐time, and so on ad infinitum. The detenser contends, therefore, that the process view of time, that it is a kind of flow from future to present to past, is an illusion (p.42) of the mind. Real time belongs to a physical substratum (including the physical basis of the mind), a substratum (substance, subject) that works according to the laws of cause and effect that establish a view of time in terms of the timeless relations of “before,” “simultaneous with,” or “after,” rather than the tenses of past, present, and future. There is no “flux,” “dynamic,” or “flow.”

Despite appearances to the contrary (for many take him to be a process philosopher in the mould of Bergson), parts of Gilles Deleuze's writings reveal him to be one such detenser. In his book Difference and Repetition, for example, Deleuze talks of the paradox of the present as the need for a time in which to constitute or synthesize time (as the succession of past, present, and future): “there must be another time in which the first synthesis of time can occur” (Deleuze, 1994: 79). This time, moreover, cannot be time understood as succession, as change, or tensed, for this would just bring us back to the question of how and where such a time was constituted, how it might flow. Rather, it is empty, the time of eternity—what Deleuze calls the Virtual or Aion.

And here we come back to knowledge and the needs of philosophy again. For Deleuze, it is a principle of sufficient reason that demands that there be an “implicit” or virtual domain to make the present pass: for there to be change, there must be a principle of change (see Deleuze, 1993: 41–3). Process requires at least some kind of conceptual or logical support. This is not the same kind of support as Aristotle's substance metaphysics, of course, for at issue here is what allows us to think change, rather than a thing that is changing. But the kinship between the thing and a logic that supports change is noteworthy in as much as, in each case, the alternative is unthinkable: process without substance or concept is unsustainable. We need a timeless concept of time in order to understand time (a point that Deleuze shares, ironically, with his chief critic, Alain Badiou: to think change, one cannot begin with change, but outside of it; one must commence with Parmenides rather than Heraclitus—see Badiou, 2009: 542).

But what if the whole question of “support” was wrong? What if the “support” for time was always itself, was simply a set of indefinite other times nested within each other? The regress would not be a logical paradox or aporia whose solution requires us to stand outside of time in a virtual eternity: we could embrace the regress and naturalize it in a collection of myriad different instances of times (plural), a plethora of empirical examples, each sufficient unto itself simply because they refuse to reduce themselves to just one, essential, eternal philosophical principle.

(p.43) Indeed, Bergson himself has a theory of the planes of time (or “durée”) that does just that: time is a stratified system of temporal rhythms running at different rates, each a condensation of other temporal rhythms (see Mullarkey, 1999: 31–61, 165–90). The pulsations of one actual time subsumes within itself those of other actualities in a nested indefinite order of ever more contractile durées. Time is not one unilinear succession (in need of one of other form of atemporal support), but a tiered regress of different rhythms. This regress, moreover, is not only benign: it is actually a real cosmological system of non‐quantifiable scales (see Smith, 1994: 180–94). And it is on only one of those scales that the knowledge some call specific to philosophy itself resides.

Let me explain further. In his study of the history of process philosophy, Nicholas Rescher makes a remarkable point when describing Bergson's work: “everything in the world is caught up in a change of some sort, so that it is accurate rather than paradoxical to say that what is changing is change itself.” He then adds that it would be unfaithful to the spirit of process philosophy to set any ontological categories that would imply concepts and positions that a process philosophy must permanently reject. However, what, we might ask, would this process philosophy be if not a changing‐philosophy that must countenance the possibility of permanent transformation, even for itself? Probably to avoid such apparent nonsense, Rescher adds that “at the most abstract level” all true philosophical positions must be the same, even for process thought (Rescher, 1996: 17, 36). For Bergson, though, this means of escape from paradox is of no help, because there is no point that can be called the highest level of abstraction: Bergson believes that abstraction is an ongoing process with no highest or lowest levels. And the so‐called “examples” (“illustrations,” “applications”) of any one philosophy of time are themselves another level or scale of durée, rather than a fixed object represented by a fixed (philosophical) image. The tables have turned, and the object (art form, science, organization, …) generates its own temporality, and therewith a possible philosophy to accompany it.

3.3 Talking about time: sense, nonsense, and narrative

Faced by the paradox of representing time as change (which we might call “Augustine's problem”), philosophers can either posit some timeless ground that will facilitate its comprehension, its sense, or they can, as (p.44) Bergson does, embrace the paradox of multiple times as a new production of what it means to comprehend a new logic of time. And this will involve a certain revision of what we mean by philosophical knowledge. But Bergson is not alone in this endeavor. There are a number of examples we can draw upon from recent writings in the philosophy of time that make the same gesture towards a new logic of understanding, one that can even look like a logic of non‐understanding, of not knowing, of not making sense of time. Nathan Widder's Reflections on Time and Politics, for instance, proposes a Deleuzian “ontology of sense” that involves nonsense. This idea of nonsense, he argues, should not be seen as dialectical contradiction, for that would be too abstract, and not ontological enough. Something beyond Hegelian contradiction is required: a “Sense” of non‐sense that is understood through a differential logic (see Widder, 2008: 34, 36).1 Such “Sense” goes beyond subject and predicate logic, being a sense that is “also nonsense,” for its identity is one of self‐differentiation (the becoming that comes with paradoxes of self‐reference, as in Russell's famous Barber paradox). In this respect, a paradox brings too much sense, being a nonsense that keeps making sense only by creating new types of sense (just as Russell's paradox was solved through a theory of types of meaning). As such, the Sense and nonsense of time are not opposites, but rather both “oppose the absence of sense.” So far, so Bergsonian, one might say. Yet Widder's Deleuzian credentials do not allow the proliferation of such sense into typically non‐Deleuzian fields such as anthropology and phenomenology: Sense is “not anthropological” because “anthropology…assumes, as such, the empirical discourse of man” (Widder, 2008: 109, 114, 36), and for Deleuzians, the discourse of man—which includes phenomenology—must be debunked.

Compare this, then, with the clearly opposed discourse of Paul Rabinow's Marking Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary (opposed, that is to say, according to Widder's ontology of what can make sense of the paradoxes of time). Yet on the face of things, Rabinow, like Widder, endorses the need for a certain kind of unknowing, or break with sense, that he describes in terms of an ignorance of time (or the “contemporary,” as he puts it).2 This comes, however, precisely through a focus on anthropos and against any ontologizing of time (and so contra Widder on two fronts at least). For Rabinow, anthropology is itself pluralist in essence, conveying “the dynamic and mutually constitutive…connections between figures of anthropos and the diverse, and at times inconsistent, branches of knowledge available during a period of time” (Rabinow, 2007: 4). He goes on (following Niklas (p.45) Luhmann), to link this pluralism with an “ecology of ignorance” and the need to acknowledge the ability to live without needing to know—“we have a responsibility to our ignorance” (Rabinow, 2007: 60–2). In his methodology, Rabinow is also attracted to John Dewey's pragmatic and nominalist approach, especially with regards to finding new modes of “thinking and writing.” Yet Dewey remained too philosophical for Rabinow, being “not nominalist enough” and veering too much towards “ontologizing” (Rabinow, 2007: 6–7). Here, then, Rabinow's pluralism towards thinking the contemporary mode of time must stay within the anthropological and the “ontic,” keeping away from fixed, ontological modes of philosophical thought.

One could regard David Wood's Time after Time as a “middle way” between Widder's Deleuzian ontology and Rabinow's anthropological anti‐ontologism of time, given its own position within phenomenological ontology—how Being appears to us.3 At the same time as arguing that there can no longer be any “grand narratives” concerning time, this rejection is linked to Wood's own pluralism towards time:

I am speaking of a certain practical recognition that our theories rest on schemes and that schemes and things are not just inevitable gaps, but an abyss of difference. … It is my bet that the “negative capability” required to function effectively in this abyss is to be found in all that work in the sciences and the humanities that can remember well enough … to be able to welcome the event of time (Wood, 2007: 23).

Where the Christian and Enlightenment traditions tried to make sense of time, to give it a clear linearity, we now live within the “end of Time,” so much so that “the breakdown of Time is one of the most thought‐provoking aspects of the present age” (Wood, 2007: 12–13, 22, 20). But this allusion to Heidegger—and therewith his view that “we are still not thinking” enough about what is most important, Being—does not necessitate, according to Wood, that we “cannot tell stories” any more about time. Time can still be narrated: not in a “grand,” totalizing fashion, of course, but through “open narratives”: “narrativity is a democratic, elastic, sense‐making activity.” This renewal of time does not mean a return to linear time, but a “relaunching of time itself as intensity, possibility, as open” (Wood, 2007: 22). This open, democratic sensemaking, then, involves new models of thought and of ignorance, the reference to “negative capability” in the quotation above referring this time to John Keats's idea that “man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” (in Wu, 2005: 135).

(p.46) 3.4 Whose philosophy is it anyway?

Perhaps the question remains to be asked, however: how open can we be in this new democratic approach to time? How much of this “negative capability” can we embrace before we end up incapable of saying anything at all about time? After all, the principle of post‐Heideggerian philosophy, on the contrary, has most often been to look continually for the essence of one true thought and real philosophy. This is because, as David Wood cited, for this view the most thought‐provoking thing in our thought‐provoking time is that “we are still not thinking.” From the interdisciplinary position that I want to articulate here, however, the opposite is the case. Philosophical thinking can be found everywhere, and not merely because organization studies, say, can “ape” Plato, or reinvent Deleuze. And this for one simple reason: philosophical thought has always been a contested, multitude of examples. In other words, any one philosophy can only privilege a preferred form of thinking by fiat. Beyond such preferential treatment, however, there are always so many counter‐examples: thinking descriptively, poetically, mathematically, affectively, embodiedly, analogically, syllogistically, fuzzily, paraconsistently; thinking through a method of questions, of problems, of dialogue, of dialectic, of genealogy, of historicism, of deconstruction … So why not a new thinking, process‐organizational thinking?

We can put it this way: philosophy is that subject that has always failed to provide itself with a definition. A negative capability. Even as many practicing philosophers still endeavor to find or offer, finally, today, the one true definition of philosophical thought, so the judgment of both history and contemporary practice conspires against them: be it diachronically or synchronically, philosophy is unique amongst other disciplines in not possessing a definite definition, an uncontested essence. That is why, apart from its own history of agonistic examples of what it means to be a “true” or “proper” philosopher, there is no philosophy that is not at the same time a philosophy of some other subject, of science, of art, of history (see Mullarkey, 2006: 129–34). Philosophy is a parasite or symbiant, inherently relational. Put otherwise, however, given its own shadowy lack of content, this means that philosophy actually belongs to other subjects in the first instance. In that respect, the “philosophical” becomes an adjective tied to no one noun—it should be seen as the moment when another subject, like politics or literature, also finds itself in a state of transformation, with an identity crisis. When the subject loses its definition, then, its own philosophy arises, immanently (because all that philosophy itself offers as (p.47) an essence is the lack of an essence, a disputed identity). But what that subject's philosophy looks like in detail will always be of its own making, a new philosophy generated through the specifics of what it calls into question, which identities it finds it must create anew. That, at least, is the optimal case whereby the philosophical status of organization studies, for instance, concerns what we mean by the practice of organization studies as much as what we mean by philosophy.

3.5 Thinking about time versus thinking in time

One retort to what I have argued thus far may take the tu quoquoe response, for haven't I already championed one specific philosophy in all this, namely Bergson's process philosophy. Yet my own interest in Bergson stems mainly from his metaphilosophy and its refusal to define (permanently) a transferable philosophical method, even for his own so‐called method of intuition. At best, Bergson only gives us various quasi‐definitions or pseudo‐formulae, “dynamic” and “indefinite” definitions for philosophical intuition.4 Here are a few of them: “thinking in duration” (penser en durée), the “inversion” of the “habitual direction of the work of thought” (invertir la direction habituelle du travail de la pensée), “thought and the moving” (la pensée et le mouvant—Bergson, 1946: 34, 190). With regard to this last formulation, if one asks after “the moving” by demanding to know “the moving what?”, the answer that comes is that what is moving is a complexity of other movements that only appear to us as a thing. The appearance of substance is not denied, therefore, but what it means is transformed.

Bergson, consequently, does not offer us a general theory of process (indeed, for him there is no such thing as “becoming in general” but only the different processes belonging to each specific domain (Bergson, 1911: 324). The very notion of “process” itself, therefore, should be taken as only a place‐holder for whatever emerges in each discipline as transformative. So calling x (art, history, or organizations) processual is not a definition. “Process” always signifies a quasi‐concept at best: it marks the lack of an essence rather the positive definition of one. Indeed, it could be argued that “process philosophy should be read as a ‘non‐philosophy’” after the model of François Laruelle's use of the term, meaning a democratic thought (or “science”), generated from the bottom up, extensionally, within different fields. The “non‐philosophy” of organization studies, consequently, is not opposed to extant “proper” philosophy, but it is what transforms it, broadens its definition. The “non‐” in non‐philosophy should be taken in terms (p.48) similar to the meaning of the “non‐” in “non‐Euclidean” geometry, being part of a “mutation” that locates philosophy as only one example among a larger set of theoretical practices (Laruelle, 1989: 8, 99ff; Laruelle, 1991: 47). Nor, I should add, will what counts as “emergent” or “transformational,” a “becoming” or a “process,” be something for an outside, transcendent philosophy to prescribe, for these terms too are only quasi‐definitions or pseudo‐formulae—they merely point to, or suggest, what cannot be defined.

Like Bergson's process thought, Laruelle's science is completely open, or democratic, with respect to the meaning of this science or “knowing.” A “non‐philosophy” of organization studies would allow every theory to be partially right in as much as each is only partial, but absolutely wrong in as much as each might try to be absolute or transcendent—the very resistance of processes within organizations ensuring this irreducibility to one, transcendent account (see Mullarkey, 2006: 125–56). The theories of x are a part of the process of x: they relate to it mereologically rather than representationally. This is what I would call a metaphilosophical thesis, one open to the becoming‐philosophical of other, currently non‐philosophical subject‐matters.

3.6 Process organizational‐thinking, or, that which will become philosophy

According to Alain Badiou, there are no events in philosophy—its form is eternal, Platonic. But if one is a thoroughgoing process philosopher, there are such events: not only is there change everywhere, but even one's concept of process must proceed too (pace Rescher). Philosophy too becomes, through the forces of a (provisionally) outside “non‐philosophy.” Such a philosophical event will redraw the map of what counts as non‐philosophy and philosophy. And its temporality is the future anterior, of that which will be or will possibly be (for such things are unforeseeable). Such Socratic unknowing—what Paul Rabinow called the responsibility to ignorance—is not about weaving mystery just for the sake of it, but is needed to facilitate the advent of something new in the name of what could become “philosophy.” Hence, a process philosophy doesn't statically reflect the world (its history, its art, its organizations); rather, the world and its various subject‐matters refract what philosophy is (to become) by proceeding with their own thinking.

For this reason, we should be open to the possibility of a “process organizational‐thinking” that could constitute a philosophical event all its own (p.49) through its ability to resist the ontology of any one philosophical theory (that offers us only one answer to questions such as “what is process?”, “what is an organization?”, and so on). “Thinking in organizational process” would change what process, organization, and even what thinking and philosophy mean, and without any need for ready‐made philosophical illustration, ratification, or corroboration.5

So, what does (or would) process organizational thinking look like? How do (or would) we recognize it? The quick answer to that question is first this: we must stop trying to recognize such thinking as if we actually knew what thinking itself is. Practice ignorance, or unknowing. But this is not to say that one should not apply philosophy at all to organizations, or even that one should be against every illustrative use of philosophy per se. It is, rather, to say that one should not allow any one philosophy to essentialize what organizations are (that is, to ontologize them). We need to converge all theories and avoid the essentialism offered by any one—apply, or use, as many philosophies as possible.

The concern that some might have with such a pluralism, however, is that it would lead us down the slippery slope to relativism. But consider this description from Bergson regarding which image is best to use in order to understand process (durée)—the answer, again, is all of them:

No image will replace the intuition of duration, but many different images, taken from quite different orders of things, will be able, through the convergence of their action, to direct the consciousness to the precise point where there is a certain intuition to seize on (Bergson, 1946: 165–6).

Or consider this quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche, the supposed godfather of contemporary relativism, on “perspective knowing”:

There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective “knowing”; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our “concept” of this thing, our “objectivity”, be (Nietzsche, 1990: 119).

Pluralism does not have to lead us down into solipsistic silence, incommensurable frameworks, and ineffable insights. It can also be the spur to conference, to bringing together “more eyes,” to multiplying the perspectives, and to taking counsel from others. The drift to a relativistic impasse is only inevitable if one takes the implied relativity to be representational: if, instead, one understands theories (of) organizations as immanent, processual parts of the Real (of organizations), then each theory is related to organizations mereologically rather than in epistemic terms of right (absolutism) or (p.50) wrong (relativism). There is no one picture of the whole that either succeeds or fails to re‐present the totality of the whole (as if there ever was a static whole standing still long enough to be pictured); rather, the part of the whole exemplifies or instantiates it through its own process (by “the convergence of their action”, as Bergson put it), because the whole itself is not static either: it is a process that can be instantiated in many kinds of examples, or better, through the movement within and between many examples. (The emphasis here on including as many images or eyes as possible also precludes this pluralism from falling back into a lazy, “pick and mix” dilettantism, which would, in fact, be just as selective as any absolutist approach.)

In other words, if one materializes theory (philosophy) itself within a process ontology, then there is no need to try and find one transcendent discourse (such as Deleuzian naturalism, anthropology, phenomenology, or semiotics, cognitivism, neuroscience, …) that somehow has a privileged access to the Real. Materializing theory in this way shows how each philosophy is only a part, and, by that acknowledged partiality, opens up each part to every other part—hence, the formula: “process = pluralism.”

Moreover, saying that each theory, philosophy, or sensemaking is a part of the “object” does not mean that there is only our construction of the object through language, our narratives (be that construction either social or individual, voluntary or involuntary). It also states that the object is a part of us, because both we and the object are processes. Participation is reciprocal. To be sure, it may well be that the effectiveness of certain popular examples within organization studies, such as the Mann Gulch episode, lies in part in how we narrate it, in how it is told as a story. But why one kind of narration works better than another, or why Mann Gulch works so well as an event for narration, must also rely on issues that are not determined by either us as representational animals, nor by any logic of narration at all. The manner of our knowing the object (or, if you prefer, “partial construction”) exemplifies the same kind of processes as the object itself exemplifies—theirs is an immanent, non‐representational relation.

So, with all these preliminaries and cautions in mind, what, we might now ask, would be an example of an organizational thinking that generates its own philosophy immanently, as part (theory) to whole (its “object”)? To answer this we must first remember that processes are indefinite and inherently unpredictable, and as such, give us something of the essence of philosophy as an indefinite, inessential discipline. Consequently, when the essential concepts, categories, and methods of organization (studies) are in flux too, it is precisely in virtue of this that it becomes philosophical, just as (p.51) philosophy too becomes something other than “itself”—it is a reciprocal co‐variation. But, of course, this begs the question: what are the “essential concepts, categories, and methods of organization (studies)?” And to this question, no outside, supposedly transcendent respondent can answer. The response must come from within. Yet, admittedly, the division between inside and outside, immanence and transcendence, is not absolute but porous (it too is becoming), so perhaps some nascent intuitions can be offered through my own, limited, participation (or “whooshing about”) amongst the reflections of those practicing organization studies today. Certainly, the number of images on offer of what currently seem (to me) like its most critical concepts, categories, and methods (if only through their sheer repeated presence at the moment), are multiple. A short‐list of resulting questions might include the following:

  1. 1. What is an organization? A business, a public institution, a boat race team, the bodily‐relation of a Big Issue seller to his or her customers? What other phenomena might be looked at as actual examples of organizations (rather than as metaphors of organizations): slime mould; a termite hill; a performance troupe; the unemployed; protest groups; religious groups—that is, examples from the physical, plant, and animal realms; from the art world and the underworld, from politics, and from science?

  2. 2. Why is the use of dramatic examples—the fire fighters in the Mann Gulch episode, for instance—so prevalent? Are such examples tied to a competitive model of life (and death)? Must vital risk be at the heart of all examples because capitalism is both in need of risk, while also needing to tame it, being equally excess‐risk‐averse? Conversely, what is mundane sensemaking—and so what would be a supposed extra‐mundane sensemaking? Is there such a thing as an “everyday” example, or is the everyday also dramatic, though at a different speed?

  3. 3. How should examples be documented? What are the losses and gains in a shift from textual documentation, to the use of diagrams, to interviews, to video, film‐making, and audio‐recording? Is there a working‐assumption in this movement that the latter are more direct and less mediated? What use of explicitly narrational techniques can be employed? Is the use of rhetoric (or “style”) always on obstacle to truth?

  4. 4. How should the investigator interact with organizations? From an objective, outside standpoint (transcendentally)? Should the investigator aim to represent events impartially, irrespective of whether that is possible or not? Or should the investigator be embedded within an organization, (p.52) relating to the object of enquiry immanently? Should research go beyond participatory observation and ethnography towards explicitly subjective modes of engagement and reporting, such as the first‐person confessional, or even poetry?

  5. 5. Within the key concept of sensemaking, what is the nature of sense itself? Is it bodily, automated, and habitual? Or is it disembodied, voluntary, and reflective? Is it representational or non‐representational? Informational or affective, epistemic or poetic? Is sense itself multiple, stratified along different levels?

  6. 6. And what, then, is a process anyway? How fast and how slow must a process be in order for it to be a process (or at least the same process)? Are processes material or immaterial, embodied or abstract, collective or individual? Or are these false dichotomies? Do we need to understand stabilities—for instance, routines, discontinuities, and interruptions of flow—as aspects of process too? Would such an incorporation entail a genuine void or irruption of non‐process within process thought, or would it rather involve only a new kind, or speed, of process?

There are no conclusions to these questions, certainly none that might come from a non‐practitioner like myself. But should the discipline keep on asking what currently appear (at least to me, and at least for now) to be fundamental questions, keep on both conferring, and arguing over the stakes, then, a least according to the indefinite definition of philosophy that I have outlined here, organizational‐thinking will create a philosophy of its own, one with its own entirely new ideas about research, observation, documentation, sense, and even the very concept of what counts as either an organization or a process. It might even change the nature of what counts as thinking, and philosophy, itself. Nonetheless, though there may be no final resolution to any of these disputes, the lack of conclusion should not be a reason to stop enquiry. The process is all. The “answer” is in the multiplication of “images” and of “eyes.” As Kenneth Gergen writes, there is no last word. And nor is there a first word either—or even the guarantee that words, first or last, will possess the answers for us. And, at the risk of a performative contradiction, these words here are not final either.


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(1.) See also Widder, 2008: 37: contra Hegel's abstractionism (“the real is the rational, and the rational the real”): “sense must present itself in the … movement from the empirical to the conceptual and back.”

(p.53) (2.) An “anthropology of the contemporary”, as Rabinow has it, intends to show both how the past continues into the present as well as how the present is a rupture with it. The contemporary is the space where old forms are given new significance in a kind of “remediation” (Rabinow, 2007: 3).

(3.) Wood's primary references are Heidegger and Derrida.

(4.) The concept indefinites or “dynamic definitions” are throughout Bergson: see Bergson, 1911: 89, 90, 111–12; Bergson, 1946: 211.

(5.) For a deeper exploration of another revision of thinking, this time through cinema, see Mullarkey 2009. It is worth noting that in order to write this book I had to become a fully‐trained lecturer in film studies.