Why Assumptions in Organization Theory Do Not Work for Explaining Organizing in a World on the Move
Why Assumptions in Organization Theory Do Not Work for Explaining Organizing in a World on the Move
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter proposes six assumptions that underlie traditional organization theory that have been directed towards the view of organizations as stable, delineated entities circumscribed by boundaries that separate them from their external environments. The assumptions have helped establish organization studies as a discipline within the social sciences. However, a number of changes have been taking place over the past couple of decades that invite a view of organizations as emergent processes of interaction between heterogeneous entities of widely different sizes, operating from different times and from different places. This is what accounts for a world on the move, and makes it necessary to study the extent to which dominant assumptions underlying traditional organization theory respond to the emergent economic and social realities. The chapter begins with arguments about why it is important to assume a world on the move and then examines each of the six assumptions in turn.
This chapter proposes six assumptions that underlie traditional organization theory that have been directed towards the view of organizations as stable, delineated entities circumscribed by boundaries that separate them from their external environments. However, a number of changes have been taking place over the past couple of decades that invite a view of organizations as emergent processes of interaction between heterogeneous entities of widely different sizes, operating from different times and from different places. This makes it necessary to study the extent to which dominant assumptions underlying traditional organization theory respond to the emergent economic and social realities. The chapter begins with arguments about why it is important to assume a world on the move and then examines each of the six assumptions in turn.
2.1 Why it is Important to Assume a World on the Move
Organization studies and theories are based on time-free statements.
(Gherardi and Strati 1988: 149)
No concept of motion is possible without the category of time.
(Sorokin and Merton 1937: 615)
Almost forty years have now passed since Weick (1974), in a relatively little-cited paper in the Academy of Management Journal, urged scholars to pay attention to five types of settings, which he called ‘someplace else’ than large, established organizations. The five ‘someplace else’ that he suggested were: (a) everyday events, (b) everyday places, (c) everyday questions, (d) micro-organizations, (p.12) and (e) absurd organizations. His point was that by looking at places other than large, established organizations, we would become better at generating hypotheses about the larger, more established organizations. Given the present texture of organizational life, we can take his argument yet one step further and claim that events, micro-organizations, and absurd organizations1 constitute contemporary organizations, together with the more formal structures: they are not mere illustrations of what goes on in more complex and formal organizations, they are those organizations.
Organization studies is still largely dominated by a view of organizations as bounded systems of social actors whose actions are regulated by various types of social, cognitive, or material mechanisms. The view has given organization theory a place and an important voice in areas such as management studies, economics, sociology, and political science. Its success at gaining a foothold in the social sciences, however, has come at the expense of analytically isolating the organization as an atemporal entity composed of social actors, mediated by technologies and surrounded by a neutral, external environment.2 This conditional success is similar to that of institutional theory within organization studies, which, as Lawrence, Suddaby, and Leca (2011) pointed out, has been successful in generating intellectual excitement around macro-sociological understanding of organizational life. Both traditional organization theory and institutional theory have achieved success by assuming some sort of invisible equilibrating mechanisms at work. It is hard to find a more convincing footing for scientific legitimacy, although studying equilibrium without allowing for the possibility of being surprised by disequilibrium makes the very assumption of equilibrium a dodgy one.
The field of organization studies grew out of a concern to define formal organizations as social systems distinct from other social systems, such as groups, families, institutions, or markets.3 Early contributors, such as March and Simon (1958), Thompson (1967), and Perrow (1986) carefully differentiated organizations as formal systems of coordination from other types of systems, and investigated them on those premises. Thus formal organizations have been seen as goal-oriented socio-technical systems, and the task of organization studies has been conceived as working out how such systems operate, evolve, change, and maintain themselves, as well as their effects on humans, the environment, or society. Concerns about phenomena such as rationality, power, emotions, gender, and many other matters have emerged over the years and are explained in the light of organizations as systems exhibiting particular characteristics, including the urge to be rational and coherent.
The preoccupation with the character of organizations as a species of systems has come at the expense of understanding the nature of organization as particular types of socio-material connecting processes. I find it necessary to insist on ‘socio-material’ in the sense that it is not a question of either socio or material, nor two concomitant but different connecting processes, but of (p.13) hyphenated socio-material, where the social and the material act as an entangled unity. Such composite connecting processes may lead to the temporary formation of groups, companies, corporations, laboratories, think tanks, institutions, brands, etc., which spur connecting processes in turn. Beyond being socio-material, they have the virtue of connecting actors of various types and sizes while paying attention to their respective histories and ambitions.4 In other words, not only are the connecting actors heterogeneous, but so are the means by which they are connected.
The idea is to search for generic processes that extend and stabilize socio- material configurations in time and space. In this view, organizations seen as connecting processes would form part of phenomena as diverse as social movements, families, religions, corporations, think tanks, and brands, and not be seen as a sociological phenomenon apart from them. Organization may be described as a particular formation of connecting processes, such as in a family, a group, or an institution, as much as it characterizes a formal organization. For example, rather than study how an organization impacts gender relations, or how gender is conceived, one might study how gendering takes part in shaping the particular connecting dynamics associated with, say, a company or institution.5
The contingencies of the organizational world are poorly captured by frameworks and variables commonly used in organization studies. To be sure, no framework can fully capture the actual complexity confronted by organizers. But a problem with common theories is that, rather than address the actual complexity faced by organizers, they confine complexity by locating it within organizational boundaries, as if managers were like Weberian officials trapped down in an administrative bunker, grappling more or less competently with neatly parcelled chunks of complexity. This ‘confined complexity’ gives ontological priority to the organization, such as by assuming the organization as a context for action and thinking, rather than assuming that actions are what make the organization. Conventional views in organization studies are susceptible to giving precedence to the environment over the organization, and precedence of the organization over actions. This reflects a penchant in the social sciences that goes a long way back.
Alternatively, the complexity facing organizers may be seen as spatio-temporal tangledness, which includes their immediate environment but transcends organizational boundaries to include happenings in faraway places and different times in history. Tangled processes may evolve and interact to form various entities, including individuals, groups, political parties, brands, services, institutions, or products. The temporal dimension is important, because what we perceive of them at the moment is the result of how they have developed over time. In a sense, they ‘are’ their historicities, which makes it difficult to gain access to the processes that shape organizations and institutions unless we better understand the temporal nature of their making. (p.14) Their historicities are tangled and do not evolve neatly apart from each other. Consequently they elude the models of understanding that are commonly applied to them, and also the models organizers apply to create, maintain, and change them.
To illustrate how entities ‘are their tangled histories’ the following passage from Wallack (1980: 276), in which she illustrates a Whiteheadian view of a stone by contrasting it to the view of a stone as an inert, self-contained, simply located object, illustrates the interconnectedness and contingent nature of the world:
The Whiteheadian stone, however, is one stone occasion in a society of stone occasions, the antecedent members of which contribute to (by causing) the given stone occasion, the nature of which also causes subsequent occasions, whether stoney or otherwise. The given stone occasion is not fully describable, without considering its antecedents and its efficacy. For, the features of its own constitution, its structure, its mineral content, its layers, and streaks and crystals, its markings and fossils, its hardness, surface, and texture, are present effects of the past. They essentially refer to the stone’s history, the route of occasions both of stone and of many other elements and compounds that have culminated as the present stone. And the stone is not fully describable without taking account of its real potentiality for effecting other occasions, not only other occasions of stone, but also occasions of perception, occasions of soil enrichment, occasions of certain uses to animals and plants, and so on. The present stone essentially refers to both antecedent and subsequent occasions, both stone and other sorts, which have acted upon it and upon which it acts and are consequently a part of its nature. A present stone that has no present and no future, no membership in a lengthy society of stone occasions that has been affected by water and air and living things is not understandable as a stone: we understand by a stone an instance of an apparently interminable enduring object, weather-beaten or earth-worn or animal-trodden or otherwise used. And a present stone that has not the real potentialities to be seen and felt—a stone without efficacy upon subsequent occasions of human perception—is not understandable as a stone. The stone’s internal constitution and its real potentialities essentially refer not only to other occasions, past and future, of its more or less immediate environment, but to the remote environment as well. The entire stoney society may date back to the sedimentation of muds on the bottom of an early ocean and the antecedents of the mud go back to the origins of the planet, the historical route of which extends back to the birth of the universe. And the present stone occasion will have effects on occasion after occasion extending to the end of the cosmic epoch.
Organizing implies attempts at creating a meaningful and predictable order out of a tangled world. A meaningful world is not one that is known as such, but one that is believed to be as such based on one’s own experience (Bakken 2014). It implies bringing together strands of a tangled whole within some selected and temporally evolving structures of meaning. Alas, the histories of entities are entangled and consequently do not evolve neatly, as illustrated by the above passage. Consequently, the world in which ordering (Law 2004) takes place eludes the models used to understand and order it. Although organizers (p.15) may act as if they operate in a closed system, it is in every respect an open system; the unknown forms parts of the known, either as what Spencer-Brown (in Bakken 2014) called the ‘unmarked state’ or somewhat parallel to what Polanyi (1967: 302) called ‘subsidiary awareness’.6 Luckily, actors are aware, albeit tacitly, of operating in an open world while acting as if it was a closed one. A main challenge for those who study organizational life through the process lens is to try and understand how the assumption of a closed world and the reality of an open one interact with one another.
Privileging connections means assuming flatness, in the sense that actors are not given more agency because they appear larger, more central, more important, or more resourceful. On the contrary, flatness is a way to open for a broader view of practices and mechanisms that serve to stabilize organizational life, but their role in stabilization cannot only be verified by studying how they take part in stabilization. Flatness assumes that whatever takes place at ‘other levels’ is subsumed by acts and their connecting. Take, for example, the following quote from Friedman (2005), which illustrates the ongoing socio-material connecting in the making of a cartoon segment:
This efficiency has allowed us to contract with fifty ‘stars’ for the twenty-six episodes. These interactive recording/writing/animation sessions allow us to record an artist for an entire show in less than half a day, including unlimited takes and rewrites. We record two actors per week. For example, last week we recorded Anne Heche and Smokey Robinson. Technically, we do this over the Internet. We have a VPN [virtual private network] configured on computers in our offices and on what we call writers’ ‘footballs,’ or special laptop computers that can connect over any cat-5 Ethernet connection or wireless broadband connection in the ‘field.’ This VPN allows us to share the feed from the microphone, images from the session, the real-time script, and all the animation designs amongst all the locations with a simple log-in. Therefore, one way for you to observe is for us to ship you a football. You connect at home, the office, most hotel rooms, or go down to your local Starbucks [which has wireless broadband Internet access], log on, put on a pair of Bose noise-reduction headphones, and listen, watch, read, and comment. ‘Sharon, can you sell that line a little more?’ Then, over the eleven-week production schedule for the show, you can log in twenty-four hours a day and check the progress of the production as it follows the sun around the world. Technically, you need the ‘football’ only for the session. You can use your regular laptop to follow the ‘dailies’ and ‘edits’ over the production cycle.
(Friedman 2005: 72)
This is an example of what a flat world may be like and it is closer to what many people around the world actually experience compared to what is assumed in mainstream organization theory. Although the example is from media and is naturally quite focused on technology, this is not what I intend to show. What the example shows is that there are multiple ways to connect actors between different settings, and because there are many different ways of connecting, the mode of connecting is open to choice. Two observations are needed to argue (p.16) why this is of importance to organization studies. First, connecting makes the actors and not the other way around. This is basic to process theory: actors’ identities emerge from processes and not vice versa. Second, connecting and hence the making of actors is not exclusively influenced by organizational boundaries. Actors are not assumed to act in a certain way because they belong to such and such an organization, but because they form parts of various settings, including their local organizational setting.
There is a need to explain organizational life while suspending the idea that it happens within organizational boundaries and while allowing it its true contingent nature, whereby actors other than human are given agency as organizers, and where time and temporality are given their due emphasis. Before moving on to develop a process-based framework that goes some way towards that aim, I will explore briefly how current organizational theory responds to such criteria.
2.2 Correspondence Assumptions and Some of their Problems
In a world that is studied from the safe distance of generalized abstraction, contingencies take the form of causality, necessity, and indispensability, where a stable state of affairs is assumed to exist in response to another state of affairs. Such assumptions are not only convenient, but they are also extremely powerful tools of analysis. Causality, necessity, and indispensability are persuasive modes by which arguments can be heard in the social sciences. When they connect to large populations of organizations, they may even be seen as reality itself, rather than ways of seeing reality. Somewhat paradoxically, the further removed the researchers are, the more weight their voices carry. Key to such thinking is the idea of correspondence.7 Correspondence is a deadly serious idea, because it touches upon the very notion of truth, that is, the point from which our very understanding departs.8 A central aspect of it is the assumption that truth lies in correspondence between what is experienced or enacted and something else. Correspondence does not necessarily imply similarity, but may imply being different from something else. There may, for example, be correspondence between an organizational state and what is perceived to be the external environment to the organization. Or there may be correspondence in time, such as between a present state of the organization and a previous state of the same organization.
Chia (1999: 215) makes the point succinctly in relation to organizational change:
A ‘correspondence theory of truth’ is thus assumed, in which linguistic terms are taken to be accurately representing an external world of discrete and identifiable objects, (p.17) forces and generative mechanisms. This representationalist epistemology also implies that it is more important to focus on the outcomes of change rather than on the process of change itself. Change, according to this view, is merely that transitory phase which is necessary for bridging the various stages of any evolutionary process. Underlying this intellectual attitude is an unshakeable assumption that reality is essentially discrete, substantial and enduring. It is this fundamental ontological assumption which provides the inspiration for the scientific obsession with precision, accuracy and parsimony in representing and explaining social and material phenomena, since these are now regarded as relatively stable entities.
A problem with the correspondence assumption is that a more underlying idea of a one-to-one relationship between environment and organization develops, and it is an assumption that is questioned or even refuted by systems theorists such as Luhmann (1995) and organization theorists such as March and Olsen (1975).9 Nevertheless, even in attempts at thinking processually about organizations and organizing, the idea of correspondence stands strong. For example, Pettigrew, Woodman, and Cameron (2001: 700) claim that, ‘If the change process is the stream of analysis, the terrain around the stream that shapes the field of events, and is in turn shaped by them, is a necessary part of the investigation.’
Several schools within organization and management theory take context, that is, the idea of correspondence in space, as the determining factor with regard to processes. In recent decades such a view has been a predominant feature within central schools in organization theory, such as organizational ecology (Hannan and Freeman 1989), new institutionalism (DiMaggio and Powell 1983, 1991), resource dependence theory (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978), evolutionary organization theory (Aldrich 1999), and economic sociology and business systems (Morgan, Whitley, and Moen 2005). The main line of thought underlying these schools is that processes within organizational boundaries are as they are because they correspond to the state of the external environment of the organization. Organizations respond to the demands in their external environments by, for instance, adopting structures deemed legitimate and timely among actors in society at large. This is why new institutionalism, for example, regards forces such as imitation and coercion as a powerful influence when it comes to adopting management ideas. The sources of imitation and coercion are both located outside the organization. For others who are less interested in the symbolic aspect of adaptation and more in economic performance, external factors such as competition and regulation replace the influence of norms and needs for legitimacy. There is a vast literature on business performance that seeks to explain how competition works as a mechanism for performance-based selection. There are similar examples in other parts of management theory, whereby the adoption of certain management styles, for instance, is seen to correlate with certain types of problems.
(p.18) The idea of correspondence is strongly embedded in much social science, partly because it is a relatively ‘safe’ way to truth. It lends the impression of safety because understanding can lean on the transposition of observable—and sometimes measurable—phenomena. For example, traits of an organizational culture may be seen to correspond to beliefs of a leader and compared to similar leaders elsewhere in the world. The power of correspondence legitimizes generalization of findings, which often facilitates the publication of research in peer-reviewed journals.
The most common way to criticize correspondence is to lump it together with positivism and sometimes rationalism. Thus a frequent argument is that the world is fragmented, ambiguous, and subjective, rather than coherent, unequivocal, and objective. But beyond the paradigm wars, their polemics and straw man projections there are logical problems with the idea of correspondence. Let me briefly suggest three principal problems associated with the assumption of correspondence.
One problem has to do with the multiple, or nested quality of organizational environments. For example, a representative and well-known line of argument is to assume that organizations embedded in more turbulent, ambiguous, and uncertain environments will tend towards management practices and organizational structures that are more dynamic and adaptive. The line of argumentation goes back at least as far as Emery and Trist’s (1965) paper entitled, The Causal Textures of Organizational Environments, in which they argue for the virtues of organizational matrix structures in turbulent environments. Spatial correlation, however, is bound to be a conspicuously weak basis from which to derive conclusions. For a start, it relies on a monolithic view of the environment, whereby it is synthesized into a mass that can be described by simple parameters. However, environments may exhibit turbulence at one level precisely because they are strictly regulated through institutions at another level. Second, what is perceived as turbulent at one point in time may not be perceived as such at another point in time. Emery and Trist were right in pointing out that turbulent environments may become perceived as ‘normal’ if the turbulence persists over long periods of time. It is not really feasible, however, for researchers to pose as atemporal judges about whether something is more or less turbulent, unless the actors themselves consider it so. Only the actors themselves can judge the importance of their own histories.
A second problem has to do with organizational environments as possibility, or potentiality, as opposed to actuality. Correspondence is an assumption based on the idea of actuality in terms of a perceived state of affairs. It is this assumption that may lure researchers to assume a one-to-one relationship between what happens in the environment and the organizational response. Bakken, Hernes, and Wiik (2009) point out on the contrary:
This is not, as assumed in traditional organization theory, a situation where the environment imposes unilaterally its demands on the organization. On the contrary, the (p.19) organization realizes itself by engaging with the possibilities offered by its environment. This means—and this is relevant to the question of innovation—that the irritations potential in the organization’s environment increases. The concept of irritation is related to that of information, but not quite the same. Irritation may be seen as an undefined surprise that is based on the environment, yet remaining a product of the system itself. When the fire alarm goes off it is not the surroundings that are irritated but the fire brigade. The question poses itself thus: Where is the fire? And how extensive is it?
A third problem relates to temporality and correspondence. The idea that we may search for correspondence between different states at different times rests on the assumption that different states are objectively comparable. It assumes that a former state may be retrieved the way it was experienced then. However, this is an impossibility given the effects of the passing of time: the past cannot be lived again as it was. It would be impossible for something to be experienced as identical a second time because the second time would include the experience from the first time plus that of the second time. Process philosophers, such as Deleuze and Kierkegaard, while making repetition the essence of being, insist that repetition, seen as sameness, is impossible. This is also why Schütz (1967), influenced by Husserl, used the term ‘retentional modification’ for the act of evoking past experience. The expression ‘retentional modification’ signals how past experience is immanent in the present while at the same time being different from the ‘original’ experience. In other words, every act of retaining past experience in the present implies an element of modification.
2.3 Misplaced Concreteness Assumptions
When looking to describe organized entities one generally chooses to study what takes place within the boundaries of the organization. In other words, we search for some dominant, achieved state within those boundaries, which means that an imaginary line is drawn within which it is assumed that the entity exists in a fairly homogeneous, stable state believed to remain that way over a certain period of time. The stable state that prevails over some duration of time is liable to be described in terms of, for example, behaviour, actions, or discourse performed by the entity associated with that stable state.
Working from the assumption of organizations as circumscribed entities continues to be in good currency. The mindset is clearly evident from various handbooks on organizations or organization theory (e.g. Baum 2005; Clegg et al. 2006; Tsoukas and Knudsen 2005). Organizations are assumed to circumscribe sensemaking and actions in ways that allow the analyst to connect them internally as well as to other organizations or institutions. Thus, when we speak of the organization’s operations they become described as relations between entities in space. We do not have adequate theoretical frameworks for how (p.20) various connecting operations relate—and consequently shape—those entities while allowing for the making of entities outside organizational boundaries.
Much the same goes for distinctions between, say, the individual and the social, which are seen as delineated entities that may interact but are not seen as constitutive of one another. Although a social group is seen as an aggregate of individuals, it cannot really be seen as the sum of all the experiences of the individuals involved. Nor are individual experiences simply parts of the aggregate referred to as the group. The point is that we cannot really draw a line between the individual and the social level as though there is a social level that is separate from what goes on between individuals, or pretend that they are two levels that interact dialectically with one another.10 Instead, the social is an ever-evolving product of social interaction, yet it cannot be seen as something separate from the interactive processes that produce it. The social, as much as the individual, is an abstraction that aids the sensemaking of what is going on.
The thing about abstractions is that they are useful, but also potentially deceitful for our understanding of the world. They are useful because they enable us to make progress in our understanding of our experiences, which are the primary source of knowing. However, abstractions may also become dangerous because we have a propensity for forgetting that they are abstractions from experience, and not the actual experience. The danger, Whitehead (1929a: 2) wrote, is that we then become victims of ‘the fallacy of misplaced concreteness’. According to Whitehead, it is therefore essential to recognize that because objects are abstractions they are never present in a final state, but rather are perpetually in the process of becoming. Nothing can ever be as we perceive it, nor can it become as we want it to be. Everything is in the process of becoming, perpetually.
One example of this is institutions, the basic unit of analysis of institutionalism, where studies are inclined to work from a definition of institutions, which is then used to empirically locate the institution as an object of study. However, the assumption that phenomena, such as institutions, are perpetually in the making, would mean that the focus would have to encompass the various ways in which institutions evolve and co-evolve with other phenomena. An example of one such study is Verzelloni’s (2009) institutional study of how judges in Italian courts operate as translators of written law with the help of fascicules:
The fascicules are a centerpiece of the juridical institutions. These specific objects contribute to guarantee the dynamical stability of the contexts. In their materiality the trial papers crystallize a particular ‘institutional asset’ continuously confirmed in the different actors’ practices. These ‘containers’ of knowledge are direct and clear expression of the ‘order’ that countersigns the organizational structure of every court of justice.
Rather than assume that the institution ‘infuses’ actions, Verzelloni analyses the institution of law in the making and how it is being produced and reproduced by materially mediated practices, while analysing how those practices become ‘infused’ with the institution of law. One might well imagine how that would (p.21) enable analysis of how the institution of law can evolve differently as novel contingencies arise in the practices related to it. Herein lies the strength of insisting on the becoming and the contingent nature of things; by not assuming that an institution ever exists in a steady state it is precisely the dynamics of the making of the institution, and possibly its unmaking, that becomes central to analysis.
By simply speaking of an organization we turn it into sets of abstractions, because making it an abstraction is necessary, not only in order to speak about it, but actually also to ‘act’ on it. This is a point where I diverge from writers such as Chia (1999), Tsoukas and Chia (2002), and in part Weick (1995) who, while rightfully lamenting the excessive noun-making in organization studies, argue in favour of organizational life as flux, translated into streams of consciousness. What is needed, while paying careful attention to the flux nature of organizational experience, is to explore how the flux arises from and turns into nouns and abstractions that make collective organizing possible; in other words, investigating how verbs produce nouns, while not treating them as antinomies.11 It is worth quoting James here:
Perceptual ﬂux means nothing...(I)t is always a much-at-once, and contains innumerable aspects and characters which conception can pick out, isolate, and thereafter always intend....(O)ut of this aboriginal sensible muchness attention carves out objects, which conception then names and identiﬁes forever—in the sky ‘constellations,’ on the earth ‘beach,’ ‘sea,’ ‘cliff,’ ‘bushes,’ ‘grass.’ / (T)he intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.
(James 1996: 49–51), italics in original, from Weick 2011: 10)
The making and unmaking of institutions, like organizations, describes a journey from the concrete, living experience, via abstractions, and back to concrete, living experience. Not only do social scientists engage in the making of abstractions, but so do organizers. The difference between social scientists and organizers, however, is that organizers have to live with the return of the abstractions to concrete, living reality, whereas social scientists can remain in the world of abstractions. Where studies have attempted to penetrate the concrete realities of people, abstractions have sometimes been expelled from the analysis, as if they were to be abhorred. An answer to avoiding misplaced concreteness (the concrete being the living experience) is not to avoid abstractions (because they are indispensible), but to be mindful of the journey back to living concreteness, that is, back to organizational life as it is lived.12
2.4 Homogeneity Assumptions
Since the 1950s, organization studies has veered towards viewing organizations as social systems conceived as collectivities of various sorts. Parson’s (1951) (p.22) sociological framework, which has influenced much mainstream organization theory, emphasizes the social collective as a building block of understanding social life. What makes collectivities attractive as a focus of analysis from a social-science point of view is that they can be granted agency in the shaping of organizations as well as societies. Agency is granted as and when collectivities are assumed to represent sharedness of meaning, which is widespread in mainstream organizational literature. However, the very notion of shared meaning may be misleading, especially when it is taken to signify agreement between people.13 Questioning the assumption of sharedness of agreement as a requisite for social action hardly needs arguing. The pragmatist underpinnings of organization theory illustrated by the works of March and Weick clearly defy agreement as a basis for social action. Over the years, however, the idea of ‘the social’ has been treated various ways, each warranting criticism.
Social constructionist views are likely to see organizations as embodying social meaning construction ‘in here’ about a world ‘out there’. When, for example, Smircich and Stubbart (1985: 727) define organization as ‘a set of people who share many beliefs, values, and assumptions that encourage them to make mutually-reinforcing interpretations of their own acts and the acts of others’, they boil organizations down to systems of shared meaning and assumptions among homogeneous actors. Although they may be different people with different dispositions, they are of the same kind. Homogeneity, however, is not necessarily inferred from what is actually going on, but forced upon actors by the analytical assumptions of the researchers. A pragmatist view, on the other hand, may take the world as meaning structures within which connections are attempted to be drawn and redrawn by actors. The world of the organization is not external to the meaning that actors make of it: it is that world. Actors inhabit that world, act upon it, and move with it. This is where organization theory has been conspicuously narrow-minded in its approach.
Lindahl (2005: 63), for example, observes how a machine, rather than forming a background for various social actions, works as an active connector:
It is true that an engine does not ‘draw’ cables, pipes and other machines in the full sense of the word, but it ‘draws’ attention. Performing an installation with an engine as a point of reference means that some actions, or action sequences, become more likely than others. They also become more or less likely if the reference point had been defined as the generation of 30 MW or as the transaction of 600 MSEK.
The point is that it is difficult to see developments as driven exclusively by human actors within organizations deciding to do something ‘out there’.14 Human actors, as much as concepts and material objects, are ‘made’ by connecting processes, as are organizations. Connecting processes are composites of actions, which, although they may be planned, create contingencies that are both partly unforeseen, partly beyond identification, and partly beyond (p.23) control, while also setting the stage for developments that are beyond the control of the actors who initiated them.
If both the assumptions of the exclusively social and the a priori identity of actors are abandoned, it means working with an open notion of the actors’ identity, such as is the case in Actor-network Theory (ANT), in which elements may reveal themselves as persons, concepts, or material objects (Czarniawska 2004) as a result of processes of mutual translation rather than as pre-defined identities. It is striking how, in any organized system, social actors depend on materiality for their creating and maintaining their identities.15 A litmus test of the inevitability of materiality in organized systems would be if the most secretive organizations, such as the Mafia, would be able to exist without material means. One would have thought that such organizations would ideally like to avoid any material traces of their activities in order to avoid that any ‘material making’ of their human members could be established by investigators. As it happens, even the Sicilian Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, who hid from Italian police for more than forty years, was not able to escape material tracing, however ingeniously he concealed his whereabouts. The following extract is from an interview with Giuseppe Gualtieri from the Palermo police force:
We had to be careful with our movements. Anything different from the ordinary was immediately noticed and reported back to him. That would have led him to change his hiding place, his habits, and for us to start all over again.
Afraid that police could intercept phone calls or computer messages, Provenzano issued orders through hundreds of little notes, known in Sicilian dialect as pizzini. Many of the messages were in a code that investigators are now trying to decipher. The key could be in a Bible found in Provenzano’s hideout that police say contained numerous annotations.
A police investigator who has seen dozens of the notes agreed to show us how the Mafia boss carefully prepared his messages, making them easy to hide and making sure they moved as fast as possible to be hard to intercept. [...]
Investigators followed a suspect they thought was a Mafia messenger to a farmhouse outside Corleone and then set up a surveillance camera from a nearby hilltop. From a distance, police also were watching the house of Provenzano’s wife a mile away in Corleone. From there, they noticed that bags of fresh laundry would travel through town, going from messenger to messenger. When they finally followed a bag all the way to the farmhouse that was now under surveillance, Provenzano made his biggest mistake. [...]
We saw a hand reaching out to pick up the bag. It was strange, because that part of the house was supposed to be empty. That’s when we realized that the phantom of Corleone was no longer such, but actually a person in flesh and bones.
(<http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0604/21/ywt.01.html> accessed 5 November 2013)
The transcript illustrates not just how human and material existence depend on each other, but also how difficult it is to empirically separate them from (p.24) one another, even if they are analytically seen as separate. The little notes, for example, point towards the fugitive existence of the Mafia boss, and the laundry points towards his solitary existence, an existence that partly defined his identity as a leader during that period. In other words, the material artefacts articulated the meaning of his leadership, meaning which was created and re-created on an ongoing basis.
Another distinction commonly made is between the collective (such as the group, the team, the organization) and the individual. An abundance of studies has treated groups, organizational units, organizations, or communities as units of analysis. Once considered as units of analysis they have been given attributes (composition, norms, patterns of behaviour, etc.) to explain how they impact on individuals, or, much less frequently, to explain how the individual influences the collective. Once social units have been defined they have been seen as acting units, as if they were individuals acting upon their environment. A reduction of complexity is taking place whereby social units are frozen in time and space while also being homogenized into social wholes.16
Homogenization of the social is subject to being an obligatory exercise when abstracting from one to several. We may appreciate the various qualities of one object and retain that object’s specificities for a later stage in time, but once we group several objects, homogenization imposes itself. Bergson’s (1910) discussion about the possibility of accounting for experience in time makes this point. His example is the counting of sheep, which, if we count them one by one, is an exercise in multiplicity, where counting one sheep is not a recurrence of counting an earlier one. Accounting for a flock, however, inevitably becomes spatial as successive sheep become seen as additions to the ones that have been counted: ‘In order that the number should go on increasing in proportion as we advance, we must retain the successive images and set them alongside each of the new units which we picture to ourselves: now, it is in space that such a juxtaposition takes place and not in pure duration’ (Bergson 1910: 77).
Freezing in time–space and homogenization are extraordinarily crude approximations to reality, however. It is not for no reason that Strum and Latour (1987: 791) point out, with more than a hint of irony, that ‘Modern scientific observers replace a complexity of shifting, often fuzzy and continuous behaviours, relationships and meanings with a complicated array of simple, symbolic, clear-cut items. It is an enormous task of simplification.’ The vertical distinction cuts off social units from the processes that make them and pretends that, once formed, they can exist in a vacuum. It would be obvious to consider, as do ANT researchers, ways in which material means serve to uphold social units.
Weick (2001) nevertheless provides a socio-cognitive framework that accounts well for how social units are formed and re-formed. Working from social formation as a combination of interpretation and commitment he (p.25) explains the ongoing processes that underlie social formation. Weick avoids the idea of social units, but tries instead to articulate the sensemaking process as it moves between individual and group levels. The first element (‘the first’ does not imply chronological order, as sensemaking processes never start and never end (Weick 1995)) of the process is that of actions (or acts), which, unless the process stops with the individual act, creates inter-acts, assuming that more people are involved and respond. Acts, in my understanding, may be verbal as well as non-verbal. Being faithful to the pragmatist tradition, Weick sees inter-acts as engendering social commitment to what is going on (several acts create implicit commitment to continue acting in accordance with inter-acts), for example by repeating a customary greeting or carrying on a discussion. Finally, ‘committed interpretation’ takes place as the justification of actions and their meaning. It is also a stage in the sensemaking process where larger structures, such as institutions, may be evoked to provide justification for inter-acts.17 The advantage of Weick’s treatment lies in the fact that he does not pin sensemaking down to individuals or groups, but instead follows the process of how actions and interpretations relate to create commitment, which may be seen as social glue, not of people, but of actions and interpretations.18
Nevertheless, the majority of studies consider the social as given, such as patterns of communication in a group, the identity of an organization, the identities of individual people, or the social structure of an organizational unit. Social entities are treated as givens, with definable boundaries around them, exhibiting particular characteristics. The problem, as Strum and Latour (1987) point out, is that we then get little or no knowledge of how a social entity becomes a social entity with the characteristics we ascribe to it.19 We may, for example, describe an organization as hierarchical, which means that hierarchy then becomes the main descriptor we use for that organization. But hierarchy, although it may be understood in terms of overarching principles when ascribed to an organized system, is upheld by certain reproductive practices. If we wish to know more about the hierarchical characteristics of an organization we are better off investigating how the practices we associate with hierarchy come into being, maintain themselves, change, or dissipate.
Hierarchy is but one of many types of attributes, the point being that the social unit is defined first and then features are attributed to it. This is the case, for example, in Bechky’s (2003) study of occupational communities, which identified three different communities within an organization, consisting of engineers, assemblers, and technicians, respectively. Studying misunderstandings between the three groups, Bechky revealed how they overcame misunderstandings, notably through what she calls the co-creation of a common ground of understanding. Such studies aid in understanding how people, understood as individuals, gain different knowledge through sharing, but these studies also make two assumptions. One assumption is that knowledge or understanding is located with individuals, meaning individual physical bodies (an assumption (p.26) that Weick (2001) avoids, as pointed out earlier) organized into groups. Yet, the social groups are nowhere to be found in a pure form. To be sure, organized bodies are comprised of them and they are depicted in organizational charts and encoded in personnel registers. But, to locate knowledge with bodies is to confine complex processes to things, based on yet another assumption, that when action takes place, it is the body that acts, just as groups act and organizations act. Analytically, this implies that there are entities within which feelings, thoughts, ideas, and projections exist that provide a basis for outward action. This is how we can talk about the sharing of knowledge, but the problem is that knowledge sharing is seen to take place between bodies as entities. Consequently, bodies come to be seen as existing prior to actions. Similarly, when it is assumed that ‘organizations act’, the underlying idea is that organizations are bundles of social groups that form opinions and norms upon which decisions are based.20
In a world considered on the move, it should be assumed that any entity or actor is part of a heterogeneous assembly of entities or actors, including the historical processes that made them. Consequently, it is always possible that an entity may become defined by another assembly as a result of certain events or developments. For instance, a product may become a norm for other products; an in-house routine may become a procedure to be followed in other organizational settings; a personal style of leading may become a myth, a narrative, or a model to be held up to others. In this view it becomes problematic indeed to retain a distinction between the social and the material, just as it becomes problematic to retain a distinction between the conceptual and the material, or between the functional and the symbolic.
2.5 Circumscription and Proximity Assumptions
Locating ‘the organization’ has been—and will continue to be—central to the study of organizations. For example, organizations are located in various corners of society and the economy, helping us to gain overviews of where they are, how they act, and how they influence the ways in which we live. When we extend our study of organizations from industry, public administration, and services to sectors such as the media and sports, we are in a position to better understand the actions of actors such as CNN, The Times, the International Olympic Committee, Manchester United, and many others.
Studies locating the organization as a circumscribed entity also help classify the shape and size of the world in which we perceive organizations as existing. They tell us, for example, how organizations shrink and outsource activities to concentrate on their core competencies. Such observations enable us, again, (p.27) to ask pertinent questions about employment policies, industrial democracy, home–work boundaries (Nippert-Eng 1996), and ethics (Garsten and Hernes 2008), to name but a few. Influential early studies, such as Chandler’s (1962) study of the spread of the multi-divisional form, or M-form, not only located a form of organization within the strategies of international firms, but also prompted questions concerning the origin of the M-form. Chandler’s study is based on the idea that the M-form follows naturally from the strategies particular to large, diversified multinational firms.21
When we classify organizations based on certain criteria we become aware when our criteria no longer apply, which encourages us to push the boundaries of our inquiry. For instance, when our image of the multinational corporation of a large unified entity no longer applies, as argued by Morgan, Kristensen, and Whitley (2001), we are forced to search for alternative frameworks of interpretation. Their book is interesting in that it shows how large multinational firms are fragmented but somehow simultaneously act in a unified way. In the book, Morgan, as well as Kristensen, Zeitlin, and others, conclude that studying internal dynamics over time and space will provide explanations for how tensions, paradoxes, and conflicts are acted out and resolved. In other words, considering organizations as achieved, identifiable states equips us with a platform to undertake correlational analysis work (Hernes 2004).
The assumption of organization as a bounded (Chia and King 1998) form is thus one that enables a number of important observations. This assumption, however, is also problematic, as drawing a line means making a distinction between what is and what is not, and, by implication, the assumption is made that that which is within the line represents a homogenous state. We establish categories that exist because they are seen as being internally homogeneous and mutually differentiable. This is done for analytical convenience more than out of empirical relevance or correctness. For example, du Gay (2006) makes the point that bureaucracies are susceptible to receiving labels such as red tape tout court, which neglects the variety of ways in which bureaucracy is practised in different spheres of organizational life.
Most importantly the assumption of circumscription freezes the ‘in-here’ versus ‘out-there’ assumption into a situation that effectively isolates the organization from the world in which it operates. The assumption leads to the following paradox. In order for the organization to continue to exist usefully in the world it is assumed that it has to change, such as when its culture is seen as being out of touch with what is going on in the outside world. Such an observation typically leads to a decision to try and change the culture to catch up with what are assumed to be the prevailing norms outside the organization. But the attempt includes blocking off the organization from the very world within which it operates, a world which is changing; hence, while change is being made it corresponds to a state of affairs that no longer prevails. Thus, even though the aim is to change with the world, the opposite actually occurs. (p.28) Instead of moving with the world, the organization is isolated from the world. Paradoxically, in an attempt to become more dynamic, the organization actually becomes more static.22
Therefore, we owe it to our analysis to investigate what happens if the analytical boundary were to be drawn differently. Notwithstanding the merits of studying organizations as bounded entities, once we draw boundaries for analytical purposes we are obliged to think about what to leave out of our analysis when we assume boundedness. Bittner’s (1965) discussion of the concept of organization made precisely this point: in order to assert anything, we must leave some things unsaid. Such things, says Bittner, stand under the ceteris paribus clause. Bittner’s position, however, is that the use of the ceteris paribus clause is restricted, and that its contents are always open to scrutiny (Bittner 1965: 244). Taking this particular issue further, Nayak and Chia (2011: 286) draw attention to the dangers of not exposing the bounded state to scrutiny by pointing out that the unquestioned assumption of the boundedness and simple location (an expression taken from Whitehead (1929a) of individuals as well as organizations leads to an ‘overwhelming preoccupation with the formal organization, its environment, its infrastructural qualities, its people and technology, and its preoccupation with actor intentions, rational deliberations and calculative action’.
A related assumption to circumscription is that of proximity. By analytically drawing a boundary around the organization, an assumption is made that interactions between actors within that boundary are not just more significant than interactions with actors outside the boundary, but also largely independent of interactions with external actors. Analyses will consequently be predisposed to focus on those that take place within the boundary and be inclined to exclude those that extend beyond the boundary. In short, there is an implicit assumption of spatial distance determined by where the boundary is drawn. Within this boundary, relations and attention are presumed to be stronger than outside it; consequently, the causal power of singular events may be seen as weaker if they take place outside organizational boundaries rather than inside them.
The problem is that the boundary drawn for analytical purposes may reflect poorly the experience of being in organizations, where occasions of intensive experience may take place between actors in very distant locations. Several empirical studies show how seemingly weak or peripheral processes may be central to organizations. For example, Kreiner and Schultz’s (1995) study of R&D professionals shows how they form networks in the margins of organizations and engage in a mutual bartering of services that may be central to the actions of formal organizations. Similarly, in their study of innovation processes at 3M Company, Van de Ven et al. (1999) show how events at a research unit in Australia were decisive for the development of the cochlear implant (p.29) in the United States. Such studies typically focus on how novelty emerges in a world on the move, which may explain why they are more concerned with potentialities outside organizational borders than more conventional organizational analysis. However, such studies should not be categorized as mere innovation studies, as opposed to what is normally done. Instead they represent an aspect of organizing which is more common than is ordinarily assumed in organization studies based on assumptions of circumscription and proximity.
2.6 Stability Versus Change Assumptions
We had a 100-year war! You don’t get much more stable than that!
(John Oliver, The Daily Show)
If we were to ask almost anyone in the process of carrying out a task whether the task being carried out reflected change or stability, the person is likely to respond that she does not know whether what she is doing represents change or stability, at least not before she has stopped doing what she is doing. She may respond that what she is doing is different from what she used to do previously, yet what she is doing now has some similarity to what she used to do. Assuming that she is right in the middle of doing something, she may have a hard time telling us whether or not her actions represent stability or change, precisely because she is in the middle of it, and the contours of the actual act are as yet indeterminable. She may, of course, intuitively sense that actions are changing, but the intuitive image is likely to be too complex to convey to an outsider. Assuming that our question takes her out of her ongoing stream of consciousness, she is likely to resort to a spatial image of time, whereby she considers particular sets of actions as pertaining to particular periods of time, such as by noting that what she was doing differs from the way she would have carried out the same task compared to, say, ten years ago. In this way she may be able to tell us whether or not what she is doing corresponds to what she did under similar circumstances during a certain period in the past. What she then is doing, is projecting an image of her actions upon a similar set of actions during a selected period of time, which will enable her to provide an answer to our question. In short, the account is likely to be highly subjective, selective, and, in fact, random. This brief, incomplete and hypothetical, yet realistic scenario suggests how elusive conceptions of change and stability really are. The only ‘true’ answer is likely to be the intuitive feeling that the person has of actions changing, but the problem is that that understanding is virtually (p.30) impossible to impart to an outsider, and even less so to the person who eventually reads the outsider’s account.
‘Stability’ is in itself a complex term. The very word evokes immobility, but immobility can be defined in various ways. Stability may mean immobility in the sense of an object staying firm and fixed. A factory where the people or machines do not move is stable because there is no movement. But this is not what organizational researchers mean when they refer to stability. What they mean is a stable state of recurring patterns of activity. In the context of the factory it implies that people move and machines turn, and that if we identify the cycles of movement, those cycles remain relatively identical over time. There is movement, but it is repeated, and the repetitions do not change significantly. The immobility then referred to is the similarity and regularity of repetitions. As a result, when change happens it is because the patterns of movement change.
However, the criticism levelled at the stability versus change assumption has relied on the idea of stability as immobility, and organizational evolution over time as a series of immobilities. Invoking Bergson’s idea of movement, Tsoukas and Chia’s (2002) paper is a notable critical contribution in this regard. Bergson (2007: 121) most forcefully rejects the series of immobilities view by making a case for viewing the world as ‘indivisible movement’.23 In so doing, he harkens to one of Zeno’s paradoxes by invoking Zeno’s ancient parable of the race between Achilles and the tortoise. They begin the race at the same time, with Achilles starting further behind the tortoise. The paradox is as follows: when Achilles has run to where the tortoise started, the tortoise has moved on a certain distance. The same happens when Achilles reaches the tortoise’s second position. Every time Achilles reaches the tortoise’s most recent position, the tortoise has moved on. Hence, Achilles can never overtake the tortoise. To Bergson, Zeno’s paradox is no paradox at all, because movement is indivisible and cannot be divided into a series of immobilities, as is done by Zeno.
If organizational life were reduced to the type of inner duration that Bergson describes, we could accept his rejection of immobilities. However, organizational life, as it depends on social action, has to rely on the spatialization of reality, a point made by Bergson about human intellect, that is, that reflection relies on spatialization. Now, if the immobilities we speak of are in the form of stable states of activity rather than inner human experience, would that cancel out the series of immobilities argument? Returning to Zeno’s parable again, but this time accompanied by Whitehead, the ‘paradox’ can be seen as a fallacy of temporal thinking. Whitehead (1929a: 68–9) points out the temporal fallacy of seeing durations as having begun anew every time Achilles reaches the tortoise’s previous position, which implies that each duration has a before and an after. This, however, contradicts the very idea of becoming, and consequently a processual view of reality. Much organizational theorizing, however, (p.31) especially when it comes to questions of change, falls prey to Zeno’s paradox, where periods of time are assumed to have a beginning and an end. As Chia (1999) points out, the consequences of such organizational theorizing at the level of practice should not be underestimated, ‘Indeed, it has instilled a set of instinctive “readinesses” (Vickers 1965: 67) among Western management academics to construe organizational change as a “problem” which needs to be “managed”’ (Chia 1999: 214). Falling prey to Zeno’s paradox, however, is unnecessary if the analysis incorporates the effects of the actors’ spatialization of reality (e.g. calendars, plans, and strategies) as part of the process under study. It is in evoking past events, for example, that actors resort to spatial images to articulate what has taken place and its significance.
One way to deal with the stability versus change conundrum is to replace stability with continuity, and accept that there is continuity in change, which implies taking a temporal view of organizational life.24 A temporal view implies coming to grips with how continuity and change become understood with the passing of time. Whereas a continuous change view assumes that actors operate in time only, a temporal view directs attention at how the past and future are brought into the present. Evoking the past, for example, constitutes both continuity and change. On the one hand, it represents continuity by ‘containing’ past events and experiences, thus representing a recognizable repertoire of experiences to organizational members. On the other hand, it also represents change because the present is inevitably a novel present (Chia 1999; Mead 1934; Schütz 1967), which takes part in defining the patterning of past and future events.
2.7 Inert Temporalities Assumptions
Time and temporality represent a long-standing conundrum, not just in organizational research, but in the social sciences as well.25 Yet, the passing of time is primordial in the shaping of organizing processes, and temporal analysis becomes essential for understanding organizational life. Moreover, time is not merely a ‘dead’ factor (Lorino and Mourey 2013) of process, but the very life of it, and this is what temporal analysis needs to contend with. When the word ‘process’ is used in much organizational research, it tends to denote a progression of discrete events and acts in time and space (e.g. Langley et al. 2013). Many works are apt to describe a more or less orderly accumulation of events and acts, as reflected in the use of expressions such as ‘knowledge creation processes’, ‘change processes’, ‘communication processes’, ‘research processes’, ‘sensemaking processes’, ‘strategy processes’, ‘inter-organizational processes’, ‘diffusion processes’, ‘decision processes’, and ‘M&A processes’.
But time matters, not only by being a vital force of becoming, but also by shaping the things (people, technologies, concepts, etc.) of organizational life. (p.32) On the one hand, it matters when and where events and acts take place. The paradox of a systematic lack of attention and the degree of importance to temporality was pointed put by Ranson et al. (1980) in suggesting that change has been considered timeless, yet understanding of change is incomplete without an understanding of the temporal dimension of change. They argued that we should, therefore, locate actors temporally. In this view, locating actors temporally basically means situating them along a temporal scale, thus allowing actions and events to be defined as taking place before or after other actions and events, alternatively allowing the duration of time between actions and events to be decisive for organizational developments.
However, even though this view pays attention to temporality, it seems content to locate events in terms of where in the order of events they appear. Attention, however, is not being paid to how what happens at one event creates and re-creates that which happens at other events, past and future.26 This is what is meant by giving agency to time, and requires that we do away with the idea that past and future periods of time are merely discrete segments of duration. Temporality as an active force has yet to take on importance in organization studies. The ‘mattering’ caused by time, by which entities are given their form by the passing of time, remains as yet largely unexplored. To provide an overview of the treatment of temporality I shall discuss briefly the forms of temporality that have characterized the field and also supply a succinct presentation of the form of temporality dealt with in this book, which I term ‘ongoing temporality’.
2.7.1 Socially Constructed Temporal Logics
It is possible, within certain limits, to choose between experienced time and linear time, and the choice of one or the other may have implications for how the process is experienced. Take the example of going for a long drive in the countryside. To a certain extent, you can choose between the experienced time and linear time. You may impose linear time upon yourself by keeping an eye on the clock. If you check the time every minute or so, the drive will feel about as long as the number of minutes and seconds it takes. If you drive for several hours, the time will seem almost interminable, especially if you are terribly looking forward to meeting someone special upon arrival at your destination. Imposing linear time means focusing on the device that measures time and not on the surrounding scenery. Failing to concentrate on the time-measuring device would allow the passing scenery to define your experience of time. For example, suddenly and unexpectedly discovering a herd of wild animals, then watching them run, might not seem to take very long because you pay rapt attention to their movements. The surrounding scenery may, in fact, offer a different experience of time. Now, imagine directing your attention on the (p.33) scenery rather than the clock and leave the technical device that measures time in equal intervals behind. Observe the changes in scenery, the repetition of specific formations, and the scenery as it fades away behind the car, or note how a point on the horizon grows bigger as you drive towards it. Perhaps dwell on things you recognize from previous trips. Performing these acts of observation undisturbed by the chronological device serves to establish the feeling of travelling in one’s ‘experienced time’ as opposed to in chronological time. The experienced time is a staging of the duration of one’s experienced time experience, developed from the experience of the journey and belonging exclusively to the journey. Still, when looking back on or forward to the journey, the time will be expressed as a mixture of experienced and linear time.
A decisive break in the organizational literature since the 1980s provides a more differentiated view of time than conventional linear notions of time represented by the clock and the calendar, although socially constructed time as a phenomenon was recognized by the social sciences in prior decades. Sorokin and Merton (1937) contributed a seminal paper in which they distinguished the Newtonian notion of objective linear time from socially constructed, periodical time. Their paper points specifically towards the relationship between the complexity of social systems and their requirements for concerted action on the one hand, and the complexity of the temporal scheme on the other. Seeking to extricate the field from the assumption of the universality of clock time, some organization theory literature has considered the different ways in which time orders human activity and how this differs between different organizational settings. Whipp, Adam, and Sabelis (2002), for example, use the terms ‘time control’ and ‘temporal reach’ to describe the change in the ways that time influences human activity in organizations. Temporal effects relate, for example, to speed, punctuation, regularity, prolongation, acceleration, and time cycles. Various terms are used to categorize the different temporal logics at work, such as chronological codes (Clark 1990), temporal regimes (Hylland-Eriksen (2007), time-ordering systems (Whipp 1994), temporal structuring (Orlikowski and Yates 2002) and temporal realities (Bluedorn 2002).
Much of this literature (e.g. Clark 1985) has drawn inspiration from studies in social anthropology that show how cultural and ethnic groups may be differentiated by the different ways they relate to time.27 Arguments have been made for the need to explore alternative temporal logics, such as what Clark (1990) calls heterogeneous chronological codes, which are codes that have different origins and are driven by different needs and by different social groups.28 In an earlier and influential paper Clark (1985) demonstrated the need to broaden understanding of organizational time from the prevailing conceptions of time as unitary linear29 clock time in the organizational literature. Working from the assumption of time ordering as subjectively and socially constructed, Clark showed how different industries drew upon different ‘repertories’ of (p.34) rules, structures, and forms to meet the demands imposed by rhythms in their external environment.30
Inspired by Giddens’ (1984) structuration theory, Orlikowski and Yates (2002) offer a distinct view that attempts to avoid the dualism between modernist and social views of time, notably by embedding the enactment of time in practices and by assuming a recursive relationship between practices and temporal structures. Temporal structures are understood as both shaping and being shaped by ongoing human action, and thus as neither independent of human action (because they are shaped in action) nor fully determined by human action (because they are shaping that action). They argue that temporal structures, viewed as the various temporal logics related to, for example, meeting schedules, project deadlines, and financial reporting periods, tend to specify parameters of acceptable conduct while in turn being modified by actions.31 Interestingly, Orlikowski and Yates’ study of a geographically and organizationally dispersed group of artificial intelligence language designers in the early 1980s shows that their communication shifted from an open-ended temporal structure enacted early in the project to a closed, deadline-bound structure by its end. They also illustrate how the project moved between linear and cyclical temporal structures, as well as how universal temporal structures were particularized in practice.
In later years instructive contributions taking into account broader institutional factors demonstrate how temporal logics influence business and project cycles. In a recent study, Bengtsson (2008), for example, shows how a logic of cyclical time applies in the clothing industry, which is entrained by the cycles of the fashion industry. Her study of the clothing chain H&M shows how it not only complies with the cycles of the fashion industry, but how it manages the interrelationship between product and fashion cycles when extending its network of shops. Huy (2001: 613), paying attention to rhythm and change, makes the point that each organization can find a dynamic internal change rhythm that permits it to alternate between differently paced changes. From a project management perspective, Dille and Söderlund (2011) argue how projects that take place between institutions come to adopt similar temporal logics, which the authors appropriately refer to as ‘isochronism’. Finally, Garsten (2008) discusses how temporary work, or temping, gets shaped by the temporal demands imposed as temps lead a fluid existence, moving in and out of various jobs and meeting timelines in various job contexts, as well as how this challenges them to develop, for instance, a transferability of skills.
The emergence of electronic communication and the options for instantiating human contact across the globe spurred interest in the effects of time combined with space. Harvey (1990) discusses what he calls the ‘time–space compression’, which, with the emergence of communication technologies, has imposed novel demands on human activity. Harvey makes the point that the time–space compression imposes an acute sense of the present— ‘the present (p.35) is all there is’32—which is experienced as an overwhelming compression of space–time that is stressful, challenging, exciting, deeply troubling, and therefore capable of sparking what he describes as a schizophrenic experience of time–space.
Views of time as subjectively constructed, as opposed to being seen as an objective, universal, regular entity (as Orlikowski and Yates (2002) argue), are important because they show how different social groups or organizations construct time through their practices, which again provides a sense of belonging, meaning, and continuity to actors. As a functional example, an alarm that goes off in a fire station sets a particular fire-fighter drill in motion. As a symbolic example, text messaging expresses how people are always on the move, sending multiple messages to multiple people who are also on the move. However, making time subjective rather than objective still does not accord an active role to time. Orlikowski and Yates’ (2002) conception of temporal structuring involves the temporal logics that are shared and enacted in everyday practices by organizational members and are what they in turn draw upon in the enactment of their organizations. Still, this conception lends the impression that temporal structuring, although it takes part in shaping practices, and hence the organizational life experienced by people, has connotations of what Shotter (2006: 591–2) refers to as mechanical assemblages. Rhythm and speed become socially defined labels that characterize organizational life, but they do not say much about its ‘inner dynamic’, which describes how the ‘parts’ of assemblages are ‘on the way’ to becoming more than they already are, due to what happens at certain events in time, and as events connect to other events. Borrowing from Shotter (2006), this is why temporal structures, even though they are labelled subjective, do not express the specific shape of the ‘temporal movement’ of the unfolding of organizational life.
2.7.2 Periodic Temporality and Duration
In their introduction to a 2013 special issue on process in the Academy of Management Journal, Langley et al. make two main points about temporality and process research. First, they point out that, given the critical importance and inescapability of time, it is ironic that time is likely to be excluded in management research. The second main point they make is that organizational activity needs to be considered over time, and they discuss how, viewed as succession, time enables the emergence, development, growth, change, and termination of organizational practices. Their first point is basically a criticism of what they refer to as variance theory, which is apt to take a spatial view of the interacting entities taking place independently of the passing of time. Their second point, however, describes the current state of temporal theorizing of organization more than what is actually presented by process philosophy. The (p.36) idea of succession or sequentiality of time implies a linearized image of the passing of time in which time is seen as a succession of events. This is also the view that Whitehead associates with Zeno’s paradox, illustrated by the idea that Achilles would not be able to overtake the tortoise. When Langley et al. present this as the process view of time they actually allude to a picture of the prevalent view of time represented by traditional longitudinal studies, rather than the active view of time held by process philosophers.33
Thinking about time as divided into periods facilitates a temporal representation of organizational life, which again serves as a temporal basis for concerted action. This is what may be called a ‘periodic temporality’ (Schultz and Hernes 2013), which means that the temporality is represented as periods of time where a state of affairs is assumed to remain relatively stable over that period of time.34 In the case of organizations this means that they are assumed to exhibit certain stable characteristics, such as central claims, labels, associated meanings, shared understandings, or practices, until they are upset or challenged by external perceptions, concrete events, new strategic aspirations, or organizational changes, thus leading to a new period with a different set of characteristics (Schultz and Hernes 2013). When time is considered as a regular, linear stream of units of time, it also implies that the spatial entities (such as goals, technologies, rituals, behavioural patterns, etc.) are considered unchanged over the construed period. I use the expression ‘construed period’ because it is not a natural period in time per se. It is at best fictitious because the period does not correspond to an observed reality but is an averaged-out state of affairs based on an incomplete observation at one (or several) points in time.
When temporality has been considered, organization studies have traditionally adhered to a periodic view of temporality. The field of organizational identity exemplifies this tendency, although it applies to most temporally informed research on organizational phenomena (i.e. strategy, organization design, decision making,35 and power, to name but a few). Informed by empirical studies, a line of debate about organizational identity has examined conditions under which identity changes or is upheld. Corley and Gioia (2004), for example, addressed the issue of consistency between past and future identity, arguing that it is reconstructed in the present driven by various discrepancies, such as between present identity and future desired images (Corley and Gioia 2004). From an organization-environment perspective, Ravasi and Schultz (2006) studied identity change in response to changes in the external environment to the organization. Dutton and Dukerich (1991), on the other hand, showed how a port authority would continue to develop its identity while working on its perceived image in the face of reactions from stakeholders. Contributions to the identity debate include frameworks and studies that tend to explain organizational identity as a stable state of affairs punctuated by discoveries and events. For example, Gioia et al. (2000), by suggesting identity should be (p.37) treated as potentially adaptively unstable, suggested implicitly that identity is a relatively stable condition lying there to be upset and changed in the wake of environmental pressures. Although actors in organizations represent change as the difference between before and after a point in time, it is also important not to take this as the actual change taking place, but to study how such representations, when translated into narratives (Czarniawska 1997) or texts (Cooren 2004; Putnam and Cooren 2004), perform in shaping their sense of identity.
Periodic temporality, similar to McTaggart’s B-series,36 comes close to what may be called an ‘inert’ view of temporality, by which I mean that time is not seen to do active work, but represents a series of discrete moments or periods. Events are seen as a discrete series of what Bergson calls instantaneous ‘nows’.37 The word ‘discrete’ is worth paying attention to, because it signals that an instant, or ‘now’, is seen as separate and distinct, although not isolated from other instants. The relationship between instants is characterized by a before-after logic, as in McTaggart’s B-series. For example, instants (or events) may enter into a pattern of instants or events, such as recurring annual events that comprise changing the clothing collection in a chain of clothing stores, as discussed by Bengtsson (2008). Importantly, discrete events are related, but not constitutive of one another. That is, they are what they are: experiences in time whose ordering matters, but not how they matter. Similarly, Heidegger (1927) referred to a series of ‘nows’ as the ordinary interpretation of time. His critique was that when time is represented as ‘pure succession’ (Heidegger 1927: 474) the significance of experience is lost. The point is that every act exhibits some potentiality for what may come, and even for what has been. For example, people may draw up contingency plans that enable a specific course of action to be pursued under certain conditions, should they arise in the future. Contingency plans are but one concrete example of potentiality in organizing processes which may lead to an actuality that is different than if they had not been prepared. In this view, temporality ‘does active work’ in the sense that the contingency plans are structured by the passing of time and based on previous experience. In such a view the actual process of evocation as well as projection becomes central to how the plan is developed as well as how it relates to what comes after.
An example in organization studies of an ‘inert’ view of temporality is Isabella’s (1990) paper on evolving interpretations during the unfolding of organizational change. Focusing on how managers construe different types of organizational events, Isabella divides the sensemaking process into three phases: anticipation, confirmation, and culmination. Her view of temporality as discrete ‘nows’ is demonstrated by her suggestion that during confirmation, managers’ frames of reference draw upon conventional explanations and comparisons to past events. This suggests that the present experience may be compared to previous experiences, as if they are distinct temporal units that can (p.38) be held up against one another. Moreover, her framework assumes that there are so-called ‘trigger events’ that signal transition from one stage to another, that is, from one relatively stable state to another. Similarly, in Jarzabkowski and Seidl’s (2008) analysis, events are seen as logical—but separate—outcomes of previous events. Events are linked, but they are not afforded ‘temporal agency’38 in the sense of being able to redefine the meanings of future as well as past events.39 It is possible, for example, to view an organizational meeting as exhibiting temporal agency to the extent that it leads to reframing the meaning of past meetings while contributing to defining, say, the agenda for future meetings.40 In a process temporal view, strategizing would be directed towards the past as well as towards the future, as the past would be strategically ‘historicized’ together with the future.41
Concluding this part of the book with the notion of temporality is fitting because the meaning given to time, and especially the passing of time, is something that clearly differentiates a process view from conventional organizational theorizing. Similar to Heidegger’s conception of Dasein as being constituted by its temporal existence, organizations can be usefully understood as created in time. To do so, however, we need to assume that ‘time does work’ upon the entities we wish to study, even better, that they cannot exist outside of time. We need to get away from inert temporalities and move to active temporalities to appreciate the mattering created by time. In order to theorize a temporal phenomenon, however, a number of assumptions need to be discussed, which is what the next chapter sets out to do.
(1) . An example is Lanzara’s account of ephemeral organizations that arose in the aftermath of an earthquake in Italy in 1980. It is worth quoting at some length, because it shows the transition whereby an organization emerged and then disappeared:
(2) . By ‘atemporal’ I do not mean that it is without time, but without temporality. Temporality is time with history and future, where the passing of time continuously challenges the making of history and the future as well as their interplay.
(3) . This can be seen in more recent works, as well as, for example, work on complexity and organization, which consider the human system as distinct from the material system. Stacey (2001), for example, considers there to be a non-human environment that impacts on the social world of gestures, feelings, and language. According to this line of thinking, the social world produces tools and artefacts that become part of the material world. Stacey, in spite of leaning on Mead’s work on social interaction and temporality, seems to misinterpret Mead’s notion of ‘the object’ which to Mead is not placed outside human inter-action, but forms an inextricable part of it. To Mead, language, for example, could be seen as an object.
(4) . This conception of organization comes close to the type of temporal connectedness suggested by Knorr-Cetina and Bruegger (2002) in their study of how micro-orders in financial markets connect into global networks. Still, their conception remains within economic sociology involving market-driven transactions, while the conception I suggest for organizational analysis may involve various forms of non-financial transactions. An example is given in Hernes (2008), which is pursued by Nayak and Chia (2011), of terrorist networks that are latent formations of a religious, social, ethnic, and economic character.
(5) . This coincides somewhat with Martin, Knopoff, and Beckman’s (1988) study of The Body Shop, in which they argue that a ‘bounded emotionality’ is present in The Body Shop due to their relatively high proportion of women in managerial positions. When it comes to their conclusion, however, they relate their findings to the characteristics of the organization as a particular system among other systems.
(6) . In Whitehead’s (1938: 6) words, ‘We must be systematic; but we should keep our systems open. In other words, we should be sensitive to their limitations. There is always a vague “beyond,” waiting for penetration in respect to its detail.’
(7) . Correspondence is a point of discussion in linguistic philosophy and, notably, in the works by Wittgenstein and Searle.
(8) . The idea of correspondence relates closely to the idea of representation, since both assume that there is something to which something may correspond, or something there that may be represented, either as being the same or similar, or as being different from or in opposition to. The idea of reality being representative of something is a critique that Deleuze (2004) makes of philosophers, including Aristotle, and his assumption of categories. If we reduce things to categories, as is done from a representationalist viewpoint, we lose sight of how things become different, to take an example, such as in the case of species (Williams 2003).
(9) . Luhmann (1995: 25) writes, ‘There is, in other words, no point-for-point correspondence between system and environment’, and in organization theory March and Olsen (1975) suggested that ‘We need a theory of choice that articulates the connections between the environmental context of organizations and their actions in such a way that neither is simply the residual unexplained variance for the other’ (March and Olsen 1975: 153).
(10) . Simpson (2009: 1332) points out that, ‘This problem has been well recognized in Giddens’ theory of structuration, and Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, both of which critique the dualistic separation of the individual and the social.’
(12) . In philosophy, as in science, according to Whitehead (1938), abstractions are indispensible, even to living experience, and the role of science is to translate sets of abstractions into laws. But at the end of the day what matters is that the abstractions return to concrete, living experience. The journey from living experience via ‘dead’ abstractions back to living experience, although it is indispensible, is also a journey of reduction and distortion. As Whitehead (1938: 124) points out, ‘The return may be misconceived. The abstraction may misdirect us as to the real complexity from which it originates’ (p. 124). The procedure of working via abstractions cannot, according to Whitehead, be rejected, provided that we remember that this is what we are doing. The point is that the totality of what we are trying to describe escapes our conceptual abilities; hence, in the absence of mindfulness about the building of abstractions we run the risk of building abstractions that are misplaced when it comes to framing living experience.
(14) . Callon (1998) succinctly makes the point as follows, ‘Let us start by considering the concept of embeddedness first put forward by Polanyi (Polanyi 1957) and subsequently taken up by Granovetter (1985). This does not so much represent yet another expression of the implacable hostility between sociology and economics, as an affirmation of the omnipresence of overflows. Friedberg (1993) rightly highlights the habitual misinterpretation of this concept. Its significance, which is both profound and radical (and incidentally the main theme of Granovetter’s celebrated article) centres on the hypothesis that the objectives, intentions, interests, and projects of a given actor, and indeed his or her will, are not simply a set of attributes that define his or her own personal, unchangeable identity which the actor could simply by intellectual application, access or express—even unconsciously—if he or she were given the opportunity (this being the meaning of the expression “to reveal one’s (p.195) preferences”). Nor are they the result of values, norms, or institutions which reduce the actor to the status of the “cultural dope” so justifiably ridiculed by Garfinkel. In fact, they cannot be dissociated from the network of interdependencies in which the actor is enmeshed and to which he or she is continuously contributing (Burt 1992; Callon and Law 1997). In short, the actor’s ontology is variable: his or her objectives, interests, will, and thus identity are caught up in a process of continual reconfiguration, a process that is intimately related to the constant reconfiguration of the network of interactions in which he or she is involved.’
(15) . For example, drawing upon Greimas’ semiotics, Barley (1983) demonstrates in his study of a funeral home the cognitive aspect of meaning by showing how the dead are made as lifelike as possible for the wake, thus signifying a naturalness of death. At pragmatic level he describes how staff at the funeral home at a practical level acted to relate real things to one another, such as by embalming, replacing the corpse’s blood with a preservative fluid or dressing it. These, and many other actions, are routinized actions that draw upon material means to relate elements to one another. Elements of meaning structures, therefore, are not just virtual signs (Schütz 1967) to be interpreted by actors, such as implied in works in the hermeneutic tradition (e.g. Geertz 1973), but they are ‘real’ things to be related to one another by the ongoing work of actors. In other words they are ‘actor-worlds’ (Callon 1986a) in which actors perform their ‘world-making’ (Chia 1999).
(16) . Freezing in time and space corresponds to Whitehead’s allegation that philosophers have leaned towards what he called ‘simple location’, whereby objects are simply seen as occupying a unique location. A piece of matter would thus be seen as a self-sufficient object. Such a view implies that a bit of matter can be described without any reference to how it came to be what it is, which runs counter to a process view. When we segment time–space, we simultaneously introduce boundaries that are transcended by the division that we introduce. According to Whitehead (1938: 140), [...] ‘any division, including some activities and excluding others, also severs the patterns of process which extend beyond all boundaries’.
(18) . There is a certain parallel between Weick’s conception of the processes linking individual and collectivity, and Mead’s (1934) discussion of the creation of meaning in social interaction. In Mead’s framework, a sense of the social and the individual is created through gestures. In order for thought (sense) to exist, according to Mead, there must be symbols, vocal gestures that arouse in the individual the response that he or she calls out in the other, and in such a way that the response may enable the caller to direct his or her conduct in turn. The process of human interaction establishes common expectations, giving rise to the notion of the ‘generalized other’, which enables identification of the individual to a broader social system.
(19) . An exception is found in Luhmann, who, although he works with the notion of social systems as distinct phenomena, takes a processual view by which he does not assume that they exist as given and naturally enduring entities. On the contrary, Luhmann assumes that social systems may at any time break down, and therefore they have to reproduce themselves through communication. In fact, social systems are seen as improbable. A feature of Luhmann’s view of social systems is also that they are highly contingent in nature. Furthermore, his idea of contingency is not about necessity for something to take place, but rather that which enables the improbable to become probable.
(20) . Abstracting knowledge processes from individual actors has been done, however. For example, Douglas’ (1986) idea of ‘thought worlds’ evokes a spatial image of knowledge, but (p.196) without locating it at the level of individuals. Whereas several others (e.g. Fiol 1995) have borrowed the term ‘thought world’ from Douglas, Douglas herself derived it from work by Fleck ( 1979), who used ‘thought collective’ (Denkkollektiv). The location of thought worlds in relation to the individual and collective dimensions is an important question that Douglas brings up, and an underlying issue is the interaction between the cognitive and the social. Moreover Douglas relates the social to thought, but without pinning thought to distinct and identified social entities. In so doing, she draws upon Fleck’s conceptualization of cognitive spheres and social relations.
(21) . This assumption gets questioned by Fligstein’s (1985) study of the diffusion of the M-form in firms between 1919 and 1979, in which he suggests that the spread of the M-form is partly explained by strategy, but also by imitation. In other words, managers structure firms as a ‘best way’ to pursue strategies, but they may also do it by observing and adopting what other firms do successfully.
(22) . The point is made succinctly by Bergson (2007: 133), who states, ‘Suffice it to say that the intellect represents becoming as a series of states, each of which is homogeneous with itself and consequently does not change.’
(23) . ‘To tell the truth, there never is real immobility, if we understand by that an absence of movement. Movement is reality itself, and what we call immobility is a certain state of things analogous to that produced when two trains move at the same speed, in the same direction, on parallel tracks: each of the two trains is then immovable to the travellers seated in the other’ (Bergson 2007: 119).
(24) . Organization and management theory has, however, largely overlooked the fact that continuity is intrinsic to organizational change. Much of the blame for this has to be taken by the tendency to take what Cooper and Law (1995) refer to as ‘distal views’, which they oppose to ‘proximal views’. Cooper and Law (1995) use the terms ‘distal’ and ‘proximal’ to describe macro- and micro-level analysis respectively. The distal refers to form: the results, the outcomes, the ‘finished’, the ready-made. Organization viewed distally is structured order with clear boundaries that distinguishes it from the environment. The proximal, on the other hand, denotes the emergent, the relational, and the detailed. Viewed from afar over time any system will be seen as either continuous or changing, or both. What is seen as continuity by the external observer is unlikely to be felt the same way by those actually involved in organizational activity.
(26) . Future events, though, are not foreseen as future events as such, but they are seen as future necessities for the present, as pointed out by Whitehead (1933: 195): ‘But there are no actual occasions in the future, already constituted. Thus there are no actual occasions in the future to exercise efficient causation in the present. What is objective in the present is the necessity of a future of actual occasions, and necessity that these future occasions conform to the conditions inherent in the essence of the present occasion.’
(27) . See, for example, Gell’s (1992: 55) concept of temporal cultural relativism, which he suggests consists, in an ethnographic sense, of ‘the differential sets of contingency beliefs, held by different cultures and sub-cultures, as to the historical facticity and anticipated possibilities of the world’. According to Sorokin and Merton (1937), Nilsson provided a well-researched account of socially constructed time in 1920.
(28) . Clark employs the following four categories to describe how time may order activity differently in different organizations: sequences and signifiers, temporal units, durational differentiation, and orientation to the past/present/future.
(29) . The linear conception of time has attracted criticism, notably in the critical management literature, which argues, for example, that organizational life has been dominated by clock time (chronos), which again has enabled the exercise of power and exploitation since Taylor’s (1911) measurement-based models of scientific management. Hassard (2002), for instance, discusses time as a commodity, as found in modernism, epitomized by Taylor’s scientific management; then time as socially constructed, such as is found in workplace ethnographies; and finally time as seen from a post-modernist perspective where instantaneity and time–space compression (Harvey 1990) distort historically established boundaries of speed, rhythm, distance, and experience.
(30) . An early contribution exemplifying how different temporal logics may be at odds with one another and lead to destructive conflict is in Gouldner’s (1954) well-known description of a wildcat strike at a gypsum plant. The gypsum plant was established near towns settled a century before and where the men had led a semi-rural life of farming, hunting, and fishing. With the arrival of the plant, many of them became employees of the plant. The plant was lenient and allowed workers to balance their seasonal logistics with the work at the mine. For example, fewer employees showed up during the hunting and planting seasons and they were able to use certain materials and tools belonging to the plant for their private use. In some ways, the practices were the antithesis of Weberian bureaucracy, which is based on a separation between work life and private life. When a new manager arrived who imposed stricter adherence to administrative time logics including elements such as record keeping, introducing productivity standards, reinforcing rules, and eliminating extra-organizational prerogatives, a strike erupted that led to further degeneration of activity.
(31) . Their contribution comes close to Bourdieu’s (1977) well-known sociological treatise based on his study in Kabylia, which precisely aimed at dissolving the objectivist–subjectivist dichotomy through the lens of practice. Bourdieu (1977: 72) recommends that we abandon ideas whereby social order is seen through the lens of ‘statistical regularity or algebraic structure’ and that we engage in observing how orders are actually produced. Rather than observe the world as if it consisted of a dichotomy between macro-level structures and human actions, he suggests a recursive view, such as the way that he views the structuring of the ‘habitus’. The habitus produces practices which in turn influence the habitus. Recursivity, rather than being mere reproduction of patterns of practice, reveals new horizons of opportunity, what Bourdieu (but also Whitehead 1929a) refers to as ‘potentiality’. Hence, recursivity signifies reproduction, but also change.
(34) . The view of temporality comes close to that of historians’ view of temporality, which Sewell (2008: 517–518) describes as their seeing ‘...time as fateful, as irreversible in the sense that a significant action, once taken, or an event, once experienced, irrevocably alters the situation in which it occurs. The conceptual vehicle historians use to construct or analyse the temporal fatefulness and contingency of social life is the event. Historians see the flow of social life as being punctuated by significant happenings, by complexes of social action that somehow change the course of history. They constantly talk about “turning points” or “watersheds” in history and spend much of their conceptual energy dividing the flow of history into distinct eras that events mark off from one another.’
(36) . The philosopher John McTaggart (1908) theorized two conceptions of time, which he called the A series and the B series respectively. McTaggart’s A series describes time as consisting of past, present, and future. The A series reflects what Gell (1992) calls a dynamic view of time, where the present changes and the past and the future change with it. McTaggart’s B series, on the other hand, draws the distinction between before and after, which Gell calls a static view of time. An A series has ontological differences between past, present, and future, but in a B-series the three tenses are not seen to be different. Whereas the A series pays importance to whether an event takes part in the past or the future, the B series emphasizes the actual order of occurrence of events. For example, an A series view would regard the recruitment of a new manager according to whether things changed from before to after the recruitment. A B series, on the other hand, would regard the recruitment according to who was recruited before that manager, and who was recruited after. To some extent the A series reflects what I will refer to as ongoing temporality, while the B series reflects a temporality frequently employed in organization studies.
(37) . Bergson charged that time had been subjected to the same analytical assumptions as those underlying space. Hence time could be represented by the space of the clock, such as by the regular ticking of the clock’s mechanism. This imagery obviously imposes symmetry between past and future on time, since the ticking of the past will carry on into the future; and wherever we step into time, the same regularity of the ticking will be experienced. However, considering process to take place in time precludes symmetry between past and future because it assumes that the future is not known.
(38) . On the basis of their discussion of the need for addressing organizational learning under continuity, Hernes and Irgens (2013: 263) suggest that the ‘notion of temporal agency be more explicitly addressed in the organizational learning literature, because it addresses the situated nature of management, where decisions need to be made in the flow of time, with continual adjustment of past and future in view of the needs of the present’. The argument ties in with Emirbayer and Mische’s (1998: 963) view of agency, in which they argue that ‘the agentic dimension of social action can only be captured in its full complexity if it is analytically situated within the flow of time’.
(39) . As Mead (1932) points out, while there is a certain irrevocability about the past and an event that has passed cannot be changed, it does not preclude changes in the meaning attributed to the event.
(40) . Related to this criticism is the one-sided futurity implied by the idea of strategizing.