terça-feira, 6 de março de 2012

Texto 03 - Organization Theory - Modern Symbolic and postmodern perspectives Matriz 1

and practitioners report feeling is the result of not recognizing that the application of theory
is a creative act. A belief that abstract theory can generate instant solutions to specific
problems is naïve. It is equally naïve to reject theory as having little value simply because
you have not yet learned how to use it. Theory is better suited to raising important questions
at critical moments and reminding you what relevant knowledge is available, than it
is to providing ready-made answers to your problems. Use theory as a tool to help you
reason through complex situations; do not expect it to guarantee your success.
Multiple Perspectives
Different ways of looking at the world produce different knowledge and thus different
perspectives come to be associated with their own concepts and theories. This is the case with
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the multiple perspectives you will study in this book—modern, symbolic-interpretive and
postmodern. The concepts and theories of a particular perspective offer you distinctive
thinking tools with which to craft ideas about organizations and organizing. Depending
upon your intentions, you may find that particular perspectives have greater appeal than
others for your purpose. The more knowledge you have of multiple perspectives, concepts
and theories, the greater will be your capacity to choose a useful approach to dealing with the
situations you face in your organization.
British sociologist Gibson Burrell and British organization theorist Gareth Morgan
were among the first to draw attention to the multiple perspectives of organization theory
in their highly acclaimed book Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis,
published in 1979.2 They argued that knowledge is based on different paradigms, each with
its own assumptions about the world. Paradigms encourage researchers to study
phenomena in different ways.3However, be sure to notice that paradigm differences are not
just academic; they become practical when knowledge is used to create a more desirable
reality or better ways of organizing. Beliefs, assumptions and knowledge of the world
influence how researchers carry out their research, how leaders design and manage their
organizations and how each of us relates to the world and to other people. For example,
whether you assume that your organization is best run as a well-oiled machine, a web of
meaning, or a broken mirror will influence what you perceive to be the best way of
designing your organization and managing its people. As you will see, the three
perspectives used in this book draw upon significantly different assumptions about the
organizational world and consequently will lead you to think about organizations in
different ways (e.g., as machines, cultures or fragmented images) and thus to seek different
kinds of knowledge about them.
I am committed to maintaining multiple perspectives in organization theory for a
number of reasons. First, today few would disagree that organizations operate in complex,
uncertain, and often contradictory situations. Managers and employees are expected to do
more with less, to maximize both short-term gain and long-term investment, and be more
efficient as well as more humane and ethical. Confronting such a variety of contradictory
forces demands the broadest set of concepts and theories that your mind can
grasp. Learning to think about organizations using the multiple perspectives
presented in this book will help you embrace complexity and uncertainty and their contradictory
demands. Second, recent corporate scandals, such as those that occurred at
Enron, the FBI, and Parmalat, raise questions about the nature of ethical action and
the pressures managers face when trying to act in socially and organizationally responsible
ways. Learning to use multiple perspectives can help make you aware of the assumptions
and values underlying your theory and practice, which in turn should make you more
conscious of your reasons for doing things and better able to understand the reasons
behind the actions taken by others. As you begin to grasp the differences between
perspectives, you will become aware that what you consider reasonable is defined by the
perspective you take. Being able to reflect on your own reasoning processes and compare
them to those used by the people around you will develop your ethical awareness. Third,
by learning organization theory, by knowing how to theorize, and by understanding
how different perspectives influence the way you and others experience, interpret
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and shape organizational realities, you will become a more effective member of any
organization you join.
In order to compare modernism, symbolic-interpretivism and postmodernism, you
will need to examine the assumptions underlying each of these perspectives. A good place
to begin is with the important philosophical choices of ontology and epistemology.
Ontology is concerned with how you choose to define what is real, whereas epistemology
is concerned with how you form knowledge and establish criteria for evaluating it.
Thinking about ontology and epistemology is a useful place to begin because these philosophical
choices explain basic differences between the perspectives of organization theory.
Although they are difficult philosophical issues, by giving ontology and epistemology
some attention now, you will begin to learn why different perspectives lead to different
ways of theorizing organizations and how modern, symbolic-interpretive and postmodern
perspectives make distinctive contributions to organization theory.
Ontology concerns our assumptions about reality. Is there an objective reality out there or
is it subjective, existing only in our minds? In ordinary, everyday life, you probably take
your assumptions about what exists for granted because you believe you know what the real
world is. You get up, drive to work, do your job as a student, manager or administrator, go to
meetings, write reports, establish policy etc. You don’t question whether these things are
real or have an existence independent of you; you know your car exists because you drive it.
But does your job exist if you are not there to perform it? Does your report describe what is
really going on or does it describe only what you think is happening? Philosophers
sometimes refer to these as existential questions because they attribute existence to one set
of things (reality), but not to another (the unreal, metaphysical or fantastical). Depending
upon your perspective, you will give some things the status of being real, while you
disregard others. These ontological assumptions about whether a particular phenomenon
exists or is merely an illusion (e.g., culture, power, control) lead to arguments between
those who maintain different perspectives and cause them to set up separate and
sometimes conflicting research communities.
Ontology is also concerned with the question of agency—do people have free will
and are they wholly responsible for their own actions, or is life predetermined, whether
by situations or by God? Subjectivists stand at one end of the reality continuum in
their belief that something exists only when you experience and give it meaning. At the
other end, objectivists believe reality exists independently of those who live in it.
Seen from the subjectivist point of view, people create and experience realities in different
ways because individuals and groups have their own assumptions, beliefs, and perceptions
that lead them to do so. Seen from the objectivist point of view, people react to what is happening
around them in predictable ways because their behavior is part of the material
world in which they live and is determined by causes, just as is the behavior of matter. In
between these points of view you can find many combinations of subjectivism and
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Epistemology is concerned with knowing how you can know. Typical questions asked by
those investigating epistemology include: how do humans generate knowledge, what are
the criteria by which they discriminate good knowledge from bad (e.g., true from false,
valid from invalid, rational from irrational, scientific from pseudoscientific), and how
should reality be represented or described? Epistemology is closely related to ontology
because the answers to these questions depend on, and in turn help to forge, ontological
assumptions about the nature of reality.
Table 1.2 summarizes the key ontological and epistemological differences of the
modern, symbolic-interpretive and postmodern perspectives and their implications for
organization theory.
Positivist epistemology assumes you can discover what truly happens in organizations
through the categorization and scientific measurement of the behavior of people and
systems. Positivists also assume that language mirrors reality, that is, reality and its objects
can be described using language without any loss of meaning or inherent bias.4 For positivists,
good knowledge is generated by developing hypotheses and propositions, gathering
and analyzing data, and then testing the hypotheses and propositions against the
external reality represented by their data to see if they are correct. In this way, modernists
can develop general theories explaining many different aspects of one overarching reality,
and make predictions about the future.
Positivist epistemology is based on foundational principals that celebrate the values
of reason, truth and validity. Positivist organization theorists study organizations as
objective entities and are attracted to methods adapted from the physical or hard sciences.
They gather data using surveys and laboratory or field experiments relying upon measures
of behavior that their assumptions lead them to regard as objective. Based on statistical
analysis of the data collected using these methods, they derive theoretical models that they
believe provide factual explanations of how organizations operate.
Antipositivist or interpretive epistemology assumes that knowledge can only be created
and understood from the point of view of the individuals who live and work in a particular
culture or organization. Interpretivists assume that each of us acts in situations and
makes sense of what is happening based on our experience of that situation and the memories
and expectations we bring to it. This means that there may be many different understandings
and interpretations of reality and interpretive epistemology leads us to use
methods designed to access the meanings made by others and describe how they come
to make those meanings. However, we know that our understanding of others is
filtered through our own experiences, and therefore we can never be objective about the
interpretations made by others.
What interpretivists believe they can do is work alongside others as they create their
realities and, by studying their interpretations and interactions in particular situations,
develop intersubjective awareness of and appreciation for the meanings produced. This
stance is what turns a researcher into an interpreter, bridging meaning between the
researcher’s academic experiences and the experiences of organizational members. Both of
these experiences are subjective, and bias is controlled (but never eliminated) through
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Table 1.2 Summary of the three perspectives of organization theory
Modernism Symbolic interpretivism Postmodernism
Ontology Ontology Ontology
Objectivism—belief in an objective, external Subjectivism—the belief that we cannot know an Postmodernism—the belief that the world appears
reality whose existence is independent of our external or objective existence apart from our through language and is situated in discourse; what is
knowledge of it subjective awareness of it; that which exists is that spoken of exists, therefore everything that exists is a
which we agree exists text to be read or performed
Epistemology Epistemology Epistemology
Positivism—we discover Truth through valid Interpretivism—all knowledge is relative to the Postmodernism—knowledge cannot be an accurate
conceptualization and reliable measurement knower and can only be understood from the point account of Truth because meanings cannot be fixed;
that allows us to test knowledge against an of view of the individuals who are directly involved; there is no independent reality; there are no facts, only
objective world; knowledge accumulates, truth is socially constructed via multiple interpretations; knowledge is a power play
allowing humans to progress and evolve interpretations of the objects of knowledge
thereby constructed and therefore
shifts and changes through time
Organizations are Organizations are Organizations are
Objectively real entities operating in a real Continually constructed and reconstructed by Sites for enacting power relations, oppression,
world. When well-designed and managed their members through symbolically mediated irrationality, communicative distortion—or arenas of
they are systems of decision and action interaction. Organizations are socially constructed fun and playful irony. Organizations are texts
driven by norms of rationality, efficiency realities where meanings promote and are produced by and in language; we can rewrite them so
and effectiveness for stated purposes promoted by understanding of the self and as to emancipate ourselves from human folly and
others that occurs within the organizational context degradation
Focus of Organization Theory Focus of Organization Theory Focus of Organization Theory
Finding universal laws, methods and Describing how people give meaning and order to Deconstructing organizational texts; destabilizing
techniques of organization and control; their experience within specific contexts, through managerial ideologies and modernist modes of
favors rational structures, rules, interpretive and symbolic acts, forms and processes organizing and theorizing; revealing marginalized and
standardized procedures and routine practices oppressed viewpoints; encouraging reflexive and
inclusive forms of theorizing and organizing
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rigorous training in self-reflection. Such training is designed to teach you to separate your
interpretations from those of the people you study. This method allows you to describe
how meaning was made in particular situations and among particular people and to offer
your understanding for others who were not there to witness what you experienced.
Taking an interpretive epistemological stance helps you to become sensitive to how
people make meaning to the point where, while you will never be able to fully understand
or predict the meanings others will make, you can develop your intuitive capacity to
anticipate the range of meanings that are likely to emerge in given circumstances
by specific people with whom you share adequate intersubjective understanding. Perhaps
most importantly, your growing appreciation for the limits of understanding will prevent
you from ever claiming to fully know another’s meaning and will open you to deep
Comparing Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives
You might think of ontology and epistemology as commitments you make to your
preferred genre of organization theory. To take a modernist perspective, you must commit
to limiting what you count as knowledge to what you can know through your five senses.
Of course modernists augment their five senses with sense-enhancing devices (e.g., microscope,
telescope), but what counts as data is what is collected by the eyes, ears, nose, tongue
or skin. Modernists claim that ‘I saw (heard, smelled, tasted or touched) my data, and you
can confirm them for yourself by replicating my procedures’.
Symbolic-interpretivists are willing to extend the definition of empirical reality to
include forms of experience that lie outside the reach of the five senses, as do emotion and
intuition. As a result of this subjectivity, their findings cannot be easily replicated by
others. The commitment these researchers make is to be true to their personal experience
and to honor the accounts and explanations made by others. What is more, symbolicinterpretivists
focus on meaning and understanding as it occurs in particular contexts;
consequently their findings should not be generalized beyond the context in which they
were produced. Modernists find this problematic—can we really call what we create knowledge
if we are unable to replicate studies or apply their findings to other organizations?
As opposed to generalizability, symbolic-interpretivists sometimes use verisimilitude (the
resonance of one’s own experience with the experiences of others) as the basis for claiming
they have made a contribution to understanding.
Because of the differences in their assumptions, modernist and symbolic-interpretive
researchers endlessly debate methodology. For instance, modernists say subjectivity undermines
scientific rigor, while symbolic-interpretivists say it cannot be avoided and, indeed, is
required if we are to study meaning. Modernists typically believe that subjective understandings
introduce bias, and bias is precisely what science seeks to eradicate in pursuit of
the rational ideals of modernism. Lurking behind these epistemological positions is an
irresolvable debate between their differing ontologies that permit symbolic-interpretivists
to investigate meaning as a subjective phenomenon, while modernists are precluded by
their ontological assumption of objectivity from allowing the subjective to enter their
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science. As you will see in the following chapters, these differences in assumptions mean
that modernist and symbolic-interpretive organization theorists define organizational
concepts differently and use different research methods that often cause them to disagree
rather violently with one another.
Turning to postmodern perspectives, there is even more trouble to be found.
Postmodernism diverges from the other two perspectives in its unwillingness to seek Truth
(spelled with a capital T to indicate the idea of truth in any final or irrefutable sense), or to
make permanent ontological or epistemological commitments such as those that give rise
to modernist forms of scientific endeavor or to symbolic-interpretive descriptions of
meaning and human meaning making activity. Seen from these other perspectives, postmodernists
seem to flit between philosophical positions. They often refuse to take even a
temporary philosophical stand because they believe that doing so privileges some forms of
knowledge over others and this violates postmodern ethics.
Many postmodernists trace the ethical foundations of postmodernism to the French
poststructural philosophers, especially to Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. For example,
Foucault argued that, since knowledge is power, when anyone privileges particular forms of
knowledge, they push other forms to the margins where they are likely to be ignored.5
Derrida observed that this is because modern thought is binary and binary thinking leads us
to center our attention on one element of a pair while ignoring or denigrating its opposite or
other (e.g., true/false, nature/culture, reality/representation). Therefore the development
and use of knowledge are always power plays that must be resisted for the sake of the powerless.
Many postmodernists commit themselves to uncovering and challenging all forms of
power (including knowledge) in order to expose the sources of domination that are so easily
taken for granted. They do so by decrying the privileged and bringing those people and ideas
relegated to the margins out of the shadow of their repression. (If this and other statements
about postmodernism confuse you, don’t worry, you will find a more elaborate introduction
to postmodernism in Chapter 2 and a more thorough treatment of power in Chapter 8.)
The other two perspectives have not ignored the challenge laid down by postmodernists.
First, symbolic-interpretivists, and more recently modernists, have tried to respond
to this challenge within their own systems of belief and commitment. The result has been
some movement toward greater self-consciousness about the assumptions each perspective
makes, and how these commitments apply to the practice of social science and the
theories that result from their application. For example, postmodernists have critiqued
cultural anthropologists (both modernist and symbolic-interpretive) for their co-optation
by Western governments to aid in the subordination of indigenous and aboriginal cultures.
Postmodernists argued that cultural anthropologists, seduced by the allure of government
grants and a romantic vision of helping less advanced cultures progress toward the ideals of
Western civilization, conspired in the colonization of non-Western peoples to the
detriment if not the destruction of many native cultures. The response by Western anthropologists
was to give voice to the members of the cultures they studied by inviting them to
help interpret the data collected about them, and in some cases to write cultural reports
themselves. Aboriginal reports are, of course, no freer of self-interest than any other, but by
juxtaposing reports from many perspectives you can begin to learn about the range
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of biases that appear in all data. Watch the film Rabbit-Proof Fence to get a taste of aboriginal
self-reporting on the injustices experienced by native Australians when European
colonizers attempted to Westernize their culture.
As you can see, the issues of ontology and epistemology are complex and are
understood differently when viewed from within each perspective. To get a feel for how
different these perspectives can be, take the well-known question: if a tree falls in a forest
and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? To the modernist the answer is yes
because the tree and sound are real and can be measured; therefore it doesn’t matter
whether anyone is there to experience the tree falling or not—knowledge of what happens
when a tree falls generalizes to all falling trees. To the symbolic-interpretivist there is no
way of knowing the answer to this question because there is no one to experience the tree
falling. Although a symbolic-interpretivist could study how different people make sense of
the question, if no one is present when the tree falls then there is no meaning to address
apart from that of the rhetorical move of asking a hypothetical question. To a postmodernist
the answer is likely to be a set of entirely different questions: Who has the right to ask
or answer this question? Whose interests have been marginalized and violated in the
Returning to our prior discussion of concepts, you should now be ready to refine your
understanding of a concept by applying the three perspectives. Notice that modernists
emphasize the representative aspect of concepts—concepts align with objects in the real
world (e.g., the concept of dog represents real dogs). Symbolic-interpretivists emphasize
the agreement among the people of one culture to call things by the same names (e.g., the
English word dog versus the French chien), pointing out that you construct concepts in the
context of intersubjective meanings and vocabularies shared with other members of your
culture. Postmodernists emphasize the ever-changing relationship between concepts. For
the postmodernist all words, including concepts, are defined in relation to other words
(dog versus cat, mouse, house, life) rather than in relation to objects in the real world; no
word’s meaning can be fully or finally determined because each use brings a word into relationship
with a different set of other words and this continually changing juxtapositioning
causes its meaning to endlessly shift.
It is important to understand the differences in the applications of the perspectives
because these differences are not only crucial to how theory is created but also to the way
organizing is practiced. If you take the objectivist stance that an organization is a formal
structure with an internal order, a set of natural laws governing its operation, and roles that
must be carried out in a deterministic manner by organizational members, you will
manage your organization and act differently toward it and others within it than if you
adopt either the subjectivist stance or the postmodern perspective. Similarly, if you take the
subjectivist stance, that organizations have no objective structure but are continually
constructed and maintained by people as they try to make sense of what is going on, you
will manage your organization differently than if you assume the postmodern perspective
and thereby maintain skepticism toward the idea that knowledge is anything more than a
ploy to gain power over others. It is important to know what your underlying assumptions
are when you apply your theories because each set of ontological and epistemological
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assumptions will exercise a different influence on the way you design and manage your
Plan of the Book
Part I of the book describes the approach I will use to help you learn organization theory
and develop your capacity to theorize. Chapter 1 has introduced you to several core ideas—
theory, theorizing, concepts and abstraction—and to the three perspectives that form the
framework of this book—modern, symbolic-interpretive, and postmodern. Chapter 2
presents a historical account of the economists, sociologists and classical management
scholars whose work inspired the first organization theorists and to some of the theories
that subsequently shaped the three perspectives of organization theory.
Part II of the book will present you with the core concepts that contemporary
organization theorists use to explain, understand and theorize organizations. In these
chapters you will learn to look at organizations as constituents of a larger environment
(Chapter 3); as social structures ordering the activities of their members (Chapter 4); as
technologies for producing goods and services for society (Chapter 5); as cultures that
produce and are produced by meanings that form the symbolic world of the organization

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