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Scientific Explanations in Organisational Studies

Scientific Explanations in Organisational Studies

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A 10,000 words paper on scientific explanations in the organisational studies. Discusses a family resemblance solution to the "paradigm incommensurability" debate as as is discussed within the organisational sciences.
A 10,000 words paper on scientific explanations in the organisational studies. Discusses a family resemblance solution to the "paradigm incommensurability" debate as as is discussed within the organisational sciences.

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Published by: Remko van der Pluijm on Aug 12, 2010
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11/28/2011

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R. van der Pluijm
The organisational studies?
Solving the unification of the potential pluralistic concept of organisation
For thousands of years, man had to work for a living and therefore had to live in an organisation.This fact hasn't changed a bit since. However, the type of work we have to do and the number of  people working together in a group have been increasing since the industrial revolution. Therefore,it is not strange that people developed an academic discipline about people working, which is calledorganisation theory or organisational studies. Still, even though the total labour force of the worldexceeds three billion people, there is little to few philosophical literature to be found on this topic.Adam Smith, who is regarded as more of an economist than as a philosopher, wrote on the topic inhis hallmark 
“The Wealth of Nations”
, in which he discusses the division of labour and suggests to base a new form of organisational structure based on labour. Then, it took until the late nineteenthcentury until Max Weber wrote on rational organisations.From the 1920s onwards, organisation theory became a separate discipline. Although philosophersof science haven't paid much attention to the field of organisation theory, this doesn't mean nothinghas been written on this topic. Especially since the 1970s, a lot of change has been brought to thisfield of study. From functionalist theories, via ecological and institutional theories to postmoderntheories, a diverse field of methods to describe organisations have emerged. As within the philosophy of science, there is a large debate regarding explanatory value and the nature of anorganisation within these theories. One important question within this debate is the paradigmincommensurability thesis: it is possible to join these theories regarding organisations, even thoughthey seem to conflict with each other under some circumstances? I think philosophers of sciencecan bring new structure into the ongoing debate, which has developed from a wide range of scholars, not in the least the continental, post-structural philosophers such as Michel Foucault andJacques Derrida (Clegg & Hardy, 1999). The discussion within the philosophy of social scienceregarding interpretativism versus causalism (Kincaid, 2002), naturalism versus anti-naturalism andholism versus individualism will help to realise the grave differences between these theories andwill help us to look at the paradigm incommensurability thesis, which is basically a question aboutthe unity of organisational studies.My goal will be to, by placing the organisational debate within the framework of the philosophy of science on explanation, show how we can unify the organisational studies by appealing to aWittgensteinian interpretation of the concept of organisation for a pluralistic conception of organisation.-1-
 
R. van der PluijmA short introduction into organisation theoryThe article will follow the following structure. Before any analysis is made, there will be a preliminary introduction into organisation theory, to insure the reader will be able to follow theactual analysis. Here, I will not explain these theories in-depth, but will simply give an introductorydescription in order to understand the existence of the paradigm incommensurability debate: howcan organisation theory as a discipline see multiple competing schools of thought all as validtheories?Second, I will be looking at each of the main focusses within the debate, drawing upon andistinction of meta-narratives of Rationality, Integration, Market, Power, Knowledge and Justice.When then the stage is set, it is time to move on towards an analysis of the discussion. I will placethe debate by the organisational studies within the framework of the philosophy of social science,describing the position of the six meta-narratives into the debates on naturalism vs anti-naturalism,interpretativism vs causalism and holism vs individualism. The strong theoretical differences andaims will be shown by these debates.To analyse the paradigm incommensurability debate, I will draw an analogy with the currentdebates in the philosophy about causation. Within the debates of causation, there are interesting points made about monism, pluralism and concept-pluralism, which are pretty much the same positions as defended in the organisational studies.Afterwards, I will suggest another conception of an organisation, drawing on Wittgenstein's notionof family resemblance. This will enlighten why some of the theories are seemingly incompatibleand will also show why we should look at the domain of the question to determine which field isappropriate.
A short introduction into organisation theory
I will largely base this introduction on the introductory article for 
“Studying organizations: theoryand method”
by Stewart R. Clegg and Cynthia Hardy (Clegg & Hardy, 1999). Their article focusseson the debates in organization theory from the last hundred years, paying most attention to the lastthirty. It will provide us with a basic notion of the debate and will set the stage enough to in order to be able to discuss the basic conception of an explanation within the organisational studies.Organisation theory is interested in determining the nature of an organisation, looks at factorsinfluencing this nature and tries to determine the most effective way to organise a group of people. Nowadays, a number of these theories aim at commercial firms, but this is not necessary the case,since it is possible to look at other types of organisations e.g. the organisation within prisons andgovernments. Topics of study include (but are not limited to) the influence of leadership, the-2-
 
R. van der PluijmA short introduction into organisation theorydistribution of power, the influence of culture, the effectiveness of hierarchical structures, businessstrategies and communication intra- and intercompany. One basic assumption in this theory is the
“orderly and unitary nature of the organisation”
1
. Here, the organisation is a rational decisionmaking system, based on consensus and coherence. The task of a researcher then is to
“collect objective data concerning the way organization functions around goal orientation anmaintenance. Typically, the research method follows the normal science model, in which the natureof organizational reality is represented and expressed through a formal research design;quantitative data facilitate validation, reliability and replicability; a steady accumulation and building of empirically generated knowledge derives from a limited number of theoretical assumptions.”
2
 Organisation theory tries to simulate the empirical sciences in a fashion comparableto sociology and economy.The paragraph I wrote above would be a standard description if we would currently be living in the beginning of the 1970s. It is the method as ascribed by the so-called functionalist and normalscience research methods, under which population ecology, organisational economics andcontingency theory among others fall
3
. However, as noted above, academics in the organisationalstudies have radically changed their view on their own field of study since then. From differentangles the rationality claims were attacked. The first attacks came from within the scientificschools
4
 themselves, arguing for a 'bounded rationality' conception (Gigerenzer, 2006) and anecological view on organisation. Later attacks even attacked the scientific method itself. From oneside the socio-psychological attack from both the Marxist and the post-modernist (such as Foucault,Derrida and Lyotard) attacked the rationality status of the individual (and the post-modernist ontheir account also attacked the Marxist universal claim).Clegg and Hardy after discussing the attacks described above, discuss how, by emphasising thesefeatures of an organisation, it wasn't at all clear what organisation theory as an academic disciplineencompasses. One major consequence
5
of these differences was the so-called 'paradigmincommensurability' of the different theories. It meant that, while all these different theories havedifferent forms of explanations, in an ideal world all these theories should lead to the same advicewhen used by consultants in social praxis. More specifically, paradigm incommensurability arguesthat theories are by definition either subjective or objective in approach and researchers should
1Clegg & Hardy 1999, p1.2Clegg & Hardy 1999, p2.3Ibid idem.4i.e. schools which argue for the same methods as within the sociological and economical sciences, i.e. 'number crunching'.5Clegg & Hardy 1999, p5. Cf the 2005 paper by Michael Reed for an example (Reed, 2005)
-3-

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