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Theory After Postmodern Condition

Theory After Postmodern Condition



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Theory after the Postmodern
Campbell Jones
University of Leicester, UK
Abstract.In the context of an apparent crisis of grand narratives and

continuing reference to the postmodern condition, this article considers aspects of the development of theory in organization studies over the past decade and offers some re\ufb02ections on prospects for the future. These issues are presented via a reading of Jean-Fran\u00e7ois Lyotard\u2019s The Post-

modern Conditionand the way that this book has been received in

organization studies. This \u2018paralogical\u2019 reading contests a number of widespread assumptions in organization studies about Lyotard and French theory, and provides the opening for a discussion of the future of theory in organization studies. This involves asking questions about (1) the consumption of theory in organization studies; (2) the concepts in currency in organization studies today; and (3) the shifting divisions of organization studies. Key words. agonistics, critical/critique, ethics, judgement/judging, knowledge, legitimation, morality, paralogy, perfor- mativity

\u2018Today, life is fast. It vaporizes morals. Futility suits the postmodern, for words as well as things. But that doesn\u2019t keep us from asking questions: how to live, and why? The answers are deferred. As they always are, of course. But this time, there is a semblance of knowing: that life is going every which way. But do we know this? We represent it to ourselves rather. Every which way of life is \ufb02aunted, exhibited, enjoyed for the love of variety. The moral of morals would be that of \u201caesthetic\u201d pleasure. Here,

Volume 10(3): 503\u2013525
Copyright \u00a9 2003 SAGE
(London, Thousand Oaks, CA
and New Delhi)

then, are \ufb01fteen notes on postmodern aestheticization. And against it!
You\u2019re not done living because you chalk it up to arti\ufb01ce.\u2019
Jean-Fran\u00e7ois Lyotard, from the preface toMoralit \u00b4
es Postmodernes
(English translation: Lyotard, 1997: vii)

I have been asked to write something that re\ufb02ects on the state of organization studies in the light of developments over the past decade and make projective comments about the next decade. The general frame is one of \u2018W(h)ither Organization Studies?\u2019 which poses questions of the viability (wither?) and the direction (whither?) of organization studies. Faced with this, I should admit that I am struck by something peculiarly anachronistic about this question. It might be that I haven\u2019t been getting out enough, but most of the work that I read and most of the people with whom I talk these days are rather suspicious of presupposing a \u2018totality\u2019, that is, a unity that is attributed to things such as an organization, a society, a discourse or a person. Indeed, it might be that over the past decade those doing organization studies have become increasingly suspi- cious of assuming integration, unity and wholeness. To frame it posi- tively, and a little grandly, in recent years organization studies has become increasingly attuned to complexity, discontinuity, con\ufb02ict, resist- ance and difference.

This kind of story will be familiar to those who have followed the \u2018paradigm debates\u2019 of recent years. When, ten years ago, Jeffrey Pfeffer (1993) laid out his concerns that organization studies did not consist of a harmonious whole, this involved a certain recognition of a pluralization of organization studies. He wasn\u2019t happy about this state of affairs, of course, but on the level of description he shares much with Mike Reed\u2019s (1992, 1999) description of a shift from an earlier state of \u2018orthodox consensus\u2019 towards a state of \u2018pluralistic diversity\u2019, that resulted from the unravelling of the hegemony of structural contingency theory and a concomitant destabilization of \u2018organization studies\u2019 from the late 1960s on. It is almost as if Pfeffer and Reed tell pretty much the same story, even if one is happy about it and the other is not. Because whether one felt that this was a space of a new freedom or a disastrous return to Babel, by the end of the 1990s it seems almost \u2018agreed\u2019 that there are a variety of paradigms or discourses on organization, and that organization studies is no longer the stable unity that it might have been in the past (see, for example Burrell, 1999; Deetz, 1996; Hassard and Kelemen, 2002; Kele- men and Hassard, 2003; Westwood and Clegg, 2003). If anything, the new consensus about organization studies seems to be that there is no con- sensus.

In such a context, and presented with a request to comment on \u2018the state of organization studies\u2019 I found myself wondering if there was either something wrong with me or if the editors ofOrganization had suddenly taken a U-turn from the claims about heterodoxy and diversity with which they had launched the journal (Burrell et al., 1994). The state of

Organization 10(3)
W(h)ither Organizational Studies?

organization studies seemed to be one in which the very idea of an integrated organization studies had been called into doubt, yet the editors of the journal were asking me to talk about this fragmented and unstable object. Perhaps I have fallen into their trap and have come up with the pluralist description of organization studies that they were after all along. Or maybe this is just a roundabout way of saying that I\u2019m not sure if the question \u2018w(h)ither organization studies?\u2019 is particularly meaningful.

Rather than taking these dif\ufb01culties as absolute limits, I propose to take them as a starting point from which to pose some questions about the apparent \u2018crisis of grand narratives\u2019 to which I have already been alluding. It is clear that concepts such as narrative, and various other concepts such as language games and discourse have had a signi\ufb01cant impact on organization studies in recent years (Astley and Zammuto, 1992; Boje, 2001; Grant et al., 1998). Indeed, I have already evoked a distinction between small narratives and grand narratives to describe the pluralization of organization studies. But in this article, rather than stopping with the story about the decline of grand narratives and the proliferation of small narratives, I will try to examine some of these concepts in a little more detail. To put it simply, this could be seen as a critical reading of the new grand narrative of the withering of grand narratives. I pose these questions about small and grand narratives by looking at the way that these concepts are introduced by Jean-Fran\u00e7ois Lyotard\u2019s book The Postmodern Condition and the way that they have made their way into organization studies. This will provide a launching pad for a discussion of the movement of concepts and the state of theory in organization studies and will suggest, perhaps, some things about organization studies \u2018in general\u2019.

Critical Strategies

Lyotard\u2019s The Postmodern Condition probably requires little by way of introduction. His \u2018report on knowledge\u2019 was commissioned by the Government of Quebec and published in French in 1979 and in English in 1984, and propelled him onto the international scene. WhenThe

Postmodern Conditionappeared Lyotard was already a well established

philosopher and activist, having published a surprisingly diverse number of books on phenomenology, politics and art, and an infamous critique of Marx and Freud (Lyotard, 1991a, 1993b, 1990a, 1993a). Afterwards he published works on language and injustice, time, Heidegger, Kant\u2019s aesthetics, Augustine, and justice (Lyotard, 1988, 1991b, 1990b, 1994, 2000; Lyotard and Th\u00b4

ebaud, 1985) and a series of articles on various
aspects of the postmodern condition (Lyotard, 1992, 1997, 1999).
The Postmodern Conditionis a short book, and on the face of it appears

to be simpler and more \u2018sociological\u2019 than much of Lyotard\u2019s other work. But this should not lead us to think that it is a straightforward text or that we are entitled to read it in a straightforward way. Indeed, there are a

Theory after the Postmodern Condition
Campbell Jones

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