Tag Archives: power

Complexity and Management Conference 17th-19th May – booking now.

This year’s Complexity and Management Conference, on 17th-19th May:  What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life offers the opportunity for delegates to reflect on what it means to be critical and why it is important to be so in today’s organisations. On the first morning of the conference we have invited Professor Andre Spicer to help us get the discussion going. If you want to sign up for the conference and save yourself some money before the early bird deadline expires, then click here.

Here are a few ideas on the traditions of thought to which we will be contributing.

We have a strong critical tradition in western thought, starting with the ancient Greeks. However, the contemporary philosopher Julian Baggini has shown us how a variety of cultures have their own traditions of systematically thinking about the human condition, on the basis that, as Socrates put it, the life unexamined is not worth living. How might we lead a good life, what do we mean by truth, how might we guard against the fragility of goodness, as Martha Nussbaum expressed it?[1] Examining our lives in the back and forth dialectic of discussion is necessary if we are to make meaning and become fully human, but it can have its negative consequences, as it did for Socrates. Problematising, probing, judging comes with its own risks: we are unlikely to be condemned to death for corrupting Athenian youth, as he was, but simply asking questions can call out a strong reaction. Why might that be?

As Kant identified, to critique (originating in judgement, from the Greek krisis) involves imagination and daring:

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!”- that is the motto of enlightenment.[2]

Kant thought that ‘daring to know’ may require courage to take on sources of authority, so that even religion, perhaps the biggest locus of authority in his day, would need ‘to sustain the test of its free and public examination.’[3] He suggested that subjecting sources of legitimacy and authority to critical inquiry is not something to be undertaken lightly, although it is necessary if we are to liberate ourselves from ignorance. Both implicitly and explicitly, becoming critical means engaging with questions of legitimacy and power and calling into question the status quo.

But is it enough just to doubt and reason on our own and by ourselves? From a Hegelian perspective the answer is no, since Hegelians would claim that we are not just autonomous, rational individuals cognizing in the abstract, but we are socially and historically formed. More, and from a pragmatic perspective, it is not helpful to doubt everything all of the time, but we should engage first with those problems which preoccupy us.[4] To pursue inquiry from a Hegelian and pragmatic perspective means taking an interest in history. How has the phenomenon, the particular predicament we are interested in evolved over time, and what has led to what? We then try to place our  difficulties, within the larger history of social relations and their structural contradictions. This may mean drawing attention to power relationships and calling into question the legitimacy of certain ways of knowing and speaking, perhaps asking the question cui bono, who benefits? It certainly means pursuing these questions through dialectical inquiry, where an abstract notion of truth is replaced by the idea that insight arises in the back and forth or argument in a community of engaged inquirers.

And by taking part in discussion and argumentation we then find ourselves discovering that moral and political judgements in particular are plural. We might enhance our ability to see the world from perspectives other than our own. So in addition to Kant’s injunction to dare to know, we might find ourselves developing greater empathy, imagination and solidarity.

If this kind of inquiry interests you, where you engage with a committed group of peers to discuss current organisational difficulties and discover plural and complex points of view, then this year’s Complexity and Management conference 17th-19th May is the place to be. There may be no resolution to your predicaments but perhaps you will find some degree of solidarity with and from others in the complex responsive processes of relating. Dare to come!

Early bird concessions end 1st April.

[1] Nussbaum, M (1986) The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] An answer to the question what is Enlightenment? 1784

[3] Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, 1781.

[4] “We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy…Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” CS Peirce (1992), The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings Vol 1, Bloomington: Indiana University Press: pp28-29.

Complexity and Management Conference June 2015 – themes and agenda

At the Complexity and Management Conference this weekend (5th-7th June at Roffey Park) we will be discussing a variety of themes concerning power and politics in organisations. As a small contribution to the discussion I offer the following:

There are two managerial tendencies in contemporary organisations which in my view work against the exploration of difference, and cover over the opportunity for collective reflection.

The first is the increasing prevalence of instrumental reason in the shape of rhetorical appeals to ‘what works’, or what ‘adds value’ or is best for effectiveness and efficiency.  This is not to argue in favour of inefficiency or ineffectiveness, or allowing employees to do whatever they want, but if we start from the premiss that there is no one best strategy, then all options about what employees might do together to improve organisational outcomes will bring with them advantages and disadvantages. It depends when the evaluation is made, and who is judging.

If the future is uncertain then we can never be sure what will work and what will not until we try something together, and even then we may disagree about what we find. So it may be worth exploring the merits of different courses of action and tolerating dissent, disagreement and contestation before we embark upon something.

The second tendency can arise as a direct result of the first, that there is a lack of shared experience of deliberating together, and therefore a greater reluctance to consider it. All kinds of reasons are given for not thinking together: because there isn’t time, because it will open a can of worms, because it will be just a talking shop, because it’s a luxury we can’t afford, because we’re an action-oriented organisation. In effect what then happens is a closing down of opportunity to seek different perspectives which prevents bringing about what Hannah Arendt referred to as ‘enlarged mentality’, the possibility of experiencing human plurality. The ability to consider the perspective of others was of prime importance to Arendt, since it enables us to decentre ourselves and avoid narcissism, as well as preventing tyranny where there is only a hearing for one point of view.

Another aspect of deliberating together in public, particularly when we are face to face, is that the intimacy of being together obliges us more actively to find ways forward. But confronting each other with our differences can be painful, and it isn’t always easy to do.

These are some of the themes we will be struggling with, more or less painfully,  on the weekend, and here is the rough agenda for the discussions.

Look forward to seeing you there if you have registered, and if not we will try and post some reflections on what happened afterwards.

New publications in April

Here are three new publications from DMan faculty members published this month:

Commons and Lords: a Short Anthropology of Parliament – Emma Crewe

The House of Commons: an Anthropology of MPs at Work – Emma Crewe

Managing in Uncertainty: Complexity and the Paradoxes of Everyday Organisational Life – Chris Mowles

61o5S19tTBL 71rGKydMesL Book cover

Complexity and Management Conference 5-7th June 2015

Conference theme: Exploring our experience of everyday politics in organisations

How do we negotiate degrees of freedom with each other in what we can increasingly experience as regimes of disciplinary power in organisational life? How do grand schemes for whole-organisation transformation play out in every day relationships between people?

This conference will invite participants to discuss and reflect upon the every day politics of getting things done together, noticing the negotiations, compromises and improvisations which are necessary to take the next step.

Between now and then we will be posting further reflections on the topic on this the Complexity and Management blog.

The key note speakers this year are  Svend Brinkmann,  who is Professor in general psychology and qualitative methods as well as Co-director of the Center for Qualitative Studies, and Professor Patricia Shaw, co-founder of the Doctor of Management programme at UH and currently working at Schumacher College. Here is Svend’s profile page at Aalborg university http://personprofil.aau.dk/117579?lang=en and here is Patricia Shaw’s at Schumacher College: http://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/teachers/patricia-shaw .

The conference will be informal and highly participative, as in previous years. The conference fee includes accommodation and food and will be held at Roffey Park Institute in the UK: http://www.roffeypark.com

The booking page on the university website will be set up in the New Year.

A more detailed agenda will follow, but the conference begins with a drinks reception @7pm on Friday 5th June and ends after lunch Sunday 7th June 2015.

Participants wishing to set up a particular themed discussion in a working group during the conference should contact Chris Mowles: c.mowles@herts.ac.uk

Acting into organizational complexity: comparing and contrasting relational leadership and complex responsive processes of relating

At the Complexity and Management Conference 2013 our guest speaker, Ann Cunliffe, described her ideas about what she terms relational leadership, which are also set out in an article in Human Relations here. In her conference presentation and in her article Ann Cunliffe responds to what she understands as a crisis in leadership education and practice. In the news we are presented with example after example of failures of leadership which also point to an impoverished moral understanding on the part of leaders about their responsibilities, she argues. Cunliffe sets out her alternative by drawing on Bakhtin, Ricoeur, Heidegger and Shotter whom she adduces to develop her argument that leadership work is to be found in the everyday conversational activity of people trying to achieve things together. Her ideas turn on the idea of inter-subjectivity, that we are formed by others just as we form them, which she argues has implications for the way we think about our relationships. We should, she says, develop better anticipatory awareness about what matters in those relationships and the moral consequences of our responsiveness, or lack of it, to others. Responsibility arises, Cunliffe argues after Ricoeur, by recognising oneself as another.[1] Continue reading

More thoughts on Critical Management Studies

In the last post I began to outline some of the similarities and differences between complex responsive processes and critical management studies (CMS) following Hugh Willmott’s keynote at the CMC conference. I have chosen to engage with Alvesson and Willmott’s book Making Sense of Management, while at the same time as recognising that CMS is a broad church and that this book is a primer in CMS. Nevertheless, in this post I will continue the discussion.

Complex responsive processes shares with CMS a critique of the individualising tendencies of modernity and argues instead for a radically social view of human beings and their activities. However, I think this is different from what Alvesson and Willmott term ‘radical humanism’ as an alternative.  From our perspective we would side with both Mead and Elias in arguing that human beings are social through and through: there is no society without individuals and no individuals without society. Following Mead, mind, self and society all arise in social processes involving other social selves and our increasing abilities to take the attitudes of others to ourselves. This is not to deny any individuality but to emphasise how individuality is only possible in relation to other socialised individuals: i.e. society makes individuality possible. Continue reading

Some thoughts on the 2011 CMC conference

I wanted to write about some of the themes  at the CMC conference this year as an invitation to further discussion, and perhaps as a way of involving others. There were a number of things which happened during the weekend which I think made a strong case for the methods being developed by the Complexity Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire and the importance of paying attention to the experience of every day life.

So I was struck by a quite ordinary intervention by Iver Drabaek in the final plenary of the weekend. This was a session convened to explore what different conference participants were doing in their work and to ask whether insights drawn from the complexity sciences, or from complex responsive processes were proving helpful in what people found themselves trying to do. There had been a number of diverse observations about what was going on in the group: that the discussion didn’t seem to be leading anywhere, or that it wasn’t easy to speak into the big group, as we struggled to make sense of this particular way of meeting together. As Nick Sarra has pointed out, there often is a struggle in big group discussions, and sometimes this struggle is about avoiding the discomfort of recognising each other in this kind of context.  Iver pointed out that for him it was different. It wasn’t that he was holding back but that every time he went to speak into the group he found that he had changed his mind about what he wanted to say, depending on what the last person had said. This for me was a very good example of what we are trying to describe on the faculty at Hertfordshire when we are drawing attention to the transformative potential of everyday interaction. Iver was displaying a patient attention to everyday experience, his own experience of the group, which then raised ideas of recognition, mutual recognition, identity and ideology for me. In drawing attention to the way that he was responding, to what was going on for him in the moment and articulating it, he provoked me (without of course realising it) into recognising myself in what he was saying. I would expect that for others it called out an entirely different response, or perhaps no response at all, but in that moment I came to understand my own participation in what was going on, recognising myself in the other, differently. Continue reading

Complexity and Management Conference 3/4/5/ June 2011

Complexity and the embodiment of power and identity in organisations

About the conference

The eighth annual Complexity and Management Conference of the University of Hertfordshire’s  Business School will take place at Roffey Park starting at 7pm on Friday 3rd June 2011 and ending after lunch on 5th June. This event is a very informal conference where prepared papers and presentations are minimal and serve the purpose of introducing themes for discussion amongst conference participants.  In organising this conference we seek to maximise the possibility of discursive conversation. The original purpose of the conference was to provide an opportunity for past, present and possible future participants on our MA/Doctor of Management programme to discuss their experience and ideas with one another, but over the years leaders, managers, consultants and academics who are interested in our work on complexity and emergence in organisations have also attended the event making it very vibrant and diverse.

This year’s theme

Much contemporary organisational literature is highly abstract and is replete with tools and techniques. There is very little acknowledgement that organisations arise from the interactions of thinking, feeling bodies engaged in conflict and co-operation in a particular context at a particular time. Somehow this central aspect of human experience is covered over, or denied. Does this partly arise because of the appeal to scientific method and the idea of management as science, with the assumption of the detached, objective observer? What has contributed to our suspicion of subjective experience and how possible is it to talk of ‘embodiment’ without in turn mystifying what we are talking about, or perhaps instrumentalising the body as a tool of management, in effect reaffirming Cartesian subjectivity rather than challenging it?

In this year’s conference we have decided to address what we consider this neglect of this core aspect of human relating and have invited Dr Ian Burkitt of Bradford University (Social Selves: Theories of Self and the Body, London: Sage, 2008; Bodies of Thought, London: Sage: 1999) to help us initiate our discussions on Saturday morning 4th June. In the afternoon Professor Ralph Stacey will respond to Dr Burkitt’s keynote with some reflections of his own. On Sunday morning Dr Karen Norman and Professor Henry Larsen will talk about a piece of work they have undertaken together using theatre and improvisation with groups of managers.

There will be parallel sessions following the keynotes, where conference participants will be able to explore themes which have struck them as being important in conversation with others. Between now and June we will be uploading posts on this blog  to talk to the theme and to provoke discussion in advance of the conference. Anyone wishing to put forward ideas for parallel sessions is welcome to do so.

You can download the conference brochure here: Complexity and Management Conference brochure

Contact Chris at  c.mowles@herts.ac.uk or Angela Digby a.m.r.digby@herts.ac.uk  for payment details.

“Wishful thinking combined with hubris”

Last summer a group of economists at the London School of Economics felt impelled to write to the Queen in response to her question posed the year previously when she was on a visit to the university as to what had caused  the banking collapse.

The letter explains that there was a ‘psychology of denial’ affecting all those concerned, and in a touching note of humility drawing attention to the fact that many very intelligent people were caught up in this collective denial, the letter goes on to explain that “it is difficult to recall a greater example of wishful thinking combined with hubris”.

“Everyone seemed to be doing their own job properly on its own merit. And according to standard measures of success, they were often doing it well,” they say. “The failure was to see how collectively this added up to a series of interconnected imbalances over which no single authority had jurisdiction.” (my emphasis added) Continue reading