Stuck in the past?

In the 4th Organization Theory Workshop that was held in Ankara and organized by Yıldırım Beyazıt University I had chance to listen Prof. Roy Suddaby who is currently editor-in-chief of Academy of Management Review. As a keynote speaker he emphasized that he is the first non-American editor of AMR and hopefully that would make a difference for AMR considering the internationalization of management knowledge. I hope we can see alternative studies in AMR more.

In his presentation what really struck me was his criticism regarding the current situation of management and organization studies. Considering the mainstream organization theories he stated that the scholars are still using the theories of 1970s and 1980s in order to explain the organizations even though the world has changed dramatically. That is true when we see particularly the impact of neo-institutional theory today. That was also an issue Alvesson and Sandberg (2013) mentioned in addition to journal policies and institutional arrangements.

When I heard that criticism, I had chance to think on this situation for alternative, heterodox or critical studies of organizations. I do not like saying that but, this criticism also seems valid for such studies. We still use the main theoretical frameworks of Marx, Foucault or Lacan. Obviously, each study on such theories expand our perspectives and our understandings, and it is not fair or true that these theories are old and need to be left out. But, I cannot avoid thinking why not there are new radical thinkers or theories that we can use in our studies to understand the dark side of the organizations. It is understandable that using radical theories or social theory is a recent phenomenon in management and organization studies and that is why there are still much to say, but I also feel that as trying to provide a different lens we also need to reflect on the situation of alternative perspectives. Even though there are recent debates on new spirit of capitalism or new arguments of Zizek, the majority still seems stuck in the past. Perhaps, it is also a natural result of depending on philosophy in such studies. Or, perhaps, we are so involved in reading and working on the past that we miss the potential of today. I am not discussing the relevance or rigor debate or the functionality of knowledge, I just want to think on why we could not move or depart from the twentieth century. If we still can explain the reality with such theories this may also demonstrate the strength of theories, but on the other hand, perhaps, we still could not break the circles of the past theories.

3 thoughts on “Stuck in the past?

  1. Interesting to hear this. We see similar arguments in marketing, where editors of the leading journals bemoan the lack of theoretical development. Yet, they make no effort to actually encourage such work and completely ignore the established traditions and research outputs that are trying to do such work.

    For what its worth, I’ve long wondered whether organization theory has done itself a dis-service when it began to look outside for fresh theoretical ideas. I reckon that one of the main reasons why most people use old theories of management and organization is that their are no new ones only new imports from cultural studies, political economy and philosophy. To my mind, only Gibson Burrell is making any effort to produce a home-grown theory of organization.

    Indeed, given the focus on “impact” and research outputs in the UK at least, I wouldn’t hold my breathe waiting for any younger researchers to follow suit. They would not only be wasting their trying but would ruin their careers cause I guarantee you that AMR wouldn’t touch such work with a barge pole. (If the AMR wants to prove me wrong, get in touch and commission an article.)

    • No, not really considering how multidisciplinary the field is which I really find it particularly useful, but perhaps, I want to reflect on and point out how difficult it is to think on new assumptions within the same structures.

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