New Velux Foundation Research Programme at IOA
What Makes Organization? Resuscitating organization theory/revitalizing organizational life
Over the last three decades, organizations have been associated with a growing uncertainty regarding their basic purposes and values. One example concerns the shift from a focus on quality of core products to that of shareholder value, which tends to redirect the attention of the organization from the coordination of its basic work activities to external impression management. Another is the concomitant rise of “soft management” with its use of learning metaphors and story-telling to motivate staff, and a work-related stress epidemic and change fatigue, which increasingly calls into question the ability of modern organizations to balance the rhetoric of change and learning with a due regard to the limits of staff commitment and the basic requirements of tasks. The ongoing financial crisis has made this even more acute and has given rise to an intense reconsideration of the contemporary norms and practices of managing and organizing. Many taken for granted assumptions about the efficacy and effectiveness of contemporary management theory and practice have been put into question. The ethos and techniques advocated and taught in business schools have not escaped unscathed from this period of critical reflection either. As a result, the search is now on for theories and practices of managing and organizing that can contribute towards the goal of delivering sustainable growth without undermining the very foundations of economic and social life. Interestingly, the voice of Organization Theory (OT) has been notably absent from this intense public debate, posing some important questions: if OT has nothing to say about controversies effecting its core object – organizing and organizations – then why might this be the case, and what can be done to resuscitate it, and thus to revive its explanatory reach and practical relevance?
Paul du Gay and Signe Vikkelsø from IOA are leading a research programme which seeks to answer precisely this question. The programme which is funded by the Velux Foundation, and which will run for three years from January, 2011, aims to investigate the historical and contemporary ability of Organization Theory (OT) both to analyze and to intervene in the experience of organizational life. This aim will be pursued through two mutually related strands of research: a) an analysis of the changing relationship between organization theory as an intellectual and practical discipline and the problems besetting modern organizations b) an historical analysis of classic, albeit largely forgotten or ignored, organization theories in order to explore their potential for helping to address contemporary organizational and societal concerns. In so doing, a key objective of the programme is to revitalize Organization Theory as a practical enterprise centrally concerned with describing, analyzing and intervening in organizational life.