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Business and Management., Sociology, Organisation Theory, History
The organisational theory literature has identified the emergence and evolution of organisational forms as a critical issue to be addressed, yet new ways of looking at organisational form have yet to be addressed and there are concerns about the largely ahistorical and aprocessual character of much organisational theorising. Most “new” theories that have been put forward continue to view form as something already formed, as an essence, with the attention focused on what constitutes form. Further, extant organisational theories, from the original Weberian ideal type through all other theories, be they in appearance ahistorical (i.e., contingency) or historical (i.e., ecological) and everything else in between, have taken recourse to history-as-process in order to create their classifications. However, in arriving at their classificatory schemes they have hidden the process-as-such, the process of “getting there,” the messiness of “forming,” as if everything else, thereafter, can be tidily encased in one of their “boxes.” History-as-process is never accounted for and once the classificatory scheme is operational no other boxes are possible thereafter; reification in the guise of universalisation has happened and “process” has ended. Seen thusly, a number of questions arise: does history end once we have classified?; does forming continue to happen once we have classified?; what about a way to theorise forming?; how to understand forming over form? More broadly, “can we think any other way” (Calás & Smircich, 2003: 49), such that we do not become enmeshed in, and continue to reproduce, the problems we encounter when thinking in a modern way? These questions lead me to begin outlining the contours to an alternative way of thinking and knowing and so arrive at processual knowing that might escape the modernist thirst for classification.While path dependence, as conventionally conceived, presents an avenue for overcoming the lack of historical contingency in mainstream organisational theories, it does not maintain an opening for forming. Here is where actor-network theory comes in to not only argue that organisational forming is ongoing, but also show how it is made unrecognizable by our modes of theorising. Of particular interest to this framing is the re-articulation of path dependence as a constructivist endeavour, incorporating the concept into actor-network theory through its reconsideration as ‘irreversibilility’.
Donnelly, P.: ‘Rethinking the Organisational: From ‘Form’ to ‘Forming’.’ Irish Academy of Management. Dublin City University, Ireland, September, 2008.