Now showing 1 - 10 of 68
  • Publication
    Bureaucracy, Blockocracy and Power
    Algorithmic authority is a distinctive and novel mode of domination. Akin to other modes described by Weber, it has associated organisational forms. This paper identifies and analyses one such form, blockocracy, which occurs in the context of blockchain-based cryptocurrencies. Taking a processual approach, we describe how blockocracy emerged historically out of an anti-bureaucracy ideology, a control revolution, a recognition that computer code can regulate conduct, and the increasing adoption of algorithms. Taking a shorter time-horizon, we identify four layers of algorithmic authority, and, focusing on the blockchain layer, we distinguish between off-chain and on-chain governance, with the latter having two types of off-chain rules. While the fashionable rhetoric is that the blockchain is immutable, we see the blockchain as a dynamic quasi-object, defining and mutating identities and possibilities. We conclude the paper by comparing blockocracy with Weber’s depiction of bureaucracy.
  • Publication
    The Lost Experiment in Exploration and Exploitation
    This paper focuses on James March’s 1991 article on 'Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning', which is now the seventh most highly cited paper in management and organisation studies. March’s paper is based on a computer program that simulates the collective and individual learning of a group of fifty individuals. The largely forgotten story that this paper re-calls is the real-life experiment that March, in large part, designed and conducted when he was the new 'boy Dean' of the School of Social Sciences in the University of California at Irvine between 1964 and 1969. Taken together, both stories illuminate important moments in the history of organisation studies. The comparison suggests that March’s model, which was probably the first simulation of an organisation learning, also worked to constitute rather than model the phenomenon.
  • Publication
    Theory Games
    This paper examines the remarkable and unexplored correspondence between games (and board games in particular) and what is commonly understood as theory in the social sciences.  It argues that games exhibit many if not most of the attributes of theory, but that theory is missing some of the features of games.  As such, game provide a way of rethinking what we mean by theory and theorizing.  Specifically, games and their relationship with the ¿real¿ world, provide a way of thinking about theory and theorizing that is consistent with recent calls to frame social inquiry around the concept of phrónēsis.
  • Publication
    Organisation as containment of acquisitive mimetic rivalry: The contribution of René Girard
    (Taylor and Francis, 2003) ;
    This paper considers relations between violence and organization as seen through the lens moulded by Rene Girard. This is because more than any other writer of his generation Girard postulates the primacy of violence in his sociological theorising. In this paper we first outline Girard's theory. Next we discuss this in relation to Freudian theories of organization. We then draw out some of the implications of his theory for the understanding of topics within Organization Theory, such as bureaucracy and sexual harassment. Finally we suggest a research agenda.
  • Publication
    The Odyssey of Instrumental Rationality: Confronting the Englightenment's Interior Other
    In this paper we advocate and demonstrate the value of science fiction as a potent way of ‘practicalising philosophy.’ Science fiction narratives provide an ideal-typical setting through which theory can be represented, clarified and developed. They also help us link the abstraction of theory and the messiness of practice, while partly side-stepping the enigma whereby any study of the empirical world may merely reflect back the particular ontologies and epistemologies that constitute that world. In particular, we claim that the television series Star Trek provides a powerful metaphor for understanding and teaching certain themes regarding modernity, including the possibility of universal progress through economic expansion (capitalism, colonialism), technological development (industrialism, positivism), and the possibilities for universal emancipation (democracy). We especially focus on the Borg Collective, a form of life that has become one of the most enduring and critical mirrors that Star Trek has held up to contemporary society, and which can be usefully understood as a metaphor for the dark side of instrumental rationality. The paper draws on the various encounters between the Enterprise and the Borg to illustrate and engage with the diverse writings of Weber, the Frankfurt School, Habermas, Foucault, and Haraway on modernity’s continuing and ambivalent struggle with instrumental rationality.
  • Publication
    Marketing: You must be Joking
    (University of Ulster, 1999) ;
    Marketing, in its bid to be a serious discipline, has largely avoided theorising about humour in the marketplace. This is especially surprising given the increase in humorous ads over the last two decades or so. This paper seeks to address this omission by analysing humour in advertising with particular reference to Budweiser’s series of Lizards' advertisements. The paper considers the phenomenon at different levels of analysis. We argue that humorous advertisements are suited to contemporary media and advertising environments, and that such advertisements are a natural offshoot of the prevailing postmodernist mood. Humour possesses many traits of postmodernity–fun, irony and parody, and is therefore in step with this mood. Finally, humour is considered as an alternative to postmodernity, in so far as it reaches parts that other discourses, such as the discourse of postmodernity, cannot reach.
  • Publication
    Bitcoin and the Blockchain: a coup d'état in Digital Heterotopia?
    This conference invites us to explore new organisational forms and practices that might be alternatives to 'neoliberal market managerialism' and 'financial capitalism'. Our starting point is that the latter two phenomena cannot be separated off analytically from powerful actors — such as the state — that have co-emerged with and played a key role in the evolutionary process through which capitalism has come to be (Graeber 2011). Specifically, this paper takes its move from Hobbes’s (1651/2005) idea of the Leviathan, which has provided a foundational intellectual basis for the nation-state form, which is today ubiquitous, and on which both neoliberalism and financial capitalism are reliant. Hobbes rooted his construct in a pessimistic view of humankind that is naturally inclined towards the 'war of all against all'. He argued that people must recognize that such a 'state of nature' is destructive, and must accept, on the basis of utilitarian reasoning, the necessity of a social contract to constitute a supreme actor whose power is absolute and enforced by a monopoly on violence. Hence, the Leviathan and the body politic are constituted at once and are irreversible. No exit is allowed; no ethical, moral or religious limit can be posed in front of this power. The Leviathan is total because there is no room for any other rationality, and finite because all people are tied to the social contract. Hobbes’s idea of the Leviathan has proved to be enduring and alluring, and provides a primary focus for this paper. What is especially interesting for us is that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have emerged from a similar 'thought experiment' beginning with a 'state of nature' not unlike Hobbes’s depiction. Here, the seminal contribution is by the mysterious individual or individuals known as Satoshi Nakamoto who, in 2008, published a paper that set out the basis for the 'blockchain technology' on which cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, and other services, are based (Nakamoto 2008). Not unlike Hobbes’s 'state of nature', Nakamoto begins with an imaginary world populated by trustless individuals. The problem he addresses is how to enable trustworthy transactions on the internet without recourse to a 'trusted third party', such as a state-regulated (and state-supported) bank. Indeed, in line with libertarian ideology, one of Nakamoto’s key objectives was to preclude the possibility of any single and all-encompassing ruling authority emerging. His elegant solution is Bitcoin, a purely digital cryptocurrency that is not administered by any constituted organization and is not circumscribed within any consistent jurisdiction. The 'blockchain', on which Bitcoin is based, is a public ledger of transactions maintained by a dispersed and open-ended number of 'miners' who provide computing power to maintain and guarantee the integrity of the ledger. While the Bitcoin economy is tiny compared to official currencies — but remarkable compared to alternative and local currencies — it plants the seeds of a currency (intended as a mode of regulating transactions) that could threaten many of the quasi-monopoly powers that the state currently exercises through the central bank, viz: surveying and collecting data on citizens and corporations, setting credit rates and monetary policy, deciding on and implementing exchange rate policies, assuring the robustness of the payment infrastructure, protecting the interests of consumers, controlling money-laundering, and regulating/supporting existing financial service providers (Murphy 2014). Nakamoto’s attempt to create a money system without a central authority is best seen at the intersection of diachronic and synchronic issues. Historically, the blockchain is one of a long string of information technologies that, since the 1960s, have avoided centralization, partly as a defence against possible Soviet nuclear attack, and partly in sympathy with the Western open culture of the 1960s and 1970s. In relation to contemporary phenomena, Bitcoin entangles with the state’s power and jurisdiction, which is simultaenously being challenged by the shadow economy, by individuals and corporations choosing where they wish to pay tax, by the free flow of information within trans-national information infrastructures, and by global internet services and commerce. While Hobbes and Nakamoto start from similar positions, they end up in quite different destinations, and, since theory can be performative (Austin 1970), this means that very different worlds come to be. Analytically, each provides a lens through which one can examine the other, in theory and in practice. Together, the lenses provide a framing device for reimagining key concepts and practices that underpin the contemporary nation-state and, by extension, financial capitalism. The full paper will report on this comparative analysis. The Bitcoin phenomenon raises interesting methodological and theoretical points that we will also explore in the paper. Methodologically, the actor-network injunction to 'follow the actors' — i.e. focus on performance — is practically impossible due to the sheer scale, technical intricacies, global dispersion and far-fetched effects of currency-related phenomena. Focusing on visible performance is also misleading theoretically because it fails to distinguish between what does not happen, those 'influences which operate behind the back of agents, and which therefore cannot be found in micro-situations' (Knorr-Cetina 1981: 28), and what is purposefully avoided (Law and Singleton 2005). Indeed, Bitcoin is a manifestation of a totem of digital cultures: there is always an elsewhere, beyond the control of organizations. Creating an elsewhere free from Leviathan’s constraints (which resonates with Foucault’s notion of heterotopia) disrupts the body politic by exceeding or overflowing its framings (Callon 1998). The peculiarity of Bitcoin is not in any frontal clash with authority but rather in its strategy of avoidance, which we might interpret as a form of différance or the playing of an alternative game. What Bitcoin also illustrates is that the link between the micro and the macro is neither based on an immutable social contract nor maintained by an unbounded power. Rather, scalable and publicly accessible computing resources coordinate trustless macro actions without necessarily constituting actors and identities (Czarniawska 2008/2014). The paper will further examine the paradox where the supplement of the age of visibility is action without actors and the emergence of new boundaries between frontstage and backstage, public and secret.
  • Publication
    What is theory if theorizing is a game?
    (European Group for Organization Studies, 2018-07-07) ;
    The purpose of this paper is to explore what we mean by theory, by looking at theory through a game lens. In comparing and contrasting the two phenomena of games and theory, we seek to better understand what theory is and is not, how theory is distinguished from theorizing, what constitutes a theoretical contribution, how theory and practice are linked, and the nature of academic work. The paper is structured as follows. We begin by discussing what is meant by a game, and, notwithstanding the difficulties of defining what constitutes a game, we outline four characteristics of games, and identify four basic roles in game activity. In the next section, we discuss the similarities between games and what is commonly understood as theory. We then proceed to describe how a game perspective can add to our understanding of theorizing. The paper’s final section then builds on this to consider the implications of thinking about theorizing as a form of game-playing. This exercise in comparing and contrasting theory leads, ultimately, to recognising the importance of phrónēsis in games, and its relatively marginal position (until recently) in theory and theorizing.
  • Publication
    Work and play in management studies: A Kleinian analysis
    (School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London, 2011)
    This paper takes some of Melanie Klein s ideas, which Bion (1961/1998) previously used to understand group dynamics, to analyse the discipline of management studies since its birth in the United States in the late 19th century. Specifically, it focuses on the idealisation of work and play, and argues that at its inception, for idiosyncratic historical reasons, the discipline was rooted in a paranoid-schizoid position in which work was idealised as good and play as bad. The paper maps out the peculiar set of factors and influences that brought this about. It then examines how and if, again following Klein, the discipline has evolved to the depressive position, where the idealisations are replaced by a more ambiguous, holistic semantic frame. Seven different relationships between work and play are then described. The paper contends that the originary splitting and idealisation is foundational to the discipline, and provides an enduring basis for analysing management theory and practice. It concludes by using this splitting to map out five potential future trajectories for the discipline.