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Essai: on paragrammatic uses of organizational theory -- a provocation *.


Having indicated some of the recurring difficulties in establishing a conceptual or philosophical link between theory and practice, the author examines the relation between organization theory and the practices of academics, managers and other organizational participants. He argues that this relation is shaped by the way organizational theories are disseminated in the face of an expanding hegemony of consumerization and consumerism. Like other commodities, organizational theories are not used passively, in general, but in a creative, opportunistic and individualistic way. In this, they resemble folk knowledge, such as cooking recipes and cookery books, which different users employ or experiment with in widely differing ways, for widely differing ends. In contrast to both programme and paradigm, the author uses the term 'paragramme' to indicate a shifting stock of ideas, routines, images and ingredients which invite improvization and elaboration, rather than copying or adherence.

Descriptors: programmes, paradigms, paragrammes, theory, practice, bricolage, consumption, recipes


The link between theory and practice has preoccupied many of the brightest intellects, and has generated one of the broadest discursive traditions in Western thought. Some theorists have looked at the precise ways in which theory influences practice, or vice versa, while others have theorized on how it should influence practice, or how it may be tested through practice. Some theorists have focused on moral action, others on political action, and yet others on aesthetic, technical or even entrepreneurial action. Yet, the link between theory and practice, while heavily theorized by most philosophical and scientific traditions, has remained problematic, provisional and ultimately unsatisfactory.

In the area of organizational studies, there is a pressing need to explore, understand and codify the relationship between theories, developed mostly by academics and popularized by consultants and gurus, and the actions of practicing managers. This is important because on it rests vital issues of management education and learning, and even more importantly, the basis on which business is conducted. Yet, the relationship between organizational theory and the practice of managers and other organizational participants has remained one of the most elusive and recalcitrant.

This paper indicates some of the recurring difficulties in establishing such a conceptual or philosophical link between theory and practice. It identifies some broad tendencies in the conceptualization of this link, before arguing that the link is not a conceptual, but practical. In particular, it proposes that the uses to which organizational theories are put are shaped by how they are disseminated in the face of an expanding hegemony of consumerization and consumerism, and in response to the needs of users. It will be argued that organizational theories, like other commodities, are not used in a passive way, in general, but creatively, opportunistically and individualistically. In this, they resemble cooking recipes and cookery books, which different users employ or experiment with in widely differing ways, for widely differing ends. The term 'paragramme', in contrast to both 'programme' and 'paradigm', is used to indicate a shifting stock of ideas, routines, images and ingredients which invite improvizatio n and elaboration, rather than copying or adherence.

The problematic relationship between theory and practice can be encountered in every domain of human activity and endeavour. In the area of organizations, the issue is complicated by some particularities of organizational theory which set it apart from other human sciences, notably it's increasingly close alignment to the interests and concerns of practicing management, which often subsidizes it's production and dissemination. A number of theories in this field claim to be of practical use to managers, who claim to make use of (or at least to find usefulness in) some of them (not necessarily the same as those above) and for those theories which are meant to be effectively put into practice, practical successes are claimed. Thus, the impression is sometimes created that the different theories of organization amount to a toolkit for practicing managers. Summed up in Lewin's famous epigram 'there is nothing so practical as a good theory'. This view is in line with the positivist tradition pioneered in the social sciences by Auguste Comte: 'Voir pour prevoir, prevoir pour prevenir'. The aim of social theory is to understand events in order to anticipate them, and to anticipate them in order to control them. Thus, in practice, control has undoubtedly been a central reason for the perceived value of organizational theory. In vastly different ways, the theories of Taylor, Weber and Peters and Waterman have, willingly or unwillingly, made their marks as ostensible instruments for a more efficient control of organizations and what goes on inside them from the point of view of people, information and resources. Much of what Burrell (1996) refers to as NATO (North American Theory of Organization), ranging from positivist research to guru theory, seeks to make itself useful to practitioners, offering them ways of achieving competitive advantage. Variants of vulgar Marxism -- 'correct practice follows from correct theory' -- aspired at using theory in similar ways, but to different ends.

This toolkit link of theory with practice has been challenged, and with good reasons, from several different quarters. Inspired by the work of Paulo Freire (1970/1996), some have sought to develop organizational theory as part of a humanist project in which theory is a force leading towards progressive learning, enlightenment and growth in the interest of material and spiritual amelioration of humanity. The aim here is to develop new forms of reflective management practice which are less deleterious to human growth and fulfilment and to generate less dysfunctional forms of organization.

Others have argued that organizational theories are essentially non-practical, because even if practitioners act under the illusion of putting into effect the latest theoretical findings, in practice, they use theory as a post facto rationalization for action. As such, theory then becomes part of a legitimating process, one that enhances the position of managers and bolsters their authority (MacIntyre 1981; Thomas 1993; Gabriel 1998). From a psychological point of view, theory, far from guiding action, is more akin to a transitional object, a soft blanket or teddy bear, that offers comfort and security to the perplexed and confused practitioner (Lawrence 1999; Obholzer 1999). Anti-performativity, i.e. a deep-seated aversion towards any type of theorizing which may directly or serendipitously find some practical implications in the hands of managers, is an important feature of many of those theories now referred to as critical management studies (Fournier and Grey 2000). This is consistent with an ironic postm odem twist, which seeks to denaturalize concepts and ideas and promote reflexivity through a deconstruction of managerial buzzwords and practice. The majority of theorists with this tendency have asserted the primacy of discourse, either viewing theory itself as practice (theoretical practice) or arguing for a total discontinuity between theory and action (Knights and Willmott 1989; Burrell 1990; Parker 1992; Carter 1995; Jackson 1995; Parker 1995).

The relation of theory and practice is frequently posed and debated in terms of the actions of practicing managers and the theoretical knowledge that mostly comes directly or indirectly out of business and management schools. (Sandelands 1990; Czarniawska 1999). Less developed is the link between theory and the actions of workers, unions activists and officials, environmental and other campaigners, equal opportunity officers, regulators, househusbands and housewives, TV viewers, and so forth. There is also a tendency to use 'knowledge' as a catch-all for all types of theory, treating different types of organizational theory, e.g. from the classical theories of Weber and Taylor to postmodern theorising and from positivist research to guru sermonizing, in similar ways. Commenting on different attempts, Czarniawska (1999: 8) argues that, in spite of attempts to bring them together, 'the chasm between theory and practice gapes as wide as ever', a view with which I am inclined to agree.

The basis on which these issues are addressed by different theorists involves, on the one hand, an analysis of the nature of management and the nature of its relation to knowledge, and, on the other, the nature of organizational theories and of their applications -- in short, ontology and epistemology. What, however, if the determinant of whether these theories are actionable or not is not to be found in the ontology of management and the epistemology of management theory, but rather in the mode of the acquisition and dissemination of theories and the practical needs which they meet? A theory, a piece of information, an idea or even a story may become actionable because of the way it is disseminated, rather because of something ontologically or epistemologically intrinsic to it. For example, a piece of information that is stolen may be more actionable than one given away as a gift or as charity. A theory which is paid for and personally delivered may be actionable, whereas exactly the same theory being freely available and lying idle in the pages of a book may be less so. A theory that is packaged for dissemination to other academics in sober academic journals may be less actionable than a similar theory re-packaged, simplified and popularized for the practitioner. Moreover, a seemingly inconsequential theory or idea may shoot to prominence and be acted upon, because it appears to meet an urgent user-need at a particular moment in time. Thus, what I wish to explore is the view that organizational theories may be constructed as actionable knowledge due to the conditions of their dissemination and the needs of the users, rather than to any intrinsic properties or claims to truth (Jackson and Carter 1995).

It is apparent, even to a casual observer, that the dissemination of most organizational theories today is different in some important respects from that of 20 or 40 years ago. One only has to look at the books in airport lounges to realize that management literature has become part of popular culture. Armies of consultants are available to sell virtually every type of organizational theory to eager customers, and armies of academics are equally available to service the consultants. The nature of universities themselves is being revolutionized. From sober, utilitarian deliverers of services to elites, they are being rapidly transformed into businesses delivering outputs to customers, subject to commercial pressures and competition, and to regulation. Nowhere is this more evident than in business and management schools, which have been undergoing a palpable transformation in the twenty years that I have been part of them. Gone are the antiquated desks engraved with the initials of generations of suffering stud ents; gone are the dusty blackboards of old; gone too are the linoleum floors. Paying customers could not be expected to put up with such shoddy environments.

Universities have not yet been transformed into theme parks, though there is little doubt that consumerism has penetrated deeply the world of academia. As Ritzer has argued:

'[University] administrators are coming to recognize that their educational campuses need to grow more like the other means of consumption to thrive. The high school has been described as resembling a shopping mall. The university, too, can be seen as a means of educational consumption. These days most campuses are dated, stodgy and ineffective compared to shopping malls, cruise ships, casinos and fast food restaurants. To compete, universities are trying to satisfy their students by offering, for example, 'theme housing' -- dorms devoted to students with shared special interests. As universities learn more and more from the new means of consumption, it will be increasingly possible to refer to them as "McUniversities".' Ritzer 1999: 24)

Can we take Ritzer's idea seriously and view the McUniversity as an ideal type of the kind of educational establishment that corresponds to a society of hyper-consumption? If we do so, we discover that the implications go considerably further than Ritzer himself realized. Quite apart from merchandizing t-shirts and track-suits with university logos, upgrading conference and catering facilities to match those of international hotels, and discovering a myriad of ways of creating spending opportunities, what goes on inside McUniversities becomes subject to the logic of McDonaldization. The subjects taught and researched, are McSociology, McManagement and McOB. If the students of such a university are customers, the subjects which they study are standard and uniform, and the workers delivering the service are dressed in a uniform (usually a suit and tie), homogenized and deskilled. The MBA in such an institution would be the ultimate in standardization, the McUniversity's 'Big Mac'. The service amounts to 'educat ion' in exactly the same way as catering is the service of the fast-food output. In both cases, the mode of delivery hinges on the seduction of the customer -- the customer who pays in order to receive a product or a service that represents, matches or stimulates a fantasy.

Ritzer uses the terms 'means of consumption' and 'cathedrals of consumption' to describe the organized settings that 'allow, encourage, and even compel us to consume so many of those goods and services' (p. 2). His central thesis is that contemporary management firmly sets its eyes not on the toiling and only intermittently recalcitrant worker, but on the fantasizing consumer. What management does is to furnish, in a highly rationalized manner, an endless stream of consumable fantasies inviting consumers to pick and choose, thus creating the possibility of re-enchanting a disenchanted world through mass festivals in the new cathedrals of consumption. Ritzer offers prodigious illustrations of the ways in which consumption is constantly promoted, enhanced and controlled in these new settings, not so much through direct advertising, as through indirect means, such as spatial arrangements, uses of language, festivals, simulations and extravaganzas, as well as the cross-fertilization ('implosion') of products and images. Above all, consumption gradually colonizes every public and private domain of social life, which become saturated with fantasizing, spending and discarding opportunities. Thus, along with other public spaces, schools, universities and hospitals, spearheaded by business schools, are converted into terrains of consumption, which treat their constituents as customers, offering them a profusion of merchandise, images, ideas and signs that indulge their fantasies and caprices.

In MBAs, the spirit of consumerism reigns supreme. The student is a customer and there is scarcely any pretence to the contrary (Sturdy and Gabriel 2000). Many of the theories to which s/he is exposed extol customer service, quality and consumer sovereignty (Du Gay and Salaman 1992; Knights and Morgan 1993; Gabriel and Lang 1995; Sturdy 1998), and s/he expects nothing less from those that deliver the service purchased. Thus, consumerism has forged a holy alliance of the manager and the consumer, an alliance that is now dominating culture, economy and politics, forged at the expense of the worker or employee. The manager has emerged as a cultural archetype in an age when the work ethic has been dislodged by a consumer ethic as the basis of each individual's moral and social outlook (Grey 1999). If Henry Ford was the manager who epitomized mass production, Walt Disney has posthumously become the emblematic figure of our time -- the manager re-defined from agent of control to orchestrator of mass fantasies. The manager is lionized as indeed is the consumer. An 'enterprise culture', dynamic, self-confident, attractive and mostly spurious, has become a dominant feature of our cultural landscapes.

Thus, the cult of the consumer has now become a major feature of the ideological and political order of the business enterprise, legitimating, justifying and supporting a wide range of management practices that would be regarded as intolerable had it not been for the belief that the customer is sovereign (Du Gay and Salaman 1992; Sturdy 1998; Gabriel 1999; Long 1999). Consumption has become an ever more important sphere of human existence, one in which meanings and identities are forged and communicated, in which fantasies and desires are acted out, and in which group allegiances and antagonisms are fashioned. As Bauman (1988, 1992, 1998) has forcibly argued, in postmodernity, a consumer ethic dislodges the work ethic of past times, acting as the organizing principle for individual perceptions of self and other, restoring pleasure as the key objective of action and casting the freedom of the capitalist marketplace as the absolute guarantee of individual freedom, fulfilment and autonomy.

If organizational theories can be seen essentially through the prism of consumption, it may be that they too find applications in practice in ways not unlike those of other commodities. Consumers, ranging from students and participants in management-training workshops to readers of management manuals, conference participants and viewers of training videos, to academics, researchers and teachers who casually glance at each other's published work or listen to each other's presentations, they all appropriate and make use of theories in their day-to-day practice. They make use of them in a myriad of different ways, yet in ways which, in essence, are similar to the uses they make of other commodities, such as motor cars, blue-jeans, books and television shows. The use of the concept of consumption to describe the dissemination and utilization of organizational theories does not contradict the view of scholars constituting communities of practice (Brown and Duguid 1991; Lave and Wenger 1991; Gherardi et al. 1998), since consumers too can be thought of as communities of practice, in as much as they share the same tastes, lifestyles and aesthetics (Bourdieu 1984; Gabriel and Lang 1995). In this sense, communities of practice are not dissimilar 'imagined communities' (Anderson 1983; Hobsbawm 1983) or what Maffesoli (1995) describes as neo-tribes, using broadly similar theories, attributing broadly similar meanings to them, sharing totemic loves and hates and broadly recognizing themselves as communities.

Numerous theorists of contemporary consumption have taken an interest precisely in the ways consumers make use of the objects and services they buy or reject (de Certeau 1984; McCracken 1988; Campbell 1989; Fiske 1989; Bauman 1992; MacClancy 1992; Pandya and Venkatesh 1992; Hermann 1993; Abercrombie 1994; Gabriel and Lang 1995; Du Gay 1996; Bauman 1998; Dobscha 1998; Sturdy 1998). One of the most significant contributions made in this area lies in the argument that consumers do not generally respond to commodities like Pavlov's dogs, passively salivating after them, wanting them and getting them. Instead, they often explore, experiment, day-dream, critique, toy with them in their minds, and, when they acquire them, they tend to recreate them actively, customize them, adapt them to their needs and incorporate them in their repertoire of actions. They frequently use the things and services that they buy in unorthodox ways; in ways that are very different from those imagined by the providers, marketers and selle rs -- in short, they turn commodities into raw materials for a kind of creative bricolage.

Bricolage -- an everyday French term describing the activity of the handyman or woman who makes do with whatever materials and tools are at hand to accomplish a task -- was used by Levi-Strauss (1966) to contrast the analytic methodology of Western science with what he called the 'science of the concrete' of pre-literate societies. Mythical thought, he argued, is a form of 'intellectual bricolage' (Levi-Strauss 1966: 21). While at pains to emphasize that there is no superiority or primacy of the one over the other (thus, neolithic people, he argues, made remarkable scientific breakthroughs), Levi-Strauss insisted that they represent radically different forms of thinking.

'The "bricoleur" is adept at performing a large number of diverse tasks; but, unlike the engineer, he does not subordinate each of them to the availability of raw materials and tools conceived and procured for the purpose of the project. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with "whatever is at hand", that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous, because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions of destructions.' (Levi-Strauss 1966: 17)

A fundamental feature of bricolage is that it does not worry about 'proper' and 'improper' uses of objects. It makes do with whatever is available, whether perfect or imperfect, cheap or expensive, simple or elaborate. It is no respecter of conventional definitions of value -- under certain circumstances a discarded soup tin may be more valuable than a diamond. An expensive piece of furniture and a rotting log may double up as a stool, under different circumstances, and perform the task equally effectively. Thus, bricolage is opportunistic, ad hoc, devious, creative and original, constantly re-defining tools into materials and materials into tools, while, at the same time, re-defining the task at hand in the light of the meanings attributed to the available resources. As a form of work, Levi-Strauss argues that the preferred materials of bricolage are not concepts (the materials of scientific theories), but signs (p.20ff) -- the bricoleur has the privilege over the scientist of being able to define a block of wood alternately as material, support, extension, chopping board, hammer, and so forth -- each potential use representing a distinct signification. In this sense, the bricoleur 'interrogates all the heterogeneous objects of which his treasury is composed to discover what each of them could "signify" and so contribute to the definition of a set which has yet to materialize, but which will ultimately differ from the instrumental set only in the internal disposition of parts.' (Levi-Strauss 1966: 18)

Bricolage has become a fairly popular term in organizational theory, capturing the makeshift, improvisatory and creative qualities of cultural life in organizations (Grafton-Small and Linstead 1989; Linstead and Grafton-Small 1990b; Linstead and Grafton-Small 1992). Weick (1993) has used bricolage as the basis for a radical new understanding of organizational redesign; Rynes and Trank (1999) have used it to describe the activities of creative teaching; while Knorr Cetina (1981) has used the related term of 'tinkering' to capture the opportunism inherent in much research activity. In all of these instances, bricolage has become a way of describing modes of use rather than thought. It has also lost its initial juxtaposition to its original opposite, scientific methodology and thought. In fact, this latter is frequently shown to possess the same opportunistic, ad hoc, improvisatory qualities that are the essence of bricolage. However, in spite of this ever-widening range of applications, it is in consumer studie s that the concept of bricolage has come into its own, opening up great possibilities for understanding the relationship between commodities and consumers.

Thus, De Certeau (1984) views consumption (whether the consumption of ideas and theories or the consumption of clothing brands) as an area of fragmentation, instability and heterogeneity in sharp contrast to production, which he views as managed, planned and controlled. In this, he pre-figures Ritzer's view that management seeks to enchant the world by carefully controlled and planned routines. While the producer may control the spaces and circumstances where enchantment takes place, the nature of the enchantment experience itself entails unpredictability and instability. Consumption is tactical, opportunistic and ad hoc, whereas production is strategic, planned and rational:

'In reality, a rationalized, expansionist, centralist, spectacular and clamorous production is confronted by an entirely different kind of production, called "consumption" and characterized by its ruses, its fragmentation ... its poaching, its clandestine nature, its tireless but quiet activity, in short, its quasi-invisibility, since it shows itself not in its own products ... but in an art of using products imposed on it.' (1984: 31)

Consumption then is viewed as a process of bricolage, characterized by improvization, tinkering and makeshift in contrast to rational procedures and plans of production. From this perspective, commodities offer consumers something akin to "recipe books" on which they draw to make their own dishes. Consumers are active, but can also be critically resistant. They do not passively follow the recipe books but select some of the recipes, discard others and combine yet others. They adapt the recipes to local conditions; they creatively introduce new ingredients in the dishes they prepare; and they substitute recipe ingredients for acceptable of desirable alternatives. At times, they lose faith in a particular recipe or in an entire recipe book, and get rid of it. In all these instances, consumers adapt objects to highly specific, often ad hoc uses, devising unique combinations and variations. If organizational theories are approached in this manner, as consumer goods whose uses are often eclectic and detached from those envisaged by their producers and merchandisers, would it not be possible to argue that managers, as well as other users, use them in roughly similar ways to those in which sophisticated cooks may use recipe books?

Thus, different consumers make different uses of theories, and, in particular, organizational theories. A student may use a theory to fashion an essay which ensures success in his course; a researcher may use another theory to develop a questionnaire or a plan for field research; an academic may use it as a stalking horse against which her own theory can be pitched. A consultant may use it to impress a client. A client may use it to impress her superiors or to dazzle her peers. In all these instances, a theory may be used in a way which bears the hallmark of the user's appropriation. For academics, I would venture to suggest that the three commonest uses to which theories are put are critique, source of authority and source of ideas. Given the time pressures under which most academics work, it is likely that many spend more time writing than reading -- hence, they 'use' theories not in 'reading' them, reproducing or criticising them, but rather in cutting and trimming them to fit selective parts into their wr iting practices. Managers, too, may, and often do, use theories in ways particular to their own preoccupations, but, in a similar manner, they incorporate them into their own creative bricolage, using them to achieve diverse ends in more or less effective ways.

There may be those who do not view managers as the agents of 'rationalized, expansionist, centralist, spectacular and clamorous production', because their thinking is essentially strategic, and hence ill-suited to clandestine, opportunistic tactics of consumption. There may also be objections to De Certeau's strictures being taken as applying to the underdog, rather than the top dog, the position of management. De Certeau maintains, after all, that consumers use creative tactics to evade the power of business and capital, to reclaim spaces, discourses and meanings from management. For the past hundred years or more, management (and not only in the catering industry) has been seen as desperately trying to 'stop cooks from messing up the recipes' -- whether 'cooks' are recalcitrant workers, temperamental employees or unpredictable customers.

Yet, I would contend that what may be true of management is not necessarily true of managers. Managers may harbour the illusion of being in control, but such control is, at best, precarious, fragile and iconic. Organizations have unmanaged spaces which managers themselves help to create and maintain (de Certeau 1984; Watson 1994; Gabriel 1995; Gabriel and Lang 1995). Within these unmanaged spaces, the practices of every-day life are tactical, not strategic. As de Certeau (1984: 35-37) recognizes, 'strategy is the calculation of power relationships that becomes possible as soon as a subject with a will to power (an army, a business, etc.) can be isolated. It postulates a place from which targets and threats can be managed.' By contrast, a tactic is 'a calculated action determined by the absence of proper locus. ... It is a manoeuvre "within the enemy's field of vision", as von Bulow put it, "and within enemy territory". It does not, therefore, have the options of planning general strategy and viewing the adver sary as a whole within a distinct, visible, and objectifiable space. It operates in the form of isolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of "opportunities" and depends on them, being without any base to stockpile its winnings, to build up its own position, and to plan raids. What it wins it cannot keep. ... It must vigilantly make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of proprietary powers. It poaches in them. It creates surprises in them. It can be where it is least expected. It is a guileful ruse. In short, a tactic is an art of the weak. (de Certeau 1984: 37)

Our argument, then, is that the uses to which organizational theory is put by managers, academics and others is essentially tactical rather than strategic. This use of organizational theories by managers is consistent with views that see contemporary management itself as being subject to flexibility, short-termism and opportunism (Maccoby 1976; Sennett 1998) as well as those who systematically seek to demolish the myth of strategic planning in times of complexity and chaos (Cohen et al. 1972; MacIntyre 1981; Stacey 1992; Thomas 1993; Watson 1994; Stacey 1996; Gabriel 1998). Managers use theories in a short-term, opportunistic, flexible way, just as they use other resources in the organization, including each other. Displaying loyalty or uncritical faith in any one theory makes one a hostage to fate, just as one would by putting blind commitment in a single organization, recipe or recipe book. Using organizational theory tactically means being selective, eclectic and flexible in one's uses of recipe books from which to draw ideas for creative bricolage. At times, managers may use recipes as they find them in the book, but more often they modify, adapt, combine, simplify or disregard them. They often display their recipe books as a means of earning themselves status and prestige, not unlike the kitchens of middle-class homes, that bulge with alluringly illustrated cookery books. At other times, they may simply enjoy leafing through the recipes, relishing the pictures and fantasizing about tastes. Occasionally, a recipe will come in handy, when bereft of ideas and faced with an unexpected problem, such as having to cook for a formal visitor. Very frequently, the mere existence of the book will act as adequate support and comfort, even though it is hardly ever consulted -- it is a placebo effect which, far from representing deception, has a valid and openly acknowledged therapeutic use. In different circumstances, if one is suddenly presented with a large and unexpected quantity of ripe blueberries or unripe tomatoes , the book may prove useful in offering tips on how to use them. All in all then, organizational theory may be put to a myriad of uses in the hands of different practitioners, as objects of improvisation and experimentation, few of which were ever dreamed of by their disseminators or inventors. Throughout this argument, I refuse to acknowledge a difference between good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate uses of theories. To be sure, as Watson has eloquently argued, some users make very superficial use of an idea 'Motivation: that's Maslow, isn't it?'. Such users may be said to be as inept bricoleurs as theoreticians, though the simple link between Maslow and motivation may be the perfect key for answering a question in a multiple-choice test.

To the question of whether organizational theories are made use of, the answer is 'Of course they are, in exactly the same way as commodities, religious ideas, and recipe books'. They lend themselves to as many different types of action and justification as there are limits to the ingenuity of users. Users incorporate endless and often idiosyncratic variations of organizational theories in their actions. Organizational theories can be instruments of praxis through which a hero confronts his or her predicament and achieves glory or doom; equally, they can be poetic material which a craftsman fashions in order to generate something uniquely novel and personal. In this sense, even fantastic, simplistic, naive, mystical and self-contradictory theories can function perfectly well as recipes.

In concluding I would like to reflect on the nature of recipe books as prototypes of the ways in which consumers relate to commodities, including theories of organizations. A recipe book appears to be highly precise, well planned and rationally arranged. unless rabbit is lumped with farmed animals and hare with game, all recipes for rabbit will be conveniently grouped together in close proximity to recipes for hare. The ingredients are clearly stipulated and the quantities are fixed. Above all, recipe books appear to be programmatic -- sets of instructions to be faithfully executed, in a precise sequence, exactly as digital computers execute long algorithms of logically inter-connected instructions. One may rightly imagine that one only needs to follow a recipe to produce the culinary masterpieces of its frequently illustrious author. If you use the recipe book faithfully, the temptation is to believe that success is inevitable. Yet modest familiarity with recipe books indicates this to be far from the case. 'Feather, bone and clean a brace of pheasants' is the type of instruction which, if taken in a programmatic sense, will leave amateur cooks perplexed, angry and covered in feathers. One can imagine the organizational theory equivalent -- 'Identify the core competences of your organization, and eliminate all else, the feathers, the bones and the guts'. Yet, consumers know well that the programmatic quality of the recipe book is there to be subverted, abused, dismissed or modified. Instead of a programme, sophisticated consumers see in a recipe a set of ideas which may stimulate them into certain actions. Just as in commedia del' arte, the audience know the basic plot, but are waiting to see how the actors will improvise around it. In much the same way, the recipes in a recipe book invite improvisation and elaboration rather than copying and imitation. Instead of programmes, they provide recipes or 'flexible routines', which I prefer to call 'paragrammes' -- basic stocks of ideas, routines, images and ingredien ts which may be selectively trawled, lifted and adapted to the situation at hand. Paragrammes can also be said to underlie the skill of the jazz musician and the storyteller, both of whom seek to discover new and original ways of recreating something established.

Paragramme is a neologism condensing programme and paradigm into a new concept which entails something written down ('gramme') but not used as written ('para' as in paraphrase, parody and paradox). It is not an exemplar, a model or a set of instructions, but a set of ideas which acts as a prompt and guide for action. In this way, its closeness to 'pragmatic' is serendipitous. ('Paragrammatic' has a totally different etymology from 'pragmatic' which belongs to the cluster of words that share a root with 'praxis' and 'practice'.) Programmes, as epitomized by computer software, are digital arrangements. In other words, they are grids of slots that may be full or empty, whose relations are determined by certain rules of operation, whereby certain patterns in some grid areas affect patterns in other areas, in a highly orderly manner. Slots can either be full or empty, occupied or vacant, electrically charged or not. In short, they must be reducible to immense sequences of zeros and ones. Paragrammes, on the other hand, are profoundly undigital, involving no distinctions of right and wrong, black and white, and so forth. They have a wealth of rules-of-thumb, where quality may not be reduced to quantity, where 'a little bit more' of this or a 'little bit less' of that can make all the difference, yet without anybody being able to specify how much this 'little bit' is. Their complexity is of a non-algorithmic type, stubbornly refusing to be tamed within clearly specified sequences of zeros and ones.

The argument here is that organizational theory is used by its consumers as a set of paragrammes addressing organizations, management, innovation, leadership, etc. Occasionally, a user may be inspired, seduced or deceived sufficiently by one such paragramme to seek in it the solution to current problems and difficulties, although I suspect that even the most impressionable consumers will not seek directly to apply in their actions the theories to which they were exposed in books, journals or business programmes. Instead, they will seek to try out some of these ideas after suitable modification, combination, critique, ridicule, experiment and to ignore others, in short, to appropriate them tactically. Many users (academic users too) treat organizational theory or theories as paragrammes rather than paradigms.

Is it legitimate to group together as paragrammes different forms of organizational theorizing? Clearly some of the more practical accounts, such as The One Minute Manager (Blanchard 2000) or How to Make Millions With Your Ideas : An Entrepreneur's Guide (Kennedy 1996) lend themselves readily to such treatment. It may be countered that theoretical statements, such as Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis (Burrell and Morgan 1979), belong to a different type of discourse, the uses of which are quite distinct from those of populist literature. Yet, I would argue that under the influence of consumerism, academic consumers of books, researchers, teachers, writers and theorists, display opportunistic, short-term, flexible, idiosyncratic, experimental and unorthodox proclivities similar to those displayed by practitioners. They too are engaged in bricolage, albeit of a different genre from that practised by managers (Knorr Cetina 1981; Linstead and Grafton-Small 1990a). Bricolage is no respecter of dis tinctions between high and low, appropriate and inappropriate; its criteria are essentially pragmatic -- if 'Burrell and Morgan' can be used to lend support to an idea, to act as suitable target for criticism or to be framed as precursors of some discursive trend, they serve their purpose every bit as well as 'Aristotle', 'Levi-Strauss', 'Peters and Waterman' or the latest guru and popularizer. Most hard-pressed academics, like bricoleurs working under tight deadlines and publication pressures, will use any resources readily available to them, stretching them to fit the job at hand, irrespective of whether they are perfect for the occasion or not. Bricolage is the enemy of perfectionism or optimization, in every way, and the champion of 'good enough' pragmatism. Good and bad theories can become useful, once framed in a suitable way, just as 'beautiful' and 'grotesque' objects can become features of aesthetic display, once suitably crafted.

Paragrammatic users of theories, ideas or concepts do not merely re-define them in novel ways -- they are also apt to 'lift' them out of different contexts and discourses, with little concern for their original articulations and qualities -- as Mary Klages (1997) argues:

'Bricolage doesn't worry about the coherence of the words or ideas it uses. For example, you are a bricoleur if you talk about penis envy or the oedipus complex and you don't know anything about psychoanalysis; you use the terms without having to acknowledge that the whole system of thought that produced these terms and ideas, i.e. Freudian psychoanalysis, is valid and "true". In fact, you don't care if psychoanalysis is true or not (since, at heart, you don't really believe in "truth" as an absolute, but only as something that emerges from a coherent system, as a kind of illusion) as long as the terms and ideas are useful to you.'

In this way, most contemporary theoreticians, no less than consultants, teachers and practicing managers are engaged in creative bricolage, using theories, concepts and ideas paragrammatically -- the very concept of bricolage is used paragrammatically, in discourses which feel neither obliged to accept nor even to acknowledge Levi-Strauss's key distinction between mythical and scientific thought, on which it was originally founded.

What then is the relationship between bricolage and paragramme? I would suggest that bricolage represents a particular type of activity or practice, whereas paragramme refers to the modus operandi of the bricoleur in relation to the materials, tools and knowledge at his/ her disposal. Thus the bricoleur does not use resources paradigmatically (as examples forming the basis for generalizations) or programmatically (as detailed plans for action), but paragrammatically, in a flexible and opportunistic way. Materials, tools and knowledge are continuously defined through the task at hand, thereby, at the same time, helping to define this task. Using a mathematical analogy, if paradigms are examples of how problems may be solved and programmes are detailed sets of instructions on how to solve problems, paragrammes are solutions, free-floating and looking for problems on which to attach themselves.

One of the benefits of looking at theories of organization, high and low, popular and sophisticated, abstract and applied, partial and total, as paragrammes for action concems management learning and pedagogy. As a teacher, one is often asked the unsettling question of what one should teach management students who come from very different cultures, with different traditions and different organizations from the ones on which most theories are based. For many years, I found this question quite awkward. The concept of paragramme, however, enables us to explain rather convincingly the value of the ideas, theories and concepts to which students are introduced. Theories are not programmes of action or solutions to problems, but may become such through creative improvization and bricolage. They represent a stock of potential solutions to future problems and a source of confidence once used in a free and flexible manner. The analogy of cooking strengthens the argument. Teaching French cuisine to Mexican or Chinese st udents may seem pointless or perverse, since the ingredients, tools and even tastes in their own cultures are quite different. Yet, the bricoleur cook, using recipes as paragrammes, can discover no end of creative possibilities, by modifying and adapting ingredients, engaging in creative substitution, and translating ideas from one context to another.

As I have argued elsewhere (Gabriel 1998), the image of practitioners using theories to tame irregularity and achieve control is severely at odds with the precarious qualities of life in contemporary organizations. Those managers who suffer from the delusion that the answer to their prayers lies in the latest guru's wisdom or the latest buzz-word out of business schools are rapidly disabused of such notions. Some of them may be tempted to embrace new fads and new gods to replace yesterday's fallen idols, but the sensible ones learn that organizational theories are not to be used as scientific absolutes, but more as provisional and contingent rules-of-thumb, at times offering clever short-cuts, at times offering temporary solutions to problems and at times generating results which run contrary to expectations. The practical intelligence (akin to Aristotle's 1983 phronesis) lies not in the recipe or the rule-of-thumb itself, but in the ability to identify when and how to invoke them. The same applies to proverb s; while commonly regarded as a distillation of popular wisdom, they defy the rationality of the scientific thinker by frequently contradicting themselves. Yet, true practical wisdom lies in a user's ability to invoke the appropriate one in different circumstances, rather than in the proverb itself. Proverbs and maxims may sometimes appear weak and ineffectual when contrasted to the gleaming towers of science. Yet, when confronted with the unpredictable and transitory qualities of human affairs, as MacIntyre (1981: 105) has argued: 'we should not be surprised or disappointed that the generalizations and maxims of the best social science share certain characteristics of their predecessors -- the proverbs of folk societies, the generalizations of jurists, the maxims of Machiavelli'. The same can be said to apply to the famous Chinese War Manual by Sun Tzu (1963: 100), which includes numerous mutually contradictory maxims. The wise general is one who knows under what conditions to use specific instructions and d oes not seek to repeat a 'winning formula': 'when I have won a victory I do not repeat my tactics, but respond to circumstance in an infinite variety of ways'.

At the cost of appearing to proffer a programmatic rather than a paragrammatic account myself, I shall conclude by identifying some common features of paragrammatic uses of organizational theories by different practitioners. As I have already indicated, paragrammatic users improvise, and, in so doing, they continuously seek to adapt the general to the particular, by diagnosing situations where particular theories or ideas may yield productive results. In doing so, they constantly observe, compare and adjust the consequences of their actions, rather than adhere to any specific plan. Second, paragrammatic users combine, not merely different elements from different theories, but also theories with other discursive devices, including platitudes, labels, acronyms, and any kind of idea that is deemed promising by their reading of the situation. They constantly look for combinations that are infinitely superior to the sum of their parts and appreciate the power of synergy.

Third, in combining such ingredients, paragrammatic users are careful about details. A single detail, if overlooked, may irreparably damage a combination (just as a single infected ingredient may contaminate the entire combination). At the same time, in combining ingredients or ideas, paragrammatic users constantly make use of creative substitution, where specific ingredients may be replaced by others to generate marginal improvements.

Fourth, paragrammatic users pay great attention to timing. A winning recipe can easily be ruined by a single lapse in timing, for instance in the introduction of a particular innovation or ingredient. Paragrammatic users recognise the necessity of feverish action at certain times, and patient inactivity at others. Like sensible cooks who resist the temptation to keep opening the oven in order to check the state of their souffle, paragrammatic users resist the temptation of constant interference which undermines an unfolding process.

Fifth, paragrammatic users draw a distinction between winning recipes which may be relied upon to produce consistent results, and recipes which call for creative experimentation and improvement. They apply the former with consistency while seeking to experiment with the latter. While looking for short-cuts in certain situations, they will lavish time and resources in others. In a paradoxical way, paragrammatic users combine a deep conservatism with an obsession for innovation and experimentation.

Sixth, paragrammatic users avoid waste; they preserve ideas, recipes and materials for future uses or as potential substitutes of those in actual use. They try to recycle and retrieve. They insist on treating waste and junk as a potential resource. At the same time, they recognize non-recoverable situations and are prepared to cut their losses.

Seventh, paragrammatic users rummage for resources, ideas and materials, without any specific task in mind, but in the belief that these may sometime come in handy. They rarely complain about shortage of resources, since they continuously redefine the task at hand to fit the resources available and they define the resources to meet the task.

Eighth, paragrammatic users engage in multi-tasking, in that they are able to pursue several objectives at once. Time itself becomes a malleable resource and interruptions are used to advantage. Instead of waiting in frustration for a missing ingredient, paragrammatic users will readily swap tasks, taking advantage of existing opportunities.

Finally, paragrammatic users do not become obsessed with perfection, but look for good enough practical solutions. While capable of great originality, creativity and innovation, they maintain a practical interest to the end and do not pursue dream-like chimeras. They are pragmatic rather than dogmatic, constantly concerned with results rather that with the ideas per se.

If we accept the main argument of this paper, that organizational theories are mostly paragrammes rather than programmes of action, it follows that their quality is viewed differently from the perspective of different users. A theory that strikes a researcher as naive or untenable may be stimulating and imaginative to a manager, handy to a team-leader, amusing to a lecturer, status reinforcing to a trainee and comforting to a student before an examination. Each will find distinct ways of incorporating such a theory into their practice; other organizational theories may be used in different ways, there being no one appropriate or standard way for doing so. The fact that different organizational theories are despised with passion by some, espoused with verve by others, while remaining stubbornly ignored by yet others, indicates that, like so many things in our time, they too have been drawn into the whirlpools of fashion. The same with this essay -- it can only become useful or even actionable, if it is appreci ated as a paragramme in its own right.


* An early version of this paper was presented to Sub-theme 1 of the 16th EGOS Colloquium, Helsinki, 2-4 July 2000.


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Yiannis Gabriel

Yiannis Gabriel is Professor of Organization Theory at Imperial College, London. He studied engineering and industrial sociology before obtaining a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. His recent publications include: Organizations in Depth (Sage, 1999), Storytelling in Organizations (O.U.P., 2000) and Organizing and Organizations, co-authored with Sims and Fineman (Sage, 2000). He has written numerous articles which bring together his research interests in labour process theory, consumer studies, management pedagogy, psychoanalytic theory and organizational studies. He is especially interested in storytelling and its uses in studying organizations. He was editor of Management Learning and is currently Associate Editor of Human Relations.

Mailing Address: School of Management, Imperial College, 53 Prince's Gate, London SW7 3PG, United Kingdom.

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