Stellenbosch University, ZAF
Bernard Lategan is the Founding Director of STIAS (the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study). After studying classical languages, linguistics and literary theory, he specialized in hermeneutics and its application in theology, law, historiography, value studies, diversity and social transformation. He taught at the Universities of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Göttingen and Hamburg. He was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch and served as member of the University Council. In 2009 he was awarded a honorary DPhil by Stellenbosch University. During South Africa’s transition to an inclusive democracy, he worked as consultant in the gold mining industry and other major companies developing common values in the workplace. His work appeared in national and international journals and a collection of essays was published as Hemeneutics and Social Transformation in 2015.
Continuing the conversation between organization theory and hermeneutics
Volume: 22, Issue 1
The article aims at expanding the conversation between organization theory and philosophy in the context of complexity studies. The focus is on a new study by Christiaan Maasdorp on the significance of Paul Ricoeur's concept of a narrative identity for Robert Weick's understanding of organization. To provide a background for Maasdorp's interpretation and critique of Weick, the introduction briefly discusses three recent contributions to the debate: Barret, Powley, and Pearce (2011) on the relevance of hermeneutical philosophy for organizational theory, Langenberg and Hesseling (2016) on the philosophical dimensions of Weick's theory and Sparrowe (2005) on the implications of Ricoeur's concept of the narrative self for authentic leadership. The second section analyses Maasdorp's interpretation of Weick's notion of sensemaking, which represents an important advance in organization theory. Weick's seminal move to approach the organization as activity and not as structure, enables him to develop sensemaking as a dynamic concept. The various elements driving the process reflect the same dynamism. Identity construction plays a core role in this regard and highlights the changing nature of how the organization sees and presents itself. Although Weick does recognize the value of stories for identity construction, he does not integrate this in his theoretical framework. This perceived epistemological dissonance is the focus of Maasdorp's critique of Weick which is discussed in the third section. Maasdorp's main criticism is that Weick's theory is not internally consistent and that it lacks the theoretical resources to properly study organizational phenomena. He relies too heavily on social psychology and too little on philosophical hermeneutics. Weick consequently remains trapped in a positivistic framework. As a more suitable alternative, Maasdorp presents Ricoeur's concept of a narrative identity which has the ability to approach the organization itself as narrative (not merely relying on stories about the organization). Through the "circle of mimesis" it becomes possible to provide a more adequate theoretical account of all the dynamic dimensions of the sensemaking process. Maasdorp presents a compelling argument and highlights the value of the concept of a narrative identity. However, he overlooks the potential contribution of Ricoeur's insights for another aspect of organization theory, namely to understand how organizations can be changed and revitalized. The final section briefly discusses the implications for organizational change.