Monthly Archives: February 2011

What I Don’t Like About Theory Writing I

Inspired in part by the idea of an on-going series at org theory.net, (grad skol rulz), and my own desire to blog more frequently, I would like to launch a semi-recurring series of what I don’t like in theory writing.

I am reviewing conference submissions for a conference, and I have come across an example of the kind of figure or image I don’t like.

The Curse of the Everything-Is-Connected Figure.

This type of figure is usually used in a conceptual article.  And, to make matters worse, it is usually in the kind of article I am quite sympathetic to.  The author wants to get past static or overly-reified depictions of organizations.  They talk about the need for multi-level analyses which means looking at process, and, more often than not, mixed types of data.  They probably cite Gareth Morgan’s Image sof organizaions of book, or Mar Jo Hatch’s Organization Theory or Joel Baum (and others?) use of the metaphor of a fish scale to discuss org studies as a multiscience.

But, when you look at the figure, you realize that it explains everything and hence nothing.

Full disclosure: I am probably guilty of this kind of figure and when I find one, I will poke fun at myself too.  Here is mock-up I made of the type of figure.

Mock-up of the Everything-Is-Connected Figure. Are You Guilty of Producing One?

One problem with these is that they don’t specify what is moving between cells/circles/whatever-other-shape-tickled-one’s-fancy-in-insert-shape-in-MS word..

A second problem is they don’t deal with time.  Does sequencing matter?  How do changes agglutinate or accumulate?

So, throwing caution to the wind, have you seen one of these in published work?  Do they drive you a little nuts too?

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Filed under higher education, humor, organization studies, organization theory, Orgs Stuff (theory, science, studies), Research, social theory, sociology, Uncategorized, visualization

Primordial Ooze of Civil Society?

I always liked the phrase “primordial ooze.”  It is fun to say and the ten year old in me sees a bubbling, steaming goo that seems to defy order and good manners.  I also like it because it captures the idea of how the new emerges from the old, how complexity emerges from sets of interactions that are not supposed to add up to the emergent.

Two items from today made me wonder if we are looking at the primordial ooze of civil society.  Let me say here that by civil society I am not entering into some long-standing debate about what is or isn’t civil society.  I am looking for a term that covers the idea of collective or coordinated action of varying degrees of formality that is centered on common ground of like-minded actors.  Also, this common ground must unite people around some sense of a common good or higher purpose.  In short, human organizing motivated by “ruled” by practices that are not of formal state power nor purely economic rationality.  I am not sure if that holds up, but I’ll leave it there for now.

So, item #1.  Egypt, of course.  Like countless others, I am fascinated, hopeful, fearful, and awe struck by the events unfolding first in Tunisia and now more spectacularly in Egypt.  Through the media I have followed (Democracy Now, KCRW’s To The Point, NY time, Huffingtonpost, BBC, Guardian), there are several elements at work.  In no particular order.

* Youthful, technology-enabled activists.

* The Muslim Brotherhood

* Dissident elites (like El Baradei)

* Neighborhood watch patrols

Some of these groups seem loosely organized or rapidly scaling up and out as they absorb the tens or hundreds of thousands of newly mobilized citizens.  I imagine new organizing, new durable networks of trust and cooperation, and new alliances among the other two are a major part of the fluidity and flux.  This (to me) palpable sense of what could be captures the imagery of the primordial ooze of civil society.

Item #2: The Really Free School.  A random facebook message put me on to this (originating in theory.org.uk, home of theory trading cards).  I have not been able to explore it much, but what struck me is the basic ethos: let’s use a common space, the (Shirky-ean) low cost of coordinating, the ability of people to self-organize, and the cultural scripts of sharing knowledge and delighting in serious play.  Though not as fluid or important as Egypt, it also seems to me to get at the origins,at the primordial ooze,  of civil society in its simplicity and open-endedness.

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Filed under activism, Creativity, Hacker ethic, Information and Communication Technology, Networks, participatory technology, Protest, social innovation, sociology, technology