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Pragmatism : a lived and living philosophy. What can it offer to contemporary organization theory?

Elkjaer, Bente and Simpson, Barbara (2011) Pragmatism : a lived and living philosophy. What can it offer to contemporary organization theory? In: Research in the sociology of organizations. Elsevier, Bingley, UK, pp. 55-84. ISBN 978-0-85724-595-3

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Abstract

In the past, critics have dismissed American Pragmatism as intellectually naïve and philosophically passé, but in this chapter we argue that it still has much to offer the field of organization studies. Pragmatism is especially relevant to those organizational scholars who are concerned with understanding the dynamic processes and practices of organizational life. The chapter lays out the historical development of Pragmatism, recognizing the originating contributions of Peirce, James, Dewey and Mead. Although each of these writers developed unique philosophical positions, their ideas are all permeated by four key themes: experience, inquiry, habit and transaction. The interplay between these themes informs a temporal view of social practice in which selves and situations are continuously constructed and re-constructed through experimental and reflexive processes of social engagement. We then use organizational learning theory as an example to illustrate the relevance of these four themes, contrasting the anti-dualistic stance of Pragmatism with the work of Argyris and Schön. Finally we turn to consider Weick’s organizing and sensemaking, suggesting that Pragmatism offers three potential foci for further development of these theories, namely: continuity of past and future in the present; the transactional nature of social agency; and reflexivity in social practices. Similarly we see potential for Pragmatism to productively inform the theorizing of other organizational practices such as identity work, strategy work, emotion work and idea work.