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Organizational space/time: From imperfect panoptical to heterotopian understanding

Cairns, George and McInnes, Peter and Roberts, Phil (2003) Organizational space/time: From imperfect panoptical to heterotopian understanding. Ephemera: Critical Dialogues on Organization, 3 (2). pp. 126-138. ISSN 1473-2866

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Within the managerial arena the last century can be characterised, or perhaps caricatured, as being concerned with the pursuit of control and efficiency. In this pursuit time and space were treated a priori categories that have been commodified, rationalised and considered deterministically. The last two decades have, however, seen an increasing emphasis on the role of the intangible intellectual, emotional and attitudinal properties of organizations. While organization studies, and theory building, shifted in favour of these intangible factors, mainstream authors, together with many in the managerial community, continue to ignore these studies except where they contribute to establishing further control. Consequently many have critiqued contemporary management practice as exercising total, panoptic control over the time/space of employees. While accepting the rhetorical strength of these studies, we argue that control is necessarily imperfect, as disorder remains immanent in the construction of order and is subject to its own process of becoming. However, the suggested 'imperfect panopticon' itself falsly dichotomizes important aspects of the spatial/temporal experience in placing control against freedom, good against bad. In contrast the conceptualisation of space and time developed in this paper suggests these categories should be understood theoretically as complex and post-rational. We seek to inform an emergent heterotopian theory/practice that embraces complexity and ambiguity, proposing a new perspective that we believe is significant for innovation, knowledge and power.