Before the module, I had conceived of management as the regulation or supervision of resources, such as human labor, natural resources, or money. I had assumed that capitalism, although perhaps not perfect, was a fairly efficient system by which this process occurred. I had agreed with a Marxist critique of capitalism that suggests there is a pool of finite resources up for grabs and the competition for these resources could potentially threaten the system as a whole.
However, as I encountered three concepts throughout the term: reflexivity, creativity, and value, I began to question a fundamental assumption upon which capitalism rests – the finite supply of resources.
Comments from two practitioners, Dr. Greig and Clive Gillman, inspired me to explore a fundamental aspect of the social sciences – the subjective-objective dichotomy. Dr. Greig observed a problem in the way I articulated a class assignment suggesting that a strong theoretical approach might emphasize the objective at the expense of the subjective, in this case, practitioner experience. Clive Gillman offered a critique on our group project noting that any attempt at setting forth an objective framework of value would disintegrate any subjective value the experience might provide.
Although I agreed with both practitioners’ observations, I was troubled by the limitation imposed on the two concepts, the nature of theory and the nature of value. It seemed that the observation made about value or the way I articulated an assignment was made during an instance of time. For example, in the class assignment, although I chose to write a response that was theory heavy, I am not sure I could be characterized as an individual who needs to objectify reality. Perhaps in time my writing suggested that, but over time my writing may be just the opposite.
I would like to share this journey that began with questioning the temporal nature of three social concepts: Reflexivity, Creativity, and Value. I would then like to articulate how that led me to question the nature of finitude in our capitalist system.
Characteristics of Reflexivity as a Social Concept and Research Methodology
Reflexivity is used in a number of different ways both as a social concept and to describe research methodology. There are two key characteristics that emerge when describing reflexivity, the subjective-objective dichotomy and the social construction as it happens in a moment of time. I realize that searching for theory is placing an objective emphasis on this process. However, I would like to caveat this brief literature review with the recognition that at this stage of my intellectual development, the theory is helping me to articulate concepts which otherwise I would not have the ability to articulate. It is with that concession that I intend to subjectively explore the below theories.
One example of reflexivity as a social concept is reflexive modernization which describes society’s change as ‘the possibility of a creative self-destruction for an entire epoch: the industrial society’ or the ‘disembedding and reembedding’ of society (Beck et al., 1994).
Methodologically, Bourdieu associates the notion of habitus or the ‘set of embodied dispositions’ with reflexive methodology to allow the researcher to confront how his own perspective has influenced the account (Johnson and Duberley, 2003). Cunliffe (2003) notes that reflexivity makes us question how we ‘capture the complex, interactional and emergent nature of our social experience’ (Cunliffe, 2003).
One argument claims the need explore the social world in a ‘creative’ manner and notes three concepts in support: 1. Bourdieu’s habitus, field, and capital, 2. Schatzki’s field of practices as the ‘total nexus of interconnected human practices’ ‘where practice is shaped by meaning, knowledge, power, social institutions, and ‘timespace’’, and 3. Wenger’s ‘sharing of practitioners stories through communities of practice’ (Higgs et al., 2011). Higgs et al. (2011) also mentions ‘there is no cause-effect relationship between theory and practice’ rather an ‘intense dialogical relationship with each dependent on the other and interpenetrating the other’.
Habermas’ articulates a theory of communicative action whereas there is a ‘‘dual’ concept of society, the internal viewpoint of the ‘lifeworld’ and the external viewpoing of the system’’ and whereas ‘communicative rationality’ is ‘oriented to achieving, sustaining and reviewing consensus – and indeed a consensus that rests on the intersubjective recognition of criticisable validity claims’ (Habermas, 1984).
Time and reflexivity are explicitly explored in an essay of the same name (Antonacopoulou and Tsoukas, 2002):
An engaged (as opposed to detached) observer is one who takes the temporal existence of the world (him/herself included) seriously. Such an observer is not only conscious of the historicity of his/her language, but is also aware of the arrow of time and the essential flux of the world, the crucial role of human agency in shaping that flux …
Further, the article addresses the notion of ‘subjective time’ or time that is experienced by our consciousness (Antonacopoulou and Tsoukas, 2002). In other words, the subjective experience of time without chronology becomes similarly important, if not more important, than an objective chronology of time (Antonacopoulou and Tsoukas, 2002).
We conclude our brief conceptual survey with an interesting note is made that claims most social scientists will have to resolve the tension between a positivist/deterministic paradigm and a interpretivist / human agency paradigm (Prus, 1995). The historical foundations of sociology are ripe with these tensions with Comte and Mill both taking a positivist bend toward the field of sociology whereas the scientific method could help recreate the social sciences out of the physical sciences with its ‘lawlike’ generalizations (Prus, 1995).
As I started to explore such literature, I began to wonder how we might characterize the subjective and objective perspectives as they are influenced in time. In one moment, we might see a snapshot of a sum of social experience, the combination of subjective and objective experience flowing bidirectional, articulating a subjective experience to build an objective social construct and then in reverse, using the subjective experience to question the assumptions of the social construct . How long does this reflexive snapshot of time last?
As we begin to remove a chronology from time, we are left with a problem in characterizing time. We cannot use past, present, and future. Our reflexive time is similar to Dupuy’s time, there is nothing to suggest that the future cannot be experienced in the present (Dupuy and Grinbaum, 2006, Dupuy and Grinbaum, 2005).
To sum up some of the literature we explored, the subjective-objective reflexive process must be explored within a temporal context. But we cannot use chronology when exploring this temporal context. Despite time not needing chronological order, I still wondered if it was possible to develop an idea that grounds the subjective-objective dichotomy in time. I had the thought of infinity as a way to bind the finite. If we could use infinity to bind the temporal aspects of the subjective and objective we might be able to articulate the subjective-objective dichotomy as it moves through time.
The Creative Industries: Existing and Non-Existing Social Constructions
An interesting argument seeks an empirical understanding of how we value the creative industries from the economic perspective. The authors seem to articulate four models by which the creative industries provide value to the economy (Potts et al., 2008). The fourth model sees the Creative Industries as a set of principles drawn from complexity science to remake the economy through a Schumpeterian creative destruction (Potts et al., 2008)
It is interesting to briefly note that some of the principles of complexity science such as nonlinearity and emergence are principles mentioned explicitly in the wider discussion of reflexivity. We acknowledge that the idea of a social system or the idea of multiple, boundary crossing, and changing social systems is extremely problematic, perhaps more so than the authors acknowledge. What I would propose is a definition of a ‘social system’ that takes into account the reflexive nature of social construction and allows for multiple perspectives to co-exist or different boundaries to emerge. Also a social system that is open as opposed to closed.
Perhaps instead of a system, we could use Bourdieu’s conception of the ‘habitus’ (Bourdieu, 1990):
I am talking about dispositions acquired through experience, thus variable from place to place and time to time. This ‘feel for the game’, as we call it, is what enables an infinite number of ‘moves’ to be made, adapted to the infinite number of possible situations which no rule, however, complex, can foresee. And so, I replaced the rules of kinship with matrimonial strategies. Where everyone used to talk of ‘rules’, ‘model’ or ‘structure’, somewhat indiscriminately, and putting themselves in the objectivist position, that of God the Father watching the social actors like puppets controlled by the strings of structure, everyone nowadays talk of matrimonial strategies (which means they put themselves in the place of agents, without however making them into rational calculators). This word, strategies, evidently has to be stripped of its naively teleological connotations: types of behavior can be directed towards certain ends without being consciously directed to these ends, or determined by them. The notion of habitus was invented, if I may say so, in order to account for this paradox.
In any case, what Potts et al. (2008) seems to do is conceptualize the social system, or the social habitus that exists against the infinite amount of potential social systems that may exist in the future. In this Schumpeterian view, the potential social systems, through a process of creative destruction, overtake the current system.
When creativity is introduced to the construction or development of social concepts, the amount of social concepts grows toward infinity as different conceptual re-organizations are created to explain a constant change of social phenomena in slightly different ways. By expanding the potential amount of social constructions, we are able to expand the boundaries of the finite social system or social habitus. The infinite may act as a chalice that articulates the boundary of finitude. As we create methodologies such as reflexivity that push the amount of perspectives toward infinity and as we create social concepts that expand toward infinity through time, we are expanding the boundary of the finite.
Value as an Infinite Social Concept
In our current economy, it seems the methodology we use to obtain value is a snapshot of the social reality. Some argue that the articulation of value is a social construction (Hines, 1989, Hines, 1991). Clive seemed to characterize cultural value as a highly individualized concept that when objectified disintegrates in one’s hands.
Currently, a perspective like Clive’s seems to be growing and helping to re-create our understanding of value. For example, Michael Porter just helped release a new measure of value that takes into account social, cultural, and environmental perspectives (Staff, 2013). However, I am not sure how reflexive this process is when a small group of people put forth an objective ideal.
If we apply the finite-infinite characterization to the subjective-objective dichotomy, we may be able to envision a reflexive understanding of value that changes throughout time. Similarly to the previous section, we can imagine the finite social construct of value as we use the social concept operationally. This is contrasted with the infinite potential social constructs that surround the finite operational understanding of value. We understand what value is, in part, by what it is not.
As we articulate more social constructions of value to include first an environmental concept of value, then social concept of value, then cultural concept of value, etc. and as the amount of social constructs and the parameters in each social concept grow, the finite or operational definition of value may itself expand.
If we take value to be expressed subjectively or objectively and if we have a reflexive understanding of social reality, then we know that any subjective or objective moment in time will only change to express perhaps a different degree or shape of intersubjectivity. By attempting to bind how this dichotomy moves through time, we may be able to enter an environment where we can have ‘plural objectivities’ to match the plural subjectivity of the individual. Perhaps what I am proposing is a social habitus to give context to all other habitus’ or ‘habiti’.
Can too much value be a good thing?
This is very important to the debate of value as there are many thinkers who suggest we privatize everything, water, air, etc. so that we can better account for how those resources are consumed. I am not so sure about using value to integrate everything into a market system. What might be of interest, however, is that we may be able to develop principles by which the ‘non-markets’ operate. The finitude-infinity dichotomy allows us this freedom. Like the boundaries of identity expand with more varied instances of culture, so too might the boundaries of economics and management be increased with more varied instances of operational value.
Throughout the essay I have tried to develop a framework, which challenges the adequacy of the subjective-objective dichotomy through time. If we apply this construct to the economic and resource management systems, I believe we are able to challenge some interesting assumptions about resources in the capitalist system. (To be clear, the italicized text in section III is the definition of the construct I am referring to).
One of the basic capitalist assumptions is that of finite resources. The following statement might act as a corollary to the italicized text. When dealing with a ‘mined’ resource, such as agriculture or oil resources, there is a finite amount of resources at the point those resources are extracted and when mined those resources are depleted. A ‘creative resource’, such as the imagination, may not deplete but actually grow toward infinity when it is mined.
Our economic system may not be shaped by finite resources, but actually by the infinite resources that we possess, such as our imagination. This shaping process as described earlier may actually be infinite, forming a boundary by which the finite operates within. It is interested to consider how management practice might change when an emphasis is not placed on managing finite resources, but exploiting infinite resources such as creativity and the imagination. This could potentially impact organizational and sector structure as well.
Throughout this reflexive process, I believe I challenged a core assumption of social science research: the adequacy of the subjective-objective dichotomy in framing reflexivity in time and broader reflexive social concepts such as reflexive modernity. Further, I used that assumption to challenge another assumption of our understanding of resources within the capitalist system.
However, taking into account the loop of reflexivity, I am left to consider the possibility that my challenge is simply a social construction. What I intended to provide is insight into a possibility that the more we create, the more we expand the boundaries of the finite.
Also, the reflexive process seems to involve the ego less so than the ‘discovery’ process. I feel like I took the experiences I had and made a social construction based off those experiences. It is fallible and it is missing other perspectives. I did not make a grand discovery. I did not do anything heroic.
As an essay, I am unsure how it will be marked. The argument seemed to unfold in a ‘clunky’ way as I tried to merge my subjective experience with objective theory. Also, despite this being the essay that I read most before and during the writing process, I cited the least amount of sources. The theories and the arguments seemed to lose some value as I approached them reflexively. They may act as a good reference point, but each theory is itself a social construction bound by its own set of ‘metatheoretical commitments’ (Johnson and Duberley, 2003). Empirical data seemed non-existent, with attempts like Potts et al. (2008) but they too seemed to be social constructions.
I am left with many questions. First, to what extent do we articulate the researcher as subject? Should researchers be constantly exploring the boundaries of their subjective experience in preparation for their research? What is the relationship between reflexivity and normativity? Is it a misnomer to be reflexively normative?
Lastly, I will depart the module with a very challenging task ahead of me. It may be possible to collect empirical data that investigates reflexive narratives as they approach infinity or finitude. It might be interesting to see how practitioners understanding of different social concepts moves throughout time. I have often thought that participants involved in crowd sourcing might provide a window into a potentially ever expanding creative organization – an organization that seeks to move the value it creates toward infinity. These perspectives may be reflexive narratives of practices (Cunliffe, 2001).
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