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The Great Pragmatists

One paper that really was worth reading this past weekend was Elkjaer & Simpson’s (2010 soon to be published) powerfully written – Pragmatism: A lived and living philosophy.  What can it offer to contemporary organization theory? The paper clearly unfolds the contributions and differences on Pragmatism between Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) , William James (1842-1910), John Dewey (1859-1952), and George Herbert Mead (1863-1931).


What was so striking about this paper is that I can now see that Pragmatism may have much wider implications on my research i.e. not only philosophical.  In particular, Pragmatism can offer a unique way of understanding the social world and perhaps even in some cases it brings a unique language into discourse in such a way that helps find solutions to the research questions themselves.


Elkjaer and Simpson introduced me to the pragmatist’s ‘mutually informing and interdependent’ ideas of experience, inquiry, habit and transaction.  All of these I believe may have a special place when considering the Sustainability issues we face, offering a unique way of exploring subjective “I” and objective “me”, and inter-subjective transactions with others and social norms and practices.


One other aspect of the paper was impressive in their boldness to critique others including Argyris & Schön’s work on theories-in-use and espoused-theories.  I mean – just who critiques these gurus?  Fab!  Finally, they suggest that Pragmatism enter into the mainstream of organizational scholarship.  I will finish with a quote from the conclusion.


“The Pragmatist alternative seeks to transcend [the] entitative / processual dualism by understanding organizational practice as the continuous and emergent weaving together of social selves and social situations. Its focus is very much upon the social nature of real-time actions that constitute living and lived experience. This perspective, then, offers a way of approaching ‘how’ and ‘why’questions that remain difficult to address by more conventional means.”


I’m in – and this is very apparent from my Research Philosophy abstract, from my paper I worked on during the weekend.


“This essay explores the philosophical assumptions, implications and consequences thereafter that underpin my PhD research project.  Pragmatism and Radical Humanism form the philosophical basis for exploring the research question, namely: ‘how people in organisations experience change towards sustainable practice facilitated by ‘self directed’ (heutagogic) learning and the connectivist Web’.  Both ontologically and epistemologically this philosophy offers a socially constructed view of organizational reality and knowledge, and I argue this approach suits the Sustainability research agenda changing personal, social and cultural habits through action.”


This is my first of two ‘to be graded’ essays for the PhD, and while I always begin with a grumble, as things begin to take shape I get a real buzz completing something and connecting new ideas.  I am only at my first edit.


For me my writing always feels chaotic and emergent, perhaps it is inefficient – but perhaps it is usual for most of us!  At least I am noticing a new habit entering my way i.e. if the abstract doesn’t interest me – I drop it and move on :o)


We just don’t have time to read everything, yet there are some papers that are must reads i.e. the paper I introduced today.


On a personal note: I am finding that my blogs are getting shorter and shorter, and sometimes nonsensical – not because of lack of interest – but the lack of energy and time.  :o(  Perhaps I have to seriously consider reducing the frequency as the doctorate work heats up….but I do like making the posts as a kind of diary record of week to week progress.  What do you think?


As always – I love to get comments back :o)

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