Who’s Afraid of Organization? Concepts, Process and Identity Thinking



This article argues that we should not abandon the noun ‘organization’ in favour of the verb ‘organizing’ in order to capture processes of change, flow and movement, but instead explore how such processes reveal themselves when the concept of organization diverges from the objects it is supposed to encapsulate. Here I make use of Adorno’s critique of identity thinking in order to show how the experience of organizational phenomena remains trapped within a contradiction: concepts are needed to describe objects even though concepts can never fully exhaust the objects they describe. However, I maintain that it is precisely this discrepancy between concepts and objects that provides us the opportunity to experience the elusive state of organizations and their processual nature. Consequently, this article shows how organizational phenomena are always more complex, temporal and dynamic than what the concept of organization permits us to grasp.


Process theory Verb-noun Identity thinking Concepts Negative dialectics Organization 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest Statement

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. Adorno, T.W. 1983. Negative dialectics. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  2. Adorno, T.W. 2002a. Introduction to sociology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Adorno, T.W. 2002b. Metaphysics: Concept and problems. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Adorno, T. W. (2006) Aesthetic theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  5. Adorno, T.W. 2008. Lectures on negative dialectics: Fragments of a lecture course 1965/1966. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  6. Bakken, T., and T. Hernes. 2006. Organizing is both a verb and a noun: Weick meets whitehead. Organization Studies 27 (11): 1599–1616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benson, J.K. 1977. Organizations: A dialectical view. Administrative Science Quarterly 22 (1): 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bernstein, J.M. 2004. Negative dialectic as fate: Adorno and Hegel. In The Cambridge companion to Adorno, ed. T. Huhn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Chia, R. 1995. From modern to postmodern organizational analysis. Organization Studies 16 (4): 579–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chia, R. 1999. A “rhizomic” model of organizational change and transformation: Perspective from a metaphysics of change. British Journal of Management 10 (3): 209–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clegg, S.R., M. Kornberger, and C. Rhodes. 2005. Learning/becoming/organizing. Organization 12 (2): 147–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cooper, R. 1986. Organization/Disorganization. Social Science Information 25 (2): 299–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cooper, R. 1998. Assemblage notes. In Organized worlds, ed. R. Chia, 131–180. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Cooper, R. 2005. Peripheral vision: Relationality. Organization Studies 26 (11): 1689–1710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cunliffe, A.L. 2008. Organization theory. Los Angeles and London: SAGE.Google Scholar
  16. Curtis, R. 2014. Foucault beyond Fairclough: From transcendental to immanent critique in organization studies. Organization Studies 35 (12): 1753–1772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Guthey, E., and B. Jackson. 2005. CEO portraits and the authenticity paradox. Journal of Management Studies 42 (5): 1057–1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hatch, M.J., and A.L. Cunliffe. 2013. Organization theory: Modern, symbolic and postmodern perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Helin, J. 2015. Writing process after reading Bakhtin from theorized plots to unfinalizable “living” events. Journal of Management Inquiry 24 (2): 174–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Helin, J., T. Hernes, D. Hjorth, and R. Holt, eds. 2014. The Oxford handbook of process philosophy and organization studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hernes, T. 2007. Understanding organization as process: Theory for a tangled world. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hernes, T., and E. Weik. 2007. Organization as process: Drawing a line between endogenous and exogenous views. Scandinavian Journal of Management 23 (3): 251–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hirsch, M., and D.Z. Levin. 1999. Umbrella advocates versus validity police: A life-cycle model. Organization Science 10 (2): 199–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jameson, F. 2007. Late marxism: Adorno, or, the persistence of the dialectic. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  25. Jarvis, S. 1998. Adorno: A critical introduction. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. King, B.G., T. Felin, and D.A. Whetten. 2010. Perspective - finding the organization in organizational theory: A meta-theory of the organization as a social actor. Organization Science 21 (1): 290–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Linstead, S., and T. Thanem. 2007. Multiplicity, virtuality and organization: The contribution of Gilles Deleuze. Organization Studies 28 (10): 1483–1501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lopdrup-Hjorth, T. 2015. Object and objective lost? Journal of Cultural Economy 8 (4): 439–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mintzberg, H. 1983. Structure in fives: Designing effective organizations. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  30. Munro, I., and C. Huber. 2012. Kafka’s mythology: Organization, bureaucracy and the limits of sensemaking. Human Relations 65 (4): 523–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nayak, A. 2008. On the way to theory: A processual approach. Organization Studies 29 (2): 173–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Neimark, M., and T. Tinker. 1987. Identity and non-identity thinking: Dialectical critique of the transaction cost theory of the modern corporation. Journal of Management 13 (4): 661–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. O’Doherty, D.P. 2007. The question of theoretical excess: Folly and fall in theorizing organization. Organization 14 (6): 837–867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Parker, M. 2007. Organizing: Skyscrapers and multitudes. Critical Perspectives on International Business 3 (3): 220–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Parker, M. 2016. Secret societies: Intimations of organization. Organization Studies 37 (1): 99–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Reed, M. 2011. The post-bureaucratic organization and the control revolution. In Managing modernity: Beyond bureaucracy? ed. S.R. Clegg, M. Harris, and H. Höpfl. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Rhodes, C. 2009. After reflexivity: Ethics, freedom and the writing of organization studies. Organization Studies 30 (6): 653–672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Robbins, S.P. 1990. Organization theory: Structures, designs and applications. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  39. Scott, W.R. 1998. Organizations: Rational, natural, and open systems. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  40. Shotter, J. 2006. Understanding process from within: An argument for ‘withness’-thinking. Organization Studies 27: 585–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sørensen, B.M. 2004. Making events work: Or, how to multiply your crisis. Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School.Google Scholar
  42. Spoelstra, S. 2007. What is organization? Lund: Lund University.Google Scholar
  43. Stone, A. 2014. Adorno, Hegel, and dialectic. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 22: 1118–1141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tsoukas, H. 2005. Complex knowledge: Studies in organizational epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Tsoukas, H., and R. Chia. 2002. On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change. Organization Science 13: 567–582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tsoukas, H., and C. Knudsen. 2005. The Oxford handbook of organization theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Van de Ven, A.H., and M.S. Poole. 2005. Alternative approaches for studying organizational change. Organization Studies 26 (9): 1377–1404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Weick, K.E. 1979. The social psychology of organizing. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  49. Weick, K.E. 1993. The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The mann gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly 38 (4): 628–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Weick, K.E. 1995. Sensemaking in organizations. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  51. Weick, K.E., K.M. Sutcliffe, and D. Obstfeld. 2005. Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science 16 (4): 409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Weik, E. 2011. In deep waters: Process theory between Scylla and Charybdis. Organization 18 (5): 655–672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Willmott, H. 2014. Conceptually grounded analysis: The elusive facticity and ethical upshot of “Organization”. In Critical management research: reflections from the field, ed. Emma Jeanes and Tony Huzzard. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  54. Zundel, M., R. Holt, and J. Cornelissen. 2013. Institutional work in the wire an ethological investigation of flexibility in organizational adaptation. Journal of Management Inquiry 22: 102–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management, Politics and PhilosophyCopenhagen Business SchoolFrederiksbergDenmark

Personalised recommendations