Deconstruction and the ‘(N)either/(N)or’


The work of Derrida is often associated with and discussed in the realm of postmodern philosophy. To understand the broader context of Derrida’s philosophical thinking, we need to examine the discourse around postmodern philosophy (section 4.1.1). Since most applications of postmodern philosophy refer to organization theory, yet not to strategic management, we review the existing literature (section 4.1.2), since these writings have an influence on the implications of a deconstructive analysis of strategy research. Based on these remarks we develop an in-depth understanding of Derrida’s notion of deconstruction and its relevance for the social sciences (section 4.2). Because deconstruction has been applied to questions of organization theory, but not strategic management, we look at and classify the existing literature (section 4.3), as these writings have an impact on our own deconstructions in chapter six. Finally, to prepare the ground for an application of Derrida’s thinking to strategy research, we define strategic management as a ‘deconstructible text’ (section 4.4).


Strategic Management Organization Theory Dominant Logic Grand Narrative Ganization Theory 
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  1. 60.
    Alvesson (1995) claims: “The term pomo [postmodernism] has perhaps received too many attributions already able to function as a fertile point of departure or even as a reference in discussions of the various themes currently carried out under the umbrella of pomo.” (Alvesson 1995: 1064, annotation added) “The message in this paper can be summarized under this slogan: The word pomo has no meaning. Use it as seldom as possible!” (Alvesson 1995: 1068)Google Scholar
  2. 61.
    Koch (2003: 66–84) also introduces other criteria to distinguish modern from postmodern philosophy, for instance by giving reference to key authors, philosophical traditions (e.g., phenomenology), and the form of the debate (Is the debate reflected from a modern and/or postmodern angle?).Google Scholar
  3. 62.
    This classificatory framework is contingent and is based on the authors that are used as a ‘common ground’ to identify the central issues. For instance, we could have also included the debate concerning the possibility of ethics in which Habermas (1996a, 2001), who we refer to as an advocate of ‘reflexive modernism’, tries to establish a moral basis for society at large by seeing the lifeworld as an integrating concept for his basic theoretical categories ‘action’ and ‘discourse’. He assumes that an understanding across different discourses can be reached via communicative rationality. The unity of reason can be identified in the presuppositions faced by actions that are oriented towards reaching understanding about moral conflicts. Lyotard (1988) counters this argument by claiming that any moral position is the product of an ethical discourse which is, however, just one among many possible discursive species. A postmodern conception of ethics faces competing merits of different ethical conceptions that could each be consistent with their own discourse rules, but incompatible with one another.Google Scholar
  4. 63.
    The reason for the widespread association of Lyotard with postmodernism is due to the name of his book La Condition postmoderne (The postmodern condition, [Lyotard 1999]) and his attempt to clarify the meaning of the phrase (Lyotard 1997a). He admits that the term, as he used it, was misunderstood by many critics as well as advocates (Lyotard 1997b; Reese-Schäfer 1995: 121–122).Google Scholar
  5. 64.
    Lyotard (1999) distinguishes, for instance, the denotative discourse (in which the true/false distinction is relevant) from the prescriptive discourse (working with the just/unjust distinction). Incommensurability between these discourses is justified by supposing that different discourses have different purposes (e.g., to come up with moral judgments or to persuade other people).Google Scholar
  6. 65.
    Foucault (1980a: 51–52) states: “Now I have been trying to make visible the constant articulation I think there is of power on knowledge and of knowledge on power. [...] The exercise of power itself creates and causes to emerge new objects of knowledge and accumulates new bodies of information. [...] The exercise of power perpetually creates knowledge and, conversely, knowledge constantly induces effects of power. Knowledge and power are integrated with one another, and there is no point in dreaming of a time when knowledge will cease to depend on power.”Google Scholar
  7. 66.
    This notion of language has consequences for the de-centering of the subject. If consciousness is a result of signification, no subject can derive its identity entirely from itself but only from the system of signification it is involved in. Thus, subjects are not fully self-conscious beings but gain their identity from the differences in language. Derrida (2002: 70) argues in this context “that the subject, and first of all the conscious and speaking subject, depends upon the system of differences [...].” Since these differences are in a state of flux, a subject with a stable identity and unified consciousness becomes out of reach. Postmodernism assumes that our world is made up of language and that individuals can only ‘know the world’ through the differences that our language creates (Hassard 1999: 176).Google Scholar
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    See the articles by Alvesson and Deetz (1997), Calás and Smircich (1999), Chia (1995), Gergen and Thatchenkery (1996), Hassard (2002, 1999, 1994), Kilduff and Mehra (1997), Knights (2002), Kreiner (1992), Parker (1992), Weik (1996), Weiss (2000), and Welge and Holtbrügge (1999). There are also several books which discuss postmodern philosophy within organization studies, for instance Chia (1996), Hassard and Parker (1993), Holtbrügge (2001), McKinlay and Starkey (1998), Schreyögg (1999), and Weiskopf (2003a). A summary and critical discussion is given by Koch (2003). Studies with a focus on deconstruction are excluded as these are discussed in section 4.3.Google Scholar
  9. 68.
    Rorty (1977: 674) writes about Derrida: “Sometimes he talks as if there were some common project (Heaven knows what) on which he and Condillac, Humboldt, Saussure, Chomsky, Austin et al. were engaged, and as he has arguments for the superiority of his own views over theirs. At other times, he seems to disdain internal criticism of his competitors, and simply exhibits the way in which each of them commits the great sin of the Western intellectual tradition [...].” In judging Derrida’s style we should remember that demanding conventional academic coherence is against the genuine logic of deconstruction which argues that knowledge is not already clearly structured for us (Cooper, 1989: 481).Google Scholar
  10. 69.
    “Deconstruction in the singular cannot be simply ‘appropriated’ by anyone or anything. Deconstruction are the movements of what I have called ‘exappropriation.’ Anyone who believes they have appropriated something like deconstruction in the singular is a priori mistaken, and something else is going on.” (Derrida 1995a: 141).Google Scholar
  11. 70.
    In a quite similar sense Derrida argues that “[n]o more than writing or trace, [the text] is not limited to the paper which you can cover with your graphism. It is precisely for strategic reasons [...] that I found it necessary to recast the concept of text by generalizing it almost within any limit that is. That’s why there is nothing ‘beyond the text.’ That’s why South Africa and apartheid are, like you and me, part of this general text. [...] That’s why deconstructive readings and writings are concerned not only with library books, with discourses, with conceptual and semantic contents. They are not simply analyses of discourse. [...] They are also active [...] interventions that transform contexts.” (Derrida 1986b: 167–168, emphasis in the original, annotation added)Google Scholar
  12. 71.
    “Deconstruction is not a method and cannot be transformed into one.” (Derrida 1985: 2) However, “if we were to pretend for a moment that Derrida has a method [...] his method would be deconstruction.” (Wood 1980: 506) See also the remarks by Norris (2002: 1) and Derrida (1983: 42) himself.Google Scholar
  13. 72.
    “All sentences of the type ‘deconstruction is X’ or ‘deconstruction is not X’ a priori miss the point, which is to say that they are at least false. As you know one of the principle things at stake in what is called in my texts ‘deconstruction’, is precisely the delimitation of ontology.” (Derrida 1985: 4, emphasis in the original) “[D]econstruction is not a doctrine; it’s not a method, nor is it a set of rules or tools; it cannot be separated from performatives, from signatures, from a given language. So, if you want to ‘do deconstruction’ — ‘you know, the kind of thing Derrida does’ — then you have to perform something new, in your own language, in your own singular situation, with your own signature, to invent the impossible and to break with the application, in the technical, neutral sense of the word.” (Derrida 2000a: 22, 24)Google Scholar
  14. 73.
    Prominent examples from Derrida’s own deconstructions include the oppositions signified/signifier (see also section 4.2.3), presence/absence, speech/writing (Derrida 2003a), and to use/to mention (Derrida 1995a). Almost all of Derrida’s texts refer in some way (be it explicit or implicit) to oppositions.Google Scholar
  15. 74.
    In other words, there can be no self-presence because the present’s presence necessarily involves the reference to the non-present (Wheeler 1999: 1006). “It could be shown that all names for reasoning, principle, or center [...] have always described an invariant of presence.” (Derrida 1976: 424, translation A.R.)Google Scholar
  16. 75.
    Derrida never explicitly mentioned such a scheme. Yet, in the interview ‘Grammatology and Semiology’ he mentions all three phases as being part of deconstructive thinking (Derrida 1986a: 52–82, see also the discussion by Lagemann and Gloy 1998: 55) as well as Culler’s (1982: 154) remarks on schematically summarizing deconstruction.Google Scholar
  17. 76.
    It remains largely unclear whether Saussure believed in an arbitrary nature of the signified. This would leave open the possibility of thinking of different kinds of dogs (e.g., a poodle or German shepherd) when hearing the signifier ‘DOG’. Burns (2000: 13), quoting Merquior (1988: 231–232), remarks that it is hard to believe in an arbitrariness of the signified when considering “that Saussure himself in the Course in General Linguistics stresses that the’ same signified’ exists both for the French ‘boeuf’ and for the German ‘ochs’.”Google Scholar
  18. 77.
    Derrida (2003a: 129) states “The fact that the signifier [...] has always been in the position of the signified needs to be reflected by the metaphysics of presence [...] as its own death.” (translation A.R.) Derrida does not assert the nonexistence of the signified. Rather, the signified is a product of signifier-effects (see also the discussion by Lucy 2004: 144–145).Google Scholar
  19. 78.
    The term ‘trace’ may be misleading at this point. Derrida uses this term to avoid speaking of (absent) signifiers which would implicate him in a linguisticism. He perceived his work, however, as not primarily addressing linguistic issues (Bennington and Derrida 1994: 35).Google Scholar
  20. 79.
    Derrida (1981b: 26) points out: “Whether in written or in spoken discourse, no element can function as a sign without relating to another element which is itself not simply present. This linkage means that each ‘element’ [sign] is constituted with reference to the trace of the other elements of the sequence or system it contains. This linkage, this weaving, is the text, which is produced only through the transformation of another text. Nothing, either in the elements or in the system, is anywhere simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces.” (annotation added)Google Scholar
  21. 80.
    Now, we can understand why Derrida refuses to clearly define deconstruction. He states “[t]he word ‘deconstruction’, like all other words, acquires its value only from its inscriptions in a chain of possible substitutions [supplements], in what is to blithely called a ‘context’. (Derrida 1985: 4, annotation added). Therefore, “[d]econstruction does not exist somewhere pure, proper, self-identical, outside of its inscriptions in conflictual and differentiated contexts; it ‘is’ only what it does and what is done with it, there where it takes place.” (Derrida 1995a: 144). Deconstruction is always different from one context to another (Derrida and Norris 1989: 73).Google Scholar
  22. 81.
    In French, the ‘a’ of différance remains silent when pronounced and can only be recognized in the spelling. Différance only exists in writing — an allusion to the speech/writing opposition. The noun ‘différance’ contains the verb ‘différer’ which has a twofold meaning in French: to differ and to defer. Différance is a polysemantic term which emphasizes that one has constructed something that continually breaks up in a chain of different substitutions (Rorty 1977: 677).Google Scholar
  23. 82.
    Derrida (1981a) calls this ambivalence of texts dissemination. Every ‘reading’ of a text contains new meanings because every ‘reading’ takes place in a new context (see section 6.3.1). From the moment a text comes into being, dissemination destroys its determined, hegemonic character. Dissemination strongly affirms the anti-unity of meaning. Derrida (1995b: 224) therefore claims: “As for the ‘plurality of filiations’ and the necessity of a ‘more differentiated perception’, this will always have been my ‘theme’ in some way, in particular, as signaled by the name ‘dissemination’. If one takes the expression ‘plurality of filiations’ in its familial literality, then this is virtually the very’ subject’ of ‘Dissemination’.”Google Scholar
  24. 83.
    We use the terms paradox and aporia interchangeably. However, it should not go unnoticed that the term aporia is usually used to describe a difficulty, perplexity or a kind of hopelessness that does not necessarily lead to impossibility (i.e. a logical contradiction). Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1993: 101) refers to an aporia “as a problem or difficulty arising from an awareness of opposing or incompatible views on the same theoretic matter.” By contrast, paradox is about a logical contradiction that arises because the enabling and constraining conditions of a line of argument coincide. Paradox is defined in a narrower sense than aporia. An aporia is about thought-provoking contradictions, while paradox contains two contradictory propositions to which we are led by seemingly sound arguments. We focus our analysis on the formal/logical treatment of paradox and not on informal or rhetorical notions. Informal types of paradox occur for interesting and thought-provoking contradictions of all sorts (Poole and Van de Ven 1989: 563), while rhetorical types of paradox occur if the author concludes something contrary to what has been expected (Lado et al. 2006: 117). For a discussion of the nature of paradoxes see Baggini and Fosl (2003), Clark (2002), and Sainsbury (1988).Google Scholar
  25. 84.
    Ortmann and Cooper are not on their own in the sphere of deconstructing ‘the text’ of organization theory. Chia (1994) offers a deconstruction of conventional assumptions in decision-making. To avoid a replication of arguments, we do not discuss this particular deconstruction any further (see the comprehensive discussion in section 6.2.2). See also Ortmann’s (2003b) remarks on the deconstruction of rules (also section 6.3.2) and Cooper’s (1989) deconstruction of the formalist and expertise model in the study of bureaucracy.Google Scholar

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