Four Knowledge Perspectives on Organization Theory


David M. Boje

September 1, 1999



Please ad-venture into the labyrinth of Organization Theory (hereafter OT)!


To begin your journey:

(Press Here) to see a blank table for your to print and play with.


Question: What do you want to know about OT?

What Questions do you want answered?

What do you know you know now?


Further Instructions:

Question 1: List what you know about management that helps you to simplify (the red dimension)?

Question 2: What you have learned about some things that seemed simple, you learned were more complex than you had thought (red dimension)?

Question 3: What have you learned that is more related to the status quo, to the comfortable ways (the green dimension)?

Question 4: What have you learned that turned out to be uncomfortable knowledge (green dimension)?

Cross the two dimensions and you get the labels I apply in the Four Corners. I place you the MBA in the center of the map.

In Table One: A Map of OT on the web, with some Books in place (press here) I give you may layout; this is my unique story of the world of OT. OT is storytelling, stories of adventure and progress, conquest and fortunes. In OT, you are here enrolled to learn your unique adventure story, to write your own MBA values, to legitimate your own journey into global commerce. Based on your answers to the four questions, where are you on the map?

Where am I? For my story, I do confess, I choose Ahimsa and Simplicity, to minimize the excesses of business practice, to be festive in the midst of spectacles of production and consumption (see links to Guy Debord's work on the web).

Main Points

  1. Can you learn both simple and complex OT: the simple heuristics and the complex beneath the surface.
  2. Can you learn both comfortable and uncomfortable knowledge: the comfortable and popular status quo, the less comfortable and less known knowledge that can be uncomfortable.
  3. Can you see all four areas, the big picture of the world of OT, not just in the U.S. but as taught around the globe.
  4. Can you form relations between the boxes?

Each book is an idea system, and as you can see they are legion. Every author has his or her own map of OT and so does every reader. I choose to put the MBA at the center of this map, since I teach OT to MBA students. Most OT teaching in the US occurs in the upper right quadrant. Most of the British, Australia, and New Zealand OT teaching seems to happen in the lower left, though Korten's book is giving the US an opening. Managers and executives seeking to learn Americanization stay with books in the top half of the map.



Barbara Czarniawska displaying the Escher drawing of the swans on top morphing into the fish below, commented: "most of OT is in the top of the figure, we do not know much about the what goes on below the surface." We, in the US use OT books that "Makes Things Simple" not ones that "Makes Things Complicated" or ask uncomfortable questions.


Barbara told me she was using my Postmodern Management and Organization Theory book (co-authored with Gephart and Thatchenkery). I wondered why I did not use it in my OT course at NMSU. Why I spent all year writing a new book (Spectacles and Festivals).

To see Nietzsche Super-MBA and 7 Ss OT perspectives (press here). This gives an interesting overview of the most radical of OT writers and how his work relates to you the MBA student. You may want to read on and come back or just dive in.

The Quadrants of Table One

The idea of Table One is to take the dimension of Nietzsche the will to simple versus will to complicate and put it with a second dimension, what "Makes People Uncomfortable" versus "What Makes People Comfortable." Then, to work all semester to go beyond the dualities of the four quadrants, to look at rhizomatic relationships (shoots growing and interpenetrating the books across the way). At the Academy in 1999, I talked of this with someone (How the MBA reacts to critical and postmodern OT), and they handed me a piece of paper saying these made for four types of knowledge:

Press these areas to see quadrant books and annotations.

    1. consultant-knowledge (of late making people uncomfortable about the status quo and still able to keep things simple),
    2. executive education-knowledge (more apt to make people comfortable and not look below the surfaces),
    3. the Ph.D. skeptic-knowledge (definitely more uncomfortable and very complicated), and
    4. the Ph.D. affirmative-knowledge (Still complicated, but takes a positive look at how to make the world of organizations more tolerable).

If you are this person, please contact me, so I can reference you properly. I looked up and you were gone before I could get you to sign your work.

The MBA, we concluded, had a will to simplify and if I wanted to score points, I had best not use texts in OT that made it all much too complicated. And always be positive, use the be-happy attitudes to get those high final reviews. Still I think the Super-MBA could have some appeal, the discipline of suffering, the Supra-national MBA taught to be "nomadic, not of one land, place or country" but detached from place (BGE, p. 173). The wage slaves need a master, a Super MBA and the Business College is there to insure "the production of a type prepared for slavery" (BGE, p. 173).

The four quadrants are four different points of view, four paradigms, if you must simplify. I think OT can give the MBA an appreciation of all four knowledge areas and comment on how they complement one another. And each has an appeal to the MBA, each more popular in a different country. I focus on Nietzsche because he may be seen as most complex and most uncomfortable, in contrast to choices for texts in the other three quadrants. For Nietzsche violence and cruelty are what shapes and develops, even matures the human race. What is creative destruction? The list of books in different quadrants intersects and interpenetrates.

Quick Overview - In Quadrant One, out of simple and uncomfortable books comes subjugation and suffering, the search for creative destruction, the stuff that Tom Peters writes about in his more recent books (Wow and the Tom Peters Seminar). Tom even has a section on deconstruction. In the upper right quadrant, the OT texts Make Things Simple and Make People Comfortable. I put Dick Daft here, the world's most popular OT book. Here an appreciative inquiry is key, to make downsizing and reengineering sensible, but not mention democratic governance or go beyond ISO14000 ecology. Robbins tells this story too. This is also the pathos of positive mental attitude, to see the good in privatization, free market capitalism, and temporary employment contracting. Move from Top Left to Top Right. There are no predators in Top Right, downsizing is right sizing and to reengineer is now to reinvent. Here the will to equity and polite discourse overtakes the overt discussion of any will to power so in your face in books in the two left quadrants. This upper right list presents the most popular, the best selling, and the most widely used OT texts. But there are contenders to the OT throne.

Lower Quadrants, where the Fish Swim - I have done something special with the lower quadrants. I have focused on the contest between skeptical postmodern OT authors (most are outside the U.S.) and affirmative postmodern authors (more known in the U.S. and Clegg who has done both). I have also done something quite unique, to look at affirmative critical theory writers (most notably Best and Kellner). And I have put the books in my own order, from mild to hot (I live in Chile country) where they ask "how hot" and "green or red?"

In lower left quadrant Mills & Simmons (Reading OT) is mild compared to Burrell's book (Pandemonium) or to Foucault, Marx or the Hot Chile writing of Nietzsche. .In the lower right quadrant, Bergquist writes a lot about the empowering aspects of complexity an chaos. Hatch does great coverage of the interpretative school (she is why I forgot to put Karl Weick's books in the chart just above her name (I will correct this next time). Hatch contrasts the interpretative sense makers with the affirmative postmodern and the well-known approaches of the moderns outlined in Dat and Robbins books (the structural functionalists, institutionalists, resource dependency, and population ecology approaches).


To see Table One: A Map of MBA Student Among OT Books (press here)

 Upper Left Quadrant (press here)

Upper Right Quadrant (press here)

Lower Left Quadrant (press here)

Lower Right Quadrant (press here)


Thanks enjoy your journey through OT, then draw your own map and tell your own story of OT. Stay Healthy Happy and Terrific. Being affirmative can be pretty radical! - David Boje


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