Alternative Postmodern Spectacles:
The Skeptical and Affirmative Postmodernist (Organization) Theory Debates
David M. Boje
New Mexico State University
Department of Management
June 25, 1999
These remarks were prepared for the Business and Economics Society International 1999 Conference, Canary Islands/Spain, July 22-26, Melia Las Palmas Hotel.
My remarks address several controversies in postmodern (organization) theory concerning postmodern theories, postmodern organization, empowerment-disempowerment, and postmodern storytelling. First, is there a postmodern organization, or is it a late modern (post industrial, flexible production) firm disguised as postmodern to reach the postmodern consumer? Is there an epoch shift to postmodern conditions of capitalism or are we still (late) modern? Where does organization theory fall in relation to debates of epistemological and epoch postmodern? How can the debate between affirmative and skeptical postmodern (organization) theorists be addressed? I have located the debates in my own work.
Adrian Carr asked me to respond to the following questions in my comments to the Business and Economics Society International:
Answers to these questions are hotly debated. There are many definitions of postmodern, that differ between affirmatives and skeptics (Rosenau, 1992). It is being increasingly entertained in the social sciences as an epistemology that is counter to logical positivism and as a way to get a handle on the postmodern turn. My personal view, is I have moved from being an affirmative postmodernist (Boje & Dennehy, 1993) to being increasingly skeptical (Boje, 1995) of organizations purporting to be postmodern, to looking at the dark side of postmodern organization (Boje 1998a to g, 1999a). When Nike and Disney get included in business textbooks (e.g. Hodge, Anthony & Gales, 1996: 275-281), only the positive image, the material available from the corporate public relations office, makes its way onto the pages, resulting in a myopic consciousness being taught to students. Today, I am a critical postmodernist, trying to heed Martin Parker's call to stare into Nietzsche's abyss, address exploitation concerns raised by Marx and Debord, and my friend Steven Best's concern for the postmodern condition of the Biotech Century (Rifkin, 1998). And, in this effort, I am trying to reconcile an affirmative ethics of postmodern, (even turning to Ahimsa) with critical theories of production and consumption (See reviews of critical theorists by our two panelists, Zanetti, 1997, 1998, and Zanetti and Carr, 1997). I would like to look at Ahimsa as a non-violent way of doing business, an alternative philosophy to Victorian Capitalism and our current manic consumption habits. As a critical postmodernist, I observe, we live in "geological layers of commodities" instead of geological layers of fossils in a metaphoric tree of life (Debord, 1966: #42). By violent I mean the willful and careless and often unnecessary disruption or extinction of the life of another, including the life of non-human species. Part of the Ahimsa philosophy is to treat all living beings as equal to ones own self. This means not interrupting or degrading the evolution of plants, animals, and humans. In taking a more critical approach to postmodern, I am leaving the language games of skeptical and some affirmative positions, of which Carr (1998) has a critique.
To me, the affirmative and skeptical positions can be partially related in looking at over-consumption and predatory capitalism and how to attain non-violent forms of production and consumption (1999b). I think our reaction to postmodernism should be one of tolerance. There are many postmodern perspectives and positions. It is polyvocal and polysemous. I would like to see less polemic reactions between affirmatives, skeptics, and the science war types who resent postmodern intrusion into social and physical science. Finally, I do think postmodern theory does have significance to the fields of management and business. To me, these have to do with workplace democracy, ecological sustainability, and fining less violent forms of production and consumption. I shall try to give this audience of economists some background to map the various postmodern debates (See Table One adapted from Boje, 1999b).
Table One: The Contested Terrain of Postmodern OT
Theories of Modernism and Postmodernism
Postmodern ways of knowing can offer solutions to organizing -Bergquist (1993)
Hatch (1997). There are postmodern organizational forms.
Postmodern approaches can appreciate potentialities -Hassard (1993)
Postmodern organizations are not independent of modernism - Cooper & Burrell (1987)
Postmodern organization has potential but needs to be deconstructed to prevent modernist appropriation; Each organization is a hybrid of premodern, modern, and postmodern episodes - Boje & Dennehy (1993)
There are multiple postmodern perspectives that give different viewpoints - Boje, Gephart & Thatchenkery (1996); Boje (1999b)
Contemporary management and OT texts do not attend sufficiently to issues of class, race and gender - Mills & Simmons (1995)
The transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism does not obviate the framework of power - Clegg (1990); Boje (1998 a to g, 1999a).
The violence of capitalism to the peasantariat has been ignored by management and OT - Burrell (1997)
Theorizing postmodern organization forms is a naïve distraction and delusion - Parker (1993)
Hassard & Parker (1993)
Alvesson & Deetz (1996)
Kilduff & Mehra (1997)
Which postmodern perspective? There are many excellent reviews or texts. Reviews by Hassard and Parker (1993), Alvesson and Deetz (1996), and Kilduff and Mehra (1997), for example, declared a number of affirmative writers to have missed the mark. Who are these banished affirmative postmodern OT writers? Affirmative, postmodern OT writers would include Bergquist (1993); Boje and Dennehy (1993); Boje, Gephart and Thatchenkery (1996); Hatch (1997); and Hirshhorn (1997). At the skeptical end of the spectrum, Hassard and Parker (1993), Thompson (1993), Parker (1993), Alvesson and Deetz (1996), and Kilduff and Mehra (1997) dismiss any so-called "postmodern organization" and "episodic" research and theory with ironic replies:
I am a self-declared organization postmodernist, but I like to think I am reflexive about crucial issues. I think it is not nonsense to study how organizations appropriate postmodern gestures in their production and marketing practices. Parker (1993), on the other hand, does not like the episodic position and is also hostile to affirmative postmodern organization writers. He would include the material and empirical conditions of the labor process, but is uncomfortable with relativist epistemologies of some postmodern philosophers (e.g. Baudrillard, perhaps Lyotard) that only bemoan the problems or representation. He would prefer to follow an epistemological critique with a meta-theoretic ethical one (p. 209). Note that this way of theorizing dismisses the episodic postmodernists as too sadly misguided to even review. ). Thompson (1993) also critiques postmodern organization writers such as Gergen (1992), Morgan (1990), Burrell (1988), Clegg (1989) and Townley (1990) for buying into this Baudrillard postmodern theory of representation that levitates the sign from material conditions of wealth, privilege, and power.
I have gone out on a limb and declared the existence of a postmodern organization (Boje, 1995, 1998 a to g, 1999a, b). I am now in the middle of arguments between the epistemological and the epoch postmodernists, between skeptics and affirmatives. An episodic position, such as Modernity-Postmodernity eras (Best & Kellner, 1991, 1997), says that there have been such major shifts in technology, information access, global markets, multinational corporations, quantum physics models of science, etc. that a paradigm shift has occurred. On the other hand an epistemological postmodern theory, such as Modernism-Postmodernism (Best & Kellner, 1991, 1997) either denies vehemently that such a shift occurred or ignores episodes in favor of epistemological representation, aesthetic and cultural style critiques (See Hassard, 1993 for an excellent review of this dimension). Burrell (1997: 16) takes an epoch position: "modernity in its late or postmodern phases questions bureaucratic organization and its legitimacy almost as much as it was interrogated in those far-off pre-modern times before industrialization." Carr (1998: 168) sees Burrell (1997) as embracing a poststructuralist view of "truth" as merely a construction of language, a text without fixed referents, and no referents beyond text. Skeptics (e.g. critical Marxists and deconstructionists) do not think that change is possible, while affirmatives (some of these are New Age spiritualists) are apt to pose activist solutions to modern problems. In OT writing, there are many debates between skeptics and affirmatives over the idea and possibility of a "postmodern organization."
Is there a postmodern organization? Bergquist (1993), Cole (1997), Boje and Dennehy (1993) and Boje (1995, 1998 a to g, 1999) argue that there are. Skeptics make the counter claim that these are late modern firms doing a good job at pulling in a fragment of the market. Yet, it is this very point of confusion that is at the heart of the debate of the affirmative and skeptical postmodernists. Looking a bit closer, there is a hot argument in the postmodern organization theory reviews between those who talk of a postmodern organization (Bergquist, 1993; Boje & Dennehy, 1993; Boje, 1995; Boje, Gephart, & Thatchenkery, 1996), an epoch shift (Clegg, 1990; Best & Kellner, 1997). Otherwise excellent reviews of postmodern theories state that affirmative postmodern theory is just rubbish (Kilduff and Mehra, 1997; Alvesson & Deetz, 1996; and Hassard and Parker, 1993 - more Parker than Hassard). They situate postmodern as an epistemology, not an epoch in reviews by Cooper and Burrell (Cooper & Burrell, 1988; Cooper 1989; Burrell, 1988).
What makes an organization a postmodern organization? What are the dimensions of a postmodern organization? To the skeptical postmodernists, Gore Inc., Nike, and Disney would be a late modern companies (doing flexible production, but more post industrial than postmodern) and using advertising to project a hip image to consumers. For dimensions, we can see Clegg (1990), Boje & Dennehy (1993), Bergquist (1993), Hatch (1997) and even Dick Daft (1998) who has discovered a way to appropriate postmodern into his modern textbook. On the other hand, if we heed the theory of the skeptical postmodernists, there is no such contrivance as a postmodern organization and no epoch shift. Hatch (1997: 46) is also very positive and hopeful about postmodern organization. She affirmingly sees in the postmodern organizations the possibility for "… greater levels of participation by marginalized members of organizations such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, and the oldest and youngest employees." Reading the lack of gender, race, and ethnic issues in modernist OT texts is also the subject of Mills and Simmons (1995) text. While written more from a labor process than a postmodern view, it does present a postmodern and post-structural (deconstruction) re-reading of OT, both in its main text, and in the activities assigned to students.
Is there a shift from modern to postmodern epoch? Bergquist (1993) and Hatch (1997) says, "yes, I can see it now." Clegg (1990) says "no, but if it is here it has a dark side." Boje & Dennehy (1993) say "maybe it is not here, if I story it, it will come." There are those calling it a postmodern world (Jameson, Lyotard, Baudrillard, here and there) and those looking at a postmodern turn (Best & Kellner, 1997) but others who do not see anything there but late modernism (Hassard & Parker, 1993, particularly Parker, 1993, 1998). I would agree with Thompson (1993). There is too much of the positive post-industrial thesis embedded in the work of postmodern organization theorists. Bergquist (1993: 17-18) sees it as a source of postmodernism, but does not offer any critique.
While Cooper & Burrell (1988) develop a postmodernism that is primarily epistemological, this is not the case for much of the writing (see p Best & Kellner, 1997; Hassard, 1993 ). If we theorize a "postmodern era" or epoch approach to postmodernism this runs one a foul of Hassard & Parker (1993), Kilduff & Mehra (1996) and Alvesson & Deetz (1996). Clegg (1990), Boje & Dennehy (1993), Gephart (1996) and Best & Kellner (1997) are among those to take more of a mid-range position between the epistemological and epoch extremes. Gephart (1996) for example, takes a mid-range position that here is a material condition of ecology and the degradation or entropy of planet resources. Gephart seeks to de-reify how environment is constructed in modernist OT texts and to show how environmental sense making is inherently political (1996: 208-9). The point is these are very contested issues.
Burrell (1997) has some middle ground. He is episodic in his genealogical construction of a pre-modern, pre-Enlightenment history of OT (Burrell, 1997: 27). He is also skeptical, seeing "modernity in its late or postmodern phases," but with OT still in the grip of Right Weberian" (p. 16).
Best and Kellner (1997) have a well-worked out theory of the postmodern turn, which I think addresses the materiality and limits to production and consumption in late capitalism. They rework Guy Debord's (1966) Society of the Spectacle, arguing that Debord does something with spectacle which Baudrillard appropriation has missed. Baudrillard, for example accepts that technology has propelled us into a hyperreality more real that real, and one that has replaced real, "a nihilistic acceptance of the triumph of the object" (Best & Kellner, 1997: 103-105). Guy Debord, cofounder of the Situationaliste Internationale movement, defines spectacle in many ways. "The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images"(1966: #4). "The celebrity" says Debord (1966: #60) is "the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role." Spectacles provide a mirage, a phantasm, and an illusion that allows us to safely avoid looking beneath the fabricated images, product stars, and corporate icons. The focus for Debord in his application of Marx was to see if consumers could reclaim the "situation" of production. In that situation the spectator is an active consumer/producer and the act of consumption is not separated from production.
Spectacle is both micro, strange events we tune into here and there, but parts to fashion more macro spectacles, like Las Vegas and Disneyland, and more macro patterns of the very logic of late schizophrenic, postmodern capitalism that has colonized our being and our landscape. Violence is everywhere in the global economy of late capitalism, and growing more perverse and pervasive. Yet the violence that is everywhere, is made invisible to us through the spectacle which has separated producer and consumer. We do not see what we grow up in, we do not see who makes our products, and we do not even glimpse how violent the production process has become. All we see are the glitzy lights at the mall, the sexy displays of TV ads, and the corporate claims to excellence on all web-sites.
Spectacle, says Debord, is an opium, that allows us to sleep walk, as if drugged, stumbling blindfolded through a devolving landscape of ecological and human horror; while cocooned in artificiality and illusion; mind-numbed by cyber media into passive stupefied spectators. This is why it is not easy for people socialized in spectacles and consumption images of the good life through consumption to step outside of its mechanisms of persuasion, and see its impact on nature, social systems, and the manipulation of our own desires. Our life is just too "saturated with spectacles" and we are too pacified in their "permanent opium war" (Debord, 1967: #44).
What are differences between the modern and postmodern storytellers? In storytelling, since Martin's lab studies on storytelling, we know that stories are more remembered and valued than objective bits of facts, the question is how are stories used in modern and postmodern organizations? I used the metaphor of the judicial system (actors making sense of and deciding that validity of stories) with storytelling to look at embedded storytelling and change behavior in storytelling organizations (Boje, 1991). Boje (1991, 1995) makes that case that storytelling is linked to institutional memory. I then turned to applying the storytelling organization model to Disney, a hybrid of modern and postmodern practices (1995). Disney and Nike both enhance their corporate reputation and legitimacy with official storytelling that is resisted by employee and activist storytelling. I argued that while storytelling communicates the shared values, etc, that it can also be a nest of managerial oppression and panoptic discipline (Boje, 1995). Barker (1993, ASQ) also makes this point, but not with stories. I raise these issues, because there is a gap between those using storytelling to measure or register a culture and those using storytelling the culture (Boje, 1995; Boyce, 1995). One is an object-view of stories, the other is a situated view of stories embedded and situated in contexts of performance. How do stories construct organization history, consumption values, and relations of the firm to customers? What, to me, is critical in such an analysis is to show which aspects are a modern or a postmodern appeal to customers. Modern organizations could arguably be still putting consumers in passive roles of consumption, but appealing to the fragmentation of life styles in the market.
The use of electronic or digital storytelling is an interesting development (McIntosh 1997). Major corporations such as Coke, Xerox, and the usual Fortune 100 line up to incorporate digital storytelling into their make-up. Yet is this a postmodern organization or is it some savvy modern organizations looking to cash in on new ways of reaching fragmenting markets? We can see spectacle as the Digital Storytelling Theater, most clearly presented in Disneyland, but also on the Las Vegas strip with the Luxor, Caesar's Palace, Mirage; in spectacles in our living room, like the Super Bowl (with digitized advertising superimposed on the field of play and Reebok icon-jerseys battling with Nike icons). Beneath this illusion lies brutality, cruelty and inhumanity to animals, humans, and mother earth. In the digital storytelling theaters there is a bit more interactive involvement (i.e. the spectator moves from passive and manipulated observer to active participant). Best and Kellner (1999b), for example, assert that spectacle is going through a transformation, from passive spectators in highly structured and massive spectacles to a stage of interactive spectacle in which spectators are actively producing and consuming their own spectacle in self-designed experiences. How is it that the storytellers co-produce the text of the story. If the spectator is passive, then no co-production is happening here. We see consumers in the video swapping Saturn stories, but this is not the same as the consumer watching the video telling stories in ways that get appropriated in the McIntosh (1997) examples.
Are employees empowered or disempowered? Employee empowerment is a hotly contested terrain these days (Boje and Rosile, 1999). Alvesson & Willmott (1996), Jacques (1996), Clegg (1990), Boje & Dennehy (1993), Collins (1998) have excellent critiques of empowerment. The basic notion is that much of what passes for empowerment in the HR literature is hype about "perceived" participation, when the result is more central and more panoptic managerialist control, i.e. disempowerment. The HR empowerment writers would be Block (1987), Conger and Kanungo (1988), Flemming (1991), Pacanowsky (1988), and Spreitzer (1995, 1996) who have influenced affirmative postmodernist Bergquist (1993) and the ever-popular, but misguided gurus Peters, Waterman, Deal, and Kennedy. The affirmative postmodernist Bergquist (1993), if we read him from the lens of the skeptic postmodernists, has bought into the late modern post-industrial empowerment rhetoric, but not done the critical work. Boje and Dennehy (1993: 204), for example, state:
Empowerment implies that you have been disempowered. To be disempowered is to be on the margins, to be peripheral to power, and even to have access to power denied. We think much of what is called empowerment is very token.
We are "commodity slaves" and "wage slaves" seeking "empowered" in functionary jobs in the status quo, made to appear to be in a constant state of reform, just jogging in place.
Where do we go from here? Since much of your work in economics is about the relation between consumption and production, I would recommend work by two postmodern marketing theorists, Fuat Firat and Nikhilesh Dholakia (1998). They look at organizations as theaters of consumption within political economies. Most relevant to your work is that their metaphor of "theater" (p. 154) looks at how different groups of actors take the stage of consumption. In particular, actors are fragmented into culture-scapes or life mode groups. The postmodern theory of fragmentation builds on Bauman's work. The idea is the actors seek to experience, sample, and test out different modes of being (p. 146). Modern organizations cater to fragmented life mode groups (such as the yuppie buyers who see the consumption as part of their identity). The critical theoretical issue for Firat and Dholakia is whether the actor or (I call them spectators after Guy Debord's theory, see Best & Kellner, 1997, Boje, 1999b) is active or passive in the consumption. Modern organizations set out passive consumption roles, where actors were passive spectators of celebrities doing the consumption or voyeurs to someone else experiencing happiness through material over-consumption. The active spectator takes a role in the consumption process and even in the design of the production they will consume (examples are white water rafting, wedding where you take on the role of an Elizabethan character, etc.).
Economists focus on conspicuous consumption and materiality. The basic idea is to look at how consumer cultures can resist the corporate initiatives to make them over-consumers. What I see in the postmodern condition is a confluence of production and consumption in ways we have not seen before. To styd this phenomenon I think we need some middle-range positions in the debates I outlines.
My work on postmodern organizations and storytelling systems (Boje, 1995). Boje (1995) makes the case for hybrid forms of premodern, modern, and postmodern (Boje & Dennehy, 1993). My recent work looks at postmodern organizations that have their dark sides (Cole, 1997; Boje 1998a to g, 1999). The skeptical postmodern organization theorists have called upon the affirmative postmodernists to look upon the dark side of postmodern (Thompson, 1993; Parker, 1993). Cole and Boje's work does this. They look at Nike Corporation as an example of a postmodern organization with a dark side, using stories to spin webs around the uncritical consumers, while masking exploitative labor practices in rhetoric of P.L.A.Y. and globalization of the economy. To me, your article speaks to the debate of the affirmatives and skeptical postmodernists (Rosenau, 1992). And the Achilles heel of the skeptics is all you need to do is demonstrate one postmodern organization or hybrid and their case unravels (partially). What does not unravel is that late modern firms imitate or appropriate postmodern gestures to sell their products. I think we need to situate which modes of discourse are prototypical modern or postmodern acts of production and consumption.
I am taken with Guy Debord's work on the Society of the Spectacle (1966). As a critical postmodernist it allows me to critique alienated production and fetish consumption practices addressed by Karl Marx. It also allows me to look at the postmodern Biotech Century as a spectacle of genetically altering humans, animals, and plant food. The current fad among management theorists is "knowledge work," how to give employees the "perception" of empowerment, while committing them to temporary detached employment in virtual, global employment systems. I am particularly interested in bridging affirmative postmodern positions on spirituality and non-violent ethics, in particular the Ahimsa work of Gandhi and Chitrabhanu, with critical theory. I want to show how there are many quite different postmodern approaches in the postmodern turn (Best & Kellner, 1997). We have entered a time of "interactive spectacle" in which the many spectacles of alienated employment, over-consumption, spirituality, knowledge work, and biotech manipulation of the gene pool are constructing our world. I have summarized the interactive spectacles in Table One.
I locate Knowledge Work and Management Spectacle in the center, so that I can show its decentering with interaction with the other four spectacles. There are also four hybrid interactive spectacles between the four spectacles in the corner positions (Table Two is adapted from Boje, 1999b).
Table Two: Summary of Five Spectacle Worldviews that are Interactive
1. Corporate Imperialism Spectacle
Colonization of native lands, corporate colonization of social and leisure spaces.
Hybrid of 1 and 2
A hybrid of Ahimsa or nonviolence resistance and nonviolent attempts to resist colonialism (i.e. Americanization).
2. Ahimsa and Simplicity Spectacle
Nonviolence approaches of Gandhi, Kumar, Chitrabhanu, and King Jr. Encompasses simplicity in consumption and nonviolent approaches to production.
Hybrid of 1 and 3
A hybrid of political economy critique with movements towards rewriting corporate charters for more local control
5. Knowledge Work and Management Spectacle
Focus on the new Digital economy of information technology. Includes knowledge workers, knowledge managers, and knowledge consumers, as well as the global division of virtual labor.
Hybrid of 2 and 4
New Age Postmodern
A hybrid of the spirituality in business and ecology with certain postmodern positions
3. Political Economy Spectacle
A focus on the critical and labor process theory of Marx. Includes an analysis of the political and economic uses of technologies.
Hybrid of 3 and 4
A hybrid of critical theory and certain postmodern perspectives
4. Postmodern Spectacle
Positions that range from Lyotard's focus on local narratives, Baudrillard's hyperreal, Bauman's analysis of Holocaust, to Best and Kellner's extension of Debord to postmodern sensibilities.
A brief overview follows. I start with # 5, since it is the dominant worldview in management and organization writing. The point here is that the worldviews intermingle.
5. Knowledge Work and Management Spectacle There is an unlimited celebration of progress-through-technological development, be it Virtual Universities, biotech gene splicing or cybertech virtual commuting across the globe. This spectacle is above all a legitimating narrative for social engineering and social control masking the violent acts of production and consumption. As the Cyber Liberal Capitalism story is told, with the shift to service jobs, we are the information society and we are knowledge workers. But, the negative side of the story is important to explore, with some growth in service jobs, manufacturing is still "the core activity of capitalist societies" (Thompson, 1993: 188).
Postmodernism is particularly dependent in its imagery on this notion of an information age that has broken with industrialism or the mode of production. But the 'reproduction' of information is not separate from capitalism (Thompson, 1993: 188).
(Affirmative) "Postmodernists" says Thompson (1993: 189) "are only the latest in a long line of academics infatuated with technology." Clegg (1990), Jameson (1984), Boje and Dennehy (1993), and Boje, Gephart, and Thatchenkery are critical of the post-industrial thesis for similar, if not the same reasons as the Skeptics. The received view is that Toffler's third wave is here, the knowledge society has won out over the second wave of industrial revolution, and the first wave of agrarian feudalism. Bureaucracies are being transformed into non-hierarchic information networks governed by the newest theories of complexity, chaos and virtual management. The worldview is in every new management and organization book under the label knowledge worker management systems, or substitute tiles like learning organization, network organization, empowered, cyber or virtual corporation. The Knowledge Worker and Management perspective is critiqued and interacts with four other worldviews.
1. Corporate Imperialism Spectacle I am aware that most students of organization eschew this worldview because the 1st world is blamed or judged harshly for the problems of the 3rd world (Mokhiber & Weissman, 1999). Corporate Imperialism, for example, looks at the other half the world's population (3 billion) that do not own telephones, much less computer systems with which to sign on to a world of knowledge chat rooms (Burrell, 1997). It also looks harshly at the colonization of social spaces by corporate production and marketing (Fiat & Dholakia, 1998). The corporate imperialism worldview concludes that the richest fifth of the world dominates the other four fifths of the world in terms of resource utilization, property rights, and it decimates the planet resources at an accelerating pace (Rifkin, 1997; Korten, 1996, 1999). It also looks sourly on the continuing corporate manufacture of the status quo of all life space. There is a strong focus on the history of imperialism, from colonizing nations, conquistadors, to contemporary forms of economic inequality. This worldview has much sympathy with the political economy worldview (# 3 below), but is quite opposed to what it considers a Pollyanna philosophy of the Knowledge Work and Management worldview. In parts there is appreciation for the next view.
2. Ahimsa (non-violence) and Simplicity Spectacle This worldview answers a practical question: is there a way to transcend violent forms of production and consumption? There are three movements in this perspective: Ahimsa focus on nonviolent production and consumption, the simplicity movement to adopt more responsible consumption patterns, and the ecology movement which looks at sustainability and may include a focus on Animal Rights. Gandhi was deeply influenced by the Ahimsa philosophy. Gandhi sought alternatives to silk production, a process that kills the silk worms during the manufacturing process. I attended the Gandhi Institute and observed one of his inventions, a cotton spinning machine that any person with a bit of training and patience, can operate. He distributed the spinning machines to create an alternative to the then British controlled manufacture of cotton and the nation's dependency on silk garments. There is a spirituality movement in the Academy. In addition, the simplicity and ecocentric perspectives are gaining legitimacy in the Academy of Management, and have fostered a new division, ONE (Organization and the Natural Environment). The simplify your life, live simply, recycle and everywhere reduce perspective and Ahimsa spirituality are not as reliant upon government regulation as is the ecology movement. There is also a gray area, in which nonviolent resistance seeks to bring about government policy change. As with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., the focus can be on individual and collective non-violent resistance to colonial domination. This focus on changing the status quo is therefore consistent, in parts, with the anti-Corporate Imperialism worldview, and at odds with the free market economy logic of the Knowledge Management perspective.
3. Political Economy Spectacle The political economy worldview is popular among many of the economists at this convention. It is recently making some headway as a critique of the Knowledge Work worldview and Americanization (the spread of Americana icons, products and consumptive styles). Rooted in Marx, Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer (the Frankfurt School), and many contemporary thinkers, the political economy worldview does not have much patience for spirituality, ecology (religion is considered the opiate of the people), or consumer fetish. It is skeptical of most guru work, for example Charles Handy, Alvin Toffler and Tom Peters, who are viewed in the main as espousing a apologetic story (e.g. Knowledge Worker worldview) for Social Darwinian forms of capitalism. The focus of this worldview is more on human emancipation from regimes of domination and oppression that expand the gap between haves and have-nots. This includes a critique of Spencer's Victorian Social Darwinian worldview of the survival of the fittest, which they translate to survival of the richest at the expense of everyone else's survival. This is seen as another apology for free market economics, when they see quite obvious consequences to unregulated self-organizing schemes. This worldview is compatible with the Imperial worldview and most distant from the Knowledge Worker and Management worldview, which is seen as another reincarnation of deskilling and oppressive, work routines. There is uneasy relationship to the next worldview.
4. Postmodern Narrative and Theatrics Spectacles The postmodern turn is not a break with or succession to the other worldviews. Ahimsa (premodern) spirituality, modern critical theory, and (systemic) modern knowledge worker viewpoints are simultaneous with postmodern. The postmodern worldview (in its many fragments) is both resistance to, and a critique of, the first world view of Knowledge Management and has roots in the other views. There is a good deal of crossover, for example, with political economy in looking at how popular culture privileges some economic classes, ethnicities, races, and male-logic. There is a new age postmodernism (eschewed by other postmodern perspectives) that finds easy compatibility to the Ahimsa worldview and with certain factions of ecology seeking to re-enchant the earth as Gaia or living system. Consistent with the Imperial Corporation worldview, there is a postmodern critique of knowledge work and cyber tech that extends into a critique of Biotech Century and exploitative ecology and animal cruelty practices. There is also a hybrid, "critical postmodernism," that takes the political economy narrative as a given and looks at ways in which popular culture extends or subverts it. Postmodern also contains positions such as Lyotard that has no patience for grand narratives or Baudrillard who sees modern reality as now irrevocably transformed to simulation and the hyperreal. I follow Best and Kellner who seek the interplay between grand (e.g. evolution of knowledge work) and local narrative (i.e. how consumers try to live outside spectacle; how firms attempt to set up non-violent forms of production), and the interaction of premodern, modern and postmodern. To me, it is the hybrid quality of looking at material conditions of exploitation, idealist visions of reform, and the potential for emancipation from escapism, pseudo reform, and ongoing domination, that is intriguing.
It is in the postmodern theatrics that the audience is seduced or required to surrender their passive spectator role and become one of the live actors on the stage, or in the case of Storytelling Organization Theater on many stages, becoming the wandering audience chasing stories and actors, themselves now actors, from room to room. And, this means that spectacle and narrative theory are some how intermingled. Spectacles are also macro-power, able to invoke ideologies and fetish on a global stage.
As a postmodernist and critical theorist, I am crossing a threshold. That is, in most postmodern and critical theory writings there are no solutions offered. Still I think that a non-violent form of commerce and consumption does change, even overthrow spectacle. Festival is what I mean by non-violent patterns of production and consumption. Festival is defined as the pragmatics of long term sustainability in a non-violent culture, in balance with the whole planet. It is, I believe, an third kind of political economy, an alternative to both state communism and predatory capitalism. The alternative Debord, Chitrabhanu, Best, Kellner, Firat and Dholakia, and I am proposing, from differing perspectives, is to re-enter the festive world, to walk and breath real life "situations" as an active participant, not a passive spectator in everyday life space. It means overcoming societal addictions to violent video game entertainment as we witnessed in the Columbine high school murders. It means taking a critical look at commodity and production needs that are inherently artificial prescriptions for the happy person in the happy society.
Festival is usually intertwined with spectacle, like the Woodstock Music Festival of 1969 and the many Renaissance Festivals throughout the world. These festivals offer a chance to play, to be a participant in the theatrics, and to get crude. The festival is an attempt to make leisure more important than work. I see spectacle and festival as interactive, with blurred lines between them (the next table is adapted from Boje, 1999b).
Table Three: Interaction of Spectacle and Festival
. Festival is what could happen if we could ever get beyond spectacles of hyper production and consumption, balance the passive with more interactive television, use the web to resist Affluenza (addiction to image consumption), and to live in sensible patterns of coevolution with other species. Festival is a way of doing business that respects people, communities, and the ecology. Festival balances stakeholder interests in the future generation (stakeholders include workers, managers, owners, investors, customers, local communities, future generations, and the ecosystem).
In sum postmodernism is one of the worldviews on spectacle being discussed in contrast to Knowledge Work/Knowledge Management, Corporate Imperialism, Ahimsa, and Political Economy spectacles. Within each view there is ample disagreement, and this is certainly the case among the skeptical and affirmative preferences for postmodern (organization) theory.
Festival is another affirmative postmodernist line of flight, but one with a skeptical twist (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Just as state Marxism collapsed in on itself, capitalism is consuming planetary and human resources at such an accelerated rate; it too is collapsing from within. In its place a new geopolitics of ecological and human sustainability can reterritorialize the space left by both capitalism and Marxism.
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