This is the final reflective piece, on what I see as parallels between Etienne Wenger’s work and Ralph Stacey’s perspective on organizational dynamics.
It centres on Wenger’s reference to “design”, in Communities of Practice, which Stacey criticizes on two counts. First, those who advocate a design approach usually do so from a “systems” viewpoint, with its implication that the rationally designed structure, strategy, procedure or whatever will then unfold as intended. Secondly, it implies that someone (“the designer”) can ‘stand outside’ the ongoing process of interaction to design and build the required organization.
This is the fourth part of my exploration of the parallels that I see between Ralph Stacey’s complexity-based view of the dynamics of organizations and the ideas expressed by Etienne Wenger in his book, Communities of Practice. This has been sparked by Stacey’s critique of Wenger’s perspective, in the 5th Edition of his textbook, Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics (reviewed here).
My view is that there is merit in emphasizing the similarities between these perspectives – if and where it's agreed that these exist, of course. In doing so, this strengthens the notional ‘coalition of support’ for a view of organizational dynamics which challenges the mainstream consensus. That is, one that highlights the centrality of everyday, local interactions in determining organizational outcomes.
This post focuses on what Stacey sees as Wenger’s failure to recognize and address the inherently paradoxical nature of organizations. This view of Wenger's work arises from the ways in which he discusses the concepts of “participation” and “reification” (below), which sit at the core of his theory.
This is the third post on the parallels that I see between Etienne Wenger’s writing on communities of practice and Ralph Stacey’s “complex responsive process” view of organizational dynamics. This has been prompted by comments made by Stacey himself, in Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics, where he brackets Wenger’s perspective with others that are based on more mainstream conceptions of organizational theory and practice.
Earlier, I looked at Stacey’s comments on Wenger’s use of systems-based language, as expressed in his Communities of Practice. Here, I will focus on a second criticism of Wenger’s take on organizational dynamics, in which Stacey argues that “… he moves away from the daily lived experience and talks in terms of abstract (in the sense of removed from direct experience) macro processes …”. To avoid doing so is a touchstone of the complex social process approach to practice. This emphasizes the importance of actively engaging in the ongoing conversational reality of organizational life; focusing on the detailed local interactions between people in “the living present”, without recourse to abstract models and concepts.
In a recent post, I suggested that I could see many parallels between Etienne Wenger’s writing on communities of practice and Ralph Stacey’s “complex responsive process” view of organizational dynamics. This runs counter to comments made by Stacey himself, in the 5th edition of his Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics textbook.
The first criticism that Stacey makes relates to Wenger’s use of what might be termed “systems-based” language. And it’s this to which I want to turn in the second post in this mini series.