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Stephen Billing

Thank you Chris for taking up this discussion about reification. You point out that reification is a necessary part of making sense of, in particular, many abstract notions that we deal with as human beings, simply through the process of using language to express ourselves.

I don't think that my post attempts to outlaw reification. I think it is important as a manager to be aware of one's own tendency and that of consultants to treat culture and organisations as though they are things that can be manipulated, if only we have a clever enough plan. To that end I thought carefully in giving my post the title "Be Aware of Reification" and not "Beware of Reification".

Such dialogue as we are having is something that I find very beneficial and I thank you for this stimulating interaction.

Cheers, Stephen

Chris Rodgers

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry about the mistake I made in the title of your blog post. I realized my error as soon as I'd published the post and corrected it straightaway. However, it looks as though the feeds picked up the original.

As you point out, "be aware" conveys a significantly different message (triggers different patterns?) to "beware". The power of language!

Cheers, Chris

Tom Gibbons

I must say Chris that although I just got to read your post today (September 10th) I'm glad I did since I agree with what you are saying and you likely have said it better than I could have... :)

All experience is filtered through our personal histories and thus could be said to be an abstraction and a reification when we 'think' or 'make sense' of that experience.

I do agree with Stephen that the best way of understanding what is going on in organizations is to talk about the actual experiences we are having and I also agree that there are always models, language, assumptions etc. that play a role informing those discussions. Eventually, as you say Chris those models etc. will likely be proven wrong but if we wait for the right one we will wait forever.

I think one of the challenges of complex responsive processes is that if you think it is saying that the only thing that exists is pure interaction, unfettered by models etc used to make sense, then you feed the common response that anything can happen in that interaction and lose the important part of constaining dynamics. Another problem with this is that when people want assistance in understanding their interactions, without models, they will likely go to some expert and then you have the same problem of traditional psychotherapy, anything of value happens one to one and is unavailable to the greater population.

I think the bigger challenge is to take our own experience seriously and recognize that models, assessments, assumptions etc. are being used extensively and if we can help people to use them well and question their value rigorously, then we add more value than saying they do not add value at all.

Chris Mowles

Hi Chris, I think Stecey's problem with Wenger is that he loses paradox ie he takes participation and reification to be two separate and distinct phases which are complementary and not mutually negating. For Stacey et al this is what is known as 'both/and' thinking derived from Kant. It is in this way that managers can think of themselves as being both in the organisation and designing processes of learning at the same time. Stacey would argue that taking up Hegel instead, with the idea of the negation of the negation, or Aufhebung, one is closer to the paradox of participating and reifying, what Stacey is more recently calling immersing and abstracting, both AT THE SAME TIME (sorry for shouting). Despite the broad similarities that you are pointing to, I think it is in the domain of paradox that Stacey would see himself as offering a different interpretation.

Chris Rodgers

Thanks, Chris, for the explanation.

I do recognize the “at the same time” dimension of paradox and use that phraseology as well. I shall read Wenger again because, despite his seeming to talk about separate processes, I’m not sure that he would necessarily disagree with your interpretation of what’s happening (what you describe as “immersing and abstracting, both AT THE SAME TIME”).

I shall come back to this when I've had a chance to reflect.

As an aside, Stacey makes an important point in his work about the dynamics of polarization in organizations. The tendency is for positions to harden, differences to be exaggerated and similarities to be overlooked. It would be unfortunate, therefore, if this dynamic were to 'split the opposition', so to speak, and make the challenge to management orthodoxy less potent than it might otherwise be.

I realize that paradox is pivotal to your view of organizational dynamics (as it is to mine) but, to mix metaphors, I don't think that Wenger deserves a 'Red Card' yet. I shall look at the 'replay' and see if things become clearer!

Cheers, Chris

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