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Notes From The Field: Process Philosophy, The Missing Link For Understanding Disruption

May 26, 2014

Just finished 1000 words, most of which centered on points drawn from Cooper and Law’s piece on Distal and Proximal views of organization.

Most of their writing is quite abstract, but there were also a number of critical insights about the actual process of human interaction that–when looked at closely–easily overturn a number of long-standing assmptions about how humans relate to one another in organizational settings.

I’ll post more about that point tomorrow or later in the week. For now I just want to share some of the writing I did tonight that justifies why my study must utilize a lens tuned to the tenets of Process Philosophy.

The point I make going in is that this study will look very closely at how people actually interact with one another when having to confront problems that exist outside the box of their familar problem-solving habits (aka “disruption”).


To better comprehend the implications of all that may be at stake [in looking closely at how individuals deal with disruption in organizations], there is need to adopt an awareness that not only problematizes modernism’s reflexive push toward stability and permanence, but will also be open to the reality-defining implications of change and disturbance. A theoretical orientation rooted in Process Philosophy is capable of providing all that.

This is because Process Philosophy is concerned with the lived experience of interaction and the dynamic, moment-to-moment diversities and fluctuations that constitute human engagement. Process Philosophy has little interest in ideal forms, projected outcomes, or any form of analysis rooted in norms of stability or permanence. Instead, what Process Philosophy strives to understand are the moment to moment meaning that emerge from interactions occurring in the here and now.

While the origins of Process Philosophy can be traced as far back as the Pre-Socratics and the writings of Heraclitus, the emergence of the disciple’s current incarnation is found in the work Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead’s views on interaction, change and the dynamic undercurrents of relational interaction has, until recently, been largely ignored by most organizational thinkers who continue to demonstrate unquestioned allegiance to the Newtonian ideal of a mechanistic universe that is mediated by an inherent attraction to balance, predictability, and resolution.

Recently, however, a small group of organizational thinkers including Robert Chia, John Law, and Martin Wood have taken up the challenge and have produced compelling works that examine organizational dynamics through from a process perspective.


Tonight’s Sonic Fuel

Anat Fort: A Long Story

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff Loeb permalink
    May 26, 2014 1:41 pm

    Hi David, I follow your writing with interest. I wonder, can you suggest readings from the authors you mention above?

    Have you come across Fernando Flores’ work on listening, language, and action? I won’t be surprised if the answer is ‘yes’. On the chance that you have not, you might enjoy ‘Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design’ (not about what you might guess), and ‘Conversations for Action and Collected Essays’.

    Thanks, Jeff

  2. May 26, 2014 4:46 pm

    Hi Jeff and thanks for your comment!

    There are so many sources I could refer you to but I’ll opt for keeping it manageable. Here’s a brief bibliography based on the last 2 postings:

    Chia, R. (1995). From modern to postmodern organizational analysis. Organization studies, 16(4), 579-604.

    Cooper, R., & Law, J. (1995). Organization: Distal and proximal views. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 13, 237-274.

    Mesle, C. R. (2008). Process-relational philosophy: an introduction to Alfred North Whitehead. Templeton Foundation Press.

    Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002). On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change. Organization Science, 13(5), 567-582.

    Whitehead, A. N. (1929/2010). Process and reality. New York: Simon and Schuster. [Summary]

    Wood, M. (2005). The Fallacy of Misplaced Leadership*. Journal of Management Studies, 42(6), 1101-1121.

    Regarding Flores, I am not familiar with his work but my school library did have an ebook of “Understanding Computers and Cognition”. Also, I just found this interview that appeared in Stategy+Business in 2009.

    I’m going to check him out. Also, let me know if you get a chance to look at any of the materials above.

    Kind regards,

    PS: Of all the above, I’d reccommend starting with the first article by Robert Chia. ~d

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