Sunday, March 19, 2006

Leadership & Wrestling

It occured to me, whist reading, again, the wonderful and surprising essay by Roland Barthes 'The World of Wrestling' (1957), that I could use this idea as a base for a paper on leadership for the leadership conference later this year. As a model the Barthian inspiration would serve as a gentle though arresting preamble into an extended and frighteningly conclusive poststructural dissembling of some cherrished notions: notably, the self, the veneers of authenticity, psychological depth of the leader, and the consistency of follower's commitment to the leader. Alied to this is something else I'd like to try out with either this paper or another; and that is, to critique the accepted graphical depiction of the network metaphor - the spidery diagram with connecting lines and nodes. I'd like to bring to the foreground the interstercies, the gaps between the lines of network, the bits not captured by traffic of networkness along the pipes. To do this I think I'd use Latour's actor network theory, and start including the unsaids of place, objects, equipment and tools, and time, all of which are important determinants in the network. And since we're flipping things over, why not throw in to this tumble dryer of concepts the good old notion of self.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lyotard: Right This Instant

Now here's an obscure sounding title: but this book by Roger Mourad (1997) is a gem for unpacking the story of Lyotard (particularly 'The Postmodern Condition') and his pomo philosophy of higher education (pp.28-37)

"The dynamic and experimental sense of inquiry implied by Lyotard emphasises inquiry as an intellectual activity that aims to undergo and produce change."

Just the short section on Lyotard has made me realise that SoM's concern with pragmatism is of the same quality as that displayed in a selection of postmodern - specifically, poststructuralist - conceptions of knowledge.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Secret Coherence

Is there something holding a text all together? Some sort of hidden pin or clip that clasps the text, vice-like, in an unquestioned cohesion of intrinsic meaning? Structural discourses posit a rationality to texts that make them cohere. Such coherence precedes the text: this rational cohesion is somehow stowed away, secreted, between the noggins and behind the panels of a polished text so that no customs officer would question its passage. What happens, though, if you squeeze the clip and unclasp this cohesion?: shine a torch and tap on the thin veneer of the seemingly upright text? Out pops a whole family of vagabonds, rife with excess meaning, all unaccounted for and bewildered in the bright light of questioning. Alas, with this traffic of unharmonious meaning the borders of our poststructural sensibility are a sham.

A Surplus of Meaning

Poststructuralism is fond of talking about surpluses of meaning: namely, that differing readings of the same text produce differing meanings, all of which are tenable. I say let's redistribute these surpluses of meaning to the meaning poor. Rather than the meaning piling up rotting by the wayside we should shed it, ship it and truck it to the meaning famished around the world. In fact, why not factory farm surplus meaning so that the supply is always greater than the demand. Meaning could be our prime exported commodity, shipped, like coals to Newcastle, to meaning lean economies - those economies of discourse in need of stout butresses (not unlike fortified wines) to their weak tropes. Distilleries of stills, in intoxicating fumes of meaning labour pumping out text after text, would soon rehydrate the most meaning drained husk of authoritative interpretation.

A Garnish of Verbs

In a poststructural 'reality' (scare quotes intended) - distinct from the one where language dishes up, unproblematically, our experiences and environment whole - language not only flavours the referent; the referent becomes language. That the world were not just served up with a seasonal garnish of verbs that one can push to the side of the plate, but that the entire feast comprises the textured, earthy and medicinal language garnish. In a linguistic universe reality is only mediated reality. Bon appetite!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The truth of networked learning lies at its borders

In his book 'Understanding Poststrucrualism' (2005, Acumen) James Williams provides a very helpful set of philosophical criticisms of radical poststructrualism, together with some incisive counter criticisms. Williams seems to veer towards positing an essence of poststructuralism (doubly difficult given the nonessentialist nature of a slippery intellectual movement that dodges its very own '-ism') around "the limits of knowledge play an unavoidable role at its core". This strange claim means, according to Williams, that any settled form of knowledge or moral good is made by its limits and cannot be defined independently of them (p.2), e.g. the truth of a nation is at its borders. A limit is not defined in opposition to the core; it is a positive thing in its own right. If this is the case then poststructuralism calls into question the role of traditional forms of knowledge in setting definitions since these traditional forms only gain meaning via the (non traditional) limits of knowledge. The work of the limit is to open up the core and to change our sense of its role as a stable truth and value.

Here's where a poststructuralist-inspired definition of networked learning comes into play. 'Poststructuralism provides a thorough disruption of our secure sense of meaning and reference in language, of our understanding of our senses and of the arts, of our understanding of identity, of our sense of history and its role in the present, and of our understanding of language as something free of the work of the unconscious' (Williams, p.3). In the same fashion, a poststructuralist perspective on networked learning thoroughly disrupts our secure sense of meaning & reference in the language of traditional executive education, of our understanding of the identity and purpose of business schools and of the stable identity of the consumer such institution's product.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Reassembling Executive Education via Networked Learning

I think Zizek's reading (p.18-19 in Organs without Bodies, Routledge 2004) of Deleuze's cyborgian conception of the human - where "it is meaningless to imagine a human being as a biological entity without the complex network of his or her tools" - as dependent on 'protheses' has a wonderful parallel with management/leadership education when one considers the necessary, and therefore defining given the above, prostheses of managers. What prosthesis is required that enables a manager to manage: what external mechanical supplements are necessary for a manager to do their job? The wonderful parallel is not so much the cyborgian conception itself (which is arresting and worthy of more study) but the underpinning this notion gives to a nacent poststructuralist definition of 'networked-learning' within, and in contrast to, traditional business school education. Networked learning is the instantiation of the network of tools a manager needs (as protheses) to function as a manager and/or leader: reassembling executive education, then, is a replication and extension of this prosthesis that serves as role model of this new conception of manager via a pedagogic function with respect to building and enhancing this network of tools. Networked-learning oriented B-school education serves to frame managers as (a potentiality of) a network of social relations. A manager is the totality of his or her network of social relations: what better way to learn how to be a manager than to partake of an education that is framed in this fashion, e.g. networked-learning?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Moment of Zizek & Eagleton

The productive Zizek has slammed on the brakes of my runnaway poststructuralist pulman. Short of derailing this train of thought, his 'Ticklish Subject' (Verso 1999) fearlessly rechampions the site of the Cartesian subjectivity; and hence is troubling for radical poststructuralists and pomo philosophical dilettante apologists like me. Eagleton, on the other hand, has jumped on the roof - a la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible - of my speeding train and, in a fit of over-acting, accosted the driver with some seductive reasoning: not least of which goes along the lines of "to be inside and outside a postion at the same time - to occupy a territory while loitering sceptically on the boundary - is often where the most intensely creative ideas stem from. It is a resourceful place to be, if not a painless one." His 'After Theory' (Penguin 2003) is a passioned call for cultural theory to be the site of a renewed appraisal of theory in general; more precisely located possibly by Zizek's rechampioning of Cartesian subjectivity. Anyway; all aboard!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Deleuze & Guattari

Ok - here's the bad news for mainstream business education delivered by our nomadic poststructuralists, Gille Deleuze and Felix Guattari:

  • organisations are not discreet, identifiable entities which can be examined independently of their social contexts - this not only affects how we treat 'organisation' academically, but how we conceive our client organisations and how we work with them to define the scope of our joint educative endeavours
  • it is a fallacy to think that organisations (whatever these are, given the above) are perfectible - hence the notion of performance improvement is immediately suspect since this implies that attainment of a stasis, which is unachievable. Poststructuralism rejects the 18thC. Enlightenment-based teleology of progress; unfortunately, since executive education is un-selfreflectively footed in the modernist mindset, here is a major blind-spot
  • Capitalism's need to control and channel meaning, in order to remain unquestionable, is operationalised through the capture and control of the signifier. Capitalilsm appears to be aloof from question, certainly in the service industry of business education, when its analysis emerges from within capitalisms own regime of truth - this is a regime that is perpetuated by its own colonisation of signifiers (science, reason, measurement, evidence) on which business education is based and so we are too close to the problem to define it. Within the capitalist regime of truth there exists no mechanism for mounting such a challenge. Wouldn't this be an excellent basis on which to concieve of a 'becoming of leadership'?
  • Organisations do not exist simply to provide goods and services as efficiently as possible in resonse to customer demand, they exist to channel desire (a key component of D&G's thinking) into the production and consumption of capitalism's outputs, and to disable the potential for desire to desire anything beyond, or alternative, to this - which has major implications on how we define what we do for the organisations and individuals that come to us

This is work in progress: I'm sufficiently stirred up to start a deeper reading of Thousand Plateaus and Anti-Oedipus. More later...