SECTION III: Part B: POSTMODERN AESTHETICS
What is Postmodern Aesthetics? Across fields of narrative, film, music, and architecture, there is a new sensibility. Hassard (1996) argues that postmodern organizations will adopt a less linear and more cyclical sense of time. For Baudrillard, the most radical of postmodernists, this is a society of the simulation. We simulate team meetings in virtual team meeting rooms on the Internet. We simulate organizations with "Virtual Organizations," where a core of a few full time people with total benefits lord it over the part timers and net-slaves (those commuting to work through computer hookup) with no benefits at all. In this new postmodern culture, we see the architecture of Las Vegas replacing the city center and even the modernist shopping mall. In Las Vegas, simulated New York, simulated Pairs, and simulated Venice are supposed to be safer, cleaner, easier, and more user-friendly than the real places which are too rude, crude, nasty and brutish. Postmodern art and architecture is a shock to modernist sensibility which preferred its art functional, pure, and coherent. Besides the kitsch of Las Vegas or Disney, a postmodern aesthetics also includes art for protest, such as ladies who dress in leafs of lettuce to protest meat establishments or Gorilla girls who use art to make feminist statements. Postmodern artists accuse modernist art of loosing its critical edge, its opposition to oppressive ideology (as in the avant-garde movement of the Impressionists). Postmodern aesthetics is not too fond of dividing art into High and Low. This postmodern turn also took place in literature, when modernist writing and history was challenged with the postmodern narrative. Palmer and Clegg (1996) define postmodern organization aesthetic as one of "de-differentiation" as opposed to the division of labor of bureaucracy and an " incessant intertextuality," "infinite indexicality," and "open horizon" as opposed to the specificity of bureaucracy. A key aspect of postmodern aesthetic is the postmodern narrative
What is the Postmodern Narrative? Postmodernist Narratology is something beyond the traditional Newtonian Science knowledge narrative and something that is what I call a "poetics of collective memory." This would include:
- Critique of grand narratives (one history, usually white, male & European) in favor of local narratives
- Fragmentation of self (and corporation) into polyvocal (means many voiced) narration
- Affirmative and skeptical positions (see below)
- Genealogical discourse (how stories, concepts, paradigms, history changes over time).
- Reject stories of time told in linear sequence.
- A focus on how "collective memory" involves forgetting pain and suffering and recomposing memory to encompass new or previously excluded stories.
"In a sense collective memory" says Ricoeur, 1999a: 8) "is a kind or storage of such violent blows, wounds, and scars." As Lyotard (1984) argues each new way of telling a story, is a way to erase another way of telling. In short, postmodern narrative refuses to choose between competing stories, eschews one-sided interpretation, is critical of people who tell stories of progress, and does not believe anyone knows the whole story anyway. Or as Ricoeur (1999a: 8) puts it "we can not tell a story without eliminating or dropping some important event according to the kind of plot we indent to build." Postmodern narratology (Currie, 1998; Boje, 2000a) disputes the teleology of historical determinism (one story of history), technology determinism (every technology development makes human and animal kind better off), and managerialism (managers tell everyone's story). And postmodern narratology shatters living story into many disembodied fragments called petit or local stories. Postmodernists recognize that there is not one, but many histories (Currie, (1998: 79). There is a postmodern skepticism about modernist organization narration.
Narrating the wounds and scars of the history of complex organizations would produce less flattering theories of institutional power, but provide perhaps more ethical historical accounts of corporate life. Narrative ethics as an act of inquiry would gauge the production of stories, characterizations of "Other," and the how voices are left in and out of OS [organization science] texts (Boje, 2000b).
An example from Medical Narrative will help here. The postmodern narrative calls into question the experience of the sufferer as just the medical charts, financial statements and hospital procedures (Franks, 1995: 144). I agree with Frank (1995: 119) who observes "the conquering hero is on the modernist side of the postmodernist divide." The postmodern narrative is suspicious of both the Quest and the Bureaucratic narrative. There is some overlap in postmodern and chaos narrative. Both the chaos and postmodern narrative confront us with narrative holes that bureaucratic and quest storytelling organizations can not practically fill. In sum, postmodern narrating is a critical witness to modern times.
In aesthetic terms, postmodern narrative is a richly, textured, nuanced, multifaceted, and transgressive and even subversive to status quo (modernist) organization theory. That is because the modernist narrative is a grand one, totalizing all story into one story, told in one voice, as if paradigms and concepts did not change over time. The fragmented narrative is the recurring leitmotif. In fragmented narrative we never get told the whole story. It is not that someone withholds it, they don't know the WHOLE STORY either (See Boje. 1995 example of Disney). We experience bits and pieces of storied experiences and parts of retrospective stories as we walk the halls, attend meetings and log into our email. Since the storytelling is simultaneous and involves many storytellers on many stages all at once we never hear the total story. A postmodern narrative is not only fragmented it morphs organization culture to pop culture, cyberspace, TV, and movies. Disneyland and Las Vegas are common examples of the new postmodern aesthetics. But, postmodern aesthetics is also part of our daily life.
What is a postmodern narrative style? How does it differ from a modernist, say bureaucratic or chaos narrative styles?
In the postmodern narrative, there is change in forms and concepts over time (i.e. genealogy). Postmodern writer Michel Foucault, for example looks at the genealogy of modern organization, to show how the essentials of the map or paradigm changed over time (Burrell, 1997). Burrell seeks to find out why parts of history are left out of organization theory. Textbooks leave out the stories of "minor" characters. Worldviews, we now simply take for granted, such as prison, punishment, clinic, and madness have a genealogy that is historically situated.
The postmodern narrative assumes knowledge is not "detached, isolated, pregiven" or some "fully formed little entity that simply parachutes to earth and then begins" the innocent "mapping" or the pregiven territory of the so-called "real world" (Wilber, 1996: 61). We can trace the history of modernist and postmodernist worldviews.
And the overall idea that worldviews develop -- that neither the world nor the self is simply pregiven -- that is the great postmodern discovery (Wilber, 1996: 61).
Early versions of systems theory, for example, subscribed to the "reflection in the mirror" paradigm. In the old paradigm there were whole systems and atomized subsystems, open and closed systems. "And please remember that" says Wilber (1996: 59) "whether the world was atomistic or holistic is completely beside the point. What they all agreed on was the mapping paradigm itself." The old approach to systems theory (wholes and parts reflected in the mirror) worked for centuries. But in the postmodern condition, the old maps of the world and its systems as Wilber (1996: 59) puts it "they leave out the mapmaker. Postmodernist attack the map making process for leaving out the map maker and assuming a "mirror of nature" paradigm of knowledge.
"Postmodern" parties agreed that this "mirror of nature" idea was utterly, hopelessly, massively naive (Wilber, 1996: 60).
The mirror fragmented into millions of pieces that no Humpty Dumpty theory of a "one reality" "one totality" or "one map" could put back together again. Lyotard (1984) called for an end to the mirror, an end to "grand narrative," and let a 1,000 little stories reign. However, there are certainly more moderate postmodern positions. . Currie (1998), for example, favors a socio-narrative (moderate narrative) approach that takes aspects of modernist structuralist analysis (formism) and combines them with postmodern narrative work (e.g. critical historicism, i.e. more than one person's telling of history). Iggers’ (1997) also argues for a more moderate postmodern historiography is the nexus of micro storytelling at the local level and the macro stories of grander narration that constitute social class and political economy.
Postmodern History and Modern History - Postmodernist accuse modernist organization historians of wanting to know only about "the great deeds of CEO's and managers." But to the postmodernist the discarded or ignored (marginalized) histories of janitors, secretaries, scientists, accountants, and temporary workers are important. There is as scarcity of history of the behavior and experience of the "subordinate class" of organizations, while the story of the heroic CEO is told in every textbook. Postmodernists question the idea of "modernist" organization history, the CEO's history, and reconstruct but history of all the people. Feminists want to know what happened to the history of women as they stroll the corporate hallways lined with the paintings of former CEO's. The official story of corporate history is buy one story among many to the postmodernist. The great postmodern discovery was that there are many histories, not one pregiven in the annals of the CEO. Who writes corporate history? Who writes the antiseptic modern narrative?
Postmodern Organization has several fragmented facets (radical social constructionists, extreme relativists, and moderate postmodernists.
At one extreme the "radical" social constructionists version of postmodern theory is that all worldviews are social constructed and are also "arbitrary." The more "moderate" postmodern theory rejects the "arbitrary" or "relativistic" claim you can just "say anything." To the "moderate" postmodernist "everything is NOT "socially constructed." Yes, paradigms and worldviews are socially constructed and they change over time, but those changes respond to social interest that are anchored in power. Knowledge for the "moderate postmodernist" is anchored in power. Those with the power, the correct sex, race, and wealth write history as well as many other paradigms of social and even science knowledge. There are also "critical postmodernists" who accept the existence of "real" power structures and "material reality" who will not sit next to a "radical social constructionist." Moderate postmodernist and critical postmodernists are caught up in environmental and workplace democracy movements. As moderates get closer to declaring a "real world map" they are all but indistinguishable from "late modernists" who admit that maps change over time and across cultures. The moderate postmodernist assumes "material" modes of production (there is labor and managerial power) and consumption (there is trash out there). But as Wilber (1996: 64) explains, the moderate differentiate between "mental" worldviews and the "material" condition.
Are Postmodern Organizations Good or Bad? There is both an emancipating and a dark side to postmodern management and organization. While we would like to tell you a story to lead you to believe that its all the fault of the (late) mods, in deed there is a need to question postmodern discourse. And much that is masquerading as postmodern management, is just late modern (i.e. more chaos and bureaucracy) in disguise. Yet, beyond the polemic debates, there is a narrative space that is postmodern organization, storytellers who are constantly calling collective memory to account for alternative stories.
Postmodernists reject the label of extreme relativism, just because the ONE story fits all is called into question. Modernists, for example, accuse postmodernists, particularly "radical social constructionists" of engaging in "extreme relativism." Modernists claim that if "radical" postmodernists are rejecting the "universal truth" of modern science, then postmodernism can not be science. "I alone have the universal truth" asys the modernist, "and all you poor schmucks are relative and culture-bound" (Wilber, 1996: 63). Modernists reject the arrogance of postmodernists, particularly those from literary and feminist studies, to question science.
This extreme constructivism is really just a postmodern form of nihilism: there is no truth in the Cosmos, only those notions that men force on others. This nihilism looks into the face of the Cosmos and sees an unending hall of mirrors, which finally show it nothing buts its own egoist nastiness reflected to infinity. And the hidden core of that nihilism is narcissism: truth is ignored and replaced with the ego of the theorist. This is a major movement in American universities! (Wilber, 1996: 63).
However, there is much that is positive about postmodern, particularly critical and more moderate postmodern positions. Moderate postmodernists, for example, focus on the ethics of the use of technology, ecology, and issues of democratic governance in the workplace.
Moderate postmodernists claim:
Worldviews just aren't that arbitrary; they are actually constrained by the currents in the Cosmos, and those currents limit how much a culture can arbitrarily "construct." We won't find a consensus worldview, for example, where men give birth or where apples fall upward. So much for arbitrary worldviews. They are not "merely constructed" in the sense of totally relative and arbitrary. Even Derrida now concedes this elemental point Wilber, 1996: 62).
In paradigm development and evolution, "each worldview gives way to its successor because certain inherent limitations in the earlier worldview become apparent" (p. 64).
How do Chaos and Postmodern Theories Overlap? As worldviews shift, evolve, and fragment, there is "disruption and chaos" as Wilber (1996: 64) explains. "... and the system, if it doesn't simply collapse, escapes this chaos by evolving to a more highly organized pattern." And this is what has happened, I think, in the debate among modernists and postmodernists factions. In the process of social and physical science theory we see the modification (or genealogy) of both approaches, in some narrow spaces, more alike than differences and in polemic debate, saying more about self than other.
Are Postmodernists "Extreme Relativists?" This is another version of the ALL postmodernists ARE arbitrary debate. Derrida (1999), I think tired of being accused of "extreme relativism" explained his position, "I take into account differences, but I am no relativist." Derrida (1999: 78) puts it more bluntly, "I am shocked by the debate around this question of relativism."
What is relativism? Are you a relativist simply because you say, for instance, that the other is the other, and that every other is other than the other? If I want to pay attention to the singularity of the other, the singularity of the situation, the singularity of language, is that relativism? … No, relativism is a doctrine which has its own history in which there are only points of view with no absolute necessity, or no references to absolutes. That is the opposite to what I have to say. … I have never said such a thing. Neither have I ever used the word relativism.
It is not that "one can say anything" that matters it is that there are socially situated limits and "what one can assert." There is a juridical and political limit on extreme relativity.
What is Postmodern Ethics? Zygmunt Bauman (1993) rejects extreme social constructionism and the more radical postmodern positions. He notes that one can reject the claim of universal moral codes and still engage in moral by holding oneself answerable for ethical conduct. If worldviews are arbitrary, it does not mean that ethics is not possible. Rather the ethical impulse is worked out by each individual.
What are differences between Affirmative and Skeptical Postmodern? There are competing postmodern theories. As Rosenau (1992) theorized, some postmodernists make affirmative assumptions, and others make skeptical assumptions. The former ("affirmatives") posit that it is possible to move beyond exploitation by framing organizations in nonhierarchical and nonpatriarchical metaphors, such as webs and networks. Affirmative postmodern discourse elevates equality, democracy, ecology, and multiplicity and has roots in modern and even premodern models (Toulmin, 1990). Alternatively, there are postmodernists who are very skeptical of all modernist enlightenment and progress discourse (source Boje, 1995 - Press here for web text of article).
Here are two summary points.
Skeptics argue that there is nothing sacred about the postmodern era. They make the point that a Nike Corporation is a postmodern organization with a core of permanent well-fed workers and executives in Oregon and what many believe to be a virtual labor force of 500,000 mostly young female Asian workers paid starvation wages. It is fragmented, disintegrated, alienating, meaningless, vague, devoid of ethical standards, chaotic, and just as controlling and torturous as any era before it.
As with bureaucratic, quest, and chaos forms, there are both positive and negatives to postmodern organization. In the following example, a postmodern rhetoric replaces a modernist rhetoric, while the
reality of people's work experience is exactly the same.
MOD DISCOURSE: "the foreman holds a meeting of his group and announces the week's productivity and scrap figures or discusses the latest safety memo. The foreman's "goffer" takes care of vacation schedules and work gloves" (p. 4).
POSTMOD DISCOURSE: "Hourly workers are organized into teams which meet with their advisor to discuss quality and work procedures. A team leader takes care of vacation scheduling and supplies" (p. 4)
In sum "the modern is struggling to give way to the postmodern" (Wilber, 1996: 68). The postmodern organization is a wreckage of premodern, modern, and postmodern storytelling. We work in hybrid organizations, never having achieved the modern conquest of premodern, not able to become fully postmodern (See Latour, 1993).
For more background on postmodern organization and its relation to bureaucracy and other forms, press here.
For References Press Right Arrow.