Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sensemaking to Go

While teaching a PhD course this morning I was reminded of a telling feature of Karl Weick's Sensemaking in Organizations. In "Concepts, Style, and Reflection" (in Jones and Munro, ed., 2005), Barbara Czarniawska notes that Weick ignores the "strange logic" that "separates reading a story in a newspaper from hearing it retold by a manager and then reading it again from one's transcript", and which also distinguishes between "empirical data" and "anecdotes" (275). In fact, Weick does not make any judgments about his sources in order to determine what weight to give them in his own work.

The material that Weick collects to develop, corroborate, and illustrate his theories..

(He does not actually really distinguish between development, corroboration, and illustration either, I would add.) amazingly wide; he is a master of collage, and his criteria of selection are relevance, accessibility, and theoretical satiation. (275)

Let's see what "collage" means in practice. In Sensemaking (p. 24), he writes:

The idea of retrospective sensemaking derives from Schutz's (1967) analysis of "meaningful lived experience." The key word in that phrase, lived, is stated in the past tense to capture the reality that people can know what they are doing only after they have done it. Pirsig (cited in Winokur, 1990) makes this point when he says, "Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality" (p. 82).

In this paragraph (I have quoted it entire), Weick brings together Alfred Schutz's The Phenomenology of the Social World and Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the latter of which is a novel, here as "cited"* by Jon Winokur in a book called Zen to Go. We go from a work of social theory to a work of fiction-cum-philosophy by way of an anthology of "bite-sized bits of wisdom". But we are not given any indication of the differences between these books. Winokur could have been an (unfamiliar) social theorist, as could Pirsig, who appears without his first name, is not listed in the bibliography**, and never comes up again. Perhaps we've reached a point of "theoretical satiation"?

I am not sure Schutz actually emphasized that "lived" is in the past tense (and I'm not really sure that it is)***, but Weick does not tell us where in the book (he cites the whole thing) Schutz might be suggesting this. In any case, the idea that Pirsig and Schutz are "making the same point" is somewhat odd. Alfred Schutz is a Zen Buddhist? Then again, Weick doesn't even tell us that Pirsig's point is an elaboration of Zen. And Zen "to go" at that. It's drive-through theoretical satori! Coming soon to a location near you.

(Continues ... click here)

*This way of putting it gives the false impression that Pirsig is cited in a text written by Winokur. Actually, Winokur is the editor of the book. In it he has collected a variety of zen-like statements without comment.

**Formally, that's actually in order. Weick does not claim to have read the novel. In fact, he doesn't claim to know that the original source even is a novel.

***"Lived" is the past participle of the verb "to live", but it is not used as a verb here (and therefore has no "tense"). It is an adjective that modifies "experience".

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