Monday, February 21, 2011

My Research Agenda

I am interested in the epistemology of organizational sensemaking. So far, I have pursued this interest largely through practical criticism of the work of Karl Weick and its reception in the field of organization studies. You might say I want to know what it means to say we know something about sensemaking in organizations—what qualifies a claim as "knowledge" in this area?

Pursuing this agenda has taught me a great deal about the history of social science in the twentieth century, specifically its role in business education. And this, in turn, is building my understanding of the "performativity" of sensemaking theory, i.e., the sense in which what scholars (and teachers) say about sensemaking in organizations affects or shapes how people actually make sense of their organizations.

My research projects generally consist in tracing the reception of specific ideas that Weick has introduced into organization theory and then recovering their "obliterated history" (this term is used by William Bottom in a broader context). That is, I locate the sources of the concepts he uses and the stories he tells in an attempt to understand their theoretical and factual foundations. It is especially in cases where those ideas are poorly founded that I am interested in how the organization studies community has received them. The most interesting cases arise where unfounded ideas have been highly influential; they show the extent to which sensemaking scholarship takes Weick's contribution on trust. In many cases, my work shows that we must revise our understanding of sensemaking where we have uncritically adopted the ideas of its founder.

So part of my agenda is to improve the state of our knowledge about sensemaking. My work suggests specific revisions of the theory of organizational sensemaking that will make future scholars and leaders better informed about this important process. To that end, I make a concerted effort to get my work published in the major organization studies journals.

But I am also beginning to think of my project in the context of the History and Philosophy of Science, or what is often called Science and Technology Studies. Part of the reason for this is that this is really my home discipline; I was trained as a philosopher of science and social epistemologist (in the sense promoted by Steve Fuller). It is also a way of validating my research in a more objective setting, i.e., one where sensemaking scholarship [as distinct from the sensemaking process itself] can be seen clearly as an object of study.

All in all, I want to learn as much about sensemaking and sensemaking research as I can and, more generally, to contribute to our understanding of what social science is.

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