Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Textbook Example of Patchwriting?

Here are some paragraphs from an influential 1991 paper in Organization Studies by Marta Calás and Linda Smircich ("Voicing Seduction to Silence Leadership"), an obligatory reference in feminist organization theory:

[The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor], published in 1960 and still widely cited, inaugurated the emphasis on humanistic psychology discourses within the managerial literature. It is addressed to the top management of American corporations, and it promotes a change in traditionally held assumptions about who can be a leader.

McGregor’s approach to leadership seems to be discontinuous from Barnard’s - as McGregor stresses a more egalitarian, relational and situational stance for his leader in contrast with Barnard’s moral loneliness in the empty room at the top. Our argument claims that McGregor’s approach actually furthers Barnard’s seductive homosocial logic (of the Father). In our readings, we argue that the changes in assumptions which McGregor espoused were not only from Theory X (or classical management theory) to Theory Y but a move away from the conventions of X/Y to a desire for YY, i.e. a homosocial order. That is, we propose that this text has a riddle written on its surface which plays on the conventional biological sex notations: female XX; male XY, and tries to eliminate any vestige of X while wondering about the possibility of an all Y world.

This ’wild speculation’ on our part may not be so wild after all. Why do the X/Y notations signify theoretical differences? Why not A/Z if the author’s interest was to indicate widely divergent viewpoints? An interesting coincidence (?): At the time this book was written, 1959, women were defined as having two X chromosomes, while men were defined as having an X and a Y, according to the adopted scientific notations. (578-9)

And here is how it is discussed in Barbara Czarniawska's Narratives in Social Science Research (SAGE, 2004), a popular textbook and introduction to research methods.

McGregor’s book was hailed as an introduction of humanistic psychology into the managerial discourse. Addressed to the top managers of US corporations in the 1960s, it attempts to answer a question: who can be a leader? The book claims a separation from Barnard’s idea of a lonely executive in his room on the top floor: the leadership postulated by McGregor is egalitarian, relational, and situational. Yet according to Calás and Smircich, McGregor only develops and embellishes Barnard’s homosocial, ‘fatherly’ reasoning.

McGregor’s innovation is known as replacing ‘theory X’ (traditional management theory à la Taylor and Barnard) with a ‘theory Y’ (human relations theory). Why, ask Calás and Smircich, those letters? Why not ‘theories A and B’ or ‘A and Z’? They point out that it was exactly at that time that women became defined as having two X chromosomes, while men were defined as ‘XY’. McGregor’s can therefore be read, deconstructively but interestingly, as an attempt to move from an XY world to a sheer YY world: a homosocial order. (113)

Now, I'm absolutely certain that it would be impossible to get a charge of "plagiarism" to stick here. The juxtaposition of these two passages will occasion no scandal in the organization studies community. The source is openly acknowledged and the language is only reused a little. But is it perfectly acceptable paraphrase or somewhat questionable patchwriting? What would we do if a student submitted this sort of thing? What would we do if we read it in a paper we were peer-reviewing or a draft a colleague had asked us to comment on? Is this the sort of writing we would expect from someone who is "foremost among scholars" in the field, as the series editor suggests in his foreword?

In order to put such questions into perspective, we should keep in mind that a decade earlier Sage published Karl Weick's Sensemaking in Organizations, which I have criticized in some detail. Whatever the faults of Czarniawska's approach to Calás and Smircich, let's agree that they pale in comparison to the way Weick incorporates the work of Ron Westrum. The word I used to describe Weick's intertextual practices was simply "plagiarism", and there are certainly cases of that. I now realize that he, and his fellow sensemaking scholars and narrative researchers, may simply have adopted "patchwriting" as their preferred way of engaging with sources. Czarniawska, we should remember, calls Weick a "master of collage". This would explain a lot, since Rebecca Howard makes it very clear that this is what some scholars do when they are writing about topics outside their area of expertise. Sensemaking scholarship specifically, and organization studies more generally, is a highly inter-disciplinary field, where going "outside your comfort zone" of reading is not just accepted, but often valorized. Perhaps I've been right to suggest that we're not dealing with a particular violation of academic norms in the case of Weick, but with what Czarniawska herself calls the "much bemoaned lack of clear standards" in organization theory.

Finally, it occurs to me that the defenders of Frank Fischer's "sloppiness" see what he is doing precisely as patchwriting and, therefore, not as plagiarism proper. It's what they call a "misdemeanor of literary style". Who counts herself among those defenders? You guessed it.


Jonathan said...

For correcting student writing I would place the words "egalitarian, relational, and situational" in quotes. The rest is pretty much paraphrase with appropriate citations. You couldn't make a plagiarism charge stick just for the omission of quotes here, but they really should be there.

Jonathan said...

I believe that the chromosomal difference between male and female was discovered in 1905. So it seems suspicious that the textbook would reproduce the dubious assumptions of the source without much thought. That would be a good opportunity for a Basbøllism.

Thomas said...

Howard defines patchwriting as "copying from a source text and deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one synonym for another." I think there's quite a bit of that here.

Note the "lonely" room at the "top", the "top managers/management" the book is "addressed to". "American" and "US" corporations. "Discontinuous" vs. "a separation".

It's like the text has been filtered (laundered) through a thesaurus!

Your second comment puts your finger on something important. Because Czarniawska's text is really just a "processing" of the words in the Calás and Smircich text, there's no sensitivity to the ideas presented.

It's a bit like Weick/Westrum. There's a basic idea here that needs to be understood and represented. Instead, the book sifts through the words in the article to produce a new text. The idea is lost in esoteric facts and details. It's a way of making one text out of the materials of another without involving one's actual imagination. (It'd be great if a "Basbøllism" is always an insistence on the role of the imagination in reading & writing.)

Jonathan said...

I would define a Basbøllism as the savvy identification of an epistemological fissure in bad scholarship, a fissure that results from a careless breaking of the "chain of custody" of words and ideas. Weick's map of the Alps / Pyrenees, for example.

Thomas said...

I can accept that definition.

"Those who practice this game forget that a book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialog it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory." (Borges)

It takes a working mind to bring words and ideas together.