Philippe Lorino, ESSEC Business School

Lecture title:

The process of organizing as a dialogical and mediated inquiry: Methodological implications. The case of work safety on a construction site


Philippe Lorino, Accounting and Management Control Department, ESSEC Business School

Speaker(s) Web Pages:

Semester: Winter 2010

Date: Friday, April 2, 2010

Time: 1:30 - 3:00 PM

Venue: Room K1310, Ross School of Business

Additional Notes:

Introducer: Heather Beasley, School of Education


The process of organizing as a dialogical and mediated inquiry: Methodological implications. The case of work safety on a construction site

The starting question: If we adopt a process view of "organizing" rather than a static view of "organizations" (Weick 1969, Chia 1996, Cooper 2007, Nayak 2008, Tsoukas 2005, Tsoukas & Chia 2002, Yoo et alii 2006), what kind of process is the organizing process, and how can we study it?

First, as a social and human process, it differs from biological and physical processes insofar as it involves a specific type of agency: not the "dyadic" action / reaction agency of physical laws, but the "triadic" agency which involves sensemaking and interpretive perspectives (Peirce Vol. 8, paragraph 328, p. 220, Weick 1995, Weick & al. 2005). Second, it does not involve a single, but multiple sensemaking agents, with a plurality of interpretive perspectives, which permanently rebuild the sense of situations through dialogical interactions (Bakhtin 1981, Todorov 1981, Tsoukas 2009). Third, in this dialogical sensemaking process, collective activity is made an object of thought and meaning through semiotic mediations (Vygotski 1930/1978): systems of signs, languages and tooling, which allow reflexive thought, dialog, mobility and memory.

This type of process, which intertwines logical thought, narrative thought, action and tooling, (i) transforming the world, (ii) making sense of the action in-progress, (iii) using and developing systems of signs, is a collective inquiry in the pragmatist sense (Dewey 1938/1980). It has a narrative nature: the organizing process is the dialogical and mediated inquiry which builds the story of the collective activity in-progress.

After reviewing the relationships of this pragmatist and semiotic approach of the organizing process with other research streams about organizations (rational choices, taylorism, Simon's cognitivism, Weick's collective sensemaking, practice-based studies, process studies...), the three basic concepts adopted in this approach: inquiry, semiotic mediation and dialogism will be further explored. Semiotic mediation dynamically links situated experience and generic classes of meanings. Inquiry articulates logical thinking, narrative thinking and experimenting. Dialogism conceptualizes the production of meaning through the situated interactions of actors.

Implications for research methods will be examined. A methodological approach based on those concepts, “the dialogical and mediated inquiry” (DMI), is experimented in a case study about work safety in the construction industry.

Finally the specific contributions and limits of this theoretical and methodological approach will be discussed.

Key words: activity, dialogism, habit, inquiry, organizing, process, safety, semiotic mediation, sensemaking.

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