Objects of Organisation: What does Speculative Realism mean for Management?

Stream at the 10th Critical Management Studies Conference, Liverpool, July 5th to 7th 2017.

Stream Convenors:
Professor Simon Lilley (University of Leicester, UK) – Lead Convenor, s.lilley@le.ac.uk
Professor Jean-Luc Moriceau (Telecom Ecole de Management, France)
Dr Justine Grønbæk Pors (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark)

There has been increasing attention devoted to what has become known as ‘speculative realism’ in recent years, with a number of books and papers appearing across the philosophical, social sciences and humanities although, as of yet, there has been little direct incursion into the administrative and organisational sciences. We hope to begin to rectify this situation with this stream for we see much in speculative realism that offers potential to think anew many of the traditional objects of our inquiry such as products, services, assets (both physical and intangible), the derivative exotica of high finance (Lightfoot and Harvie, 2016) accounting and information systems, strategies, plans, formalised routines and the human resources that enact and embody them, to name but those that spring easiest to mind.
We are particularly interested in exploring the variety of ‘speculative realism’ associated with Graham Harman and his ‘object oriented ontology’. This form of thinking builds upon developments in science and technology studies, particularly the work of Bruno Latour, but it also differs in key ways, most specifically in terms of its thinking of the ‘objects’ that are to be found at the intersections of ‘actor networks’. ‘Objects’ are the building blocks of Harman’s speculative realism. Objects, in this view, are made of parts and can themselves be parts of other objects. . This is a ‘flat ontology’, shared in large part with DeLanda (2006) and building on DeLanda, Harman sees objects as having the following characteristics:
1. An object cannot be reduced to the parts that make it up; and thus it follows that,
2. The parts of an object are not the object itself.
3. An object can have effects upon other objects but, just as in relation to its parts, it cannot be reduced to those effects; and
4. All objects are independent of other objects.

In short for Harman, despite being made up of other objects, despite unleashing effects on other objects, an object has a realness that exceeds any of these under- or over-pinnings. The habits of thought that Harman would like his philosophy to break with tend to either undermine or overmine the reality of an object qua object when they respectively seek to reduce the object to its components or see it merely as a part, and nothing more than a part, of some greater whole.
For Harman all objects have a dual nature. On the one hand, objects recede into dedifferentiated world. On the other, they make something of themselves present to other objects and make new relations, new objects. There is a double move here though. A partial, translated object rather than a real object is what makes itself present to another object to enable a relation to be formed; as a new object in itself, and as the potential for further new objects. The new objects so made are of course the same in their objectness as their progenitors and can thus either appear to other objects in partial translated form, or retreat themselves into dedifferentiated world. This is not just a ‘what you see depends upon how you look argument’. For objects to be real and meet the criteria we
outlined above they have to be more than their relations to other objects, be those relations up, down or sideways.
Characteristics, including the agency, of objects have been typified and described by Harman as entailing multiple processes. New objects are combines of the ‘notes’ (Harman, 2005: 211) or ‘sensual qualities’ (Harman, 2011: 128) of their progenitors that are formed when one object ‘allures’ (Harman, 2005: 211) another into interaction. Interaction which, due to the intervention of the ‘sensual objects’ between the ‘real objects’ that are their cousins, is rendered by Harman as an aspect of the ‘vicarious causation’ (Harman, 2007) through which objects interact; real objects themselves being too much in retreat to interact directly and still persist as objects.
In essence then, Harman’s moves build upon the decentering of human agency at the core of key strands of actor network theory but go beyond that theory in the ways in which the object itself is thought. Whilst for Latour everything of the object is given by the relations of which it is thus formed, for Harman, there is something more to the object in and of itself.
Our proposal is timely for Harman’s latest work, Immaterialsm (2016), begins to approach organisations directly. Subtitled objects and social theory, the text explores the applicability of the authors developing ideas in relation to the traditional objects of the administrative and social sciences. Harman chooses to take the Dutch East India Company and its development in the early seventeenth century as his exemplary object and ‘argues that this company qualifies for objecthood neither through ‘what it is’ or ‘what it does’, but through its irreducibility to either of these forms’ (http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9781509500963). On the four hundredth anniversary of the Governor General, Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s, imposition of enclosures on the native clove growers of the Dutch East Indies, we invite object oriented philosophical reflection on the business and managerial practices of today. Papers of interest to the stream could consider addressing the following themes (although we in no sense see this as an exclusive or exhaustive list of the possibilities):
 What are the implications for management of taking objects seriously (in the Harmanian sense)?
 How are the objects of (high) finance and more pedestrian concerns such as human shelter related?
 Where do ‘products’ and ‘services’ begin and end?
 How do administrative, accounting and information systems relate to the objects that they survey?
 What is revealed by approaching such systems as objects in themselves?
 What are the objects of strategy, policy, plans and operations? What is to be gained by approaching these domains as objects?
 W(h)ither ethics in an object oriented world whose ‘flat ontology’ significantly problematizes an easy attribution to agency?

DeLanda, M. (2006) A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, New York: Continuum.
Harman, G. (2005) Guerilla Metaphysics, Peru, Il: Open Court Books.
Harman, G. (2007) ‘On Vicarious Causation’ in Mackay, R. (ed.) Collapse II: Speculative Realism, Falmouth: Urbanomic: 187-221.
Harman, G. (2009) Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics, Prahran, Victoria.: Re. press.
Harman, G. (2011) The Quadruple Object, Winchester: Zero Books.
Harman, G. (2016) Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Latour, B., Harman, G., and Erdélyi, P. (2011) The Prince and the Wolf: Latour and Harman at the LSE, Winchester: Zero-Hunt.
Latour, B. (2004) The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, tr. C. Potter, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Lightfoot, G. and Harvie, D. (2016) ‘Finance: finding a philosophical fit?’ In Raza Mir, Hugh Willmott and Michelle Greenwood (eds) The Routledge Companion to Philosophy in Organization Studies, London: Routledge.

Simondon. Investigating the pre-organizational

Simondon. Investigating the pre-organizational

La pensée de Simondon influence de plus en plus la théorie des organisations, que ce soit pour son approche en termes d’individuation, son analyse du travail et de l’aliénation, sa théorie de l’information, sa pensée du changement, de l’innovation, son approche des affects et de l’esthétique,  son humanisme qui laisse une place égale aux animaux ou aux individus techniques, son appel au développement d’une culture technique.

Pour mieux faire connaître son apport, avec Hugo Letiche, nous avons édité un numéro spécial de la revue Culture and Organization, publié en janvier 2017.

Nous renvoyons au premier article : Letiche Hugo & Moriceau Jean-Luc, 2017, « Simondon. Investigating the pre-organizational », Culture and Organization, Vol. 23, n°1, pp.1-13; Doi: 10.1080/14759551.2016.1240358


Abstract : Gilbert Simondon (1924–1989) was a radical process thinker; forms of relatedness and not objects were his focus. This is all the more remarkable as he was not a vitalist prioritizing Gaia or autopoesis. He based his thought on analyses of technology/technics and communication/cybernetics, and in both cases rejected the perspective of the machine or message as in itself objectifiable. Life objects, machines and societies, according to Simondon, individuate; that is, they are self-evolving, self-generating and self-differentiating in what he calls processes of ‘transduction’. Simondon, in fact, is more a thinker of transindividuation than of individuation. His is a theory of how the pre-individual leads to the transindividual, without the individual ever really playing much of a role. The motor of change and activity is ‘transduction’ – or a force of form-taking that operates on the pre-individual level. Transduction is, thus, the life-force of Simondon’s becoming. It is the energy that propels action, change, event and occurrence. No one in particular is the subject of transduction; transduction is the pre-individual manifestation of an all-encompassing process of genesis. Simondon attends to the genesis of the person, society, information, collective, technology, organization, whatever. We will see that his descriptions of becoming are powerful and theoretically important, but that his ontology (or philosophy) needs to be debated. Transduction is very problematic; how or whether it is knowable (epistemology) remains unclear; and transduction would seem to escape the individual and/or collective will – becoming an all-important life-force outside political or ethical control. Sub-processes of transduction, such as in the development of machines or even social technologies, have been rigorously documented and examined. Simondon studies genesis or how things come to be as they are. Currently, there is renewed interest in his thought, we think because he challenges unreflective functionalism – things are not just as they are: they evolve and become, oppose and break down, signify and deny, reveal and hide. Simondon provides a window on a world of complexification and change; he is a thinker of instability and dynamics; a thinker who matches our contemporary circumstances. This introduction will discuss possible contributions of Simondon to organizational studies, where his process perspective challenges many usual approaches. The emphasis on the pre-individual triggers reflection of what could be called the ‘pre-organizational’ and poses a whole series of theoretical and practical questions.

Deleuze et le management

Journées d’études transdisciplinaires organisées par l’équipe ETHOS de TEM et la SPSG, en association avec le Centre à Paris de l’Université de Chicago.

Les 16 et 17 mars 2017 à l’Université de Chicago à Paris, 6, rue Thomas Mann, 75013 Paris.

Deleuze et le management ! Deleuze aurait probablement détesté un tel rapprochement, lui qui a eu des mots très durs contre la production de concepts revendiquée par le marketing. Et pourtant Deleuze parle de tout ce qui nous anime en théorie des organisations ou en management, mais voilà chaque fois il le prend d’un autre côté, ou le subvertit, il lui fait dire autre chose que ce que nous faisons d’habitude. Quand on parle de hiérarchie, plates, verticales ou inversées, lui nous dessine un rhizome, vivace et acéphale. Lorsqu’on parle de motivation, il nous parle du désir, et nous demande pourquoi nous sommes amenés à désirer cela même qui nous asservit. Nous pensons le pouvoir pour conduire le changement, pour lui le pouvoir est ce qui fige les devenirs et les identités. Nous cherchons des organisations qui fonctionnent, un esprit de corps, lui théorise un corps sans organe, non asservi à ses fonctions. On parle identité, lui devenir ; routine, lui ritournelle ; plan, lui événement ; storytelling, lui agencement collectif d’énonciation ; leadership, lui un jeu de vitesses, d’intensité et de mots d’ordre.

De même pour conduire la recherche. Nous cherchons à interpréter, à composer la bonne représentation, à saisir des systèmes, lui nous invite à expérimenter et créer, à repérer des différences, des répétitions et des devenirs, à identifier les lignes de fuite. Nous nous attachons à la justesse de l’interprétation des auteurs, lui pratique une lecture inventive et productive de nouvelles possibilités de lectures qui étaient à l’intérieur du texte lui-même. Nos textes suivent un format et une langue normée, lui appelle à faire bégayer la langue majeure pour lui faire dire ce qu’elle ne parvient plus à exprimer. Nous inscrivons nos recherches bien rangées dans le mur de la connaissance, lui aime sentir une danse de la vie et de la pensée. Et il nous rappelle que les concepts que nous créons doivent être évalués selon leurs effets sur les modes d’existence.

Deleuze animait la scène parisienne, et parlait bien peu l’anglais. Et pourtant, paradoxalement, bien peu de recherches en théorie des organisations francophones se sont inspirées de sa philosophie (Duymedjian & Ferrante, 2016 ; Deroy, 2088, Moriceau, 2004). Dans d’autres langues, l’apport de Deleuze pour (re-)penser l’organisation a été plus largement souligné (Linstead &Thanem, 2007 ; Carter & Jackson, 2004 ; Fuglsang & Born, 2002 ; Cavalcanti, 2016). Les textes de Deleuze ont notamment été utilisés pour penser l’organisation en termes de société de contrôle (Sorensen, 2005 ; Cluley & Brown, 2015 ; Weiskopf & Loacker, 2006 ; Martinez, 2011), de (dé-)territorialisation (Johansson & Kociatkiewicz, 2011; Munro, 2016), de rhizome (Lawley, 2015), de corps sans organe (Thanem, 2004), de nomadisme (Lucas, 2014), de créativité destructrice (Jeanes, 2006) ou d’agencement machinique (Pedersen, 2008). Des perspectives alternatives ont été proposées sur l’éthique (Painter-Morland, 2011; Deroy & Clegg, 2011), sur la comptabilité (Neu et al., 2009) ou sur le genre (Linstead & Pullen, 2006). D’autres façons de se rapporter au terrain (Curtis, 2008 ; Buser, 2014), au temps (Lilley, 2009) ou à la gouvernementalité (Carnera, 2012). D’autres façons d’écrire sur le capitalisme en tentant le paradoxe d’une ethnographie deleuzienne (De Jong, 2014) ou d’interpréter la littérature (ex. Beverungen & Dunne, 2007).

Avec Deleuze, nous voici avec une forêt de concepts et de perspectives qui peuvent nous inviter à repenser, re-décrire, ré-imaginer, rebâtir notre discours sur les organisations. Nous sommes invités à expérimenter des pensées, à surfer sur des lignes de fuite, à traquer de nouveaux percepts et affects, à une création joyeuse de concepts. Nous sommes autorisés à regarder autrement la littérature, le cinéma, la peinture, le théâtre, à doubler la critique d’une clinique, à observer le mineur, le molaire, le non-représentatif, les machines de visagéité, à initier des machines de guerre ou constituer des agencements collectifs d’énonciation.

Nous invitons les théoriciens de l’organisation à penser l’organisation à partir de Deleuze tout comme les philosophes à prendre comme objet d’étude empirique ces choses étranges que sont l’organisation ou le management. Nous appelons aussi ceux qui détestent Deleuze. Nous invitons tous ceux-ci non pas à ajouter quelques concepts deleuziens dans leur approche habituelle mais à inventer avec Deleuze d’autres façons d’écrire, de conceptualiser, de décrire, d’approcher et de relier.

Comité scientifique

Yoann Bazin (Istec et SPSG), Fabrice Bourlez (ESAD), Malik Bozzo-Rey (UCLille/Éthique Économie Entreprise), Pierre-Antoine Chardel (TEM/Ethos), Carine Dartiguepeyrou (Uniqueness), Jean-Philippe Denis (Univ. Paris Sud), Xavier Deroy (CNAM/Lirsa), Raffi Duymedjian (Grenoble Ecole de Management), Olivier Fournout (Télécom Paristech), Guillaume Ferrante (École de Management de Normandie), Yannick Fronda (TEM/Ethos), Olivier Germain (Univ. Québec à Montréal), Rémi Jardat (Univ. Paris Est-Créteil), Armen Khatchatourov (TEM/Ethos), Erwan Lamy (Novancia et SPSG), Romain Laufer (Groupe HEC), Hugo Letiche (Univ. Leicester), Laurent Magne (ISG et SPSG), Philippe Mengue (Univ. Populaire d’Avignon), Jean-Luc Moriceau (TEM/Ethos), Yvon Pesqueux (CNAM/Lirsa), Baptiste Rappin (Univ. Lorraine et SPSG), Richard Soparnot (ESSCA/Ethos), Tiziana Villani (Univ. di Roma La Sapienza).

Comité d’organisation

Jean-Luc Moriceau, Hugo Letiche, Pierre-Antoine Chardel, Yoann Bazin, Yannick Fronda.


10 février : date limite d’envoi des propositions sous forme de résumé étendu 4000 à 10000 signes tout compris.

27 février : retour aux auteurs et sélection des propositions

16 et 17 mars : journées d’étude


Voir l’appel: Deleuze et le management3