Crossroads—Describing Differences in Approaches to Organization Science: Rethinking Burrell and Morgan and Their Legacy

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When Gibson Burrell and Gareth Morgan wrote Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis, I doubt that they, or anyone else, would have anticipated the widespread impact or resultant contestation that their four-paradigm grid would have. Many grids had appeared before in sociology and after in organizational studies, but none have gained the almost hegemonic capacity to define the alternatives in organizational analysis. In my development below, I will privilege programmatic differentiations rooted in what I will develop as a dialogic perspective. What Burrell and Morgan called “functionalist” research will thus be implicitly represented as an “other.” In doing so, both the lines of division and the arguments that extend from this can be redrawn. “Functionalist” style work can be reclaimed as legitimate in specifiable ways as reunderstood from dialogic conceptions. Nondialogic research programs will not be seen as alternative routes to truth, but as specific discourses which, if freed from their claims of universality and/or completion, could provide important moments in the larger dialogue about organizational life. The test of my suggested differentiations is not whether they provide a better map, but whether they provide an interesting way to talk about what is happening in research programs.

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