Burrell & Morgan and Pirsig

Gibson Burrell & Gareth Morgan’s  “Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis” was one of the textbooks  during my masters degree back in 1988 / 91. It was one that I actually read and used significant parts of in my thesis but, as with Peters & Waterman’s “In Search of Excellence”, I didn’t pick-up the references to Pirsig at the time.

(Aside – Organizational Behaviour, the human social behavioural aspects of the management of organizations, became my main subject inspired by the quality of the women in the faculty – Sandra Dawson, Dot Griffiths and Karen Legge – hence my readings of Burrell & Morgan, Quinn & Cameron, Argyris & Schon and more. Karen provided very encouraging feedback on my earliest essays before she left for Lancaster, Dot was my personal tutor throughout the course, later becoming deputy principal and dean of the college, Sandra became my final year thesis research and dissertation supervisor, before moving on to become Dame Sandra Dawson director of Judge Business School, master of Sidney Sussex college, and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University.)

Anyway, I find Burrell & Morgan refer to Pirsig under Alternative Realities  in the “Anti-Organization Theory” paradigm, immediately following the “Radical Humanist Paradigm”. They say of Pirsig:

[Carlos Castaneda in “The Teachings of Don Juan” (1970)]  attempts to investigate and understand the world of a Yaqui [Mexican / Arizonan] Indian sorcerer or “man of knowledge”. [He] neatly counterposes alternative  realities and illustrates the impossibility of embracing “non-ordinary” modes within the logic of the scientific ethos which dominates Western culture.

In Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (1974) similar themes are presented, but they are explored in a radically different way. Whereas in Castaneda’s work the focus is upon the difference in worldview of a Yaqui Indian and a Californian anthropology student trying to get his PhD, in Pirsig’s novel it is upon the struggle between the competing worldviews which exist within the central character’s own psyche. Pirsig describes the way in which “romantic” and “classical” forms of understanding compete for dominance in the protagonist’s attempt to negotiate and define everyday “reality”. Whilst apparently remote in its implications for an academic anti-organization theory, Robert Pirsig’s work, like that of Carlos Castaneda, Theodore Roszak, Charles Reich, Ivan Illich, David Dickson and many others who have addressed similar themes, provides good illustrations of the essential concerns of radical humanist ethos. The struggle is between competing realities and the means by which they can be achieved. The conflict, crudely put, is between the commonly accepted and all too real dominant reality of the functionalist paradigm, and the vision of the radical humanist paradigm.

The bold italic emphasis is mine. Apart from the naming of Burrell & Morgan’s paradigm as “anti-organization”, I would say that’s a pretty good summary – perhaps alternative or post-modern organization is better. Why did I not notice this at the time ? Interesting that in comparing Pirsig with Castaneda, no thought is given to the rhetorical nature of their works, the former being more real than the latter, whose work was largely discredited as almost entirely imaginary synthesis.

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