Are they really learning?

The Vienna Academic Press/Wiener Verlag fuer Sozialforschung, after a complete relaunch, now being under new management, I met yesterday evening in Vienna the new chief manager who took on board the republication of my PhD-thesis – a reprint without changes:

Die Organisation. Eine Analyse der modernen Gesellschaft

The Organisation. Analysis of Modern Society

In the following the forward is published, in German and English language. Thinking back the line of my academic work since then, I have to say that I never did what so many of the colleagues said oder the years: I closed this chapter once and forever. I did not even think this would be tempting

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Die Organisation. Eine Analyse Moderner Gesellschaft – Vorwort zur unveränderten Wiederauflage

Organisationen sind, so wird gesagt, lernende Einheiten. Sicher ist dies in mancher Hinsicht nicht zu bestreiten, aber doch lässt sich auch schnell zögern, denn die Frage ist doch zunächst sehr grundsätzlich, ob denn Organisationen überhaupt als handlungsfähige Einheiten bestehen. Ihnen einen solchen Charakter zuzusprechen bedeutet letztlich, dass man sie als vollständig verselbständigte Einheiten sieht, die Menschen darin im Grunde zu unselbstständigen Ausführungsorganen degradiert, und zugleich die historisch-gesellschaftlichen Bedingungen zu Randglossen verkommen (sind).

Das mag tatsächlich oft durchaus so erscheinen – und die persönliche Erfahrung des Engagements in den fast dreißig Jahren seit der hier unverändert aufgelegten Studie, gesammelt in verschiedenen Bereichen und verschiedenen Ländern, gaben oftmals Anlass zu solchem Gedanken an ein „Vergib Ihnen nicht – sie machen sonst doch nur, was sie selbst wollen“. Zugleich aber ist doch ein Punkt hervorzuheben, der in der Arbeit gemacht wurde – vor allem mit einem Zitat von Antonio Gramsci belegt: bei solchen scheinbaren Detailbetrachtungen wie Parteien, Organisationen etc., muss man die ganze Geschichte der relevanten Länder mitdenken.

Tatsächlich kann daran wohl der Kern gesehen werden, der allen Zweifeln entgegensteht: die damalige Analyse hat sicher manches voreilig verallgemeinert. Aber die grundlegende Unterscheidung der handlungstechnischen Dimension der Aneignung einerseits, der verwertungsmäßigen Dimension andererseits ist eine sinnvolle Handreichung vor alle auch bei der Entwicklung strategisches Handeln und bei Überlegungen, innerhalb von Organisationen ein solches zu entwickeln. Dies gilt es dann eben konkret in den historischen Analysen zu entwickeln. Und wird dann auch schnell deutlich, dass „Verselbstständigungen“ schlicht morbide Erscheinungen sind.

Das ermöglicht auch, Organisationen in einem gesamtgesellschaftlichen Rahmen von doch immer noch modernen kapitalistischen Gesellschaften zu verorten. Intermediär ist ihre Rolle nicht nur als Vermittlungsinstanz verschiedener „Ebenen“ gesellschaftlichen Handelns, sondern auch im Sinne von Vermittlungen zwischen verschiedenen Möglichkeitshorizonten. In diesem Sinn muss man wohl sagen, dass der Sieg der verselbstständigten Organisation nichts anderes ist, als der Sieg der konservativen Kräfte auch in einer Zeit des Interregnum, jener Phase, von der Antonio Gramsci schrieb, dass die Krise darin bestehe, dass das Alte zwar im Sterben liege, aber das Neue noch nicht geboren werden kann. Die morbiden Erscheinungen, die bei dem italienischen Hegemoniekritiker betont wurden, sind eben nicht zuletzt Organisationen, die ein „Heim“ für jene bieten, die den Weg in die Neuzeit verpassen.

Dank gilt dem Wiener Verlag, namentlich Herrn Heribert Renkin. Nunmehr hat der Verlag unter neuer Leitung dieses Projekt übernommen.

Łódź/Berlin, March 2019

The Organisation. An Analysis of Modern Society – forword to the republished original work

Organisations are, it is said, learning units. Of course, in some respects this cannot be denied, but one may well hesitate, because the initial question is a different, and a very fundamental one, namely whether organisations do exist at all as units capable of action. To attribute such a character to them ultimately means that they are seen as completely independent units, people being basically degraded to dependent executives, and at the same time the historical and social conditions made to marginalia.

This may indeed often seem to be the case – not least the personal experience of engaging during the almost thirty years since the study had been originally published, experience made in different areas and different countries, often gave rise to he thought “Do not forgive them – they will otherwise only do what they want to do themselves“. At the same time, however, one point should be emphasised – made in the study itself above all by quoting Antonio Gramsci who suggested that in such analysis of detailed phenomena as parties, organisations, etc., one has to think along the line of the entire history of the country in question.

In fact, we can see the core of this demand indeed also in the presented work: while the analysis certainly generalised some issues prematurely, one point proved to be valuable: the fundamental distinction between the technical dimension of appropriation on the one hand, and the exploitative dimension on the other. This is a meaningful help, especially in the development of strategic action and when it comes to considerations of developing change oriented action within organisations. This must then be developed concretely in the historical analyses: it becomes quickly clear that “autonomies” are simply morbid phenomena.

This makes it also possible to locate organisations within the overall social framework of still modern capitalist societies. They are not only intermediaries in their role as mediators of different “levels” of social action and classes; they are so as well in the sense of mediation between different horizons of possibility. In this sense, it must be said that the victory of the independent organisation is nothing else than the victory of the conservative forces even in a time of interregnum, the phase of which Antonio Gramsci wrote that the crisis consists in the fact that the old is dying, but the new cannot yet be born. The morbid phenomena stressed by the Italian critic of hegemony are not least organisations that offer a “home” for those who miss the road to modern times, some kind of zombies.

My thanks go to the Vienna Press, namely Mr. Heribert Renkin; he has taken over this project in the publishing house which is now under a completely new management.

Łódź/Berlin, March 2019

Two Mails – One Trap – Three Issues

…., or actually it may well be one issue only

I had been made aware of two mails circulating at UCC.

One raising a serious issue: Inequality within UCC, namely concerning the staff at one of the elite units actually in more precarious, undervalued situations than staff in UCC in general. The details are not of importance. Of special interest is, however, that Mr. Murphy, president of UCC and already mentioned earlier on these pages again used the opportunity to drop a brick. To quote the mail:

His response to the situation was to state that rather than the future being one of Tyndall becoming more like UCC – UCC will become more like Tyndall.

If he wanted to make an analytical point with this, he is probably right: the tendency towards precarisation is frightening (and I will discuss this in due time on the occasion of a gathering of some colleagues in Berlin, also launching the book
Precarity – More Than a Challenge of Social Security Or: Cynicism of EU’s Concept of Economic Freedom (edited by Herrmann/Kalaycioglu and available in the book series I am editing.

Now, if Mr Murphy really meant it as analytical statement he should have pointed out explicit steps he is going to take against this.

Another mail is sent ‘On Behalf Of Staff Development and Enhancement Committee’ – again to all staff.
It announces the extension of the deadline for the
[ah, yes, you still can nominate me until the 22nd of June ;-)]

Looking at the winners of the previous years it is noticeable that the overwhelming number of awards goes to people from those arrays that are usually underrepresented – so to say the rank and file, the lower grades at the margins of the ‘fortress of higher education’.
Now, here also quoting from the mail – it is the statement made by a ‘successful nominee from one of the past awards programmes’. Here what had been said:

The evening was really well organised and there was a wonderful atmosphere with string quartet – a real feel good factor. It was a lovely opportunity for family members (who were very chuffed!) to meet UCC colleagues. The presentation of a beautiful, personalised painting specifically related to each recipient’s work is something I will cherish forever.

Sure, I believe this – and I do not want to take the individual satisfaction out of it, and I actually love personalised paintings (though I may be a bit picky there after the recent course). But I have to admit that equal pay, good working conditions and honest recognition of the daily performance of all staff would be more valuable than a scheme of lip-service to some and the factual tendency to dispraise the work of the majority; and nowadays even disguised under the veil of a ‘common agreement’, made against the wage earners under the title of the Croke Park Agreement.
It is following the same lines of sheepishness as mentioned on another occasion.

Coming to the third point then, and with this back to the first mail. I appreciate the concern which is brought forward in the mail: the complain about the increasing inequality, the increasing precarisation, the increasing ‘projectisation’, i.e. work being undertaken within the limits of projects … – and with this not least the emerging mobbing and the fact of a wedge being driven between staff. I find it hugely questionable to argue against inequality by permanently highlighting the ‘outstanding performance’, the many awards received from others …
So what? Why do we need equality – high performance works apparently without it – just by throwing an annual ‘personalised painting’ to some of the folks.
Cherry picking and cherishing, rights can remain outside of the equality calculation. This is at least the message that comes through – nolens volens as we said at the time in the ‘good old time’, enjoying panem et circences.
Just back from the International conference on Antonio Gramsci, it makes much sense: if you want, the reality feeding into writing another set of prison notebooks. And many of us could write them and publish them and read them aloud – as long as we are not in actual fact ending in prisons.

And of course, all this is not least an issue which I looked at a long time ago, in a contribution together with Deirdre Ryan, titled Education – Just Another Commodity. Exposing The Rhetoric Of «Human Capital» In The Light Of Social Quality, published in the book Utopia Between Corrupted Public Responsibility and Contested Modernisation: Globalisation and Social Responsibility which I edited in 2005