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Beyond leadership: A relational approach to understanding organizations


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This is a copy of the slides for my International Sociological Association World Congress paper (19 July 2018) as part of the suite of 'relational sociology' papers.

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Beyond leadership: A relational approach to understanding organizations

  1. 1. Beyond leadership: A relational approach to understanding organizations Dr Scott Eacott School of Education | Gonski Institute for Education
  2. 2. Beyond leadership Eacott, S. (2018). Beyond leadership: A relational approach to organizational theory in education. Singapore: Springer.
  3. 3. Problem No. 1: Leadership • An a priori belief in its existence • Studied post event • Epistemic construct / methodological artefact • Pre-existing normative orientation (organizing)
  4. 4. Problem No. 2: Organizations In common parlance we speak of organizations as if they were real. Neither scholar nor layman finds difficulty with talk in which organizations ‘serve functions’, ‘adapt to their environment’, ‘clarify their goals’ or ‘act to implement policy’. What is it that serves, adapts, clarifies or acts seldom comes into question. Underlying widely accepted notions about organizations, therefore, stands the apparent assumption that organizations are not only real but also distinct from the actions, feelings and purposes of people. (Thomas Barr Greenfield)
  5. 5. My argument • The centrality of ‘organizing’ in the social world creates an ontological complicity in researchers (and others) that makes it difficult to epistemologically break from ordinary language; • Rigorous social scientific inquiry calls into question the very foundations of popular labels such as ‘leadership’, ‘management’, and ‘administration’ • The contemporary condition is constantly shaping, and shaped by, the image of organizing; • Foregrounding relations enables the overcoming of the contemporary, and arguably enduring, tensions of structure/agency, universalism/particularism, and individualism/holism; and • In doing so, there is a productive – rather than merely critical – space to theorize organizing activity.
  6. 6. My reasoning • More than ≥ 2 requires some organizing • Instead of granting ontological status to organizations relational theorizing calls for attention to organizing activity • Unlike notions of acting or agency, auctor (meaning s/he who generates) enables us to engage with relations • Generating breaks down orthodox separation of time and space and calls for spatio-temporal conditions Auctors generate spatio-temporal conditions through organizing activity
  7. 7. Relevance • Talk of a ‘relational turn’ in the social sciences • Such a breakthrough requires ‘a blueprint for moving forward’ (Gulson & Symes, 2017; Prandini, 2015) What does the relational offer: • A methodological framework for illuminating our ways of understanding • The theoretical resources to undertake that task • Not about playing the game better, but challenging the rules of the game and its formula for success (Thomson, 2010) • It offers a methodological and theoretical breakthrough and a blueprint for moving forward
  8. 8. References Bourdieu, P., Chamboredon, J.C., & Passeron, J.C. (1991[1968]). The craft of sociology: epistemological preliminaries (R. Nice, Trans.). New York, NY: Walter de Gruyter. Depelteau, F. (Ed.). (2018). The Palgrave handbook of relational sociology. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. Donati, P. (2015). Manifesto for a critical realist relational sociology. International Review of Sociology, 25(1), 86-109. Eacott, S. (2018). Beyond leadership: A relational approach to organizational theory in education. Singapore: Springer. Greenfield, T.B. (1973). Organizations as social inventions. Paper presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA. Gulson, K., & Symes, C. (2017). Making moves: Theorizations of education and mobility. Critical Studies in Education, 58(2), 125-130. Prandini, R. (2015). Relational sociology: A well-defined sociological paradigm or a challenging ‘relational turn’ in sociology? International Review of Sociology, 25(1), 1-14. Thomson, P. (2010). Headteacher autonomy: A sketch of a Bourdieuian field analysis of position and practice. Critical Studies in Education, 51(1), 5-20.
  9. 9. Contact Details Dr Scott Eacott PhD MLMEd GradCertPTT BTeach/BSocSci FACEL Director, Higher Research Degree Programs School of Education University of New South Wales Sydney NSW AUSTRALIA 2052 P: +61 2 9385 0704 T: @ScottEacott E: W: