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The shifting boundaries of organisation theory across time:
A demarcation perspective

Ratle, Olivier



What happen to organization theory when it travels from one context to another? This paper takes a science-demarcation perspective to analyse over time contests over the legitimate realm of organization theory. By looking at the rhetorical commonplaces featured in a series of metatheoretical commentaries, the paper shows that representations of what constitute the legitimate realm of organization theory are shaped by internal and external factors; by what is at stake within a given controversy, but also by wider philosophical movements within the social sciences, namely the rise of constructivist epistemology and the backlash against it.
Attempts to define the legitimate territories of science produce maps that are inconsistent and variable over time. In his sociological studies of scientific demarcation, Thomas Gieryn (1999) invited us to see science as a cultural space that has no essential or universal qualities. Rather, he says, “its characteristics are selectively and inconsistently attributed as boundaries between ‘scientific’ space and other spaces are rhetorically constructed” (xii). Gieryn posits that it is this flexibility that can explain the sustained authority of science. We can understand how science survives and flourishes when we see it as a cultural space that can encompass a relatively wide variety of practices and meanings. This calls for an analysis that does not try to affix once for all the content of the signifier ‘science’, but that recognises that what counts as proper science depends on the exigencies of the situation. It is with that idea as a starting point that this paper endeavours to analyse how the legitimate borders of organization theory are drawn and re-drawn over time, thus enabling the legitimisation of organization theory as a worthwhile scientific project.
Analysing a series of texts commenting on metatheoretical issues in organization theory, this paper shows how the nature of arguments put forward in metatheoretical controversies changes over time, with authors pursuing different rhetorical strategies and designing arguments built on new rhetorical commonplaces. Focusing on rhetorical topoi mobilised within those texts, the analysis presented shows the extent to which the legitimate realm of organization theory implied within those texts vary over time. Commonalities between the maps of science rhetorically drawn also suggest topical areas that could be addressed by researchers who want to further the legitimacy of alternative conceptions of organization theory and further theoretical pluralism.


A demarcation perspective. Paper presented at 29th EGOS Colloquium

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name 29th EGOS Colloquium
Start Date Jul 4, 2013
End Date Jul 6, 2013
Acceptance Date Jan 1, 2013
Publication Date Jul 6, 2013
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords rhetoric, organisation studies, demarcation, disciplinary boundaries
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : 29th EGOS Colloquium


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