Reading Bauman and Retrotopia

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Scandinavian Journal of Management, 2018, 34 (4), pp. 354 - 363
Issue Date:
2018-12-01
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© 2018 Elsevier Ltd The work of Zygmunt Bauman, insofar as it addressed the organizational world, saw it initially as a total institution, one in which the organization, as a specific entity defined by those activities it envelops, was focused on the central task of liquidation (Bauman, 1989). du Gay (2002) critically interrogated the bureaucratic character of this total institution in an influential thesis that ‘praised’ bureaucracy as a normative ideal of modernity. It is not, however, this debate with the ghost of Max Weber that has been of most concern to contemporary management and organization studies. Rather, it a later image of organization as decomposing, fragmenting, opening, reforming and deforming. In a word, organization is becoming more ‘liquid’ such that boundaries, choices and control are shifting in the direction of increasing fluidity and plurality. Key themes that are identified are those of liquid society, composing liquid ethics, liquid dynamics, liquid selves and liquid spaces and aesthetics. There are, however, outer limits to liquid modernity as they are enacted in terms of myths that Bauman refers to as leading to Retrotopia: a sickly nostalgia for an imagined past as a source of inspiration, a mythical utopia, where things were better managed and organized. Thus, the outer limit of a liquid society becomes a retrospective and backward looking utopia: Retrotopia, a myth whose contours are outlined and whose implications for management and organization studies are expounded.
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