Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reasoning in Organizations? What? Why?

So here it begins, my private blog. A wise friend once said that only vanity drives people to write personal blogs. You decide. I've had an interest for some time in reasoning -- the mental and discursive processes of linking of facts, observations, normative beliefs, etc. as reasons for other observations, beliefs, actions, etc. Humans are inherently sentient creatures and what we believe matters to us. We manipulate our beliefs and observations to come up with novel observations through a creative process. Reasoning is, arguably, the very basis of acting intentionally. Yet, generic attention to reasoning by that name is almost invisible in current organization theory and even sociology more broadly (but see an esoteric article by Vaisey 2009 in AJS). As Toulmin (2001, book "Return to reason") notes, theory on rationality has long been dominated by rational choice theorists (RCT), while the older and richer tradition that conceives rationality as reasoning has been ignored by proponents and opponents of RCT. A lot of organizational research is actually about reasoning, even though the term is very seldom used.

My own interest mainly concerns the role of culture in reasoning. I have a firm conviction that culture (e.g. what we organization theorists call 'institutional logics') influences social life largely by shaping how people reason (more of this later). That is, by shaping not only what beliefs we hold to be true but more importantly defining what kind of conclusions we see those premises as underwriting. I believe reasoning provides an elegant process to understand the theoretical morass of sensemaking (more of this later). Even categories, the not-so-new favorite topic in sociology of markets, are essentially significant because they are the nodes that reasoning operates around. Arguably, it is only their role in reasoning that makes categories hold any significance whatsoever (more of this later).I claim that the ubiquitous mystery-term of 'cultural meanings' is sensible only in relationship to reasoning (you guessed it -- more of this later).

There is an agenda for this blog. I think we need to have a proper sociology of reasoning. If 'behavioral economics' is about looking how psychological constants influence economic reasoning, we could have 'cultural economics' examining how cultural structures influence economic reasoning. That is, whereas cognitive psychology focuses on identifying generic patterns of automated reasoning (Kahneman), we ought to complement this by studying how substantive content of reasoning is shaped by social (organizationizational & industry) contexts. Since 'cultural economics' sounds pretty dull, I'd suggest a focus on 'organizational reasoning' in the dual meaning that patterns of socially conditioned ways of reasoning shape organizations and the social contexts of organizations shape how actors and groups reason. While much research on these processes has been done (some of which I hope to cover), we might benefit from recognizing the commonalities and attending to reasoning in a more explicit and systematic manner. 

Why a blog? Who says doing social science should be just about publishing stuff in journals? Only everyone. The blog will serve as a way for me air some thoughts and comments related to ideas and studies I find to be particularly interesting or useful. Hopefully my observations will be of interest to at least someone. And crucially, the blog allows me to air my ideas while my papers dwell in the depths of the peer-review process.

Oh well, this is too much already. For those who made it here -- thank you for reading. All comments very welcome!

-- Henri

PS. Here are some potential topics you might read about if you subscribe:
- How do organizations shape individual reasoning? Can we have a research agenda for studying organizational reasoning?
- Conceiving legitimacy as an outcome of reasoning
- Institutional logics/beliefs systems as networks of interrelated norms of reasoning
- Categories as tools of reasoning
- Sensemaking process as reasoning (and how to conceptualize 'meanings')
- Goffman's frame analysis essay as being really just about context-specific norms of reasoning
- Interesting recent philosophical work on reasoning
- Interesting recent cognitive psychology work on reasoning, dual processing theory
- Making sense of cultural structures (e.g. organic food) through reasoning

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