31st EGOS Colloquium, Athens 2015


Call for sub-theme proposals



Organizations and the Examined Life:

Reason, Reflexivity and Responsibility

July 24, 2015


ALBA Graduate Business School at

The American College of Greece

Athens, Greece

During his trial in classical Athens, Socrates famously stated: "an unexamined life is not worth living". This statement is the most succinct advocacy of philosophy, science, and democracy ever since. The spirit of free and open-ended inquiry, the practice of deliberation, and the commitment to a life that is to be lived neither merely biologically, nor unreflectively according to the conventions of surrounding society, but to be approached as a quest for self-knowledge and autonomy, define what the late Cornelius Castoriadis called "Greco-Western culture". Freed from any particular culture, those features have been, in several variations and forms, defining aspects of modernity.


How are we to understand the Socratic statement in organizations and organization studies namely in the world of praxis and in the world of theoria? Much of modern organizational life is carried out through structures, systems and routines, following norms and rules, within power structures. On the surface, it has the texture of unexamined life. Nietzsche would probably have said that modern organization is the effort to systematically privilege Apollonian logos over Dionysian pathos.


Yet, there are often occasions for organizational life to be interrupted: things do not turn out as planned, objects do not respond as expected, routines need to be adapted, authority is challenged or silently undermined, the environment is more unpredictable, uncertain or hostile than perceived, the past is no reliable guide for present problems, pathos always lurks beneath logos, and so on. The opportunities for 'normal' organizational life to take a different turn are countless. For all the Apollonian efforts for 'order', Dionysian 'disorder' never goes away. It is the tension between the two that is often experienced in organizational life.


Change, learning, and novelty cannot emerge without challenging unreflective (unexamined) practices. Organizational life may be lived unreflectively; but without ongoing reflexive re-constitution, it stagnates. Organizations may be understood as stable, but are experienced as dynamic, interactive nexuses of social and material arrangements. An important driver of change is the reflective, reflexive, and imaginative use of embodied reason, the opportunity of human agents to engage in feedback and "backtalk" with one another and the materials, and to be responsive while envisaging alternative futures.


How does reason become reflective, reflexive and imaginative? Traditionally, organizations were taken to be paragons of rationality. Weber's "iron cage" of bureaucracy was built with materials of instrumental rationality, cut off from values, emotions and the body. While such a "cold reason" still underlies the functioning of organizations, it is increasingly suffused with hitherto neglected features, such as emotions and values. The neo-Aristotelian insight that organizations are not merely iron cages, but also sociomaterial practices in which embodied human beings collaborate to realize goods that are "internal" to their practices and matter to them, while aiming to achieve "standards of excellence" that are appropriate to their practices, gains ground. Organizations develop a distinctive "character", depending on "moods" they create, choices they encourage, and habits they adopt. Reason is not merely instrumental but value-oriented, too.


In so far as practitioners are embedded in sociomaterial practices, they tend to carry out their tasks unreflectively "coping" with the world they happen to find themselves in. As practical reasoners, organizational members are initiated into practices, drawing on collective self-understandings and able to query the latter's efficacy or appropriateness. This gives rise to questions such as:

  • How are "internal goods" and "standards of excellence" perceived, reflected upon, and enacted by practitioners? How are "internal goods" and "standards of excellence" reflexively reconstituted when put into action? How is a quasi-unreflective practice turned into a reflective one, in what conditions, and with what results? What are the features of reflective practices and how do they come about? How is the exercise of reason suffused with emotions? How is instrumental rationality interwoven with value rationality, in what contexts?

The exercise of reflexive reason is necessarily a practical matter, hence the importance of practical wisdom (Aristotle's phronesis). Kant's famous questions "What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?" are at the heart of the matter. A mindful approach to a practice hitherto carried out in an unreflective manner is taken for a purpose. To wonder about this purpose reflexively is to orient oneself critically towards it and seek possible alternatives to it. Underlying challenges to current structures, habits and routines is the conception of a different future, no matter how inchoate its articulation may be responsibility and accountability cannot be escaped. Questions to explore may include:

  • How is judgment exercised in organizational contexts? What is the role of reflection, reflexivity and power in this? What structures and practices make what types of reflexivity more likely or effective? How is the tendency to see organizations as context-free and subjected to universal principles of performativity balanced or counteracted with a renewed emphasis on judgment and practical wisdom in increasingly globalized environments? How is the tension between conformity and autonomy managed in organizations?

Seen as collective actors, organizations inevitably orientate themselves to the world in particular ways, thus displaying their understandings of their roles and responsibilities. Acknowledging the possibility of leading an examined life implies that the Aristotelian question concerning "the good life" not only cannot be evaded, but it acquires a central place in organizational agendas. Several possible questions arise:

  • How do organizations come to view and discharge their responsibilities? How do organizations engage in processes of reflexivity while facing pressures for conformity to institutionalized standards? How is reflexivity exercised in the wake of organizational scandals, whistleblowers, and negative publicity? How does it change in virtual settings, in which the place/space and presence/absence dialectic changes? What conceptions of "good life" underlie certain practices? How is the conflict between democratic polity and oligarchic business played out in different contexts? How is the legal and legitimate/ethical tension bridged (if at all)? What do the risks organizations manage reveal about their priorities and values? How is risk management related to reflexivity and accountability?

The 2015 EGOS Colloquium will be a forum for discussion of the above-mentioned issues and questions. Its general theme transcends disciplinary boundaries, dualisms, and levels of analysis: philosophy/ethics and science, business and society, reason and values, rationality and emotions, means and ends, thinking and feeling, mind and body, theory and practice, structure and agency, routine and change, leaders and followers, micro and macro. We invite sub-theme proposals that inspire dialogue on, and even attempt transcending of, some of these dualisms, and cross-disciplinary boundaries by drawing on the social sciences and the humanities.

What better a place to discuss the examined life than Athens, the city in which the possibility for it arose. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle may no longer be around, but their ideas and the Hellenic monuments of classical civilizations are. If theoria is a search for seeing the world (including human life) a little clearer, that search is an interminable journey. The 2015 EGOS Colloquium aspires to be a tiny, but lively, thoughtful, and exciting, stop in that journey; an agora of ideas and debates. Please join in!


Sub-theme submissions may reflect upon, but are not limited to, the following broad themes related to reason, reflexivity and responsibility:

  • Institutional and organizational forces and forms
  • Organizational structures, practices and routines
  • Practices of strategy making
  • Professions and professional norms and practices
  • Power and identity
  • Rationality and emotions
  • Individual and collective ethical decision making
  • Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability
  • Reflexivity, imagination and novelty
  • Leadership and authenticity
  • Organizational learning and knowledge management
  • Trust building and repair processes
  • Organizational language and discourse?

  • First of all, please see the?Guidelines and criteria for the submission of sub-theme proposals for EGOS Colloquia.
  • Submissions should consist of a title, an outline of sub-theme domain (maximum 2 pages) and a short description of the convenor team's academic background and EGOS Colloquium experience. Titles should avoid repetition of the Colloquium theme keywords.
  • Convenor teams should be international in composition (at least two countries) and should include at least one highly reputed scholar and one convenor experienced in organizing EGOS sub-themes. The maximum convenor team size is three; proposals from teams of four or more convenors will not be considered!

Submission period (online via the EGOS website):
  • Start: Monday, October 14, 2013
  • End: Monday, December 9, 2013, 23:59:59 CET