36th EGOS Colloquium
Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance
University of Hamburg
July 2–4, 2020
36th EGOS Colloquium
July 2–4, 2020
In a time of digitalization, artificial intelligence and automation, the spectre of the de-humanization of work is present
for consideration in the managerial literature. Consequentially, efforts to humanize workplaces may be needed to counter both
the robotization of labour and, more broadly, the financialization of management. Notions of humanization have developed
in various disciplines, although Marxian and materially informed analyses are particularly attentive to the manifestation
of humanity at work. In the field of social psychology, for example, de-humanization refers to the defensive development of
distorted perceptions of “others”, often minorities, who are portrayed as lacking depth and complexity, or treated as objects
rather than fellow humans (Haslam, 2006; Waytz et al., 2015).
In the field of international law and human rights, de-humanization is referred to as the attribution of “personality” to non-human entities, such as corporations’ appropriation of human rights in the defence of financial interests (Isiksel, 2006). The notion of humanization has been applied to the study of discrimination in the contexts of enslavement, torture, terrorism and exploitation, and can be considered as a commonplace social phenomenon, grounded in ordinary social-cognition, covering processes of mechanization, brutalization and objectification (Stollznow, 2008), often within organizations.
In the field of management, early contributions on computerization pointed to the risk of dehumanized work and alienated employees (Rourke & Brookes, 1967), while others interpreted this movement towards automation as an opportunity to re-humanize work (Simon, 1977). De-humanization has also been studied as a side-effect of specific management practices, such as change management (McKendall, 1993) or contemporary office designs (Donis & Taskin, 2018). Along with research suggesting management may produce (de-)humanization, some scholars in management studies have come to consider humanization as a means to more fundamental change, which may renew management research, teaching and practices, towards the production of alternatives futures.
We identify two main perspectives in this vein:
First, humanization consists of proposing and enacting alternatives to traditional mechanistic approaches to management. This may come from the integration of humanistic practices into management, such as mutual recognition instead of profit-seeking (see, for example, Taskin & Dietrich, 2016); or the focus on ‘living work’ in HRM (Glaisner & Masclef, 2018); or the ways ownership and governance mechanisms, regulatory agencies and institutional supports to workplaces combine to encourage more humane social relations within production. Such considerations have implications for the positioning and practice of management, and for processes such as dialogue, decision-making, and governance (see Hallée et al., 2018).
Second, humanization studies in management may provide opportunities to create alternative frameworks to study management and organizations. For example, humanization may require social realism, which focuses on the transformational potential of human agency, and so may be an opportunity to further investigate and constitute applied critical realism as a research agenda in organization and management studies (Al-Amoudi et al., 2017; O’Mahoney et al., 2018). Research on humanization in management and organization studies could thus open the possibility for considering issues of emancipation, oppression and resistance, which could be grounded in Marxist perspectives (see McKendall, 1993; Benson, 1977), in Bourdieusian analysis of fields of power and symbolic violence (see Vincent & Pagan, 2019), or other perspectives that reveal humane struggles in organizations.
More fundamentally, humanization studies in management may seek to answer to Aktouf’s call to consider both managerial mechanisms and the vision of humanity shared in the workplace when analyzing management practice (Aktouf, 1992). Herbert Simon, like Sumantra Ghoshal (2005), also pointed to the need to reveal a specific conception of humankind, as a foundation to renewed theories and practices in organization studies and management. However, few have undertaken such risky ventures (Taskin & Ndayambaje, 2018). Whichever path is taken, the consideration of humanization inevitably raises moral questions that are conducive to different ways of theorizing, and practicing, management (Al-Amoudi, 2017).
The major purpose of this sub-theme is to explore the way humanization may be considered in the study of management and organizations, i.e. in terms of dehumanization but also with reference to the potential of management practice and research to (re-)humanize people, social relations, work, organizations and management itself. We welcome a range of theoretical and empirical contributions on processes of (de-/re-)humanization addressing, amongst other issues, the following:
How can we investigate humanization in management and organization studies? How does consideration of humanization in the field of management draw on or compare to existing perspectives in social psychology, law, medicine? What are the objectives of analyses of humanization within workplaces? What theoretical frameworks best reveal processes of (de-/re- humanization?
Can we, ethically, consider humanization, humanness, and related concepts in the study of management? Is ‘humanity’ a useful standard when assessing and criticizing organizations and societies?
What are the limitations of the concept humanization? How does it differ from existing and closed concepts, such as commodification and objectification? What is the relevance of studying humanization in management?
How do contemporary modes of organizing and organization impel the (de-/re-)humanize of people, organizations and work? In what ways can alternative modes of organization, such as cooperatives or third-sector agencies, and alternative forms regulation, governance, and civil society organization, perhaps in combinations, contribute to enhance human flourishing and dignity?
Under which conditions (anthropological, epistemological, etc.) could humanization contribute to the renewal of management research, models and practice? What is the role of academic agency in the “double hermeneutic” process of knowledge creation in this field?
What are the implications and meaning of (re-/de-)humanization for diverse social groups within organizations, including differences based on age or class, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation?
How is the dissemination of technologies, such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence, big data, robotized production and smart sensors, conducive to dehumanization of labour and commercial relations? And conversely, how can technology be mustered to re-humanize work and management?