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Drawing on contemporary debates and responding to an analytic lacuna in organization and management studies and calls from organizational practice, Phenomenology of the Embodied Organization explores the fundamental and integral role of the body and embodiment in organizational life-worlds.



1. Introduction

What would it entail to take the meaning of an organization as an ‘Incorporation’ seriously? What does it imply to interpret organizations as incorporated arrangements, that is as embodied life-worlds? Beyond seeing artefacts and buildings as the physical embodiment of an organization and its change and history (Marrewijk, 2009), specifically one might ask: what and who is incorporated in organizational processes and practices and in what way? What would it mean to take the body and embodiment as starting points or accompanying moves and realities for researching and rethinking about and living in an organization as a company? Furthermore, what would carnal organization and management studies mean and imply? What implications would approaching an organization and its management from an embodied point of view render? What different understandings and practices might be gained and developed by placing an embodied orientation centre-stage?

Wendelin M. Küpers

2. Understanding Phenomenology

This chapter outlines an introductory understanding examining classical Husserlian phenomenology as well as illustrating some of its limitations, various critiques and further developments. For Merleau-Ponty phenomenology in general is discernible as a specific style and movement of thought, as expressed in the quotation above. Accordingly, it is characterized by a flexible and vivid way of inquiry, as it takes different directions and tries out new ways of reasoning continuously. Thus, it approaches the experienced phenomena in question and their various and inexhaustible dimensions of meaning and ambiguities from different perspectives through showing gestures towards a living understanding (Hass, 2008: 5–6, 7). In this manner, phenomenology can be seen as an attempt to understand what experience is and means, and is, in its classical form, a formalized account of conscious experience and its implications.

Wendelin M. Küpers

3. Advanced Phenomenology and Relational Ontology of Merleau-Ponty

Despite the mid-20th century vintage of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, its long-time neglect and its dense, complicated and at times elusive idioms, it continues to offer promising resources and insights for numerous contemporary concerns, including life-worlds and research on them. His philosophy also has a power to alleviate lingering problems in social and organizational science and practices. His approach opens new vistas, avenues and expressions for a more integral thinking — living and even ‘singing the world’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1952: 187) of phenomena in organizations. Merleau-Ponty serves as an inspirational source for deepening interrogative inquiries and the much-needed work of renewing our connections with organizing in the world. Importantly, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology facilitates the embracing of being as an integral one, of remaining alive and sensitive to being in and with the world and each other as well as celebrating the creative, transformative powers of thought, language and philosophy (Hass, 2008: 9). This understanding of an integral being is bridging the divide between ‘subject’ and ‘object’, self and world without effacing the differences between them. In this way, Merleau-Ponty’s advanced phenomenology and relational ontology provide a dynamic base or medium for developing a post-Cartesian approach and science.

Wendelin M. Küpers

4. Organization as an Embodied Life-World of Practice

From a phenomenological perspective, organizations and their management can be interpreted as specific life-worlds.1 These worlds of life serve as a starting point and focus for any phenomenological inquiry into organizing and managing (Sandberg and Dall’Alba, 2009). The life-world is the living world of materialities, realities and experiences in which concrete beings in organizations are situated in time and located in place as part of everyday phenomena. As a daily milieu, ‘members’ of organizations dwell on and as ‘bodies’ operate in this world in an unwitting state of mundane engagement that mediates the pursuit of their activities and enables them to perform their tasks. While their respective existences and practices take place and are paced through contextuo-temporal realities and experiential living processes, life-worldly spheres provide the source and media for given, collective meanings and created sense-making (Küpers, 2013b).2 It is this ‘seamless’ stream of embodied living and its meaning as organizing to which the phenomenological approach returns in order to move forwards in understanding its phenomenality. With its emphasis on the lived experience of inhabiting bodies and their connectedness to habitualized embodiment, Merleau-Pontyian phenomenology offers a resource for readdressing organization studies and especially its practice as an embodied one.

Wendelin M. Küpers

5. Embodied Intentionality, Intersubjectivities and Responsiveness in Organization

As we have seen before, intentionality means a basic directedness of experiences towards phenomena. Phenomenologically, intentionality has a constitutive and operative function for experiences, orientation, actions and meanings of and for organizing. Very basically, intentionality is the ontological structure of the interrelationality between experiencing practitioners and their organizational and extra-organizational environment with its phenomena mediated through moving and affective bodies.

Wendelin M. Küpers

6. Embodied Agency and ‘Bodies at Work’ in Inter-Practices of Organizations

What is it like to consider things done by embodied actors and for them to experience embodied others doing something or acting in relation or together with them? How far are bodies of thought and identity (Burkitt, 1999) also those of action?

Wendelin M. Küpers

7. Dilemmas and Paradoxes, Chiasmic Organizing

The following shows how the relational ontology of Merleau-Ponty offers revealing descriptions and provides informative possibilities for a different interpretation of organization, its members and its practice, especially in understanding ways of dealing with dilemmas and paradoxes. In particular, the idea of the working of chiasm and chiasmic ‘Flesh’ provides a concept and metaphor as well as a base for a corresponding ‘inter-practice’ in organizations.

Wendelin M. Küpers

8. Implications

With their experiential, dynamic and provisional statuses, the previously described forms and transformational qualities of senses and the various phenomenological dimensions and processes of embodied inter-practice and chiasmic organizing defy control and elude easy management. Because they do not exist as given, stable, fixed entities or objects, and they imply various ambiguities, they cannot just be organized, managed or manipulated. Instead of being designed directly, most of the embodied phenomena’s sensual processes can be designed only for that which they allow and encourag to unfold. While considering the complex intricacies of bodies of work and working of bodies and embodiment in organization, this orientation prepares, facilitates and creates favourable circumstances for supporting contexts and relationships in they can flourish.

Wendelin M. Küpers


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