Researching Breakdowns Involving Shame: Reflexive Inquiry and the Practice of Ethical Organisation Development in a UK Government Agency
This thesis explores my work as an internal organisation development (OD) consultant in a national body that oversees health and care services in the UK. It makes contributions to practice theory and current debates on the nature of expertise, and provides a new way of thinking about the role of shame and respect as part of ethical OD practice. Over the last two years, I have been inquiring into narrative accounts of what I do as a researcher-practitioner, as a means to understanding more of what OD actually involves in my workplace. This has included my work leading a culture and leadership project, and facilitating large groups. As I have progressed in my work and in my research, I have become increasingly aware of the uncertainty involved in human interaction and how routinised relational performances – or practices – might be involved in managing the anxiety associated with uncertainty, as well as the production and reproduction of identities and social order. This perspective that combines ideas from pragmatic philosophy, practice theory, group analysis, and the complexity sciences, provides very different approaches to understanding many concepts in organisational life. In particular, I explore how expertise can be regarded as a relational practice involving experts, their lay audience and (where appropriate) relevant professional bodies, and how this practice is part of the ordering of contemporary societies. This argument adds to the literature on the nature of expertise, challenging the perspective that it is a property of individuals. This is through a concrete example of how social order emerges paradoxically from self-organising local interaction, which is a key principle in understanding human interaction as complex responsive processes. I have also found myself increasingly intrigued by the bodily experiences of not knowing what to do when my expectations about the world fail to predict what actually happens. How these mismatches – or breakdowns – bring the contingency of social orders and identities into view, and their involvement in learning processes, has been widely explored in the academic literature. Some of this literature also considers related bodily experiences; however, my research focuses particularly on reflexively inquiring into shame and (self-)respect because I have found these to be very useful in exploring the conflict of competing ‘goods’ in social life as embodied processes. My research suggests that shame arises when the fragility of social norms is highlighted in ways that puts at risk our ongoing membership of real and imagined communities that are important to us. I argue that taking shame – and therefore the moral agency of others – seriously, paradoxically means taking our own moral agency seriously because selves are social. This accords with G.H. Mead’s position on morality, which sees ethical judgement as a fallible process of purposeful action with as many perspectives as possible in view. This position confirms the relatively common view that OD practitioners can never be ‘outside’ the social figurations they are tasked with trying to change, but challenges the ideal of practitioners as neutral guides who can avoid asserting their own agendas as they try to facilitate change. It also contributes to our understanding of human interaction as complex responsive processes by adding further dimensions to the specific concept of social selves in G.H Mead’s theory of human interaction.
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