By Burkard Sievers. 1994: Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 346 pp., [pounds sterling]66.90.
This book represents the author's "attempt to find (his) own voice in relation to the experience, emotions and thoughts I have had in my various roles both professional and private" (1994, p. xi). His core concerns are that modern organizations are ill-fitted to meet the requirements for a decent life for its members and, more powerfully, prevent them from confronting their mortality. From these concerns he develops a number of other themes, including the problem of meaning, leadership, management, and the development of wisdom in organizational life. Although his intellectual sources are eclectic, there is a primary interest in psychoanalytic perspectives.
UNCOVERING EPISTEMOLOGICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL UNDERPINNINGS
It was a source of interest, for the reviewer, that Sievers uses both Hermeneutic epistemology and Critical Theory as underpinning philosophy--he is firmly in the German mainstream in these--without placing himself explicitly in these traditions. Bettelheim (1983) suggested that in the German tradition there is a
. . . definite and important division between two approaches to knowledge.
Both disciplines are called sciences and they are accepted as equally
legitimate in their appropriate fields, although their methods have hardly
anything in common. In such a division of knowledge, a hermeneutic spiritual
knowing and a positivistic-pragmatic knowing are opposed to each other.
(1983, p. 41) There are those (see Stapley, 1996) who would argue that psychoanalytic approaches represent the quintessence of the hermeneutic approach, and as we shall show, Sievers is not averse to an attack on positivism. In the interest of balance, we would suggest that opposition to Hermeneutic epistemology may, in a general way, be summarized by the assertions that it lacks systematic analysis and that it pushes science into making respectable intuition and vision, thereby moving ". . . into a Shirley Maclaine world of New Age mysticism in which rationality is devalued" [my emphasis] (Grant, 1995, p. 21). Although writers on organizations within the psychoanalytic paradigm present themselves as epistemologically incontestable they are, of course prone to attack. Gellner's studied impatience with the failure of students training in both logical positivism and in psychoanalysis " . . . to sense the strain between the sustained reverence for verifiability on the one hand, and equally sustained indulgence in a technique manifestly indulging in communication with the Untestable" [my emphases] (1985,p.230) sets the tone of attack--and it would be within the parameters of psychoanalytic thought to suggest that the language of contempt (which Sievers identifies as part of the repertoire of positivist social science) as evidenced in the emphases can be interpreted as a defense mechanism against the anxiety induced by science which takes into account the subjective.
Sievers himself has a moment of epistemological doubt when he suggests after an extended discussion on the nature of leadership that "(s)ome may conclude all this is mere existentialist or moralist reverie" but then consoles himself through his conviction that "we as scientists and practitioners, do not have any choice but to acknowledge these facts of life as the basis from which we construct social reality" (1994, p. 219). Sievers takes psychoanalytic thought as revealed truth rather than the more modest claims that it is one useful way, among others, for investigating some social phenomena (Halton, 1994, p. 11). This book does have the air, as an exemplar of psychoanalytic writing, of reflecting a fairly settled orthodoxy underpinned by Judeo/Christian values (Webster, 1995, p. 5).
The way in which Sievers uses psychoanalytic perspectives is, we would suggest, part and parcel of the emancipatory interest embodied in Critical Theory--that gaze which ". . . is wholly distrustful of the rules of conduct with which society, as presently constituted, provides each of its members" (Horkheimer, 1937, p. 217). Within this Attitude--and it is interesting, in contrast to other types of theorizing, that Critical Theorists are properly aware that behind theory there lies a theory of living--psychoanalytic insight is "critical (and) self-reflexive (providing) emancipatory tools--without loss of their `scientificity' . . . a science rooted in emancipatory cognitive interest . . ." (Arato & Gebhardt, 1978, p. 389). This is expressed primarily through Sievers' concern with loss of meaning, and the key "tool" he uses to explore this is through his interpretation of Otto Rank's understanding of our need, but current inability, to encounter our own mortality.
Also within the spirit of the Critical Attitude, Sievers discusses, as an aspect of the loss of meaning, the modern sense of displacement and fragmentation. This is seen as an inevitable aspect of the division of labor captured by Taylor's Scientific Management such that fragmentation becomes embedded in the social system itself--the idea that we live in a society in which separation is the norm. This view is supported by Doray (1988) who then also suggests that Taylorism is now a spent force and that the relation between people, and people and their technologies are now much more complex than can be contained by the simplicities of the division of labor, even though some management might well continue to use these methods as a means of maintaining control (Osterman, 1991).
It is also through this Critical perspective that Sievers explores some of the negative implications of what he claims to be narrow positivistic scientific method with a suggestion that there is between academics and management a collusion. To illustrate this, he cites the work that has been done …