Linking organisational postmodernism theory and practice

By Priya Chetty on December 13, 2016

This article gives a theoretical estimate of how postmodernism theory has come to play fundamental role in organizational theory, practice and set-up. Postmodernism is an intellectual concept that initiates new paradigm that influences many aspects including culture and organisations. This theory is given as an attempt to establish the totality of human existence. It can be applied even to an  organisation, where constant change makes consistent form of social progress and rationalization to exist in one logic. Taking such writers as Agger (2012), where postmodernism theory has been analysed to understand social set-up that changes human lives, postmodernism theory has been applied in studying organizational theory and practice, that brings changes in management, operation and process of organizations.

Understanding the nature of postmodernism

Defining and bringing out the nature of postmodernism in one understanding and concept is problematic. Since postmodernism is a movement that is always contested and shifting (Clegg & Kornberger, 2003). This thought is nevertheless regarded as an intellectual concept that initiates new perspective or new paradigm of thought. Two of the main thinkers who influenced the thinking of postmodernism is Hayden White and Micheal Foucault. While White is mainly associated with bringing back narratives, Foucault concentrates on bringing back such concepts and organizations and culture, although it is in regard to linguistic stand (Hicks, 2004; White, 2009). Their thinking influence has now been applied to organizations, in order to assert the possible aspect to assert the power of knowledge in an organization. Since this concept is always changing, there is no clear definition or concept to fully explain what postmodernism stands for. In comprehensive understanding, postmodernism can be defined as “a continuation of [the] avant-garde aesthetic without a nostalgia for direct contact with a ‘real world’ … the postmodern aesthetic of the sublime is precisely such a conscious withdrawal from traditional concepts of artistic reality. It seems to make visible the fact that there is something which may be thought but cannot in principle itself become visible or represented” (Hassard & Parker, 1993, pp. 1, 2). Postmodernism is therefore seen as privileging weak ontology of ‘becoming’, by emphasizing on the transient, the ephemeral and the emergent reality. Reality in this case is known for always being in flux and hence unrepresentable in any static sense.

Debating postmodernism in organisational theory

Postmodernism is one of the most common concept in intellectual debates in many fields, including organizational studies. In organization studies, postmodernism is known to bring radical consequences for rethinking the studies on organizational theory and practice. Postmodern approach in studying organizations does not give priority to traditional emphasis on organizations, or organizational forms and attributes, but on local assemblages of ‘organizings’ that all contributes towards building social reality. Such emphasis makes postmodern to bring in different and specific intellectual priorities and theoretical preoccupation while studying organisational theory.

There are three perspectives in understanding organizational theory, which include:

  1. modern,
  2. symbolic-interpretive and
  3. postmodernism.

These perspectives give different approaches when it comes to discussing organisational theory.  For instance, modernists and symbolic-interpretive are objectivists focusing on reality, like a CEO’s ability being utilized to make right decisions or make money. The success of such reality-pursuing policy is different from postmodernism, where the approach is unwilling to seek the truth or make any epistemological and ontological commitments. Seen from such stand, postmodernists refuse to take even temporary philosophical stand and rejects objectivity and certainty as postulated by the modernists.

Seminal article- ‘Critical theory, post structuralism, postmodernism: Their sociological Relevance’ by Ben Agger (1991)

In this work, “Critical Theory, Post structuralism, Postmodernism: Their Sociological Relevance”, Agger, (2012) brings out theoretical estimate of the same name. According to his estimate, these theories are responsible for giving perspectives and theorizing contemporary societies. The main perspective behind this research is taken from a sociological stand. The implications of these three theories on sociology is being discussed here. These theories are known for redefining human sciences and cultural studies that has now blurred the traditional studies. Such changes brought about by these theories are applicable beyond the human lives and can be applied even in organizational studies. The theories are all committed in deconstructing disciplinary differentiation as being arbitrary. Agger in particular points out that these theories allow the establishment of sociology as different discipline, making the risk of losing important discipline’s identity.

Theoretical framework of linking organisational postmodernism theory and practice
Theoretical framework of linking organisational theory and practice

Applicability of postmodernism to organisational theory and practice

The research is constructed on the application of postmodernism theory to organizational theory. Contextualising various literature on the same over the years has proven the applicability of postmodernism and its concept to organizational theory and practice. Since Foucault postulated postmodernism, the concept has gained vehement interest across many disciplines, including organisational and management studies. It is learnt that in terms of applying the theory in organizational management, operation and process, postmodernism theory remains successful.

Application of postmodernism in organizational studies was started four decades ago. This research shows that there is very less research work done on this topic. Many of the research work evaluated in this research also deals with basic mapping of postmodernism theory and its application to organizational theory and practice. Little research is carried out on specific importance of the concept’s applicability to specific functions of the organisation. Organizational behavior and operation which are influenced by constant change that makes the organization to stay fluid requires intensive postmodern theory evaluation that can be undertaken in the future.

Less research work has been carried out on postmodernism and its application to organizational theory and practice. The literature reviewed shows that postmodernism over the past four decades has been able to bring out provoking and influential stand on organizations and its management system. At present, postmodern management, organizational theory and organizational management proves to be effective in providing introduction on organization and management. The research also presents a wide scope of the postmodern influence on organizational theory and management of the organization.


  • Agger B, ‘Critical Theory, Poststructuralism, Postmodernism: Their Sociological Relevance’ (2012) 17 Annual Review of Sociology 105.
  • Clegg, S. R., Hardy, C., Lawrence, T., & Nord, W. R. (2006). The SAGE Handbook of Organization Studies. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Clegg SR and Kornberger M, ‘Modernism, Postmodernism, Management and Organization Theory’ (2003) 21 Post Modernism and Management 57. <> accessed 16 August 2016
  • Hassard J and Parker M, Postmodernism and Organizations (SAGE Publications 1993).
  • Hassard, J. (1994). Postmodern Organizational Analysis: Toward A Conceptual Framework.  Journal of Management Studies, 31(3), 303–324.
  • Hicks RC, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Scholarly Publishing 2004).
  • White H, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (The John Hopkins University Press 2009).

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).