Friday, 20 November 2015

The joy of escapism

In the hope of lightening the mood compared with my previous post, and indeed with the increasing darkness of the current news agenda, today I offer something completely different. At the risk of slight personal embarrassment I want to share with readers of this blog some things I have written for a very different blog, namely the World of Blyton. This is one of a number of sites devoted to the life and work of the British children’s author Enid Blyton.
Although sometimes derided for her writing skills and criticised for her sexist, racist and classist descriptions, Blyton was the best-selling children’s author of the twentieth century and is still the all-time eighth best-selling writer of fiction. Anyway, I’m not particularly concerned to try to defend or attack her reputation. For me, it’s mainly just that I read her books as a child and so they retain a cosy and comforting feel. In this way they are indeed an antidote to and escape from current events. For that matter, I find a certain magic in re-reading many other authors I read as a child. And, more generally, I think that re-reading is underrated. I routinely re-read novels (less so non-fiction) and gain much from it. Occasionally, with really special books, I re-read them immediately I finish them, a recent example being Allan Massie’s stunning moral meditation A Question of Loyalties. Some novels, such as those of C.P. Snow, I have read perhaps a couple of hundred times without tiring of them.
Anyway, back to Blyton. On my World Of Blyton contributor page you will find some eleven posts written between 2014 and 2015. Most are book reviews, one explains why I love re-reading her work, one is about how reading her books in translation has helped me learn French and one – my favourite – is a silly joke that I can’t begin to summarise here.
Is there any connection to organization studies? Well, yes there is. Some years ago I wrote a book chapter (Grey, 1998) about the ways that organization is represented in traditional children’s literature. I focussed on three series of books: Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings series and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. It has sunk almost without trace, but the argument was that such books are an aspect in socializing children into how the organizational world works. In the case of the Famous Five series, I suggested that it offered a template of the patriarchal group.
I think that there is some mileage in that argument, but the truth, of course, is that I wrote the chapter as a way of writing about some books that I loved, just as I did for Snow's novels (Grey, 1996), academic journals being more forgiving in those days. I also love, and occasionally re-read, the works of P.G. Wodehouse, of which in 1961 Evelyn Waugh said: “Mr. Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in”.
That sentiment captures my own feeling about Wodehouse, and Blyton and all the others. Escapist it may be, but from time to time as the guns fire and the bombs explode a little escapism is nothing to be ashamed of.

Grey, C. (1996) 'C.P. Snow's Fictional Sociology of Management and Organizations', Organization 3 (1): 61-83.

Grey, C. (1998) ‘Child’s Play: Representations of Organization in Children’s Literature’ in Hassard, J. & Holliday, R. (eds) Organization/Representation: Work and Organizations in Popular Culture. London: Routledge, pp. 131-148

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


I don’t think that I need to provide a link to reports of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris; no one can fail to be aware of them, and appalled by them. For me they have a personal resonance. My wife was born and spent most of her childhood in Paris, and we were married there. My mother-in-law watched Nazi troops marching into Paris in 1940 and saw them leave in 1945, having lived through the Occupation with false papers that disguised her Jewishness. Nowadays, I am a Visiting Professor at Université Paris-Dauphine and visit regularly; in fact I will be there next week. More specifically, my nephew was in a bar on Rue Caron when it was attacked by the gunmen last Friday. He was not hit, but his best friend was shot in the chest, and is still in intensive care, and that friend’s sister was shot in the arm. These were just ordinary twenty-somethings on a night out.
There is so much that could be said about this, and so much that already had been said, that it seems almost pointless to say more. I tend to be quite hawkish about the military and security responses that should be made, but I have no particular knowledge or insight to offer into that. What I do feel clear about is that the massive, predictable surge of responses saying that this shows the failures of multi-culturalism need to be challenged.
Let’s be absolutely clear: those who committed this atrocity are the most ferocious mono-culturalists imaginable. For them, there can and should be no integration and no variety: there is only one true way, derived from a cretinous reading of Islamic scripture. They are the exact mirror image of the ‘Christian Conservative’ Anders Breivik. By contrast, no-one ever shot or blew up another human being in the name of multi-culturalism or of pluralism.
So far as any strategic logic (as opposed to simple hatred) can be discerned in the attacks, it is to hope that it will provoke a punitive reaction against European Muslims so as to say, to some of them at least, that their punitive treatment demonstrates that Muslims cannot be part of the European Polity.
We ‘ordinary people’ can do very little, caught as we are in the cross-fire of two monocultural ideologies. Very little, but not nothing. We can, and should, continue to insist at every opportunity that multi-culturalism is not something to be denied or apologised for, but a cardinal value to be argued for and if necessary to die for.
We dishonour those killed and injured on an ordinary night out in Paris if we take from what they suffered an ideal of separation. Worse, if we do so we honour those who killed and injured them.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Trading places

This week, the Indian Prime Minister visited the UK just a couple of weeks after the Chinese President did the same. Both were sumptuously hosted, but the main events were trade deals. In between the two visits, though much less reported, the UK-Brazil Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) met in London.
This in itself tells us something about the global world economy. Whilst of the BRICs Russia’s relations with the UK remain frosty, for complex political reasons, the other three countries in this admittedly artificial bloc are being actively wooed by the Britain and many other countries.
This gives, in part at least, the lie to the repeated claim by those who want Britain to exit it that EU membership precludes the signing of trade deals. In part, because it is of course true that the UK cannot negotiate deals with third parties that would give EU single market access. But that should be good news for Eurosceptics since, were it possible, it would also be possible for any member state to do the same and thereby commit the UK to trade deals it had had no input into.
And these deals also reveal something else. They are predicated in large part upon UK membership of the EU. The Chinese President – in a highly unusual intervention – made it clear during his visit that his country saw trade relations with the UK in terms of the EU, and urged against Brexit. The Indian PM was entirely unambiguous in saying that he saw the UK as India’s “entry point into the EU”.
The Brexiters’ idea that outside the EU there would be a queue of countries lining up to sign preferential trade deals is quite clearly nonsense, as the US have made clear. And any notion that the Commonwealth would be the locus of a new trade bloc is equally preposterous. Australia and Canada have made that clear and the fact that India’s visit to the UK came after visiting 28 other countries speaks volumes. This isn't any longer the world of Imperial Preference.
What did interest both China’s and India’s leaders was something quite different to trading with the UK post-Brexit. Both were concerned about the restrictions put upon visas to visit, work and study in the UK. All these – like the Brexit debate – have got caught up in the British panic about immigration, which is doing real damage, both economic and cultural, to the UK. International students are increasingly turning their backs on British universities as a result. But Brexit also matters to British universities, and this week they came out and said that it would be a catastrophe.
The over-arching debate in all this is not simply about Brexit, it’s about a realistic understanding of what the world is, and the UK’s place within it. These recent events underscore, like it or not, the realpolitik of that place. And it certainly isn't where Brexiters think it to be.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Hooked on classics

Organization studies has a peculiar relationship with history, including its own history. On the one hand, it routinely invokes woefully inadequate claims about history (new eras, unprecedented developments and so on). On the other hand, it makes ludicrous claims about its own history - the narrative of scientific management giving way to human relations theory (discussed in the book) being an obvious example. On the third hand, it ignores and is ignorant of history, so that many a supposedly cutting-edge research paper simply replicates, without any awareness of so doing, things that have been known for decades.
These failures are not, at least as regards the first and second cases, necessarily meaningless. They reflect, in part anyway, the ideological operations of organization studies as a handmaiden of managerialism, suggesting, in the first case, that there is an underlying logic that justifies managerialism and, in the second case, that managerialism is part of a specifically progressive logic. In other words, what is by scholarly standards bad history is not simply understandable in terms of bad scholarship.
But what about the third case? Here I think that there at least four factors in play. One is that those conducting research in organization studies (myself included) are often not trained in that discipline, but in something else, such as economics, sociology, anthropology, or, as in my case, politics. Thus there is less sense of a socialization into a canon than might be the case. That is changing, as more people come through an organization studies training, but that may not make much difference because of the other factors. These are, first, that the notion of a ‘classical canon’ is anathema to the postmodern sensibility that has been influential in recent organization studies, at least in Europe. Second, that because most organization studies takes place in business schools, which are typically culturally in thrall to the new, classic studies are easily dismissed as old hat. And, third, because the pressure to publish supposedly novel contributions – especially ‘theoretical’ contributions – disinclines researchers to seek out or admit to the classical roots of their discipline.
Yet against that background, I have a sense that things are beginning to change. Consider, for example, John Hassard’s (2012) superb analysis of the Hawthorne Studies, adding significant historical flesh to the point in my book (p.41) about the continuities and interconnections between ‘scientific management’ and ‘human relations’. Or Ellen O’Connor’s (2011) re-appropriation of the lost foundations of management and organization studies.
This optimistic sense has been provoked by two things over the last week or so. One was attending a seminar by Paul du Gay where he presented his (2015) paper ‘Organization (Theory) as a Way of Life’, which not only makes out the case for re-considering ‘classical organization theory’, but also mounts a robust challenge to the metaphysical theoreticism of recent organization studies. The other was learning of an initiative by a group of doctoral students in organization studies to read and discuss classic texts. The podcasts of these discussions on the Talking about Organizations website are enthralling and sophisticated dissections of (so far) the writings of Taylor, Fayol and Maslow.
Although, of course, I would not compare my own work with that of those mentioned here, I do see it as having some affinity with what they are doing. I, too, am dismayed by theoreticism and am also seeking to re-connect with classical writings and traditions in organization studies, both in my book on the organization of Bletchley Park (Grey, 2012) and my forthcoming book on secrecy (Costas and Grey, 2016).
I am sure that many other writers, not referenced here, are trying to do something similar. I certainly hope so because although I don’t suppose the first two ways that organization studies relates to history are redeemable, the third surely is.


Costas, J. & Grey, C. (2016) Secrecy at Work. The Hidden Architecture of Organizational Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Du Gay, P. (2015) ‘Organization (Theory) as a Way of Life’, Journal of Cultural Economy 8 (4): 399-417.
Grey, C. (2012) Decoding Organization. Bletchley Park, Codebreaking and Organization Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hassard J. (2012) 'Rethinking the Hawthorne Studies: The Western Electric Research in its Social, Political and Historical Context', Human Relations 65 (11): 1431-1461. 
O’Connor, E. (2011) Creating New Knowledge in Management. Appropriating the Field’s Lost Foundations. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Shaping the EU debate?

In a previous post, I mentioned my article on The Conversation website, which tried to clarify what different Brexit options would mean. It has received over 16,000 hits – apparently an unusually high number – and although I certainly can’t claim that it has shaped the debate, the points raised are beginning to be more widely discussed. Thus last the British Prime Minister spelled out that the ‘Norway model’ would not be viable for the UK.  And this week the Policy Network published a pamphlet insisting, exactly as I had in my article, that the Brexit options be differentiated.
This isn’t an arcane issue, it is the central flaw in the Brexit case. If they champion Norway (or Switzerland) as models then they can’t leverage their main populist argument of reducing immigration, because if the UK remains in the single market, even if not in the EU, then free movement of people still obtains. So, then, they have to argue for a free trade agreement model. But that position is fraught with difficulties. There is no way of knowing what the terms of such a deal would be, nor its timeframes. Moreover, it would mean exiting (and having to try to re-negotiate over unknown timeframes) the EU deals with third-party countries, and from a much weaker position since the UK market is so much smaller than that of the EU.
The US have said this week that they would not be interested in a free trade deal with the UK, and that is very significant since the same thing would likely be true of many other countries. The issue is a simple one: trade deals are increasingly between platforms and blocs rather than individual countries. China, too, is urging the UK to stay in, as is German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Meanwhile, it’s beginning to be recognized that trade and economics are not the only problems for the Brexit cause. The notion that ‘taking control of our borders’ is unproblematic is also starting to be debated. Of the many issues around that (including moving the border from Calais to the UK, and the position of Brits living in the EU), this week the position of Ireland has been raised. A full Brexit would mean creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, bringing with it serious problems for the still fragile peace process in Ulster.
Of course none of this makes a dent in the determination of hardcore opponents of British membership. Nothing could or will. What matters is what floating voters make of it all. At the moment, opinion is 54-46 in favour of staying in, but it is reckoned that the ‘hard’ vote for both in and out is 25%. There is much to play for still, especially as most of the ‘soft vote’ are not yet engaged with the still embryonic campaign. There is still plenty of time to reshape the debate. Watch this space as the story unfolds.