Assembling Différance: An Institutional Theory and Methodology

Peter Atkinson

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    This thesis develops a postmodernist theory of institution, Discursive Organisation Theory (DOT), by building on elements of the work of Jacques Derrida and Giles Deleuze. One aspect of the theory is demonstrated by analysing transcriptions of eight focus groups composed of students studying in the field of business and management studies in universities in London.
    Postmodernists have so far eschewed theory development of this type but this study explicitly argues for the legitimacy of the project. The version of postmodernism to be used is carefully defined and takes as its central feature arguments from Derrida’s “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”. Derrida’s “absence of presence” is taken as the defining characteristic of this version of postmodernism. Its epistemology is developed from Derrida’s notion of différance. Its ontology is based on the realist ontology of Deleuze and places emphasis on the notion of assemblage (agencement).
    The theory assumes that the physical world is only knowable through the mediation of a system that is symbolic in nature which processes sense data. Since organisation of action is the ultimate purpose of this processing system, and is more fundamental than perception or cognition, it is necessary to build a model of this processing system in order to arrive at an understanding of institution, which is taken as the ultimate manifestation of organisation. This processing system is labelled as “discourse” in this thesis and includes all human symbolic systems and chiefly, but not limited to, language (Iedema 2007).
    The theory is developed by constructing a series of mutually dependent assemblages beginning with discourse itself, then the institution assemblage, then the organisation assemblage and ultimately the assemblage of everyday life, or society as a whole. These assemblages are fictions, reality is itself a continuum, but they are convenient for understanding the nature of the phenomena included at these levels and how they are interrelated. These phenomena traditionally come under the headings of subjectivity, identity, communication, conversation, power, institution, bureaucracy (Weber, 1964), culture, organisation and many others.
    Derrida’s concept of deconstruction is used as a method to analyse the processes of constructing and maintaining organisation. Bureaucracy is taken to be a diagram (Deleuze) belonging to the assemblage of everyday life and generates the only legitimate form of organisation in the fields of government and private enterprise that can be used today. Grid-Group Cultural Theory, as developed by Mary Douglas, Michael Thompson and others, is reinterpreted and used to analyse institutional construction. This part of the theory is tested empirically.
    The data gathered from the focus groups is analysed using Grid-Group Cultural Theory as a typology of thought styles. The analysis shows that the thought styles interact with each other both antagonistically and co-operatively in a way that confirms the contention that Grid-Group Cultural Theory may be used to deconstruct bureaucracy.
    This study makes several theoretical contributions by developing theory in an area where little has been done before. It makes a practical contribution by demonstrating how practitioners may be helped to make more effective decisions. It points the way to further development and applications of the theory. 
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Brunel University London
    • Smith, Stephen, Director of Studies, External person
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

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