European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM)
The University of Oxford – Saïd Business School
26 – 27 June 2008
Organizations are saturated with images, pictures, and signs that impact on many different aspects of everyday organizational life. A moment of reflection can produce a long list of examples relating to: budgets and accounting tools, advertising literature, design specifications, public relations leaflets, standard operating procedures, schedules, reports, graphs, charts, organizational hierarchies, maps, to name but a few. In order to capture how images are central to the performance of all kind of activities that keep us busy and attentive, we deliberately selected ‘Business’. ‘Business’, in its etymological sense, is the state (-ness) of being busy (from the old ‘bisy’) and images are central to the performance of all kind of activities which may encourage different intensities of active engagement, beliefs and passions. In this sense, images, as signs and inscriptions, can be viewed as mediators making others do things (Latour, 2005). They are invitations and barriers to physical actions (Bastide, 1990; Shotter, 2005) and through this role they contribute to performing organisations and business.
Over the past decades, Science and Technology Studies have largely contributed to clarifying the importance of “representation in scientific practice” (Lynch & Woolgar, 1990). Through their focus on the process of re-presentation they highlighted how specific practices of making things visible (i.e. making them present) were central to ‘doing’ science. We wish to extend this to a study of business and recent publications testify a growing interest in this area. This includes the call for the study of organizational visual images and methodologies in accounting (see AAAJ recent call for a special issue; Davison, 2004), in annual reports (Preston et al., 1996; Guthey, 2005), in marketing (e.g. Schroeder, 2006), and in the boundary between aesthetics and management, (e.g. Strati, 2000; Guillet de Monthoux, 2004). While these studies have highlighted interesting examples relating to images and visualisation, we not only wish to extend this interest in line with the profusion of visual representations in organisations, but additionally, we also wish to rethink the ways in which we approach this subject. This includes taking into account the work of writers who have engaged in this area from different fields of study. For example, in relation to the history of books (e.g. Chartier, 1989), religious iconography (Assmann & Baumgarten, 2001), the history of art and visual studies (e.g. Johnson, 1998), literature and communication studies (e.g. Carruthers, 1998; Bolzoni, 2002), and the power of the sign, particularly in generating passions (e.g. Greimas & Fontanille, 1991) and capturing various kinds of agencies which coagulate around the pictorial sign (e.g. Fabbri, 1998). Meanwhile contemporary visual artists have been contributing to these investigations through art (e.g. the work of Carey Young, Liam Gillick or Henrik Schrat) which have been made public via exhibitions rather than publications.
We also need to explore the close but problematic relationship between images and knowledge creation, definition and diffusion. On the one hand, visual practices may be seen to clarify and extend what is known (e.g. by contributing to a ‘better’ way of understanding situations that are particularly complex, such in the case of Soft System Methodology or Product Development Software). On the other hand, images may be seen as directing the gaze of viewers and obfuscating or concealing relevant information. This involves reviewing their role politically in terms of agency and effects such as their role as traces of, drivers for, and generators of, organizational action and the performance of knowledge. As clearly, no imagining artefact is neutral to the interpretations and uses that it plays a role in producing, nevertheless, images do not dictate behaviours to their audience.
Merleau-Ponty’s claim about the indivisibility between viewer and seen also urges us not to consider seeing merely as an intellectual activity, but as an experience involving the whole body, sharing a material space with the image (Belova, 2006). Furthermore, if we begin to consider images as webs (Canetti, 1984 in Bolzoni, 2001) we can then begin to explore how the properties of catching, engaging and alluring others relate to these practices of organising. Semioticians like Eco put an emphasis on the role of the reader in both interpreting and performing the meaning of an image or a text. Both approaches see human beings and images as interacting with each other with no unique depository of meaning in the seer or in the image alone.
In this sense, this workshop on ‘Imagining Business’ seeks to provide an opportunity to reflect upon visual forms, techniques and practices of managing, organising and governing. Are images (physical or digital, and constitutive of management, organising and governing practices) one of the conditions which make business imaginable, thinkable, possible and practicable (Quattrone, 2006) or do they only assist in this process of performing business by increasing the intensity and pace at which certain outcomes and effects are stabilised? We do not want to limit the debate to the role that images have in representing ‘businesses’ of all sorts. Imagination as representation is not the focus of this call. Instead, ‘imagination’ needs to be understood as ‘imagin-action’, i.e. the role of images as forces that play a role in performing business, and enabling possibilities in terms of thinking about and enacting particular orderings.
Saïd Business School, Oxford
Manchester Business School
Audencia. Nantes School of Management & CSO
Saïd Business School, Oxford
Professor of Semiotics
IUAV, University of Venice
Professor of Sociology
University of Edinburgh
Professor of Geography
University of Warwick
Place De Brouckère Plein 31