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PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE AND STRATEGY - JC Spender

PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE AND STRATEGY - JC Spender

PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE AND STRATEGY - JC

For the Academy of Management 2007 Program Session 496 Philosophy of Science and Strategic Organization JC Spender – www.jcspender.com ESADE, Lund, Cranfield, Leeds and Open Universities Strategy is clearly a problem for the philosophy of science. The bulk of the philosophy of science takes a realist approach – naïve, critical, positivist, fallibilist, verificationist, or whatever. Authors such as Popper, Lakatos, Quine, and Feyerabend have shaped our current understanding of the natural sciences (Curd & Cover, 1998; Rosenberg, 2000), and Durkheim, Weber and Rorty that of the social science (Baert, 2005; Phillips, 1987). The difference between these discourses, of course, is that the natural sciences are largely conceived as about our ‘understanding’ or anticipating the ‘real world out there’ objectively, as it exists independent of us and our thinking and doing, while the social sciences are focused on the meanings we attach to our sense data, i.e. the focus is internal and subjective. No doubt the external and objective ‘epistemological attitude’ has produced substantial dividends for us as environment altering and energy consuming inhabitants of that world. Our ability to transform Nature makes airplanes fly, things go bang, cultivation prosperous, and the power to cure many diseases. But what is this to do with strategy? Come to that, what is strategy? In spite of its centrality to our discourse, and institutionalization in the Academy’s largest division (BPS), we remain without a useful or even unambiguous definition. Talking about Ancient Greek ships and the need to steer them does not help, nor does talking about the Athenian army and the need to lead them (Heracleous, 2003, p.3), though there is something absolutely right about the necessity of the ‘strategoi’ to know the business proposed, and to commit to personal involvement and exposure (Cummings, 1993). How sharply this contrasts with the case-study based classroom discussion in which students make decisions for and about others (Mintzberg, 2004). One of the most influential and widely cited strategy theory papers was Child’s on ‘strategic choice’ (Child, 1972). Indeed it more or less introduced the term strategic into the UK literature, and to sociologists. But what makes a choice ‘strategic’? Strategic compared with what? Being tactical, analytic, emotional, irrational or un-informed? Child was suggestive without being definitive, that strategic

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