Conversations “on a Threshold” : A Bakhtinian Reading of an Organization Development Process in the Cultural Industries

In this thesis, I present the study of an Organization Development (OD) process at a large public theater. Drawing on the literature debate on the emergence of OD approaches inspired by social constructionism (“Dialogic OD”) and which focus on intervening in organizational conversations, I start by asserting that a deeper understanding of how OD conversations evolve is still lacking. In particular, I turn to the concept of organizational reflection as a notion which postulates friction when questioning an organization’s status quo. I hence ask the following double-edged research question: How do OD conversations evolve, and how is this evolvement mediated by organizational reflection? As a theoretical framework, I choose Bakhtinian concepts to do justice to conversations as “living” and dynamic. In particular, I draw on Bakhtin’s notions of “genre”, “voice”, “plot”, “eventness”, and “centrifugal and centripetal forces”. In a first analysis, I explore how workshop genres mediate the theater’s voice dynamics within these workshops; in a second analysis, I explore how surprise moments are enacted in the theater’s OD workshops. The first analysis results in the identification of four effects of workshop genres on voice dynamics: “dulling”, “softening”, “bridling” and “teasing”. These effects are influenced by the response actions to a conversation, in particular by expressing more consensus (e.g. by “deliberating” on an issue) or more dissensus (e.g. by “problematizing” an issue). The second analysis results in the identification of five features of surprise moments in OD workshops: they collectivize attention, counter the habitual, are relationally enacted, are often accompanied by negotiation or conflict, and convey a sense of the contingency of the organizational reality. In addition, I present twelve surprise actions triggering such moments. I interpret both analyses as showing how organizational reflection can be understood also as an implicit process, e.g. as voices questioning each other or as surprises questioning the habitual way of doing things. Furthermore, the analyses indicate the complexity and dynamicality of OD conversations: they are continuously shaped by voice dynamics, surprises, and reflective frictions. I discuss these findings in relation to “dialogicality” in OD, to a social constructionist understanding of OD, and to the meaning of a “dialogic mindset”.


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