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A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations

Alvesson, M. and Spicer, A. (2012). A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations. Journal Of Management Studies, 49(7), pp. 1194-1220. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2012.01072.x

Abstract

In this paper we question the one-sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under-recognized part of organizational life. Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. In turn, this structures individuals' internal conversations in ways that emphasize positive and coherent narratives and marginalize more negative or ambiguous ones. This can have productive outcomes such as providing a degree of certainty for individuals and organizations. But it can have corrosive consequences such as creating a sense of dissonance among individuals and the organization as a whole. The positive consequences can give rise to self-reinforcing stupidity. The negative consequences can spark dialogue, which may undermine functional stupidity.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Alvesson, M. and Spicer, A. (2012), A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 49: 1194–1220., which has been published in final form at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6486.2012.01072.x. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Cass Business School > Management
URI: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/15604
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