Clarity …, and what undermines it

Sometimes, just near to publishing something, or sending it to the printer, I envy a bit other authors – everything they write is so terrible clear easy to understand — and then I remember what a colleague one wrote, Kant, it is some comfort …

many a book would have been much clearer if it had not been made quite so clear. For the aids to clarity helpb in the partsbut often confuse in the whole, since the reader cannot quickly enough attain a survey of the whole; and all their bright colors paint over and make unrecognizable the articulation or structure of the system, which yet matters most when it comes to judging its unity and soundness.

Kant: Critique


Are they really learning?

The Vienna Academic Press/Wiener Verlag fuer Sozialforschung, after a complete relaunch, now being under new management, I met yesterday evening in Vienna the new chief manager who took on board the republication of my PhD-thesis – a reprint without changes:

Die Organisation. Eine Analyse der modernen Gesellschaft

The Organisation. Analysis of Modern Society

In the following the forward is published, in German and English language. Thinking back the line of my academic work since then, I have to say that I never did what so many of the colleagues said oder the years: I closed this chapter once and forever. I did not even think this would be tempting

Scroll for English

Die Organisation. Eine Analyse Moderner Gesellschaft – Vorwort zur unveränderten Wiederauflage

Organisationen sind, so wird gesagt, lernende Einheiten. Sicher ist dies in mancher Hinsicht nicht zu bestreiten, aber doch lässt sich auch schnell zögern, denn die Frage ist doch zunächst sehr grundsätzlich, ob denn Organisationen überhaupt als handlungsfähige Einheiten bestehen. Ihnen einen solchen Charakter zuzusprechen bedeutet letztlich, dass man sie als vollständig verselbständigte Einheiten sieht, die Menschen darin im Grunde zu unselbstständigen Ausführungsorganen degradiert, und zugleich die historisch-gesellschaftlichen Bedingungen zu Randglossen verkommen (sind).

Das mag tatsächlich oft durchaus so erscheinen – und die persönliche Erfahrung des Engagements in den fast dreißig Jahren seit der hier unverändert aufgelegten Studie, gesammelt in verschiedenen Bereichen und verschiedenen Ländern, gaben oftmals Anlass zu solchem Gedanken an ein „Vergib Ihnen nicht – sie machen sonst doch nur, was sie selbst wollen“. Zugleich aber ist doch ein Punkt hervorzuheben, der in der Arbeit gemacht wurde – vor allem mit einem Zitat von Antonio Gramsci belegt: bei solchen scheinbaren Detailbetrachtungen wie Parteien, Organisationen etc., muss man die ganze Geschichte der relevanten Länder mitdenken.

Tatsächlich kann daran wohl der Kern gesehen werden, der allen Zweifeln entgegensteht: die damalige Analyse hat sicher manches voreilig verallgemeinert. Aber die grundlegende Unterscheidung der handlungstechnischen Dimension der Aneignung einerseits, der verwertungsmäßigen Dimension andererseits ist eine sinnvolle Handreichung vor alle auch bei der Entwicklung strategisches Handeln und bei Überlegungen, innerhalb von Organisationen ein solches zu entwickeln. Dies gilt es dann eben konkret in den historischen Analysen zu entwickeln. Und wird dann auch schnell deutlich, dass „Verselbstständigungen“ schlicht morbide Erscheinungen sind.

Das ermöglicht auch, Organisationen in einem gesamtgesellschaftlichen Rahmen von doch immer noch modernen kapitalistischen Gesellschaften zu verorten. Intermediär ist ihre Rolle nicht nur als Vermittlungsinstanz verschiedener „Ebenen“ gesellschaftlichen Handelns, sondern auch im Sinne von Vermittlungen zwischen verschiedenen Möglichkeitshorizonten. In diesem Sinn muss man wohl sagen, dass der Sieg der verselbstständigten Organisation nichts anderes ist, als der Sieg der konservativen Kräfte auch in einer Zeit des Interregnum, jener Phase, von der Antonio Gramsci schrieb, dass die Krise darin bestehe, dass das Alte zwar im Sterben liege, aber das Neue noch nicht geboren werden kann. Die morbiden Erscheinungen, die bei dem italienischen Hegemoniekritiker betont wurden, sind eben nicht zuletzt Organisationen, die ein „Heim“ für jene bieten, die den Weg in die Neuzeit verpassen.

Dank gilt dem Wiener Verlag, namentlich Herrn Heribert Renkin. Nunmehr hat der Verlag unter neuer Leitung dieses Projekt übernommen.

Łódź/Berlin, March 2019

The Organisation. An Analysis of Modern Society – forword to the republished original work

Organisations are, it is said, learning units. Of course, in some respects this cannot be denied, but one may well hesitate, because the initial question is a different, and a very fundamental one, namely whether organisations do exist at all as units capable of action. To attribute such a character to them ultimately means that they are seen as completely independent units, people being basically degraded to dependent executives, and at the same time the historical and social conditions made to marginalia.

This may indeed often seem to be the case – not least the personal experience of engaging during the almost thirty years since the study had been originally published, experience made in different areas and different countries, often gave rise to he thought “Do not forgive them – they will otherwise only do what they want to do themselves“. At the same time, however, one point should be emphasised – made in the study itself above all by quoting Antonio Gramsci who suggested that in such analysis of detailed phenomena as parties, organisations, etc., one has to think along the line of the entire history of the country in question.

In fact, we can see the core of this demand indeed also in the presented work: while the analysis certainly generalised some issues prematurely, one point proved to be valuable: the fundamental distinction between the technical dimension of appropriation on the one hand, and the exploitative dimension on the other. This is a meaningful help, especially in the development of strategic action and when it comes to considerations of developing change oriented action within organisations. This must then be developed concretely in the historical analyses: it becomes quickly clear that “autonomies” are simply morbid phenomena.

This makes it also possible to locate organisations within the overall social framework of still modern capitalist societies. They are not only intermediaries in their role as mediators of different “levels” of social action and classes; they are so as well in the sense of mediation between different horizons of possibility. In this sense, it must be said that the victory of the independent organisation is nothing else than the victory of the conservative forces even in a time of interregnum, the phase of which Antonio Gramsci wrote that the crisis consists in the fact that the old is dying, but the new cannot yet be born. The morbid phenomena stressed by the Italian critic of hegemony are not least organisations that offer a “home” for those who miss the road to modern times, some kind of zombies.

My thanks go to the Vienna Press, namely Mr. Heribert Renkin; he has taken over this project in the publishing house which is now under a completely new management.

Łódź/Berlin, March 2019

Ranking, awarding …

…reviewed from a very different corner

A spectre is haunting academia: the specter of competition – having politicians, who want to instrumentalise science, as their mouthpiece – for instance recently the Hungarian government came up with a strangulating funding scheme

and surely many other countries may be added.

Another instrument of the specter is the use of various schemes of ranking, awarding and the like …There are different dimensions of policies that are tightly strangulating what may be called “freedom of academia”

(may be called so, as this terminology had been abused by conservative and reactionary politicians in Germany against the student movement end of the 1960s (see Hans-Abrecht Koch: Professorale Selbstbehauptung in turbulenter Zeit; see also 
Review of Nikolai Wehrs, Protest der Professoren. Der «Bund Freiheit der Wissenschaft» in den 1970er Jahren
Alessandro Stoppoloni (in Italian); also: 
Martina Steber: Die Hüter der Begriffe. Politische Sprachen des Konservativen in Großbritannien und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1945-1980 – available via

One aspect came to my mind when reading an article titled
CAN AN ALGORITHM WRITE A BETTER NEWS STORY THAN A HUMAN REPORTER?, written by Steven Levy. Two passages caught my special attention: 

Hammond was recently asked for his reaction to a prediction that a computer would win a Pulitzer Prize within 20 years. He disagreed. It would happen, he said, in five.

The other passage:

Last year at a small conference of journalists and technologists, I asked Hammond [Narrative Science’s CTO and cofounder, Kristian Hammond] to predict what percentage of news would be written by computers in 15 years. At first he tried to duck the question, but with some prodding he sighed and gave in: “More than 90 percent.

What actually is frightening of the following little story? Sure, for many the outlook of loosing their employment but we may consider that today’s standards – such as the Pulitzer Prize and many others – aren’t as noble as so many ranking-fed moneybags propose. Again, many things to be said and discussed, though for the moment only one, quoting Felix Stalder:

“iUsers are only able to evaluate search results pragmatically; that is, in light of whether or not they are helpful in solving a concrete problem. In this regard, it is not paramount that they find the best solution or the correct answer but rather one that is available and sufficient.”

Estratto di: Stalder, Felix. “The Digital Condition.” Polity Press, 2018

Indeed, everybody gets the Prize he or she deserves – it also means that at some stage the winning material will be self-assessed by an algorithm (a step further than the currently already ‘automated review’) by – finally that would be the ‘peer’ for the review. Anything new? May be, but may be not so much. Rancière, writing about post-democracy, states that it

is the government practice and conceptual legitimization of a democracy after the demos, a democracy that has eliminated the appearance, miscount and dispute of the people.

Just in time – and one could say: time does actually not matter. One of “my” universities sent a newsletter today – via e-mail, may be that this is the reason for calling it ‘connection’. It is arriving from one of the Chinese universities I worked at, ne of the headlines reading (in the section Education)

Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative kicks off at … with Michael Young

right away followed by an article titled

… establishes International Business School

Now I dare to wonder to which extent revolutions, also and perhaps especially in science are initiated by a spark, a genius – often not (easily) understood, daring to make a step further – nit fearing being possibly wrong … – of course, this is a slippery field. We in China and we protestants in Europe know, for different reasons:
it is all about working hard
– in the east to serve society, in the west to build a house, plant a tree and have a sun (so the sayings go, standards set for male). And it is – nolens volens – working in society, being, existing , living in society and (as Marx stated) even individualising in society. And still there is this moment of genius – not only needed to be awarded any of these high ranking symbols but being awarded by some form and degree of independence. One does not have to agree with Kant in all the facets, one can laugh about his habits – but one has to accept the challenge he out in front of each of us: consciously living, accepting responsibility, only with this being able to go beyond the Kantian individualism, and doing what we do: making our own history, even if we have to accept that we do not do it entirely according to our own ‘simple individual will’.

Such awards make only sense if this is acknowledged and academic work does not degenerate to mere International Business …

The latter is exactly what we see with the entire reviewing, and new attitudes to awarding – at least as danger of the massification of ranked publishing: mass, numbers, formal perfection counts – quality control as engaged dispute amongst peers is replaced by checking the reflection of formal coherence – relativity in terms of E = M2cannot be seen, and Schroedinger’s cat will be known as dead or alive, no option for the beast to be … really Schroedinger’s cat.

Another issue with reviews – algorithmised or not, or another expression: Finally any reviewer – human or not – can only review what is familiar.

The divine day in-day out

Or it is about resistance

and getting engaged in debates …we, each of us, has to decide


wishes at the end and beginning of the semester II jpg

May we learn how to deconstruct the industrial norms, so that experience, appropriation and appropriateness guide us through the days and life.


wishes at the end of the one and beginning of another semester I

May we gain the strength, to acknowledge the limits of our wisdom and judgement without accepting the consequences arising from there – this, instead of being tempted to think we know everything, and even worse, knowing everything better than those who are directly concerned. 

had I been wrong ?

or is it just the world that took a wrong turn?

… I share the general and underlying gist of your concern: there had been a historically specific background against which the work emerged and consolidated. And it consolidated by elaborating, by deeper collective reflection on the conditions that provided the womb from which it is the off-spring, and with the firm conviction to cut off the umbilical cord, the provider altering, being carrier of the venom, ready to kill his child which he would have preferred to be still-born anyway. What is the answer? Is there only one answer?
One reply is very common, and a kind of standard object of sociological investigation: aim on growth in order to be sufficiently strong in order to stand up and resist – again and again the danger of being poisoned had been revealed – now walking, after the umbilical cord cut-off the problem comes while walking: It is not possible without rest, and even rooting is necessary – the striking leg depends on the supporting leg, and as harder as you one wants to strike, as stronger the supporting leg has to be. Not biologist nor professional player are needed to know: sooner or later the one leg gets in the way of the other, and by the very nature of this process, it is the supporting leg that will gain dominance. – The problem with [the project] is that we forgot that cutting off the cord, still left us on the same poisoned soil on which we now try to walk.

The alternative: aiming on inner strength, remaining a small group, or at least prioritising a healthy strong diet and movement, not per se growing in seize. Call it developing instead of growing, sturdily walking, instead of running with the support of narcotics (of course, these narcotics are called antibiotics, and the like), faster though not sustainable, and less and less able even to survive without the drugs.
Dilemmas, dichotomies, contradictions, hopelessness, challenges, choices, facing bills that need to be paid … understand it as you like, coming statistically to the end of my life, I am wondering, if I have to question my first real child, baptised “Die Organisation”, though brought on the way with the second name “Eine Analyse der modernen Gesellschaft”. Inscribed had been the thesis:
Kurzum: gefordert ist die Erfassung genau diese komplexe Widersprüchlichkeit, in der Organisationen (ent-) stehen und die sie selbst bilden – sowohl in sich als auch in ‘Beeinflussung ihrer Umwelt’. Es geht mit anderen Worten um die Erfassung von Organisationen als vergesellschaftete und zugleich vergesellschaftende Gebilde, die sich durch Strukturiertheit und Prozessualität auszeichnen.**
As so often, we can learn from one of the disciplines dealing with nature. In her book “Chaos Bound. Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science”, Katherine Hayles states on page 221
Consider, for example, how conceptions of gravity have changed over the last three hundred years. Gravity is conceived in the Newto­ nian paradigm very differently from in the general theory of relativity. For Newton, gravity was the result of mutual attraction between masses; for Einstein, it was the result of the curvature of space. One might imagine still other kinds of explanation, such as a Native American belief that objects fall to the earth because the spirit of Mother Earth calls out to kindred spirits in other bodies. But no matter how gravity is conceived, no viable paradigm could predict that when someone steps off a cliff, she will remain spontaneously suspended in mid-air. This possibility is ruled out by the nature of physical reality.

And now it nevertheless seems that another hybrid is trying to emerge. While we do not know about Schroedinger’s cat before the box is opened, while it is thus important to make use of the openness and indeterminacy as we do know that hybrids are so far only found on burial sites …

The [project’s] growth-path reminds me a bit of what is frequently said about the cobbler: that he wears the worst of all shoes. Being scientists we may have to think about it when it comes to the knowledge and ability to deeply reflect as the braingear we use when thinking as the rambler disposes of when walking.
May be this metaphorical way of writing inspires to some thinking, and may be it encourages to return to another crucial element of what [the project] had been about: a really collective exercise of a day growing and going together, instead of bringing individuals together for a common walk for a while ….
So long, courage …
In short: the challenge is to capture precisely this complex contradictoriness in which organisations (en-) stand and which they themselves form – both in themselves and in ‘influencing their environment’. In other words, it is a matter of recording organisations as socialised and at the same time socialising entities which are characterised by structure and process.
(Herrmann, Peter, Die Organisation …: page 6 (machine translation)