Dewey’s Broad Account of Habit and its Relevance for Change Management: A Conceptual Clarification with Pragmatic Illustrations

Michael Pedersen*, Stephen Dunne

*Corresponding author for this work

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The narrow view of habits predominant within behavioural approaches to change management conceptualizes them as passive transition points between stimuli and responses. John Dewey’s broad view of habit, by contrast, conceptualizes habits as the very basis for how individuals interact with their environments, one another, and themselves. We highlight the renewed relevance of Dewey’s conceptualization of habit by clarifying it as (1) a function between individuals and environments; (2) a custom produced within social settings; (3) a process intertwined with inquiries and impulses. We illustrate each of these characteristics through the example of a French factory, within which we claim that the narrow view prevails, and a Danish IT company, within which we claim the presence of a broader view. We proceed to discuss consequences of the broad view to change management research. MAD statement This paper Make a Difference (MAD) by pointing to the relevance of looking at habit in understanding the microdynamics of change. Rather than understanding habit in a narrow sense as automatic behaviour triggers by environmental clues, the paper presents a broad conceptions of habit that understands habit as a social and materially disposition that both make change recipients resist and receptive towards change. This conception of habit is based on the work of the pragmatist philosophy and psychology of John Dewey, applied to two empirical cases and discussed in light of change management literature.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Change Management
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)247-263
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: 30. April 2020


  • Behaviourism
  • Change management
  • Habit
  • John Dewey
  • Pragmatism

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