How and Why Did 'Task' Disappear in Organization Theory?

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‘Task’ and ‘purpose’ were once central concepts in organization theory. Organizations were understood as collectives of people, machines and ideas assembled around a basic goal, or raison d’être. Approached in this manner, it made little or no sense to talk about, evaluate and, least of all, intervene in an organization without an understanding of its concrete and practical business.
Today, this basic orientation has become a rarity within the field. Indeed, it is something that increasingly seems quaint and anachronistic, if not absurd, since it is now widely argued that the primary challenges facing organizations in the present cannot be adequately represented in relation to the idea of an organizational purpose or ‘core task’. As change, innovation, process, flow and
similar desiderata have come to dominate the theoretical lexicon in the study of organizations, so the idea of an organization as a distinctive sort of entity associated with a ‘primary’ task has dissipated or been ‘disappeared’. In this paper, we trace the socio-material history of ‘task’, charting its shift from a key
concept associated with an ‘empirical stance’ within organizational theory (seen as a practical science of organizing), to its current location within the field, where it is represented as, at best, a peripheral and ‘purely instrumental’ concept, by an organizational theory that has adopted an increasingly
‘metaphysical stance’ towards its object. We discuss the practical implications of this historical development for the manner in which ‘the organization’ is made an object of debate and intervention, and, in so doing, link this to the changing role and persona of the organization theorist, and to the idea of organization theory as an science as such. In this way, the paper aims to contribute to ongoing debates within STS concerning questions of performativity in economic and organizational life.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventThe 4S/EASST Joint Conference 2012: Design and displacement: Social Studies of Science and Technology - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
Duration: 17 Oct 201220 Oct 2012
Conference number: 2012


ConferenceThe 4S/EASST Joint Conference 2012
LocationCopenhagen Business School
Internet address

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