Transformation and Potentialization: How to Extend the Present and Produce Possibilities?

Niels Åkerstrøm Andersen*, Justine Grønbæk Pors

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Purpose: This article explores how the Danish public sector, over time, has followed different temporal strategies in order to extend the present and handle the system's increasing complexity, thereby counteracting a tendency towards entropy. It proposes that historical changes in the public sector's understandings of the concepts of “time” and “change” can be seen as the answer to the sector's enduring problem of ever-increasing complexity.

    Design/methodology/approach: The authors conduct second-order observations of how the Danish public sector, in the period from 1900 until 2020, observes “time” and “change”. More specifically, they first observe how issues over time are temporalized in different forms, before employing the guiding distinction, operation/temporalization, to analyse the differences between temporalities.

    Findings: The authors show that, today, the Danish public sector deals with the problems of complexity and entropy through, what is called, potentialization. Potentialization entails operations that aim to increase potentialities, rather than realize possibilities within a given potentiality. It works by extending the present, drawing on a particular temporality which is split into a present present and a future future.

    Practical implications: The paper offers managers insights into the implications of their own observations of time and change, including how they might draw on different temporal semantics, through which managerial situations emerge differently. The paper also reveals that issues of transformation are not always about transformation, rather they concern the question of how to handle an increasing internal complexity.

    Social implications: The article shows that potentialization and its temporal semantic of “transformation” also comes with a price – namely that it dissolves the certainties of structures, which results in conflicting expectations.

    Originality/value: The paper draws on systems theory, including its notions of time and entropy, to analyse the evolution of public administration and management. It thereby produces a diagnosis of the present which offers insights into contemporary conditions for public management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Issue number12
    Pages (from-to)5893-5908
    Number of pages16
    Publication statusPublished - 2023

    Bibliographical note

    Published online: 11 August 2022.


    • Public administration
    • Public management
    • Time
    • Temporalization
    • Complexity
    • Entropy
    • Potentialization
    • Transformation
    • Systems theory
    • Luhmann

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