A sense of change: Change management from a human perspective

Stefan Knapp & Martin Lund Petersen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The aim of this thesis is to examine why not anyone can carry out organisational changes. This aim is threefold. First, we wish to relocate the boundaries of change management. Specifically, it is our ambition to dispute the tradition of the social psychological approach to change management, nesting the limits of change management outside the change manager, within the space of the change targets. Second, we aim to achieve this relocation be reintroducing the human and social limits to change management. The human limits are made up of familiarity with the present context; they point to the fact that our existence is “bounded”, limited by our experiences and the life, we have lived. The social limits point to the fact that we are all products of social history and all are part of a symbolic capital distribution, influencing and influenced by the social positioning in hierarchies. As such, both sets of limits point back to the lived life of the change manager; her experiences, merits, former achievements, networks and even her upbringing and childhood. This has the paradoxical effect of enabling the change manager to think and act in certain ways, but also restraining her from alternative ways of thinking and acting. Hence, she is the ruler of her own life, but not least a captive in it. Third, we suggest ways to extend the relocated boundaries of change management to avoid sinking into scepticism; that we are in no control of our lives. The implied results relocation of boundaries amount to the paradox that to change others, the change manager must first change herself; she must question her habitual way of thinking and acting, suspending her immediate practical judgment. The dynamic learning propensity of humans are illustrated through Bourdieu’s concept of habitus and its capability of creating appropriate actions within familiar contexts; it simply acts as a device of practical judgment. By using metaphors as an analytical tool, we exemplify our theoretical grounds by accounts of change managers having had the responsibility of carrying out changes in an organisational context; by assuming that the post-reflexive statements “I did” or “I could” refers to a pre-reflexive “I can” present at the time of the situation in question, we illustrate our understanding of habitus; providing the change manager with a virtual space of possibilities based on previous impressions and experiences, habitus perceives and decodes reality from the individual position in the symbolic system of the field, making the sighting and seizing of certain opportunities natural and taken for granted. In relation to change management, habitus induces a kind of leadership from the middle; from the present, between past and future, and from the middle of a social context – but also as an acceptance of the change manager residing somewhere in the middle between omnipotence and impotence.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2009
Number of pages149