The Post-Macy Paradox, Information Management and Organising: Good Intentions and a Road to Hell?
Culture & Organization, Vol 21, Iss 5, Forthcoming
28 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 14, 2015
Between 1946 and 1953, leading scientists met in New York in the context of the so-called ‘Macy conferences’, often linked to the emergence of cybernetics. They hankered for a new vision of mind and society. The traumatism of WW2 was implicit but omnipresent, and the Cold War was beginning. Macy key tools and concepts about information, the value of information, and computer artefacts have finally produced a new world, in particular an organisational world, which is far removed from their original dreams. Organisational members are now involved in difficult situations in terms of organising, i.e. new modes of performativity which are difficult to comprehend and deal with; a transformation of meaning and knowledge in collective activity; and a threat to well-being and happiness as mental activities, cognition and bodies are increasingly disconnected. We use the Macy conferences as an entry point to reflect on the ‘longue durée’ evolution of the material underpinnings of information and their relationship with organising. We first explore the new conceptualisations at the core of the Macy conferences, information, value of information, and computer artefacts. We then put the Macy conferences into a socio-historical perspective by means of two theoretical approaches, iconographical and semiotic; this involves a historical comparison between the ‘screen-images’ or our Information Age and the ‘object-images’ of medieval cathedrals. We show that there are important disruptions in organising grounded in a new semiosis which emerged over the longue durée of collective activity, and was articulated further during the Macy conferences. We describe this long-term evolution as the post-Macy paradox.
Keywords: Information, Macy conferences, post-Macy paradox, materiality, object-images, screen-images, history, semiosis, organizing
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