File spoon-archives/postanarchism.archive/postanarchism_2003/postanarchism.0307, message 22

Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2003 01:48:52 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [postanarchism] Reedy: "Keeping the Black Flag Flying"

Here's an odd addition to the poststructuralist
anarchist corpus; this one comes from a student of


Keeping the Black Flag Flying: Anarchy, Utopia and the
Politics of Nostalgia

by Patrick Reedy

In this paper I explore the neglected use of utopias
and utopian thinking by the critical management
community. I argue that utopianism provides 
a number of stimuli to both critical thinking and
practice when considering the `good' organisation. In
particular I draw attention to the 
distinctive features of anarchist utopianism as being
worthy of further attention. The paper begins with an
account of the development of utopian thinking
identifying a number of common strands running through

the fabric of utopianism. It goes on to apply this
framework, firstly to an analysis of the claims made
for managerial utopias and then, by way of 
contrast, to anarchist utopias, where I argue that
there are some potentially fruitful points of contact
between anarchist and post-structuralist theory.
William Morris's `News from Nowhere' is utilised as 
an example, within the analysis of anarchist utopias.
Finally some conclusions are drawn regarding the
possibilities for the development of utopian thinking
within the critical management project


The good life and how we can achieve it, have been
central concerns of philosophy and religion from
ancient civilisations to modernity (or even
post-modernity). Plato's `Republic' (1966), Christ's
Sermon on the Mount, Thomas More's `Utopia' (1951), 
Campanella's `La Citta del Sole' ( 1962), or Thoreau's
`Walden' (1983) are all classic examples,
counterbalanced by cautionary dystopias such as
Huxley's `Brave New World' (1932), Orwell's `Nineteen
Eighty-four' (1954), Butler's ironic `Erewhon' 
(1932), or Golding's `Lord of the Flies' ( 1962). 
This way of formulating possible answers to what the
good life should be, by painting narrative pictures is
the practice of utopia. This paper argues that the
imaginary and creative construction of utopias can
make a contribution to critical thinking about the 
implicit conception of the `good life' within
managerialist approaches to organisation. 

After all, a utopian vision of the organisation seems
to underlie the `excellent' company (Peters and
Waterman 1982) or the `learning organisation' [Senge,
1993 #211] and why should the Devil have all the best
tunes? What counter-visions can critical management
studies offer? The Left has found utopian narratives
of immense importance, in that articulation of 
the good life involves both implicit and explicit
critique of prevailing social arrangements. (Mannheim
1936; Levitas 1990; Bloch 2000) This utopian current
has not only been of critical value, but has provided
models for practical (if usually inglorious) attempts
at the communal realisation of utopia (Hardy 2000).
Despite the reservations of Marx and Engels regarding
the neglect of fundamental theoretical analysis within
the utopian leanings of Proudhon and Saint-Simon, they
too believed it had the important function of
relativizing social reality (Engels 1098; Wheen 1999).

In other words, it possesses the capacity to
de-naturalise the dominant reality by imaginatively
transcending what are seen as current material
limitations, a trait it has in common with more
socially aware science fiction (LeGuin 1974). Critical
theory also makes use of utopia as critique (Benhabib
1986). Habermas's `ideal communication community' is
not intended as a fully realisable goal, but rather a 
counter-reality by which our existing ideologised
communication may be evaluated (Habermas 1984). 

Utopia/dystopia may also function critically in its
imaginative extrapolation of current conceptions of
the good into more fully developed social forms, thus
exposing the dangers lurking in our desires. The
technocratic, instrumental and rationalistic 
assumptions of much management theory can thus be held
up to critical attention by a comparison with Brave
New World or Nineteen Eighty-four (Wilmott 1993). 
This paper discusses the potential of utopian thinking
for the critique of managerial assumptions regarding
implicit conceptions of the good life. In particular
it explores a neglected strand of social and political
theory - anarchist theory. Firstly, because 
anarchists have demonstrated an incurable fascination
with attempts to both delineate and live out the good
life (Woodcock 1963). Secondly, anarchism, with its
total rejection of hierarchy and authority, has
struggled with the problem of how communities may be
organised and maintained without these usually
ubiquitous features (Marshall 1993) (Kropotkin 1974).
As such, anarchism can be claimed to be a powerful
counter-discourse to the managerial vision of the good
life - ordered by a benign hierarchy of authorities
(Ward 1974; Ward 1991). 

Anarchistic utopias are also distinctive in their
defence of the priority of diversity, difference and
voluntarism over collective norms and orthodoxies.
This suggests potential linkages between
post-structuralist thought and anarchistic conceptions
of the good life. The fruitful cross-fertilisation of
post-structuralist and anarchist 
thinking presents some intriguing possibilities (May
1994). Another distinctive feature of anarchist
utopias is the way that they are powerfully 
nostalgic, frequently displaying a longing for a past
that never was, contrasting strongly with the
technologically fetishistic narratives of progress
associated both with recent political projects of the
Right and the Left, and critiqued by postmodernist 
theory as demonstrating the inherently oppressive
nature of grand narratives of progress. This nostalgic
longing, far from being an enervating melancholy, has
precipitated practical attempts to rediscover the
mythic past in the present. Such attempts may be
detected in Spartacus' slave revolt, the Cathar
communities and Albigensian Crusade, the Peasants'
Revolt and the Paris Commune or the environmental and
anti-capitalist protests of our own day (Woodcock
1963; Marshall 1993). In the light of the
possibilities outlined above the paper discusses the
critical features of utopian thinking in general, and
goes on to explore anarchistic utopias in particular.
One such anarchist utopia, `News from Nowhere' by
William Morris (1986), is analysed in more detail in
order to illustrate some characteristic features of
utopian anarchist thought. Finally some conclusions
are drawn regarding how anarchistic utopianism may
help conceive of how `good' organisations and
communities may be unmanaged, constantly renegotiated,
and exist solely to meet the needs of their members;
providing a counter-attraction to the seductive
technocratic paradise being marketed to us by late

(for the rest visit
2001/Papers/Management%20and%20Goodness/reedy.pdf )

===="The world is the natural setting of and field for all my thoughts and all my explicit perceptions. Truth does not 'inhabit' only 'the inner man' or more accurately, there is no inner man, man is in the world and only in the world does he know himself."

 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945

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