For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Family matters: An Arendtian critique of organizational structures"

by Gardiner, Rita A; Fulfer, Katy (2017)


In this paper, we use Hannah Arendt’s conception of praxis and her critique of family to diagnose how praxis and diversity initiatives may suffer when family is used as an organizing principle. As an organizing principle, notions of family function to promote hierarchical sameness within organizations, thereby suppressing diversity. In response to hierarchical sameness, Arendtian praxis can destabilize homogenizing tendencies, and effect social change by challenging ‘business as usual’. Further, because praxis is situated within a diverse, plural community of actors, it is able to appreciate diversity within organizations. Hence, we suggest that organizations can ‘do’ diversity better with a structure that enables praxis to emerge. In addition, we point to ways in which family as an organizational principle privileges a narrow conception of family that obscures gender, racial, sexual and class-based inequities. This project contributes to the feminist scholarship on diversity and organizational inequities.

Key Passage

In this paper we use Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of action and her critique of family as the foundation for organizational structure to diagnose how praxis and diversity initiatives may suffer when family is used as an organizing principle. Our critique of family as an organizing principle contributes to the feminist scholarship on diversity and inequities. Organizations that are family-like may view themselves as promoting diversity, as family values such as trust and honesty arguably facilitate diverse participants within an organization. However, because hierarchy is central to family as an organizing principle, it can perpetuate inequities within an organization. The constraints of a patriarchal approach may also mean that ‘organisations function at variance to the bodies who work in and for them’ . In our view, to promote diversity requires recognizing and correcting organizational inequities. The language of diversity is a way of signaling difference that acknowledges how structural inequities affect certain minority groups. However, diversity vocabulary has also been used as a tool of organizational and managerial control, especially when used to depict the interests of minority groups and of management as being the same. Diversity has sometimes been used as a replacement for measures that promote equality. We use diversity language cautiously, therefore, acknowledging that it can be wielded in ways that leaves inequities unchallenged. A central goal of this paper is to illuminate how Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of action provides a rich theoretical resource that has the potential for promoting diversity and enabling praxis. The account of praxis we will offer in this paper is grounded in Arendtian action (her term for praxis). (p.507)


Family, Arendt, Praxis, Diversity, Family, Community


On Arendt

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