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

The foundation for praxis is plurality, which is the recognition that, as human beings, our lives are embedded in relationships: ‘Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live’ . On the one hand, plurality’s emphasis on sameness indicates equality. On the other hand, her emphasis on difference enables a robust appreciation for differences in perspective, situation and history. Arendtian ‘equality in difference’ is not the same as modern-day notions of equality, which have their roots in Enlightenment thought about equality among citizens. For Arendt, Enlightenment notions of equality serve to deny uniqueness, thus flattening individual difference. The key contribution Arendt offers to discussions of equality as sameness (e.g., Butler, 2004; Pullen and Simpson, 2009) is that equality as sameness encourages a focus on a person’s social role, on what they do, rather than on who they are. Focusing on what a person does serves to obscure who they are as an individual, because it covers over their distinct identity. The uniqueness of individuals emerges as a result of recognizing each person’s diverse lived experiences, coupled with acknowledging their identity characteristics. When we do not acknowledge these diverse aspects of who a person is, then we run the risk of ignoring the rich tapestry of human existence. Another way plurality is central to praxis is because it encompasses the notion of collective action. Collective action, in Arendt’s view, emerges out of robust dialogue and debate. For plurality to flourish, therefore, we need an environment that enables people to express themselves without fear of censure. This requires a recognition and appreciation of a person’s uniqueness and difference. Thus, plurality is a foundation for a meaningful appreciation of diverse voices within an organization. When plurality is diminished, so are the conditions for action and possibilities for change. (p.509)


Family, Arendt, Praxis, Diversity, Family, Community


On Arendt

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