A change of perspective and a whole new set of metaphors (Czarniawska, 2008)

By | August 26, 2021

“…each excursion into another field of knowledge brings with it things that were embedded in a different type of soil, and it is inevitable that particles of that soil are still clinging to the roots, practically invisible to the new owner. Additionally, a re-embedding into the new soil could produce deviations and hybrids that are sometimes superior to the original, and sometimes not” ~ Barbara Czarniawska, 2008, Organizing: how to study it and how to write about it

Let me sing you a song of Kaleva’s magic. Czarniawska’s joy of discovering a way to ground her work with an approach and a methodology that fit her purpose and her needs, shines through clearly in her writing. In her introduction to the paper linked above, she says:

Let there be no doubt about one thing: to me, the emergence of a cultural paradigm in organization studies was the best thing that happened in my nearly 40-year research career. Anthropology brought with it a dramatic change of perspective and a whole new set of metaphors, as well as a legitimacy to field methods that had barely been acknowledged in organization studies. (Czarniawska, 2008)

This is exactly how I felt, not only in response to her words, written by her in her paper about her own experience, but the spark of reflection that these words evoked in me. I have already documented here the ‘dramatic change of perspective and a whole new set of metaphors’ that changing my own subdisciplinary methodology and approach from the expert-led mindset of a user centered designer and researcher to that of the Scandinavian tradition of participatory design approaches to cocreation had brought about. And, the wrenching change of perspective required of me to shift to the role of novice scholar after three decades of experienced professional practice.

Now, as I sit here and ponder the implications of these words, I’m moved to reflect on my own ‘discipline’ – something that had never mattered in practice, as I’ve simply called it a ‘holistic’ approach – but is an important matter of concern in academia, where one’s situatedness in the body of scholarship is de rigeur. This is not a case of what self composed job title I give myself as a business owner, but of the strands of knowledge which inform my thinking and my writing and thus my work.

It is the art of combining several sciences in one person. A transdisciplinary is a scientist trained in various academic disciplines. This person merged all his knowledge into one thick wire. That united knowledge wire is used to solve problems that include many problems. Pablo Tigani

If asked, I cannot disentangle the legacy of my first degree in Industrial & Production Engineering from Bangalore University from the impact of my intensive one year full credit MBA program completed a decade later at the University of Pittsburgh. Nor can I tease out the influence of Bauhaus inspired designerly skills introduced to me 32 years ago at the Eames conceptualized National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad or the eye-opening experience at the Institute of Design in Chicago (the old New Bauhaus) where business and design came together in a rigorous methodology based on contextual and user understanding as opposed to the classical design studio approach of NID.

Add to this the past decade of research using design ethnography methods to grasp the nature and functioning of the informal economy from the perspective of their financial management behaviour, often in the development context, and you’ll find I’m as unable to pick a discipline as a toddler asked to pick a flavour in Baskin-Robbins.

Approaching the challenge of situating my work from the lens of transdisciplinarity* offers me a way out of my quandary. As Czarniawska (2008) said, for me, this opens up a whole new perspective** and a dramatic change in metaphors.


* – there’s two common meanings, and I’ll leave my exploration of this for another post –

** I named my blog Perspective in 2005, I’m not going to open a new one

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