Editors' Note: This paper was under review with JMS prior to André Spicer's appointment as Associate Editorof JMS.
A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations
Version of Record online: 10 SEP 2012
© 2012 The Authors. Journal of Management Studies © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and Society for the Advancement of Management Studies
Journal of Management Studies
Volume 49, Issue 7, pages 1194–1220, November 2012
How to Cite
Alvesson, M. and Spicer, A. (2012), A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 49: 1194–1220. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2012.01072.x
- Issue online: 11 OCT 2012
- Version of Record online: 10 SEP 2012
- Accepted manuscript online: 20 JUN 2012 11:08PM EST
- bounded rationality;
In this paper we question the one-sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under-recognized part of organizational life. Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. In turn, this structures individuals' internal conversations in ways that emphasize positive and coherent narratives and marginalize more negative or ambiguous ones. This can have productive outcomes such as providing a degree of certainty for individuals and organizations. But it can have corrosive consequences such as creating a sense of dissonance among individuals and the organization as a whole. The positive consequences can give rise to self-reinforcing stupidity. The negative consequences can spark dialogue, which may undermine functional stupidity.