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Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization

Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization

Adaptation and Context

Elgar original reference

Edited by Anders Örtenblad

This timely Handbook establishes the ‘contextualization’ of the learning organization idea as a research field. In contrast to much of the previous literature, which has approached the learning organization as a panacea that every organization could and should adopt, this major new Handbook puts the learning organization into context. It examines the relevance of the learning organization idea to organizations in various specific contexts, employing examples from a wide variety of cultures including China and Islamic nations, and from industries as diverse as the police force, care services for the elderly and family firms.

Chapter 17: The universality of learning company principles: a critical realist approach

John Burgoyne

Subjects: business and management, knowledge management, organisation studies, innovation and technology, knowledge management


The primary aim of this chapter is to address the question of whether learning organization or learning company principles are universal, or vary with cultural – both national and organizational – or sectoral context differences. The answer to the question is going to be yes and no, but more yes than no, and perhaps becoming more so, in terms of surface appearance at least, due to the global standardization of culture, with corporate and managerial culture taking a lead in this process. However in terms of everyday experience the answer may also be more ‘no’, though I will argue that there is underlying universality, the principles of which manifest differently in different situations, à la contingency theory. I will explain critical realism, which I suggest is the most useful ontological position from which to address the question, as I go along, but briefly it is a philosophical or meta-theoretical position that synthesizes logical positivism and extreme social constructionism or postmodernism. I argue that critical realism is the most useful perspective from which to view the question because it explicitly allows for both universal realities and contextual variation. This will be largely or entirely a theoretical argument, though I will ground it in empirical observations where I can.

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