Edited by Barbara Czarniawska
There is a sense in which all organizations are invisible, because they consist of social relations between people. Thus although an organization may inhabit a building, which can be seen, seeing that building does not give sight of the organization. We can see a set of company accounts, or an annual report, or publicity material, or an organization chart but these and other things are representations of organizations, not organizations themselves. It is for that reason that the idea that organizations are viewed through various metaphors (Morgan, 1986) has had so much continuing purchase. Yet things are more complex than this. For one cannot claim that there is something – the organization – and its representation that are truly separate. The various representations of organization also construct organization. Thus whilst organizations are in some sense always invisible their many representations are not, and these representations can be studied for the ways in which they construct and project organization. One meaning of studying invisible organizations would therefore be to study the organizational representations, both real and metaphorical, through which they are constructed. A more restricted sense of invisibility is found in the work of authors (for example, Farmer, 2008) who have proposed that invisible organization is to do with the informal, networked organization, which is perhaps particularly resistant to representation. Here, it is the lived relations between people, within and perhaps across organizations that are of interest. Indeed, organization studies has long been concerned with such informalities, most famously in the Hawthorne Studies of the 1920s and 1930s, which still constitute the largest, most sustained attempt to research a single organization. Of course relationships between people can also be visibly represented, and one prominent strand of research into informal organization is that of sociometry (Moreno, 1956), where, in various ways, these relationships are defined and mapped. More recently, informal relations have been understood in terms of social capital and in the foundational work of Pierre Bourdieu; this too is represented via social capital diagrams (Bourdieu, 1986). If informal relationships and networks are one kind of invisibility, even more occluded are the psychodynamics of organizational relationships. ‘The workplace within’ as Hirschhorn (1990) evocatively called it is perhaps the most invisible organization of all.
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