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Phenomenology, conceptual history and the interpretation of managerial discourses.

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date2008
Host publicationPhenomenology, Organisation and Technology
EditorsLucas Introna, Fernando Ilharco, Eric Fay
Place of PublicationLisbon
PublisherUniversidade Catolica Editora
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)978-972-54-0135-4
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The work of Reinhart Koselleck (1985; 2002) is synonymous to what has come to be known in 20th century German historiography as Begriffsgeschichte. Translated in English most frequently as ‘conceptual history’, its sense is better rendered by the formula ‘history of concepts’2. The ‘history of concepts’ (Begriffsgeschichte hereafter) can be situated within the wider set of debates about the role of language in history. The core of the project is to interrogate the relationship between language, consciousness, culture, and historical time. The main influences on Koselleck’s theoretical structure have been Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic analytics and Martin Heidegger’s existential phenomenologial analytics of Dasein. His historical project and ambitions can thus be placed alongside other cultural and social histories such as those of Braudel (1981-1984), Ricœur (1988), Foucault (1972), Arendt (1958), or Blumenberg (1985). The chapter will explore three aspects of Koselleck’s work as a strategy for analysing discourses in historical-cultural perspective. First, we will explore the relationship between Heidegger’s existential phenomenology and Koselleck’s own anthropological scheme of ‘metahistorical’ categories. Secondly, we will offer of brief exposition of Koselleck’s mode of analysis of key ‘concepts’ as special sites in the historical unfolding of social and political processes. This part will define the notion of ‘concept’ from Koselleck’s perspective. Thirdly, we will offer an example of such a historical analysis applied to the concept of ‘play’ and its shifting positions in the discourses of managerialism since the 1980s. The argument is that, over the last twenty-five years, managerial ideologies have increasingly recycled the concept of ‘play’ as source of productivity in which a new correlation between ‘personal existence’ and ‘organisational membership’ is being fostered. The benefit of a historical conceptual analysis of such phenomena is that it overcomes the limitations of predetermined views of world history – such as latter-day Marxian accounts (e.g. ‘Labour Process Theory’) whose major premise is that, inevitably, the world of work is animated by a single principle: exploitation of ‘labour’ by ‘capital’; or the simple neo-liberal accounts of managerial practices changing as a result of some ‘technical evolution’ inexorably bound up with the ‘progressive’ agenda of a ‘free society’ in which ‘managers’ are the agents of ‘free market’ rationality seen as the ultimate balancing institution of history.