Narrative And Resistance Essay

Submitted By phillip45
Words: 4596
Pages: 19

The Role of Narrative in Understanding Organizational Resistance to Change:
A Social Construction Perspective
“The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.”

- C.G. Jung

Social Construction Theory as presented in Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s (1966) work The Social Construction of Reality presents a perspective on the nature of society that should be interesting to any change agent: first, that societies are continuously constructed by individuals, second, that this process occurs through individuals externalizing subjective phenomena and third, that these externalizations become objective realities - society - that then become internalized by individuals who are part of that society (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Berger and Luckmann present a kind of feed-back loop that portrays society as something we construct as well as something that constructs us. The ramifications of such a premise for the practice of Organizational Development (OD) and change agents are potentially far reaching, for the perspective allows change agents to view problems within organizations as socially constructed, and therefore changeable. Berger and Luckmann’s text outlines in detail the process by which externalization of reality occurs to create an objective reality we call an ‘institution‘ and by extension a ‘society.’ By studying this process as it occurs within individuals and communities, change agents may be able to identify how problems are socially constructed within an organization, and how they might be solved. Donald L. Anderson’s text (2012), Organization Development, The Process of Leading Organizational Change examines Berger and Luckmann’s theories in a summative way, but it seemed important to study these theories in further depth in order to present a fuller understanding of the theory, since it is the backbone of this paper’s position: OD professionals, as well as their methods of diagnosis significantly participate in creating the resistance to change that OD professionals find problematic. Narrative, defined for the purpose of this essay as any spoken or written account of connected events, is a central factor to the externalization process described by Berger and Luckmann, both explicitly and implicitly. It is key to how individuals construct knowledge, how knowledge is transmitted and how habits become institutions, then societies. Narrative is crucial to how legitimacy of institutions and societies are maintained, constructed, and transmitted and is critical to how a ‘symbolic universe’ is constructed that is then internalized by members of that society. A ‘symbolic universe,’ according to Berger and Luckmann, is essentially the symbolic understanding of the world that the society proposes is true and real and that all members of that society accept and internalize as a fundamental, taken-for-granted truth about the way things are. This internalization of a ‘symbolic universe’ is the critical point at which an individual becomes a ‘member’ of a particular society. Berger and Luckmann present other factors that participate in the process of externalizing and internalizing a symbolic universe other than narrative. A focus on narrative, however is interesting for a modern investigation of Social Construction Theory because narrative has been identified by various researchers in cognitive psychology to be a key factor, if not the key factor to how individuals construct identity, both individual identity as well as social identity (Hardcastle, 2003; Herman, 2007; Neimeyer & Tscudi, 2003; Nelson, 2003). These psychologists, who are also social constructivists, believe narrative may be more central to Social Construction Theory than originally envisioned by Berger and Luckmann. This paper investigates and synthesizes various research studies in the field of OD and Cognitive Psychology to examine the degree to which change agents can investigate and change their