18 June 2006

Ecological Valence

Thanks to the inspiration of a course on the responsibility of corporations in their context of global citizens, I have been contemplating how the issue of sustainable development fits in my Valence Theory of Organization. I’m breaking a very brief summary of these thoughts into two posts. Of course, the full essay on Ecological Valence: Responsibility, Sustainability, and the Reconception of Organization is available on request.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the definition of sustainable development was framed and accepted within the ground of a scientifically and industrially dominated economic paradigm that led to the Brundtland Commission definition of sustainability: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission, 1987). This model is predicated on an industrial process conception of organizations, and consequential production models of interaction, mutual dependence, supply and consumption, functional decomposition, and utility value. It’s also problematic, since it doesn’t quite answer the obvious questions like, How can current needs be distinguished from wants? How can future needs be ascertained? Against what standard should economic viability, social justice and a “better life” be measured? What specifically defines environmental “appropriateness” or even protection?

Authors Fergus and Rowney have recently called for a change in the “cognitive reality” in which business managers exist, integrating “various values, ethics and perspectives during the process of decision making” (Fergus & Rowney, 2005, p. 205). To accomplish this, they suggest that business managers “will encourage employees to view the organization as embedded in a larger society and, in turn, both these organizations and society are embedded within the natural environment” (p. 205; emphasis added).

This final observation by Fergus and Rowney provides an important additional consideration for my proposed Valence Theory: the environment itself is an important actant in the organization collective. This is especially true – and in retrospect, perhaps even obvious – when one considers the particular instance of UCaPP-organization. After all, to what is humanity more ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate than the natural environment? Moreover, the natural environment can be considered to be a foundational, ground actant. When two individuals come together to form a proto-organization by establishing various valence relationships, they do not do it in the void of space. The natural (and sometimes unnatural, as in an urban setting) environment is always present and contextualizing the nature and scope of their interactions. Under the former paradigm, and consistent with the instrumental ground of BAH-organization, the natural environment is rarely acknowledged except as an externality, or an adjunct to the instrumental orientation of the business. In the UCaPP-organization, the natural environment as a foundational actant suggests that the fundamental ground valence of any and all instances of organization is an ecological valence.

The next question, and the next post, is, what is the nature of the ecological valence?

  • Fergus, A. H. T., & Rowney, J. I. A. (2005). Sustainable Development: Epistemological Frameworks & an Ethic of Choice. Journal of Business Ethics, 57(2), 197-207.
  • World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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