What is organisational change?

Despite widespread research on why and how organizations change, what constitutes change is often taken for granted. Its definition is avoided. Studies based on individuals’ rational choice imply that change flows from purposive actions in accordance with an objective, external reality whereas contextualism argues that change results from institutional pressures, isomorphisms and routines. But both depict change as the passage of an entity, whether an organization or accounting practices, from one identifiable and unique status to another. Despite their differences over whether reality is independent, concrete and external, or socially constructed, both assume that actors (or researchers) can identify a reality to trace the scale and direction of changes. This reflects modernist beliefs that organizational space and time are unique and linear. The paper takes issue with this and argues that ‘a-centred organizations’ and ‘drift’ should replace conventional definitions of organizations and change. The arguments are inspired by the arguments of the sociology of translation and constructivism, and insights from two case studies of Enterprise Resource Planning system implementations in large multinational organizations. The latter illustrate how defining change is problematic-as new systems gave rise to multiple spaces and times within the organizations.

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