Askesis and organizational culture.
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HALSALL, R. and BROWN, M., 2013. Askesis and organizational culture. Organization, 20 (2), pp. 233-255.
This article makes the case for the contribution of the cultural theory of Sloterdijk and the tradition of philosophical anthropology on which it is based to an understanding of the processes of culture formation in organizations. Rather than see culture formation as the model of an autonomous self which sacrifices or gives up this autonomy as a result of identification with the organizational culture, or retains it by resisting or distancing from the culture, the article argues that we should see organizational selves as engaged in processes of askēsis, understood as ‘systems of spiritual exercises, … practised in collectives of personalised regimes’ (Sloterdijk 2009: 12), the aim of which is the fulfilment of the imperative ‘you must change your life!’ (Sloterdijk 2009). The article illustrates the application of the theory to the formation of ‘secessionist’ cultures, cultures devoted to the pursuit of radical ascetic aims, by outlining the mechanisms of askēsis in contemporary organizations: the splitting of the self into ‘willing’ and ‘unwilling’ elements which are in constant ‘endo-rhetorical’ dialogue; the imitation of exemplars of ascetic behaviour, or the ‘perfectionist vita’; ‘conversion’ to the organizational culture, whether as a sudden experience or as a gradual process, and organizational cultures understood as ‘cultures of observance’, the aim of which are to encourage the employee to scrutinize habitual behaviour and change this behaviour in line with the ideals of the secessionist culture. The end point of askēsis is reached when the employee conceives organizational life itself as a continual ‘test’ of commitment and will.