83. Yue, A., and Mills, A.J. (2006) `Making Sense Out of Bad Faith: Sartre, Weick and Existential Sensemaking in Organizational Analysis.’ Proceedings of the XXIV International Colloquium of the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism,

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83. Yue, A., and Mills, A.J. (2006) `Making Sense Out of Bad Faith: Sartre, Weick and Existential Sensemaking in Organizational Analysis.’ Proceedings of the XXIV International Colloquium of the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism,

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    Making Sense out of Bad Faith:  Sartre, Weick and Existential Sensemaking in Organizational Analysis Anthony R. Yue Albert J. Mills Sobey PhD Program Saint Mary’s University  Abstract This paper proposes a fusion of Weick’s (1995) epistemologically-based notion of sensemaking and the phenomenological ontology of Sartre (1957), to develop an approach which we label existential sensemaking. Through a focus on a well documented mountaineering expedition which took place on the West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, we explore the potential for existential sensemaking as a heuristic for understanding the importance of individual decision making in the  process of identity work that has profound implications for ethical behaviour in organizing processes, as well as important implications for workplace safety. Recent debates within organizational analysis have highlighted the notion of identity and identity work (Thomas et al., 2004) while simultaneously reducing, if not eliminating, the notion of the individual (Nord & Fox, 1996). Arguably, this is in part due to the growing influence of postmodernist theorizing and reactions against enlightenment notions of the essentialist individual (Foucault, 1965); in part a reaction against sociohistorical privileging of individualism (Sampson, 1988); and, in  part, a simultaneous privileging of social context across social science research (Nord & Fox, 1996). Nonetheless, outside of essentializing psychologistic accounts, there is some recognition of the importance of the individual self in the process of identity work as she engages in “internal mental work” (Acker, 1992), techniques of the self (Brewis, 2004, Foucault, 1988), and dialogical self confrontation (Hermans, 2002, Lecoure  & Mills , 2005). While gendered constructions of identity example the deep-rooted and profound relationship between internal mental work and contextual relationships (Acker, 1992) accidents, disasters, and other life threatening situations  provide the most dramatic examples (Weick, 1993). Through examination of one such account – the story of events surrounding the life and death decisions of two mountain climbers – we trace the outline of an approach to identity work that combines sensemaking and existentialism. It has been argued that Weick’s work on organizational sensemaking is “at the forefront” of attempts to reconceptualize the role of the individual in identity construction (Nord & Fox, 1996: 156), which is clearly at the heart of sensemaking (Helms Mills, 2003). It is also of interest, for our purposes, because of its focus on the life and death failures of sensemaking events (Weick, 1990): examination of the failure of the ordinary sensemaking process is intriguing, for there is a corresponding lack of inquiry into the types of situations whereby the ordinary flow of sensemaking is substantially disrupted, only to be reestablished through dramatic recontextualization. It is this type of situation, illustrating the capability of an individual to redefine their reality, which is examined in this paper. Nonetheless, within Weick’s framework the individual sense maker is overshadowed by social and ongoing sensemaking contexts and the focus on sensemaking “failures” suggest, if anything, mechanical responses to events that draw on an ingrained collective self rather than those of an individual sense maker. Thus, while Weick’s descriptions of sensemaking forms an epistemology which is coherent it is also subject to the type of criticism leveled by Burrell and Morgan (1979) (and explicitly acknowledged by Weick, 1995) as “ontological oscillation”. We suggest that this “ontological oscillation” is less of a problematic when normal patterns of interaction break down, and a robust ontology is employed as part of the analysis of these relatively extraordinary situations. That brings us to the existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre’s ontology is also useful to us for the purpose of examining these organizational junctures at which ordinary sensemaking has failed, but in a way that  ontologically grounds the notion of sensemaking through a focus on the individual actor. The times when ordinary sensemaking fails, presents the individual a situation that has similarities with the existential anxiety that Sartre describes in  Being and  Nothingness  (1957). This anxiety is characterized through the requirement to make choices while at the same time realizing that a desire to choose authentically (i.e. in good faith) is problematic when our underlying nature does not allow us the option of using external forms of validation for our choice. The union of a sensemaking epistemology with Sartre’s phenomenological ontology allows us an opportunity to examine how individuals manage both the underlying ethical implications of free will and the simultaneous fracture of the processes by which they interpret their world. To emphasize the individual in the process of identity work we focus not on the collapse of sensemaking (and the loss of individual identity) but on a situation where individuals have successfully overcome the failure of ordinary sensemaking through, what we call, extraordinary sensemaking. To illustrate how existential sensemaking may be used in organizational analysis, we focus on a well documented mountaineering expedition on the West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Our notion of an opportunity for extraordinary sensemaking, being a time when the day to day sensemaking process has failed and the individual is faced with their existential choices, is well illustrated using Joe Simpson’s and Simon Yates’ harrowing ordeal chronicled in Touching the Void   (Simpson, 1988). Notably, this example of the failure of the climbing team organization and the subsequent dramatic survival story of Joe Simpson offers a positive example to augment a literature whose main focus seems to be failure in extraordinary situations. We conclude our discussions with implications for the self in organizational analysis and suggestions as to how the perspective of existential sensemaking might  be employed for further studies of the individual navigating their organized world. Our suggestion is that the examination of successful extraordinary sensemaking efforts would well complement the growing literature that already explores the  breakdown of the ordinary, ongoing sensemaking processes.  “Some would argue that there was no decision to be made; that cutting the rope and the powerful symbol of trust and friendship it represents should never have entered my mind. Others say that it was simply a matter of survival, something I was forced to do…I knew I had done all that could reasonably be expected of me to save Joe, and now both our lives were being threatened, I had reached a point where I had to look after myself. Although I knew my action might result in his death, I took the decision intuitively in a split second. It simply felt like the right thing to do, like so many critical decisions I had taken during the climb. Without hesitation, I removed the knife from the rucksack and cut the rope.” -Attributed to Simon Yates in the epilogue of Touching the Void (Simpson, 1988) Introduction This paper proposes a fusion of Weick’s (1995) epistemologically-based notion of sensemaking and the phenomenological ontology of Sartre (1957), to develop an approach which we label existential sensemaking. Through a focus on a well documented mountaineering expedition which took place on the West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, we explore the potential for existential sensemaking as a heuristic for understanding the importance of individual decision making in the  process of identity work that has profound implications for ethical behaviour in organizing processes, as well as important implications for workplace safety. Recent debates within organizational analysis have highlighted the notion of identity and identity work (Thomas et al., 2004) while simultaneously reducing, if not eliminating, the notion of the individual (Nord & Fox, 1996). Arguably, this is in part due to the growing influence of postmodernist theorizing and reactions against enlightenment notions of the essentialist individual (Foucault, 1965); in part a reaction against sociohistorical privileging of individualism (Sampson, 1988); and, in  part, a simultaneous privileging of social context across social science research (Nord & Fox, 1996). Nonetheless, outside of essentializing psychologistic accounts,  there is some recognition of the importance of the individual self in the process of identity work as she engages in “internal mental work” (Acker, 1992), techniques of the self (Brewis, 2004, Foucault, 1988), and dialogical self confrontation (Hermans, 2002, Lecoure  & Mills , 2005). While gendered constructions of identity example the deep-rooted and profound relationship between internal mental work and contextual relationships (Acker, 1992) accidents, disasters, and other life threatening situations  provide the most dramatic examples (Weick, 1993). Through examination of one such account – the story of events surrounding the life and death decisions of two mountain climbers – we trace the outline of an approach to identity work that combines sensemaking and existentialism. It has been argued that Weick’s work on organizational sensemaking is “at the forefront” of attempts to reconceptualize the role of the individual in identity construction (Nord & Fox, 1996: 156), which is clearly at the heart of sensemaking (Helms Mills, 2003). It is also of interest, for our purposes, because of its focus on the life and death failures of sensemaking events (Weick, 1990): examination of the failure of the ordinary sensemaking process is intriguing, for there is a corresponding lack of inquiry into the types of situations whereby the ordinary flow of sensemaking is substantially disrupted, only to be reestablished through dramatic recontextualization. It is this type of situation, illustrating the capability of an individual to redefine their reality, which is examined in this paper. Nonetheless, within Weick’s framework the individual sense maker is overshadowed by social and ongoing sensemaking contexts and the focus on sensemaking “failures” suggest, if anything, mechanical responses to events that draw on an ingrained collective self rather than those of an individual sense maker. Thus, while Weick’s descriptions of sensemaking forms an epistemology which is coherent it is also subject to the type of
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