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New Book: Organising and Disorganising: A Dynamic and Non-Linear Theory of Institutional Emergence

Organising and Disorganising criss-crosses the conventional divisions between complexity theory, ecology, sociology, anthropology and political science, weaving an intriguing and fertile theory of systems behaviour which emphasises dynamical change over static classification. With characteristic wit, Michael Thompson uncovers a plethora of uninhabited intellectual niches for ambitious scholars to colonise.

Following his previous seminal work in this area (see panel on right), Thompson revisits the fundamental principles of Cultural Theory, strengthening his arguments and developing new perspectives. He explains how there are exactly five fundamental forms of societal life: the hierarchical, the egalitarian, the individualistic, the fatalistic and the autonomous, each of which is a way of disorganising the other four whilst depending on them for its existence, or it would have nothing to organise itself against. Through a range of examples and analogies drawn from his exceptionally broad experience, the author shows how best outcomes depend upon an essential argumentative process between these five socio-cultural forms. A flexible and dynamic organisational theory emerges which exposes the unfortunate consequences of any single form seeking to dominate the others.

Thompson proceeds to map the theories of Weber, Marx, Maine, Durkheim, Tönnies, Mary Douglas and others into the broad landscape of Cultural Theory, identifying 50 distinct varieties of social science on the way.

This book is important reading in these times of profound structural change. It is simultaneously a work of scholarship and a light-hearted, accessible and illuminating view on a world beset by apparently intractable problems such as climate change and the credit crunch. These problems urgently need Thompson’s type of solutions and corresponding institutional forms yet we systematically fail to recognise and support them. This book helps us to look beyond our own bias towards specific socio-cultural forms and opens our eyes to new organisational possibilities. Written in a lively and accessible style, Organising and Disorganising provides a language for communication across opposing views and a refreshing remedy for ideological myopia.

Organising and Disorganising: A Dynamic and Non-Linear Theory of Institutional Emergence and its Implications is available at a list price of £25. But if you order your copy now, you can get it for just £18.

About the Author:

Originally a professional soldier, Dr Michael Thompson studied anthropology while also following a career as a Himalayan mountaineer. His early research on how something secondhand becomes an antique, or a rat-infested slum part of Our Glorious Heritage ("Rubbish Theory", 1979, Oxford University Press) diverted him into teaching at the Slade School of Fine Art and at Portsmouth University's School of Architecture, and from there to IIASA where, during the early 1980s, he worked on the "energy tribes", on risk perception and on environment and development in the Himalayan Region. A key concept in all this work was "plural rationality": people doing very different things yet still behaving perfectly rationally, given their very different sets of convictions as to how the world is ("Cultural Theory", with Richard Ellis and Aaron Wildavsky, 1990, West View; "Divided We Stand", with Michiel Schwarz, 1990, Philadelphia University Press; "Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World", edited with Marco Verweij, 2006, Palgrave)

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