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Organizational Learning: A Conceptualization in the Framework of the Relational Economics Theory

  • In this research, a relational conceptualization of organizational learning (OL) is proposed. Following relational economics (Wieland 2020), this research conceptualizes the organization as a nexus of stakeholders' resources and interests. Stakeholders are either within or outside the institutional boundaries of the organization, which implies a view of the organization that goes beyond the intra-organizational context, coherent with an open systems view of the organization. Although the organization forms a nexus of stakeholders, it is an entity in its own right, i.e., it exists independently of individual stakeholders and is therefore ontologically real. Following the existing literature on the theory of the firm and institutional economics (e.g., the works of Commons, Coase, Williamson), transactions are considered as the unit of analysis in organization theory. Consequently, the organization as an entity is defined as a governance structure used by stakeholders to conduct transactions. Stakeholders contribute different rationalities that should be relationalized to carry out transactions. This view of the organization elucidates the ontological nature of organizations in this study and is the starting point for the conceptualization of OL as a relational process. In this framework, OL would be a process for the relationalization of rationalities for enabling the completion of multi-contextual transactions in the context of organizations intended as entities in their own right. Such a conceptualization would provide a new perspective on OL to existing theories. Indeed, much of the existing OL learning implicitly or explicitly relies on a neo-classical view of the organization and a focus on employees when conceptualizing OL (intra-organizational view of organizations and OL). Although the relevance of these theories to the field of OL, the emphasis on employees in OL models and elaborations has led to some epistemological and ontological problems in the OL literature, such as the OL paradox (can an organization actually learn? Is OL a mere metaphor?) and anthropomorphism (applying human characteristics such as the mind to inanimate entities such as organizations). This paper argues that a fundamental methodological change is required to conceptualize OL within the framework of relational economics: from methodological individualism to methodological relationism. By defining OL as a process focusing on individuals in the organization, existing OL literature can be placed within the meta construct of methodological individualism because the learning process focuses on the components of the organization. In methodological relationism, OL is defined as a micro-meso-relational process in which both the stakeholders (components of the organizational system) and the organization as an entity learn. The argument that the organization learns implies that the organization as an entity is capable of learning. This would then mean that OL is not a purely cognitive process, but a relational process which, in turn, would mean that learning could be conceptualized beyond human cognition.

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Author:Jessica G. Schwengber
Referee:Josef Wieland, Michael Schramm
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Publication:2023
Date of first Publication:2023/06/26
Publishing Institution:Zeppelin Universität
Granting Institution:Zeppelin Universität
Date of final exam:2023/05/31
Release Date:2023/06/26
Tag:Relational economics, organizational learning, relational learning, transcultural learning, organizational theory, corporate governance, methodological relationism, communities of practice, case study, organizational network, cooperation
Page Number:313 Seiten
Licence (German):License LogoUrheberrechtlich geschützt