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Beyond Keeping Going! Towards an ethics of change projects
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Technology, Department of Engineering Sciences, Industrial Engineering & Management.
2014 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In this paper I depart from the case of a change project/process that has taken place within the Stena group (Lennerfors 2013a). In 1982, Stena Bulk - a company that was intended to trade in bulk carriers and oil tankers - was founded and 30 years later, it had grew into controlling a fleet of about 100 ships, all marketed as the latest and most desirable of all oil transport solutions. One can see this development as consisting of three phases, the first phase (1982-1986) where the business was seen to consist solely of asset play (buying cheap and selling dear) and where the purchased low-quality ships were discussed purely as economic assets, the second phase (1986-1998) where a discourse of quality started to emerge based on the purchase of a number of purportedly high-quality ships and discursive efforts on behalf of the Stena employees, and the third phase (1998-2012) which was characterized by design and operation of technically advanced ships.


The point with this paper is to theorize this change project/process, which is indeed a journey from nothing, to "scrap trading", to quality, to technical innovation and performance. I will be inspired by Alain Badiou's work who theorizes political change as a subject being faithful to an event and acting out the consequences of this faithfulness. The event is something that goes beyond bodies and languages (material entities and discourses). While one can see this process of change "from above", in this paper I'm interested in the affects, subjective attitudes, etc. that guide faithfulness to an event - in other words an ethics of the subject.


The most common understanding of Badiou's ethics is to stay faithful to the event, to keep going, and to avoid the temptations of for example betraying the event (Badiou 2001). While it might sound surprising to discuss the ethics of a change processes, especially since Badiou calls ethics a delirium, this understanding stems from only engaging with Badiou's "Being and Event" period. Both before Being and Event (in the Theory of the Subejct), and after (In the Logics of Worlds), Badiou pays attention to ethics. Ed Pluth, a commentator on Badiou's work, states indeed that Badiou's philosophy has the aim of developing an ethic that will enable individuals to cultivate the courage necessary to continue the pursuit of a truth procedure, making faithful subjectivity more viable, and reactionary and obscurantist subjectivity less tempting (Pluth 2010, 12).


So the paper is about using Badiou beyond the imperative to "keep going". This will be done by delving into Logics of Worlds and the Theory of the Subject. In Logics of Worlds, Badiou introduces the notion of an investigation, that goes further than just to "keep going". The investigation is about the sequential creation of a present, and this creation both constitutes and absorbs a new type of past. He also states that the faithful subject is developed point by point. The sequential construction of a subject is easier in moments of opening (continuous adjustments of the old world), but the subject is then often a weak subject. This construction is more difficult when it is necessary to cross points (where the world boils down to Two); but the subject is then much sturdier. In the Theory of the Subject, Badiou discusses four affects and their role in the ethics of the subject. The first is terror: it testifies to the desire for a Great Point, a decisive discontinuity that will institute the new world in a single blow, and complete the subject. The second is anxiety: the fear of points, the retreat before the obscurity of the discontinuous, of everything that imposes a choice without guarantee between two hypotheses. To put it otherwise, this affect signals the desire for a continuity, for a monotonous shelter. The third is courage: the acceptance of the plurality of points, of the fact that discontinuities are at once inexorable and multiform. And the fourth is Justice: affirms the desire for the subject to be a constant intrication of points and openings. It affirms the equivalence of what is continuous and negotiated, on the one hand, and of what is discontinuous and violent, on the other. They are not to be hierarchically ordered. War can have as much value as peace, negotiation as much as struggle, violence as much as gentleness. These four affects all play a role in the ethics of the subject.


The use of Badiou is still very fragmented in management and organization studies (including project management) and the paper will continue to explore the consequences for management and organization studies of the Badiou event in philosophy (Lennerfors 2013b). By engaging in this empirically inspired theoretical endeavour, I hope to contribute to change management, project management especially of change projects and entrepreneurship theory, both in terms of how change is conceptualized as well as the subjective ethics of such change. This will also contribute to the still quite neglected area of project management ethics. On a broader level, this project engages with Latour's work on Actor-Network Theory (where as far as I understand there are no events), as well as Barbara Czarniawska's work on Action Nets (where action in the discourse-materiality-action triad could be conceptualized with faithfulness to an event).






Badiou, A. 2001. Ethics – An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. New York: Verso.


Badiou, A. 2009. Logics of Worlds. London: Continuum.


Badiou, A. 2010. Theory of the Subject. London: Continuum.


Lennerfors, Thomas Taro (2013a), Att skapa en värld - Stena Bulk, Concordia Maritime och marknadsföringens betydelse i tanksjöfarten 1982–2012 [To create a World - Stena Bulk, Concordia Maritime and the importance of marketing in oil shipping 1982-2012], Gothenburg: Breakwater Publishing in collaboration with BAS.


Lennerfors, Thomas Taro (2013b). Beneath Good and Evil? Business Ethics: A European Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 380-392.


Pluth, E. 2010. Alain Badiou. Cambridge: Polity.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Engineering and Technology Business Administration Economic History
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-239020OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-239020DiVA: diva2:773012
Making Projects Critical 7
Available from: 2014-12-18 Created: 2014-12-18 Last updated: 2015-11-11

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