chapter  5
28 Pages

The Primacy of Vision and Its Implication for Organization


Jacques Derrida is probably right when saying that all books have some kind of underlying educational ambition, some idea that is expected to be effectively conveyed, or, in some cases even some moral. It is, however, not always customary or comme-il-faut to publicly announce such ambitions. If there is a pedagogy of this monograph, it is not one coherent and unifi ed enough to structure and articulate into one single declaration but is rather to be addressed along a number of complementary discussions. The bearing ideas of this monograph have, however, been that the entire aggregate of visual culture and all the “turns” and “shifts” included therein, beginning in the fi rst half of the nineteenth century, and today, almost two hundred years later, continuing to penetrate new domains through the widespread used of new media and the Internet, is a social condition-un fait social, a Durkheimian would say-that has been relatively, given its substantial impact on contemporary society, little examined or explored in organization theory. Through drawing on a rather transdisciplinary body of texts, including sociological theory, history, science and technology studies, art history, and so forth, vision and visuality have been portrayed as what is a major social procedure in contemporary social life. The consequences for organizations and organization theory and management studies are substantial. Centered on Charles Goodwin’s useful term professional vision, organizational activities are seen as what are in many cases, partially or more conclusively, organized around the active visual inspection of the organizational agent. Professional vision is thus a term that is serving as a relay or nexus between a great number of theoretical frameworks, epistemologies, historical studies, and sociological perspectives all sharing the interest for and concern with vision and visuality. The very act of looking, the visual inspection, the gaze (what Lacan and eventually Foucault referred to as le

regard), is the very act in which decades of research on vision and attention and individually entrenched and acquired skills are collocated and brought together. On the one hand, the professional vision would not be labelled so unless philosophical, scientifi c, cultural, and ideological changes since the fi rst half of the nineteenth century would have inscribed such epistemological potentialities into the very act of vision. Over the course of almost two hundred years, we Westerners have learned that the very act of looking may, under determinate and highly controlled conditions, enable a detailed understanding of what lies beneath or between (when rejecting ontological metaphors operating on the basis of the Platonist binary couple surface/ depth) what is immediately visible. In addition, the professional gaze is also the very act where individually trained and acquired capacities and skills are demonstrated. Being part of what Fleck (1979) calls a “thought collective” is to be able to inspect and review images and photos in accordance with collectively enacted theories and beliefs. The professional vision is therefore never wholly individual and subjective but is always the gaze under the infl uence of the other, the generalized member of a particular “thought collective.” Professional vision is consequently what is bridging and aligning micro and macro, diachronic and synchronic occurrences, the social and the individual. It is an act that embodies the totality of events and theories. It is also an act that lends itself to empirical studies and theoretical elaborations. Seen in this view, an organizational theory of vision and visuality is probably derived from a detailed study of professional vision in various domains of interest.