Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The end of the end of history

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine serves as a reminder of the ways – some naïve, some triumphalist – that the collapse of the Soviet Union was misunderstood in the West.  For some, it represented, simply, a victory in the Cold War precisely as if that had been a war in the conventional sense, with a determinate winner and loser. More grandiosely, as in Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, it represented the universalization of western liberal democracy as having displaced and superseded all other political forms. At all events, the temptation was to see a period of history as being ‘over and done with’ and a new era as having emerged. But, of course, history is never like that.

The rapidity with which the post-Soviet space was re-negotiated and the consequent expansions of NATO and the EU eastwards made it hard for those in the West to understand how catastrophic it seemed to some, perhaps many, in Russia and elsewhere – it is this sentiment which Putin speaks of and to. Similarly rapid was the post-soviet economic transformation which, in the 1990s, witnessed a scale of neo-liberalization that was unprecedented. The consequences of that, too, are now in evidence, in particular in terms of the dominance of Russian oligarchs whose wealth is largely traceable to the mass privatizations of the 1990s.

It is difficult to disentangle the relationships between the Cold War and the study of management and organizations. As James March’s (2007) overview of the history of organization studies suggests, much of the basic knowledge in the subject is to a remarkable extent a Cold War artefact in the sense that its heyday in the US in the 1950s and 1960s was both formed within and was a response to Cold War concerns – game theory being an obvious example. More diffusely, management in particular was seen as part and parcel of Western economic dominance and, indeed, one of the features of post-soviet neo-liberalization was the sudden explosion of teaching of western management techniques in those countries. Thus in March’s account, organization studies in this post-1991 period could be understood in terms of “the triumph of the markets”.

In international relations, Ukraine perhaps symbolises (although, of course, not uniquely) a clear end to that initial period of post-Soviet history in that any idea of a uni-polar world is manifestly no longer sustainable, as the evaporation of the territorial guarantees given to Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Agreement shows. If it is right that organization studies (like other intellectual endeavours) in some measure reflects, is shaped by and, of course, contributes to the broader geo-political terrain within which it operates we might expect a more ‘multi-polar’ discipline to be in the process of emerging. If that is so, then perhaps we would expect not so much a proliferation of ways of understanding organizations (that has long been the case) but increased interest in the multiplicity of ways of organizing. All of which is a long-winded prelude to saying that in the book (p.119) I refer to one example of such interest as being a then unpublished work which has since come out. It is The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization (2014) and I would recommend it to anyone interested in thinking more about the rich variety of possibilities for organization that are available to us once we realise that, indeed, history did not end in 1991.


Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.
March J. (2007) ‘The Study of Organizations and Organizing since 1945’, Organization Studies 28 (1): 9-19.
Parker, M., Cheney, G., Fournier, V. & Land, C. (eds.) (2014) The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. London, Routledge.

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