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Foucault Plays Habermas: An Alternative Philosophical Underpinning for Critical Systems Thinking Author(s): John Brocklesby and Stephen Cummings Source: The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol. 47, No. 6 (Jun., 1996), pp. 741- 754 Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals on behalf of the Operational Research Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3010283 . Accessed: 07/04/2011 18:41 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=pal. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. Palgrave Macmillan Journals and Operational Research Society are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of the Operational Research Society. http://www.jstor.org
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Foucault Plays Habermas: An Alternative Philosophical Underpinning for Critical SystemsThinkingAuthor(s): John Brocklesby and Stephen CummingsSource: The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol. 47, No. 6 (Jun., 1996), pp. 741-754Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals on behalf of the Operational Research SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3010283 .Accessed: 07/04/2011 18:41

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at .http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=pal. .

Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].

Palgrave Macmillan Journals and Operational Research Society are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,preserve and extend access to The Journal of the Operational Research Society.


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Journal of the Operational Research Society (1996) 47, 741-754 ? 1996 Operational Research Society Ltd. All rights reserved. 0160-5682/96 $12.00

Foucault Plays Habermas: An Alternative Philosophical Underpinning for Critical Systems


'Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and 2Warwick Business School, The University of Warwick, UK

Critical Systems Thinking (CST) has traditionally sought its philosophical underpinning in the work of German theorist Jurgen Habermas. We suggest that CST need not necessarily be informed by Habermas, and present the thought of Michel Foucault as one possible alternative. This paper traces the historical development of the relative positions of Habermas and Foucault and examines the differences between the two with regard to systems. Our aim is to spark and inform debate within the systems/OR com- munity as to the relative merits of each as a basis for CST.

Key words: critical systems, emancipation, Habermas, Foucault, postmodernism


This paper traces two lines of emancipatory thought in critical theory, contrasting and assessing their potential contributions to critical systems thinking. Both lineages are traceable back to Immanuel Kant. The first moves through to the work of Jurgen Habermas, the second runs from Kant to Michel Foucault. Emancipation takes on specific meanings depending upon which strand of critical theory is being employed. Both contest subjugation and domination. The Haber- masian, however, is primarily concerned with developing theoretical approaches that can be applied to collectively emancipate others from a 'worse' to a 'better' state. In this mode, experts intervene in situations with the aim of improving the human condition by creating better holistic systems. The genealogy to Foucault, on the other hand, concerns itself more with providing tools which individuals can use themselves as they see fit, to free their minds to alternatives by high- lighting the way in which power within systems subjugates them. This approach seeks to bring into play, to make visible, the unwritten categories and rules of the system(s), so as to enable individuals to develop responsive strategies to them, rather than collectively build shiny new systems. Fundamentally, the issue is human emancipation or self emancipation.

Mingers' has argued that the philosophical foundations of critical systems are not yet fully established. Jackson2 claims that these slender foundations represent an evolving body of work. While it would be wrong to suggest that the Foucault strand has been ignored in discussions about critical systems thinking, CST, (a number of authors: Jackson2, Flood3, Mingers4'5, Valero- Silva6'7, Taket and White8'9, have begun to introduce its ideas into the OR and systems literature), the Habermasian perspective was initially privileged, and has received the greater amount of 'air time'. While Foucault's thought has recently begun to ebb its way into the systems literature, we do not believe the historical backcloth, and its position relative to where Habermas is 'coming from', has been clearly drawn. Given the fledgling evolutionary state that critical systems is in, we present the Foucault strand here in contrast to the Habermasian, with the aim to better position it to compete for the informed attention of critical system thinkers. While the Foucauldian view is by no means unproblematic, it offers interesting possibilities for the develop- ment of new approaches to OR/systems. In any event, we argue that critical systems approaches need not necessarily be based on Habermas.

Correspondence: J. Brocklesby, Management Group, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

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We begin by discussing how the idea of emancipation has been used within the context of the current prevailing view about critical systems thinking. This is then backed up by a brief overview of the history of this view from Kant to now. We then describe the alternative view by tracing its lineage from the same point. These 'potted' histories enable us to show how these categories of critical thinking have branched apart. With two views of emancipation thus outlined, we then examine the differences between the two with regard to systems. Our aim is to spark and inform a debate within the systems community as to the relative pros and cons of each as a basis for CST.


In a recent contribution to this journal, Mingers'0 provided an overview of critical management science. We are informed that the premise of critical theory is that the knowledge of our world, produced by the categories of the sciences, is inevitably partial and systematically distorted. This realization sparks an emancipatory interest to become more critically aware and to 'discover understandings and agreements which are more correct and truthful'. Consequently, the critical theory that informs CST must: critique existing theories and approaches, showing that our ways are not true and honest but distorted by their socio-political development; analyse our social structures to reveal the causes of these distortions; and, 'enlighten ordinary people as to their real situation' (Ref. 10, p. 3). The theoretical and philosophical basis for the development and achieve- ment of this agenda is the work of Jurgen Habermas.

Critical Systems Thinking (CST) was first introduced to the systems community by Jackson". It was further developed by Flood3, Jackson2, and by both authors jointly'2, where its method- ological implications were worked through in an approach known as Total Systems Intervention. CST is a research perspective that embraces emancipation as a key commitment. While Flood and Jackson have considered the nature and implications of the Foucauldian strand in some of their work, the emancipation upon which CST was built was explicitly Habermasian (Ref. 12, p. 49). Elsewhere Jackson speaks in terms of human emancipation: 'critical systems thinking is dedicated to human emancipation and seeks to achieve for all individuals the maximum development of their potential. This is to be achieved by raising the quality of work and life in the organisations and society in which they participate' (Ref. 2, pp. 185-186).

The means by which human emancipation is to be achieved is through a form of systems practice known as 'complementarism', or 'methodological pluralism', and it is this approach that is theoretically grounded in Habermas' social theory. Complementarism is based on the idea that systems methodologies make very different assumptions about key aspects of the situations in which they are used. Hard systems methods assume that there is agreement on the nature of the problem that is being addressed, soft systems methods assume that there are divergences of opinion that need to be respected and worked through, and emancipatory systems methods assume that a group of powerful actors is surreptitiously imposing its will upon others. Because these methods make very different assumptions about situations, the idea is that instead of allowing them to compete among themselves for dominance, they can be used in a complementary manner to deal with the different situations for which each is most suited. Alternatively, through what has been described as 'partitioning', they can be used to deal with different aspects of the same situation, or even the same aspect differently construed. Another important aspect of CST is that in putting the various methodologies to work in situations for which they are most suited, users should reflect critically upon how any particular situation is being defined, upon the purposes that are being pursued in a study, and the likely consequences that will accrue.

In this pre-eminent form of CST, Habermas' theory of knowledge constitutive interests provides the epistemological link between complementarism and human emancipation. Essentially, the question is: What knowledge is required to emancipate people? Habermas' core idea is that there are three fundamental interests that underpin the search for knowledge. These are the technical interest, involving the prediction and control of our natural and social environment, the practical interest, involving the development of mutual understanding, and the emancipatory interest,

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involving freeing people from dominating and oppressive power relations. Hard, soft and emanci- patory systems methods support the technical, practical, and emancipatory interests respectively. In CST, human emancipation can only be achieved by addressing all three of Habermas' interests. In order to 'achieve for all individuals the maximum development of their potential', to achieve human emancipation, systems practice (according to the developers of CST) should be concerned with the complementary development of the three major methodological domains in support of the three fundamental interests.

In addition to demonstrating how complementarism can support humnan emancipation, Haber- mas' thinking fulfils another important role in CST. When methodologies from diverse philosophi- cal and theoretical traditions are brought together, such combinations may breach the so-called paradigm incommensurability thesis'3. This asserts that methods from different paradigms should not be combined because of their supposed competing and irreconcilable ontological assumptions about the nature of reality, and epistemological viewpoints about how knowledge about reality should be obtained. Because hard and soft systems methods accede to realist (objective) and nominalist (subjective) views of reality respectively, paradigm incommensurability is seen to be an issue for CST. Jackson and Flood have acknowledged this difficulty. Their solution is to propose that Habermas' theory of knowledge constitutive interests, operating at a meta-level over and above different paradigms can provide a unifying rationale that allows otherwise incommensur- able methodologies to be brought together. In other words, the incommensurable methodologies can brought together via meta-theoretical reasoning. Thus CST has used Habermas' ideas to identify the antecedents of human emancipation, and to provide the theoretical underpinning for the genre of systems practice (complementarism) that enacts this agenda.


In according privilege to any particular viewpoint on a topic, attention is inevitably diverted away from competing views. In relation to the agenda pursued by critical systems thinkers, inves- tigation shows that there is a further strand of critical theory, in many ways similar, but in key ways different, from the Habermasian lineage used in CST. This alternative lineage may be traced through Foucault, Heidegger and Nietzsche, and back to Kant. Our view is not that this is neces- sarily a better genealogy. In fact, in many ways, it is far less noble. But we do believe its message should be heard. To develop an understanding of how and why these two strands of thought came to differ, after coming to be from what could be seen as the same source, we take a step back from the simple description of CST's Habermasian underpinnings and outline, very basically, genealogi- cal conceptions of these two critical perspectives. We begin with the Habermasian strand.

Genealogy 1: the foundations of the house that Flood and Jackson built on Habermas

The type of critical approach originally embodied in CST privileges the thought of Jurgen Habermas. In turn, this may be seen as part of a heritage of critical thinking dating back to Immanuel Kant, through Hegel and Marx. The following, albeit brief, genealogy seeks to explore how Habermas came to be, how this tradition developed, and subsequently the basis of the agenda that critical systems has claimed for itself.

Kant-thefoundational critical thinker

Kant argued that we are only able to understand the world and know truths about it because the mind brings to its task of understanding a set of categories, by means of which it organizes what is experienced. Experience, then, never comes to us raw, but mediated by such categories. Kant's philosophical approach sought to highlight the use of 'synthetic a priori' statements, or categories, that order our knowledge of the world. Synthetic a priori statements are those state- ments that can be denied without logical absurdity (unlike for example: 'that green car is not

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green'), and, at the same time, are neither confirmable nor falsifiable by sense experience (unlike for example: 'staring into the sun burns my eyes'). The statement 'the purpose of organizations is to enable human emancipation' provides a basic example of a synthetic a priori. Kant subse- quently sought to question the use of these a priori assumptions and judgements in different fields.

For Habermas, Kant's thought marks the beginning of the Enlightenment and the modern era14. And, in one of his earliest works, Foucault"5 notes that after Kant's critical revolution 'the world appears as a city to be built, rather than as a cosmos already given' (Foucault related in Ref. 15, p. 140). After Kant, humans needed no longer to merely accept knowledge as given or beyond reach, man could dare to question critically, and 'dare to know'. This then is the take-off point for a critical breed of thinking that will bring us, in the first instance, back to Habermas.

The bridge of thought from Kant to Critical Systems Thinking can be seen to span the thought of Hegel, the later Marx, and the Frankfurt School of critical theorists including Adorno, Hork- heimer, and Marcuse, and Jurgen Habermas. The space available to re-construct this bridge here is narrow, and our argument could have taken in the work of others, perhaps most notably Althusser, Fromm and Reich. Hence the following should be viewed as something of a useful, but rough, working sketch.

Thefamily tree from Kant to CST

Hegel picks up Kant's ball and runs with it, taking the central insight that we order the world as we do because our categories of thought impose a structure upon it, while crucially developing the notion that these structures and categories are not atemporal. The structures shift as times change. While Kant's view of human nature saw humans perpetually divided, torn between reason and brute desires, Hegel's temporal-historical approach suggested to him that this torn-ness was not always so. In ancient Greece, he argued, such conflict was less evident. On Hegel's view, it would be thus again. He set out to show why and how. The history of thought, for Hegel, was the story of the changes of categories and structures over time: from an original harmonious state, through the torn-ness, and onward to the rediscovery of harmony at a higher level.

Hegel argued that Socrates had instigated the original dislocation by posing questions that highlighted the insubstantiality of conventional assumptions. Humankind would continue to be torn, and alienated, until its rationality could figure out how to connect the cleavage. Such dis- sonance was, however, a necessary part of a larger design. It was an essential piece of the historical development towards a pre-destined better place. Historical progress would work inexorably via a dialectic of thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis, thesis and so on, towards this closure. Change was there- fore inevitable, but not the unpredictable outcome of random conflicts. It was part of a system moving toward a pre-ordained state. Hegel referred to this as the state of Absolute Knowledge. This would be a state of absolute freedom, because here, instead of being controlled by external forces beyond their control, humans would themselves be able to begin to grasp, order and take control of their world'6.

Marx takes on many of Hegel's central ideas: that reality is a historical process; that the process progresses through dialectic forces; that the process will culminate in a conflict-free society where humankind can realize its fundamental character in Marx's case that of a productive inter- change, through labour, with nature. These ideas are reflected in the central tenets of Marxist thought. Yet although Marx acknowledged the intellectual debt that he owed to Hegel, Marx's later writings represented a parting in crucial respects. For Hegel, phenomena were consequent to ideas. Thus the reconciliation of alienated thought would eventually see a unified social world emerge. For Marx it was largely the other way round, it was not human consciousness that determined being, but material being that determined consciousness the mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual. Thus Marx characterised his differ- ence with Hegel in his phrase about having found Hegel standing on his head and put him back on his feet' '. Marx continued to see history as a development from self-estrangement to the recovery of a harmonious non-alienated state, but it was the class divisions of capitalism that had vitiated man's fundamental interchange with nature. For Marx, the question of the general charac-

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ter of the social order, and that of the fate of the individual, were inseparable, but explanatory primacy resided in the former. The economic base drives the ideological superstructure.

Hegel showed how the history of thought can be separated into distinct periods of structural categories, Marx's project investigated the structural categories that formed history's different modes of production. Marx saw conflict and disorder as endemic in our times because capitalist categories, structures and assumptions make them so. These structures shape human perception and behaviour so as to prevent us from understanding our material and ideological subjugation, thereby detracting from the possibility for insurrection. However, if we struggle enough, and if we enlist the support of intellectuals to help us to see capitalism for what it really is, the structures can be changed. A utopian state comprising natural consensus, harmony, a unitary vision and a unified science of man, nature and history, may then result. Marx held, in contrast to Nietzsche, whom we shall come to shortly, that if history continually generates new structures of social being, and thus of human behaviour, such a utopia cannot be dismissed as against human nature. At this point, Marx gives this critical train of thought a practical turn: 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point (now) is to change it' (Ref. 17, p. 40).

The so-called Frankfurt School of critical theorists grew out of the Institute for Social Research, an autonomous section of the University of Frankfurt founded in 1923. The main players, Hork- heimer, Adorno, and Marcuse, inspired by Hegelian and Marxist theory yet opposed to the Soviet totalitarian interpretation of Marxism, sought to incorporate elements of psychoanalysis and exis- tentialism into a new form of 'critical theory'.

Horkheimer's critical theory developed into a critique of enlightened reason and rationality. He argued that with the growth and pervasion of science and technology, reason had been reduced to a means-end instrumentality. Difference and particularity were being increasingly suppressed through structural regimes based on the categories of natural science. Horkhimer's work sought to re-assert the knowledge suppressed by such structures18.

Adorno argues further that dialectics must be released from Hegel's original totalizing dialectic19'20, and proposed his negative dialectics as an alternative. Adorno saw the current state not as part of a movement towards the reconciliation of social structures and alienated individ- uals, of the universal and particular, but the domination of particularity by the universality of the categories of subjective reason. This reason conceives of 'knowing' as the mastery of things by concepts, whereby nothing is significant except 'sameness' that which different items share. Nega- tive dialectics lacks a final moment of unification-a unified science. But it does seek a cognitive utopia where concepts are used to 'unseal' things, but without appropriating their uniqueness. Adorno and Horkheimer see the Enlightenment project (perceived as a quest for the emancipation of humankind), as having faltered, but conclude that we should not give up on seeking to emanci- pate humankind. We should instead seek to develop a radicalized form of this same Enlighten- ment project21.

Marcuse also dismissed the suggestion that our understanding of the development of the social world could progress through anything resembling the logic of natural science. Building on his interpretation of Marx, and adding a sociological dimension to Freud's repressive thesis, Marcuse developed his notions of surplus-repression, and the performance principle. The surplus-repression thesis argues that technology and progress have removed the scarcity that stood in the way of civilized development, to the point that what was once necessary repression is now surplus to the task of the maintenance of civilization. Increasingly, repression is only a means of propping up unnecessary forms of social domination. That we should feel the need to perform to the expecta- tions of some allotted order and hierarchy, what Marcuse terms the performance principle, is not a prescription of reality, but manifest repression. Marcuse argued that technical progress has created forms of life, or structures, which appeared to close the cleavage between forces opposing it, and defeat or refute protest as being against the historical prospect of universal freedom from toil and domination, or human emancipation. It is the task of critical theorists to reactivate oppo- sitional forces22.

Against this backdrop, Habermas comes to assume the mantle of the leading figure of the Frankfurt School, and critical theory, in our times (Ref. 10, p. 1). Common to his Frankfurt predecessors, his agenda seeks to reveal the domination of positivistic/scientific/instrumental cate- gories and structures that shape our current world. Following Kant, he sees that our organizing of

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the world in this particular way is not a given ordained by 'reality'. Following Hegel, he can see that our current subjugated state is not a natural given but a historical condition, and sees the need for unification and harmony23. Following Marx, he seeks to develop a theory that can act as a catalyst for the alienated masses to reconnect appearance with essence. Thus he seeks to give his theorizing a practical turn. Following all of these predecessors, he envisages, and seeks a path towards, a collective emancipated utopia.

Habermas' 'practical turn' is developed through what he calls a universal pragmatics. He argues that when we attempt to reach agreement via discussion, we cannot but assume that the condi- tions under which a 'true' consensus could be reached are already in place (otherwise why would anyone bother to enter into discussion). Therefore, Habermas seeks an 'ideal speech' situation, where reciprocity and equality reign. Such a situation makes possible a critique of inequalities of social power not simply based on person value-commitments24. The guiding idea is that consen- sually regulated conflict, where individuals' true undistorted interests are laid bare in a debate among equals, is the highest developmental phase of societal learning, the phase toward which we must be striving. Ultimately, Habermas' quest is a communicative rationality, a situation in which the 'force of better argument' will always prevail25.

Habermas is critical of the dominant scientific notion of reason, but not of what he sees as the aims of the Enlightenment: 'progress through reason', 'faith in humanism' and 'human emancipa- tion'. He believes that these ideals have been mis-managed, but does not wish to dispose of them. Recognizing the way in which history may support inequalities, and with a faith that humankind is both motivated, and able, to overcome such inequalities, Habermas reconstructs, in the true spirit of the Enlightenment, a theory to enable these aims to be fulfilled. This inheritance, adopted by CST, can be seen as the most contemporary episode in the optimistic tradition of the Enlight- enment that can be seen to begin with Kant25.


This strand of Critical Theory, from Kant to Habermas, seeks to unmask the historically imposed structures and categories that govern our conceptions, the way we all think. It seeks to highlight this distorted-ness as a first step in a progressive path towards a better and more honest state. A utopic state, characterized by equality and consensus. It stands on a number of inter- twined assumptions: first, that inequalities of power, of human over human, of category over alternative, should be levelled out, respected and integrated; second, that humans share a basic unitary essence, our intentions are basically 'good' we want to right inequalities; third, it must seek recourse to some system of objective criteria by which particular 'thought-systems' can be judged better or worse, in order that we can know which to collectively undermine and work against, and which to enable; fourth, that we seek, and can achieve 'progress' towards desired states and away from the undesirable; and fifth, that the primary aim of the Enlightenment is perceived as universal or collective emancipation, and that this aim is still a worthy, relevant, and possible one. This is the pedigree of the approach that has, by and large, underpinned the develop- ment of the critical strand in systems thinking.

Genealogy 2 the other trace: the emancipation of self

In its traditional guise, the Habermasian genre of CST aims to develop guidelines for systems practice in which complementary methodologies are used to sustain the foundation theory upon which they are said to be based. These methods should dance to the theory's tune. In considering the alternative trace of critical thought, let us begin by returning to Kant. The following is Kant's definition of critique from the essay What is Enlightenment?, written in 1784:

'Enlightenment is man's exit from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! (Dare to know!) Have courage to use your own reason !-that is the motto of enlightenment.' (Kant related in Ref. 15, p. 140).

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The major players depicted here as being part of an alternative strand-Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault take a different slant on the critical tradition, by focusing on this notion of 'self- incurred tutelage' with respect to critical thinking. On this view, having to respect the logic of systems approaches, such as abiding by Checkland and Scholes 'Constitutive Rules of SSM'26, is just another form of self-incurred tutelage. Here critical theory becomes all about highlighting the idea that any categories, models, or frameworks, whether they be the categories of scientific reasoning or Habermas' theory of knowledge constitutive interests, are subjective, contingent, without any 'natural' foundation. As such they are all dubious. Critical thinking is about thinking for oneself about how these 'unnatural' categories shape ourselves. From this perspective it should be about encouraging individuals to question any set of categories, about freeing themselves to use frameworks in their own ways depending on their own reason and their own circumstances, or to develop their own approaches. And if it is about providing theories or frameworks, then these theoretical approaches should be seen as tools which users can use for themselves as they see fit, rather than methods to be adhered to. We begin our brief genealogical overview of the develop- ment of this alternative critical viewpoint with Nietzsche.


Our self, says Nietzsche, is but the contingent and changing product of a shifting deployment of cultural and corporeal focuses27. Each person's routines turn out, on closer inspection to be a singularly haphazard growth of 'fragment and riddle and dreadful accident', hidden beneath the comforting veneer of 'borrowed manners and received opinion'. Critical thinking, for Nietzsche, belongs to the individual. It is about freeing one's self to see, and sort through, the manners and opinions that any culture has implanted in him or her, thus enabling one to begin to re-style oneself28

In developing Kant's ideas some 100 years after his What is Enlightenment? essay, Nietzsche wrote that we 'must no longer accept concepts as a gift, nor merely purify them and polish them, but first make and create them, present them and make them convincing. Hitherto one has gener- ally trusted one's concepts as if they were a wonderful dowry from some sort of wonderland.' But this trust should be replaced with mistrust: 'What is needed above all is an absolute scepticism toward all concepts.' For Nietzsche, this is what critical thinking is (Ref. 15, p. 303).

Nietzsche disputes Hegel's view that history follows a discernible progression towards a better place29. He also differs from the dominant CST heritage by seeing power as something to be celebrated and embraced by those capable of rising to the challenge. People's will-to-power should not be fettered and kept down by equalizing and normalizing practices, or by a belief in the sovereignty of a muddling consensus or middle way. Such practices simply produce mediocrity, inertia, and, given human nature, become a facade for the surreptitious use of power.


Growing up in Germany a generation later, Heidegger revitalized Nietzsche's work. Heidegger's study of Nietzsche is his largest publication30, and his affinity with Nietzsche and his own philo- sophical prowess, enable him to become perhaps the most insightful interpreter of Nietzsche's ideas. Heidegger conceived his own enterprise to be the 'overthrow' of the metaphysical and scien- tific traditions that have governed Western argument and history since Plato and Aristotle, and particularly 'the destruction of the history of ontology' as Hegel had conceived of it31. He argued relentlessly that these traditions sprang from a forgetting of Being. Heidegger's essential question is: 'Why is there anything, or something, or everything, when there could be nothing?'32 He seeks to reorient questioning away from 'What is this or that?' the questions that modern science unre- flexively applies itself to, towards the question 'What is is?' or 'What is it to Be?' Heidegger argues that we need more critical thought of this nature thought that does not take Being, or anything, for granted, thought which questions all our assumptions. Each person achieves their essence, their humanity, in the process of 'existence', and she or he does so by questioning Being, by accepting that their own particular 'extantness' is questionable.

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The way in which historically produced temporal categories structure existence concerns Hei- degger as it does the critical tradition to Habermas. However, Heidegger tends to focus on the micro level of the individual, rather than the macro level of society as a whole. Each person's being-in-the-world, he argues, is a 'thrown-ness'. Humans are thrown into the world in unique and historical determined directions. Critical thinking, in the Heideggerian sense, is a thinking that questions the way in which historical events have shaped, or thrown, ourselves. The term throw can be thought of here in the sense of shaping clay on a potter's wheel. This mode of thinking consequently questions our supposedly natural modes of being-in-the-world. The knowledge that comes from such thinking thereby threatens all traditional and taken for granted values and assumptions.

Heidegger differed from the earlier described critical tradition in many key respects. He doubts progression toward a collectively better place. Like Nietzsche, he was influenced by a scenario of the fatal decline of the West, a decline paralleling the quest to abstract, order, and normalize affairs33. Heidegger conceives of his own approach to knowledge to be such that it cannot be reconciled to the manner of rational ordering and linear argument that dominates Western con- sciousness. Consequently, he offers no overview of his corpus, or method with which to make humankind better34. The task, for Heidegger is to think Being, experience Being, and to Be; not to generalize, abstract, and idealize Being.

Critical thinking and emancipation for Heidegger is very much a personal matter. One gets free by confronting the real, stark, question that confront one's self, but is at once all too easy to avoid: 'Why am I Being and not nothing?' No person can ask this question for, or of, another. One gets free by recognizing that all Being, all the structures and categories that surround us, are based on nothing but our thrown-ness, and confronting the existential angst that this promotes. No shared utopia, or resolution of this predicament, is on offer. In any event, it is important not to perceive of a resolution awaiting as a result of this process. Heidegger insists that it is only the right asking that matters34. This means of thinking critically is the end, not an instrument towards something else. The purpose is the 'under-way-ness' not the arrival. Emancipation comes from confronting and owning up to one's thrown-ness. This does not, however, mean that we are 'absurdly free', a la Jean-Paul Sartre, and that 'anything goes'. Our thrown-ness, our historical backgrounds, makes certain decisions and paths for the future unlikely or impossible. But we do achieve some sense of liberation in recognizing why this is so, and we do in this way broaden our horizons to an extent. We may, by recognizing the flow of our thrown-ness, by not just uncon- sciously accepting this flow, seek to re-direct it to a degree.

Foucault 'Heidegger has always been for me the essential philosopher. I started by reading Hegel, then Marx, I began to read Heidegger in 1951 or 1952; then ... I read Nietzsche. I still have the notes I took while reading Heidegger ... and they are far more important than the ones I took on Hegel or Marx. My whole philosophical development was determined by my reading of Heidegger. But I recognize that Nietzsche prevailed over him ... (even though) Nietzsche by himself said nothing to me ... Nietzsche and Heidegger-that was the philosophical shock !'34

The influence of both Nietzsche and Heidegger become apparent when one surveys Foucault's thought. The take-off point of Foucault's enterprise is the problem of Enlightenment. His central questions and problems were: 'How can one evaluate inherited concepts?' 'How might one acquire the "attitude" and summon the "courage" necessary to think for onself?' 'Through what styles of reasoning and through what art of living might one escape from one's "self- incurred tutelage"?' (Ref. 15, p. 303). Through a mixed approach combining philosophy, history, and a number of other fields, in different formations, Foucault sought to trace the development of what might be termed 'moral technologies' the systems of thought that regulated knowledge.

The individual, for Foucault, is formed by the weight of moral tradition, always caught beyond control in webs governing thoughts and practice. These forces, for the most part, operate outside our everyday consciousness. He framed his intellectual agenda as the comprehension, to some small degree at least, of the way in which such thought-systems operated. Unlike Marx, and indeed Kant, Foucault made no effort to establish what is true and false, founded or unfounded,

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real or illusory, desirable or undesirable, legitimate or abusive. Foucault recognized no criteria by which a thought-system could be judged true or false, or better or worse. Any thought-system is logical according to its own logic. Different historical thrown-nesses just made them different. In addition, Foucault did not perceive of a unified history operating in the name of progress: 'The forces that are at work in history do not obey a destination or a mechanism, but the hazards of a struggle. They do not manifest themselves as successive forms of primordial intention; they do not always take on the appearance of a result35.' Foucault approached the past as if it were a kaleido- scope containing a number of discrete fragments, not a collective and cumulative learning process: it reveals a pattern, but one largely shaped by contingencies. To move from one episteme (Foucault's neologism for a particular period's epistemology) to another, was to 'twist the kaleido- scope', and create a new pattern. The sequence of patterns obeys no inner logic, conforms to no universal norm of reason and evinces no higher purpose. Macro history, therefore, cannot be regarded as a form of progress, for the latest pattern is 'neither more true or false than those that proceeded it' (Paul Veyne related in Ref. 15, p. 152).

Foucault also, and importantly, framed power in a very different way from that of the tradition to Habermas. Power is everywhere. Always. Following Nietzsche, Foucault recognized the poten- tial for renewed power-combat as endless: 'Humanity does not gradually progress from combat until it arrives at a universal reciprocity, humanity settles each of its violences within a system of rules, and thus goes from domination to domination'36. Power is much more complicated, denser and more diffuse than a body of laws or a state apparatus, or a hegemony used by one class to consciously subjugate another. Power is not a certain strength bodies are endowed with but a complex strategic 'web' in a particular society. Power is not possessed by people or things, it is exercised, and it is no simple matter. Direct confrontation with the bodies that we might expect power to reside within, the government, the media, the law, the police, etc. just strengthens the complex strategic alliances between these bodies.

Power, for Foucault, is always-already present37. In contrast to what the Habermasian tradition assumes, it cannot be separated out, treated, wiped clean or flattened. Power, claims Foucault, 'is tolerable only on the condition that it mask a substantial part of itself. Its success is proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms' (Ref. 38, p. 86). Power imbalances will always be in any system because a large portion of its power mechanisms will always remain out of sight. Foucault did not seek, through his critical approach, to enable harmony and consensus: 'Discovering no longer means finally reading an essential coherence beneath a disorder, but pushing a little bit

'39 further the foam-line of language' Consequent to these intellectual premises, Foucault did not wish to impose a method on his

thought practices, he insisted that his texts were a toolkit, elements of which could be used or discarded by anyone, not a catalogue of theoretical ideas implying some conceptual unity. 'If people are willing to open them and make use of such and such a sentence or idea, or analysis or other, as they would a screwdriver or monkey wrench, in order to short circuit or disqualify systems of power ... all the better'36. And he does unto his own inheritance as he would have done to himself: 'The only valid tribute to thought such as Neitzsche's is precisely to use it, to deform it, to make it groan and protest' (Ref. 38, p. 53-4).

By design, Foucault's critical practice was inimitable. It is up to each individual. It is a question of writing and re-working for 'oneself one's own history' by carefully sorting through the unique dowry of concepts one has inherited, while trying to simultaneously forge new concepts. In this way individuals may think critically by discovering 'to what extent the effort to think one's own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently'38.

In this practice, the role of the expert as therapist, as the solver of other problems, is under- mined. The most important aspect in any situation becomes local knowledge, and local knowledge is generally held by locals with general knowledge, not by consultant experts with specific theoreti- cal knowledge. 'Local' people possess the reason, but after years of being conditioned to privilege, and defer to, the world of experts, they lack the resolution and courage to employ their own reason. Critical theory should enable individuals to regain such courage. 'The intellectual can no longer play the role of the adviser. The project, tactics, and goals to be adopted are a matter for those who do the fighting. What the intellectual can do is to provide the instruments of analysis ... In other words, a topological and geological survey of the battlefield' (Ref. 39, p. 188).

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It is clear that the alternative tradition of critical thinking explored in this section has much in common with that traversed previously. Both seek to show how established conventions, cate- gories, and structures are not necessarily connected to natural reality and that they repress certain other modes of thought and ways of being. However, they clearly also exhibit differences. That stream of thought addressed in the later part of this paper doubts notions of progress towards an idyllic state, where people en masse recover some essence, and debate goals as equals. There is no utopia, only Being, and our 'is-ness' is such that power is always-already. This view of power renders suspicious mankind's intent, or ability, to overcome the insidiousness of power relations. This view respects humankind's diversity to the extent of accepting that there can no longer be unitary resolutions, our moral and practical webs are too complex and too divergent to be recon- ciled. The emancipation it seeks is the use of critical thinking to free the self to think differently.

Thus this alternative view of critical thinking does not pretend to emancipate all by making power go away. It emancipates in three different respects. First, it seeks to enable an individual to see that his or her being is shaped, and hemmed in, by macro structures largely determined by the accidents and quirks of history, our being is shaped by our historical thrown-ness within these frames. Second, critical theorists may develop frameworks, approaches, and tools that can be adapted and used by individuals to unmask some of the mechanisms that sustain the current strategic power system. By highlighting some of the shaping mechanisms, alternatives may be seen more clearly, and the current imbalance of power may be addressed. This may then be a catalyst for local strategising and subversion. We say only some because on the one hand 'power is toler- able only on the condition that it mask a substantial part of itself', and on the other 'power is always'. Therefore, on this line of thought, some power must always go undetected. However, this enables a third emancipatory aspect. This is the sense of freedom that comes from accepting that power cannot be levelled out, and by recognizing that not only may we not see all the systems of power that shape our being, but we will be even less able to understand what is shaping the viewpoints of those with a different thrown-ness from our own. We can never really step into another's thrown-ness. Consequently, we are free to accept that difference will likely, and quite normally, reign over the realistic achievement of consensus. It becomes acceptable to differ irrec- oncilably. We concur with the view propounded by Taket and White9 that rather than consensus, consent to act in group situations is perhaps the best we can realistically do on this critical approach.


It has been the purpose of this paper to present an alternative philosophical grounding to the critical strand of systems thinking as it has most often been conceived. This alternative has been explored. It now remains to outline what this alternative would leave behind and what it would pick up. We do not believe Foucault's thought can be subsumed into a Habermasian framework. Such an integration, as hopefully has become apparent here, does violence to their diversity and at least equal voice. While this paper does not advocate replacing the Habermasian strand with the Foucauldian, it does recognize that a critical approach true to this alternative would be signifi- cantly different.

We may differentiate the two critical strands presented here on six interrelated counts. First, in relation to power, the Habermasian strand sees inequalities of power as something to be over- come. The clarion call is to remove the power that someone, or some sovereign agency, has over someone else. The Foucauldian line of critique sees un-equal power as a dynamic but irrevocable always-already pre-condition for human affairs. Power is not something that can be tracked down and -dealt with, it is thoroughly embedded in everyday life in a non-obvious and deep-seated way. It is a part of our very existence. Foucault's thinking, moreover, would question the traditional critical systems idea that emancipatory methodologies could ever be developed to rescind the subjugation that is characteristic of so-called coercive situations, or that expert analysis could differentiate between situations which are coercive and those which are not. Power cannot be seen

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to reside in objectifiable bodies. Power is always-already, therefore all systems work with some level of coercion. The strategic mechanisms of power in systems that experts may see as unitary are perhaps just better hidden. Consequently, a Foucauldian CST would see itself as applicable in any circumstance.

The fact that one can never hope to completely remove the influence of power on how we see and define the world, the fact that we can never hope to recreate a repressed utopia, does not mean that reflecting critically upon the question of power is an empty gesture. Foucauldian approaches to CST would seek to provide tools which could help people in local situations to 'give voice'40; help them to articulate their positions with regard to the strategic power situation which can be conceptualized as present within their systems. And, subsequently enable them to better develop their own complementary, or counter, strategies.

Second, Habermas' thinking associates CST with humanism, believing that humans all share a unitary essence. The alternative strand of thought, in contrast, is comfortable with the notion that there are no objective criteria by which particular 'thought-systems' can be judged true or false, better or worse. There is no external Archimidean point from which to judge whether what we observe is appearance or essence.

Third, the Habermasian strand seeks progress towards a vision of absolute or universal emanci- pation, the other doubts the notion of progress, and doubts absolutes and universals. Foucault's thinking would cause CST to act more in accordance with local 'patches' and particular circum- stances, as opposed to acting in accordance with general principles towards universal notions of betterment.

Fourth, and relatedly, the Habermasian view asserts that methods should be developed within their respective paradigms. To detach methodologies from their foundational theory denatures them, it does violence to their integrity. The other is no respecter of methodological correctness, individuals should be free to mix, match, deform and develop local approaches as they see fit. If, say, 'locals' wish to detach the 'technology' of SSM from Checkland and Scholes' constitutive rules26 then that is acceptable practice. On this view, CST would be based not on the principle of the 'expert's homology, but the inventor's paralogy'41. That is to say, based on the irregular juxtaposition and 'faulty' logic that spawns invention, as opposed to an emphasis on the conson- ance and sameness of relations that leads to refinement within boundaries.

Thus the Foucauldian line would give more philosophical and theoretical 'space' within which methods may be used. This is not without precedent. Social research, for example, has long recog- nized that methods are underdetermined by paradigms (and vice versa)42, and organization theory, through various means, has painlessly excised the perpetual thorn in the side of Haber- masian CST-paradigm incommensurability43-47. Even Kuhn, the architect of the paradigm concept, admits that logical and philosophical factors do not necessarily suffice as a binder for paradigms48.

Whilst these last couple of points indicate that the Foucauldian line rejects totalizing grand narratives, it is important to note that it would not underwrite non-reflective pragmatism. It is not that anything goes, rather than everything depends. Everything about a system depends upon history Thus, as a fifth point of comparison, a Foucauldian CST would seek to provide tools for the analysis of the thrown-ness of the system and the individuals who play a part in it, its local contextual history. While locals would be able to apply the tools they wished in the manner that they felt appropriate, it would not mean that any recommendations that stemmed from such an analysis would be necessarily feasible or valid. Interpretations of the history of the system in focus would have to be taken into account. Foucault acknowledges the centrality of institutions in constituting human action (an awareness missing, incidently, from several 'postmodern' accounts). Institutional systems make social life patterned, regularized, habitualized and thus subject to rational enquiry49. Thus there may not be a truthful 'grand narrative', but there may well be compelling 'local narratives' to be analyzed and worked with.

Finally, we highlight our main point of comparison between the two views. The dominant view of CST pursues human emancipation improvement in the material, social, and, perhaps most important of all, in the intellectual/cognitive lives of all humans. The other sees as its enterprise the provision of tools for thinking critically, so as to enable individuals to gain control for them- selves of a greater sense of self 'unfettered-ness'. The freedom that comes from this strand of

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thinking critically derives from the fact that one can begin to see, to un-mask, some of the unwritten 'rules of the game', or 'slope of the pitch', not from enabling everybody playing to win. Both strands, following Kant, share the desire to render explicit what would otherwise remain implicit, to 'bring to light' buried assumptions that regulate the way we think, and submit these assumptions to examination. But the key difference is that while the Habermasian view sees this as a means to an end, a step on the way to 'righting the wrongs', the Foucauldian sees this process as the end-in-itself.


As the practical difficulties with applying Habermas' version of critical theory have become more apparent, systems theorists have begun to explore tentatively the potential of Foucault's ideas. Flood and Jackson have both considered the implications of Foucault's work. Jackson in a short piece outlining the postmodern position and its implication for systems2, and Flood in his major Liberating Systems Theory project3. Flood's concern was to develop a broader theory of critique in which he talks about the need to liberate both people and knowledge, especially the knowledge that has been suppressed in systems theory. Thus the Habermasian and the Foucaul- dian strands of critique are brought together. Flood recognizes the tensions between these two strands of critical thinking. However, he argues that both can sustain diversity in systems and the complementarist form of systems practice in particular. Neither perspective, he argues, has to be subsumed by the other. Ultimately they are compatible, indeed necessary components of CST. Flood does concede, however, that achieving a 'meta-unity' between Habermas and Foucault requires that concessions be made. To achieve this, the Habermasian idea that 'truth' comes about from the force of the better argument emanating from debate in a 'true speech' situation is dropped. This responds to the Foucauldian idea that no position can ever be absolutely right, nor can we ever remove the distortions in peoples' perceptions brought about through power rela- tions. Jackson also seems to have responded to the issues raised by the alternative line of critique. The commitment towards critical awareness that appeared in his 1991 work2 may be interpreted as fitting more comfortably with Foucault than it does with Habermas, as does the sociological awareness commitment that appeared in both Jackson2 and Flood and Jackson'2. In a recent paper, Jackson talks about the 'ethical' commitment placed on systems thinkers, and the com- mitment to human emancipation is dropped50. Midgley5' and Mingers4 have also recently sug- gested that Ulrich's Critical Systems Heuristics can, at least partially, provide a sort of critique that bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Foucault.

Much of the recent joint work of Taket and White appears to have obvious Foucauldian ten- dencies. In a paper entitled 'Death of the expert' they outline an alternative approach to OR based on: demystifying the therapy process and therapist; strengthening the 'clients' rights; encouraging active participation; seeing the 'client as expert'; maintaining multiple focus and contextual bases; validating and being accessible to 'consumers'; having a high degree of 'cultural literacy" 0. Else- where they advocate a postmodern approach that involves, among other things: rejecting absolute notions of truth; rethinking the notion of 'expert'; and using fragmented rationalities rather than a unified rationality9.

All of these initiatives, however, appear, in one way or another, pensive about letting go of Habermas completely. The loose approach of Taket and White perhaps come closest, although we wonder how comfortably their concern for 'community' OR, and treating all voices as equally valid, sits with those Foucauldian notions of power informed by Nietzsche. One wonders whether Taket and White (perhaps wisely) really do want to have, eat, and digest all of the implications of the cake that they refer to with such relish (Ref. 9, p. 734). Hopefully the historical perspective provided in this paper may enable systems/OR people to note the differences between these two perspectives and think more clearly about where they wish to stand (or spread themselves as the case may be). It seems clear to us, however, that one cannot remain true to both Foucault's and Habermas' positions. Unless one wishes to be true to Foucault, in which case one only need to be true to oneself.

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Released from a necessary commitment to human emancipation, critical theorists may set about using ideas of critical philosophers like Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault, to provide the tools, maps and courage for people in local situations to emancipate their thinking. Perhaps the empha- sis on the Habermasian line of critique, important as it traditionally has been, and still is today, has diverted attention away from what may turn out to be just as insightful a contribution.

The two streams of critical thinking that we have discussed in the paper share a commitment to removing the repressive structures that govern how individuals think. Emancipation of one sort or another is on both their 'agendas'. Until recently, in the true Habermasian tradition, the critical systems literature has taken its emancipation brief to be the development of practical approaches that would demystify ideology, thereby allowing people to better understand their 'true' situation and to eliminate hegemonic control. The alternative Foucauldian strand does not give up on emancipation, rather it sees it at a microlevel of thought rather than at a macro level of material- ism. 'Freedom can be found-but always in a context. Power puts into play a dynamic of constant struggle. There is no escaping it. But there is freedom in knowing the game is yours to play' (Foucault related in Ref. 15, p. 352). Such a critical approach to systems would not emancipate by enabling everybody playing to win every game, but by enabling individuals to better appeciate the slope of a pitch, or some of the rules of the games they are a part of.

We have presented this alternative underpinning to CST with the aim of enabling members of the systems community to better develop a view as to the pros and cons of each perspective. Obviously neither perspective comes without problems. We hope that this paper will fuel informed debate. It could be that people will come to see that the Habermasian tradition amounts to tilting at windmills, and that any form of consensus toward human emancipation will mask the power- knowledge-violence required to channel diverse human interests. Or, they may decide that the interests of CST (if an agreement could ever be reached as to what these are) are better served, as Habermas suggests, by 'finding beautiful ways of harmonising interests, rather than sublime ways of detaching oneself from the interests of others' (Ref. 25, p. 95). Indeed, disatisfied with either option presented here, we may search with renewed vigour for other, more fruitful, underpinnings altogether.


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Received February 1995; accepted October 1995 after one revision