Wabi-sabi (侘寂): Imperfection, incompleteness and impermanence in organizational life

Call for Abstracts for SCOS/ACSCOS Conference
(Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism (SCOS) and Australasian Caucus of Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism (ACSCOS))

August 17-20 2018
Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan

Don’t imitate me
It’s as boring
As the two halves of a melon
Matsuo Basho

Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen

Wabi-sabi is an approach to life based on accepting the transience and imperfection of the world. As a Japanese aesthetic derived from Buddhism, wabi-sabi embraces the wisdom that comes from perceiving beauty in impermanence and incompleteness. What might such advocacy of the harmony to found in the flawed, faulty, and weathered have to do with formal organisations, obsessed as they seemingly are with continually striving for perfection? The very ideal of perfection, as an antithesis of wabi-sabi, is embedded in managerial efforts as diverse as striving for continuous improvement, setting ‘stretch’ targets, managing the performance of ideal employees, promoting organizational cultures of excellence, and even the romanticized perfect bodies of employees. Is it then the case that the managerial aesthetic of organizations is the antinomy of wabi-sabi?

The idea for this conference is to explore how the wabi-sabi aesthetic can offer a counterpoint to the forms of idealization that dominate so much of managerial and organisational thinking. This is an exploration of how ideas from an ancient Eastern tradition might fruitfully be brought to bear on organisational issues, challenges and problems, especially as they are dominated by Western intellectual habits and foibles. Wabi-sabi as a theme explores the imperfect idea of a dividing crack between ‘the East’ and ‘the West’ that we hope conference participants will illuminate with the sort of effervescent creativity and fluid thinking that have characterised SCOS and ACSCOS conferences in the past.

We invite submissions that consider any of the possibilities through which principles of transience and imperfection are present in, or can be made relevant to, organisational life. Central to this is how organisations have long been exemplars of containment that wilfully defy any recognition of the importance of transience, flux, and fluidity. The edifice of knowledge and its insistence on the reduction of difference and undecideability can, however, have disastrous political and social effects. Undoing the desire of such rock solid certainty might just prove to be essential for developing ethical openness to others. Is it then possible that wabi-sabi’s emphasis on transience and imperfection offers a path appreciating ethical relations and challenging oppressive organizational regimes that violate humanity?

The 2018 SCOS/ACSCOS Conference is a joint conference. For the first time the annual SCOS conference will be combined with the ACSCOS conference which was last held in Sydney in 2015. There is also another first, that SCOS has never before been held in an Asian/Pacific country. Pursuing these new dimensions to SCOS will ensure that it is a memorable experience. As part of this the local hosts at Meiji University have arranged numerous activities that we can participate in which will help all delegates directly experience wabi-sabi during the conference.

Contributions may find inspiration from the following list of potential themes:

• The desire for perfection in organisations, careers, and lives
• Mindfulness, organising, managing, leadership, and followership
• Western philosophy’s engagement with Eastern philosophy though, for example, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Irigaray, as well as Eastern philosophy’s engagement with Western philosophy, for example Nishida, Watsuji, and Yuasa, and its implications for organisations
• The idealization of Japanese management practice in Western management theory, in for example kanban (lean just-in-time process), jidoka (stop everything!), babyoke (automated mistake proofing), poka yoke (mistake proofing)
• Imperfection as a new organizational ideal
• Undecidability and the ethics of not-knowing
• Living imperfect lives at work
• Imperfection as lack, critiques of patriarchal organisation
• Western preoccupations with completeness and totality
• An organisational aesthetics of im/perfection and transience
• Eastern and Western ideals of beauty and cultural perfection
• Symbols of imperfection, imperfect bodies, the monstrous
• The politics and ethics of failure
• Impermanence and organising
• Global transitions and transience
• Simplicity and/or quietness in organizations
• Enlightenment (satori)
• Desolation and solitude or liberation from the material world
• Inspiration for wabi-sabi expressed in the arts (music, flower arrangement, gardens, poetry, food ceremonies)

The conference is hosted by Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan. The conference organizers are Masayasu Takahashi (Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan), Masato Yotsumoto (University of Nagasaki, Sasebo, Japan), Toshio Takagi (Showa Women’s University, Tokyo, Japan), Alison Pullen (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia), Carl Rhodes (University of Technology Sydney, Australia), and Janet Sayers (Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand).

Abstracts of no more than 500 words, in pdf format, should be submitted as e­mail attachments by December 1st 2017 to scos2018@gmail.com. You may also direct any queries to this address. If you need a refereed conference paper in order to satisfy funding requirements for your travel please make this clear on your submission.

There are a limited number of bursaries available to assist students to participate in the conference. Please indicate on your abstract proposal if you are a student and if you wish to apply for a bursary.

Open stream
SCOS/ACSCOS 2018 will also have an open stream, allowing for the presentation of general papers that do not fit this year’s conference theme but are of interest to the SCOS/ACSCOS communities. Please identify “open stream” on your abstract, as appropriate.

We also welcome proposals for longer sessions run in a workshop format. Outlines of workshops should be the same length as a paper abstract and should give an indication of the resources needed, the number of participants, the time required, the approach to be taken and the session’s objectives. Please identify “workshop” on your abstract, as appropriate.

The Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism