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Agency and the Anstoß

Max Planck Directors as Fichtean Subjects

Vita Peacock

One of the core assumptions in agency theory has been that agency is a primordial attribute of persons: an agent is 'the origin of causal events'. However, rather than situating agency at the origin, this article argues that we should a end to where agency, within a given context, itself originates. In Germany's Max Planck Society the departmental heads – so-called 'directors' – possess a significant degree of 'agency' in realizing their personal will. Yet they are not its authors. On the contrary their agency is a secondary product of the philosophies of German Idealism, which eulogize the subjectivity of a heroic intellectual. In this analysis, the agency of the directors is not a precondition of their humanity, but the off spring of a specific cultural inheritance which frames the organization's intramural life. Organizational theorists should thus pay close attention to the geo-cultural location of their object before drawing conclusions about agency.

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Vita Peacock and Philip Kao

What is the relation between our own daily activity and the organizations that almost all of us are members of? This seemingly simple question has dominated the social study of organizations for over a century, and the responses to it can be very broadly parcelled out into three alternative perspectives.