vendredi 5 juin 2015

Overflows & Politics.

Prof. Bourbaki, Cycle of Framing & Overflowing, 2015 (derived from Nooteboom, 1999)
The key question is, of course, 'Where do such combinations lead?' As I have already noted, if overflows are first considered a problem, they eventually appear as an extraordinary resource for reflexivity, awareness and invention. Management often suspends thinking because of its primary reliance on given procedures and routines (Cyert and March, 1963); the emergence of overflows stops automatic answers and opens the way for criticism, reassessment and innovation.

The lessons learned are ambivalent. On the one hand, the collection of chapters stresses the surprising creativity attached to overflow management. Overflows are largely unexpected events. Largely, but not completely. See what happens in consumer markets: the unexpected flow of goods experienced on the demand side (Brembeck; Ekström; Czubaj) is fully controlled on the organizational side. Management is about producing, and products and services are produced to overflow markets. In the marketing economy, overflows are neither side effects nor the unwitting results of excessive framing; they are voluntary productions. For a long time, historians of consumption have shown the extent to which the production of marketing overflows paralleled the industrial revolution (McKendrick et al., 1982). Significantly, the Protestants, who as we all know were ascetically saving at work, were also frenetically consuming at home, at least by proxy (Mukerji, 1983; Campbell, 1987). To a certain extent, this volume celebrates creativity, in describing overflow producers as contemporary versions of Michel Serres' (1982) parasite. In several situations, managing overflows is a parasitic activity, in Serres' positive sense of the term: an activity aimed at giving value to that which others discard.

To use another metaphor, overflow managers can thus be presented as modern alchemists who succeed if not in turning lead into gold, at least in turning noise into positive sound (Willim), waste into biogas (Corvellec), and space emptiness into full human exchange (Raviola). Management is often acknowledge as a matter of framing, channeling, organizing a given entity. Here, we discover that management is also a matter of invention or transmutation. At least when facing overflows, management hybridizes with engineering, and powerfully contributes to human creativity.

But on the other hand, the production of overflows goes with an overflow of new problems and questions. For Czubaj, who meets Naomi Klein's (2000) former conclusions, the consumerist overflow of goods is produced as a pure sham. We think that we face infinite choices, but each item is merely an illusory variation of a same product. If Czubaj is correct, one could say that the Western capitalist economy ironically reinvents the old Soviet supply of unique generic products in a more perverse way, as the uniqueness of each good is now hidden behind the overflowing shams of diversity. If not illusory, creative overflows are at least ambiguous, upstream as well as downstream. Waste can well be converted into biogas, for instance, but this apparently positive production cannot exist without more questionable overflows of waste upstream (Corvellec) and green gas emission downstream. Even when neither illusory nor ambiguous, overflows run badly. In Raviola's Hundred Offices case, however astute may be the decision to pair artists with empty business space, this creative scheme proves difficult to implement, even in the most favorable cases, because of the difficulty of playing the 'connection vessels' game with 'non-homogeneous' liquids. And even when implemented, overflow management is often bypassed by the emergence of new types of overflows: the 'overplanning' of Tapiola's garden city is submersed by the prosaic forces of noise disturbances and car traffic flood (Pantzar). Last but not least, several overflow management schemes must face more discrete 'leaks' - problems or promises - when music escapes the dikes of property management systems, for instance (Wenzer). This issue introduces a fascinating distinction between two notions that are often confused. An overflow goes above a dike; a leak goes beneath or through it. An overflow often comes from the outside; leaks come from the inside. If less spectacular, are not leaks more frequent than and as transformative as overflows? In this respect, it would probably be worthwhile to avoid any leak from this project, to stick with the flow of research it opened, and to complement the study of overflow with the study of leak management. 

Franck Cochoy, Afterword: overflows as boundary events between organizations and markets in Barbara Czarniawska & Orvar Löfgren (eds.), Coping with Excess, How Organizations, Communities and Individuals Manage Overflows, Edward Elgar, 2013, p.276-278.

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