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Publication - Dr Mary Phillips

    Imagining a sustainable future

    Eschatology, Bateson’s ecology of mind and arts-based practice


    Gaya, PC & Phillips, ME, 2016, ‘Imagining a sustainable future: Eschatology, Bateson’s ecology of mind and arts-based practice’. Organization, vol 23., pp. 803-824


    In the face of multiple ecological crises, critical management studies (CMS) scholars have focused on exposing how mainstream organizational discourses refute the need for fundamental shifts in society to bring about a sustainable future, emphasizing instead incremental improvement underpinned by a business case approach based on eco-efficiency. While some CMS researchers go on to stress the necessity of fundamental paradigm shifts, even this more radical discourse by and large fails to provide an imaginative, hopeful vision for organizational practice and theorizing in service of ecological sustainability. We propose that an ‘eschatological imagination’ (Alison, 2010; Shields, 2008) would add a much-needed action- and future-oriented dimension to the CMS research agenda on sustainability. Eschatology focuses on the coming of a new era through a concern with the creative overcoming of hegemonic stories through the enactment of counter-stories. We present three frame-breaking qualities of eschatology: first, a ‘rhetoric of hope’; second, the ‘aesthetic harmonization of contrasts’; and third, ‘possibilities for flexible imitation’. Drawing on the work of Gregory Bateson as an illustrative counter-story, we explain how an eschatological framework enables a critical yet imaginative and future-oriented engagement with ecological challenges. Finally, we offer a tentative example of such experimentation: the work of an activist eco-poet which begins to show how defamiliarizing narratives demonstrating these qualities can inform research practice.

    Full details in the University publications repository