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Epistemology chapter 2007

Corbel, P.; Denis, J.P. and Payaud, M. « Ago-antagonisme positivisme/constructivisme : quelques formes de travail épistémique » in A.C. Martinet, Sciences du management – Epistémique, pragmatique et éthique, Vuibert, Paris, February 2007, pp. 261-284


As bibliometric studies show, Epistémologies des Sciences de Gestion, published in 1990, has become an essential reference for French-speaking researchers in strategic management [1]. Thanks to the quality of the contributions and the in-depth studies it inspired, it must be acknowledged that it helped to place epistemological reflection at the centre of debates in management science, and particularly in strategic management. The book was presented as "a beacon, a first, a send-off" (p.X). Indeed, most of the works claiming a constructivist stance refer to it explicitly. Charreire and Huault [2] show, however, that its principles and requirements are not always clearly understood or integrated into research work, particularly doctoral work.
They often retain the idea that this attitude towards the production of knowledge is mainly justified by its opposition to the positivist posture associated with the figure of Auguste Comte. However, it was proposed that in strategy, only the maintenance over time of a dialogical attitude (in the sense of E. Morin) between predominantly disjunctive and analytical postures on the one hand, and synthetic, holistic, and design-assisting postures on the other, was likely to produce knowledge that was simultaneously practicable and robust [3].
This being the case, it would be harmful to remain in an overly clear-cut opposition which, if it were not overcome, would run the risk of becoming sterile. This chapter proposes to support this thesis and, above all, to extend it by reflecting on the concrete ways in which the positivism/constructivism divide can be overcome, inspired by the principles of ago-antagonistic systemics developed over more than fifteen years under the guidance of E. Bernard-Weil.
After an in-depth analysis of the reasons for the positivism/constructivism divide, leading to a justification for going beyond it in the case of strategic management, three ways of achieving this will be presented in turn. All of them draw on the central concepts of ago-antagonistic systemics, such as equilibration (in the sense of J. Piaget) and the maintenance of dynamic tension between pairs of opposites. The three approaches outlined have in common the desire to help manage this tension. The first proposes that the process of producing knowledge for scientific purposes should be seen as a flux oscillating between epistemic dominants of different natures. The second proposes that recourse to the production of configurations is a fertile way of managing the simplification/complexification pair and thus helping the design activity. The third analyses the potential contribution of an approach based on propositional systems.

[1] Boissin, J.P. ; Castagnos, J.C. et Guieu, G. (2001) « Ordre et désordre de la pensée stratégique » in Martinet, A.-C. et Thiétart, R.-A., coord., Stratégies – Actualité et futurs de la recherche, Vuibert, p.27-42
[2] Charreire, S. et Huault, I. (2002) « La recherche constructiviste en sciences de gestion : quelle cohérence épistémologique ? » in I. Dostaler, H. Laroche et O. Boiral (dir.), Perspectives en management stratégique - tome VIII, Management & Société, p.265-279
[3] Martinet, A.-C. (1990b) « Epistémologie de la stratégie » in A.C. Martinet (dir.), Epistémologies et Sciences de Gestion, Economica, p.235.

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