Book Review: The Society of Singularities

New review of the book “The Society of Singularities” by Andreas Reckwitz published in Organization Studies.

“Reckwitz offers a grand social theory of late modernity. His quest is to comprehend and conceptualize the social present. The gist of the book’s argument is that in modernity a societal structural transformation has occurred: the societal logic of the particular has taken precedence over the logic of the general. Reckwitz denotes the distinctive character, which is neither changeable nor comparable, as singularity. Both individuals and collectives, such as groups, organizations, or social movements, may seek exceptionalism. We curate and perform our lives and strive for authenticity, attraction, and positive valuation to generate short-term affective experience and long-term cultural value. This fits squarely with core organization studies concerns and arenas of attention of ‘organizations, organizing and the organized in and between societies’ and has the potential to shape organization theories’ depiction and prediction of social reality.”Unfortunately, wonderful comments by Andreas Reckwitz himself, Daniel Geiger and Oskar Piegsa had to be taken out during the review process. So I’d like to share them here:

Andreas Reckwitz: “The motive of my book was to clarify which consequences the reversal of a phenomenon at the margin into a dominant structure has in society. What happens if the orientation towards the singular, the extraordinary, the authentic – which in classical, industrial modernity was a side-phenomena – turns in late-modernity into a structure everything and everybody strives for and expects?”

Daniel Geiger: “For me this book is a perfect example to prove the analytical richness and explanatory power of a practice lens for studying organizations, the organized and societies. Reckwitz manages to connect the texture of different practices which cannot be studied in isolation – something that is often forgotten in recent practice-based studies. The idea of singularization and the valorization practices that are practiced in economics, culture, and life-stiles have a great potential to explain late modern societies. For me the book holds up a mirror to my own life. In a sense I would argue it is the new “Social Systems” (Luhmann, 1995) for the 21st century.”

Oskar Piegsa: “In Reckwitz I discovered quite a few theories that have been floating around in journalism and in the humanities in recent years. I found traces of David Brooks’ (2000) bourgeois bohemians and of Boltanski and Chiapello’s (1999) ‘Le nouvel Ésprit du Capitalisme’, to name only two. This is not to suggest his work is a meta-study or epigonal. ‘Singularities’ is highly original and its greatest purpose is in providing a grand theory that seems to explain a lot of what is happening today in culture and society. Where others described parts of contemporary culture, Reckwitz tackles the whole thing, all of it. However, I wonder if Reckwitz doesn’t overestimate the value of narrative, originality, and creative work. He argues that every college graduate today works in some way creatively, adding immaterial value to material things. I doubt that. And I’m afraid that categories such as ‘creative work’ or ‘cultural industries’ will lose their descriptive value if we apply them to, well, everything.”

New scientific network “Grand Challenges & New Forms of Organizing”

The German Research Foundation has approveddfg funding for our scientific network. Over the next 3 years the network studies the relationship between societal grand challenges and new forms of organizing.

Grand challenges represent fundamental, global societal challenges of ecological or social nature that require coordinated and collective efforts of multiple actors, including business firms, governments, civil society, and academia. Solving problems like global poverty, climate change or precarious working conditions that emerged as an effect of digitalization and the “sharing economy” are key challenges both for researchers as well as practitioners. At the same time, opportunities arise when considering the role of new technologies and approaches to address grand challenges. They enable the emergence of new forms of temporary, flexible and fluid organizing that may be necessary to discern possible solutions. Yet, academic research that examines the reciprocal relationship between grand challenges and new forms of organization is still nascent.

This network takes an organizational theory perspective on the reciprocal relationship by asking two interdependent research questions. The first question is: What is the relationship between new forms of organizing and grand challenges? Our aim to theorize this relationship is not without complications: On the one hand, examining new forms of organizing in light of grand challenges requires a high degree of theoretical and methodological pluralism in our research. On the other hand, devising practically and managerially relevant solutions requires some degree of consensus among the academic community. The second research question that this network therefore seeks to address is: How can scientific research develop consistent practical implications despite the theoretical and methodological pluralism that pervades organizational research?

Graphical overview:graphical overview

Further information:

Project Duration

June 2018 – May 2021

Funding Agency

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Principal Investigator

Dr. Ali Aslan Gümüsay

Cooperation Partners

Dr. Emilio Marti
Prof. Dr. Hannah Trittin
Dr. Christopher Wickert

Network Members

Dr. Marlen de la Chaux
Prof. Dr. Anja Danner-Schröder
Dr. Katharina Dittrich
Prof. Dr. Leonhard Dobusch
Dr. Sascha Friesike
Prof. Dr. Thomas Gegenhuber
Michael Grothe-Hammer
Dr. Ali Aslan Gümüsay
Dr. Arne Kroeger
Dr. Emilio Marti
Prof. Dr. Dennis Schoeneborn
Prof. Dr. Elke Schüßler
Prof. Dr. Hannah Trittin
Dr. Matthias Wenzel
Dr. Christopher Wickert