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Dissertation Abstract

A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Meaning of Leading Organizations in Chaotic Times Through an Application of Paul Ricoeur‘s Interpretation Theory to John‘s Apocalypse

Jeff R. Hale
April 2010

Unexpected phenomena continually pierce the fabric of the 21st-century organizational context. Conner (1998) asserted that change processes initiated by events, both internal and external to organizations, are continuous. A postmodern analysis of contemporary organizational reality assumes the underlying positivistic assumptions of traditional organizational forms and leadership behaviors are undermined (P. Johnson & Duberley, 2000). Consequently, one can postulate that the fundamental problem for 21st-century organizations and their leaders is the rediscovery of meaning. What does it mean to organize and to lead in chaotic times? This study examines John‘s Apocalypse, found in the Christian Scriptures, to uncover its meaning for leading 21st-century organizations in chaotic environments. Two principles drawn from Paul Ricoeur ground this study‘s approach to the Apocalypse. First, Ricoeur (1976) maintained that the text opens before the reader new possibilities of being-in-the-world. Second, LaCocque and Ricoeur (1998) asserted that, in regard to religious texts, belief with the community or belief in the text is not a prerequisite for accessing the meaning of religious texts. The purpose of this study is to lay the foundation for the continuing development of a philosophy of leading in chaos that is a plausible possibility-regardless of the presence or absence of religious belief-for being-in-the-world oriented toward leading in chaos. Ricoeur‘s (1976) work, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning provides the foundation for this study‘s research procedures and analysis. It is Ricoeur‘s (1981, 1986/1991) extension of his theory of textual interpretation to the domain of social action that establishes its potential for explaining and understanding the actions of organizations and their leaders. The scholarly significance of this study is that it builds on the contemporary concerns of chaos and spirituality in the current literature and adds to a small but growing application of hermeneutic phenomenology in organizational leadership research. It appears unique in two respects: (a) in using John‘s Apocalypse as a source for learning about organizational leadership and (b) in its The Meaning of Leading Organizations in Chaotic Times attempt to establish a philosophical method for developing theory and practice oriented toward leading in chaos.