There have been several political and philosophical ideas that have culminated in utopia, a blissful journey’s end. For example the Marxist materialst view of history holds that “state interference in social relations becomes…. superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things….” (Engels). In such instances, ideology and the development of thought have no further place, or use.
The same conclusion – albeit from an entirely different perspective – was drawn by Daniel Bell is his famous work The End of Ideology (1960) borrowed for the title of this post. He argued that the ideologies that had shaped the world to this time had ceased to be useful, and that we had entered an age where tinkering with the mechanics of the economy and society was all that remained useful. Not, therefore, that we had reached our promised land after hard-fought struggle fuelled by idealism and stubborn dreams, but that we had ground ourselves into a self-perpetuating reality governed by common sense.
As a microcosm of broad polity, the workplace sector has had its fair share of idealists and dreamers, pushing and elbowing towards a promised land freed of time, place and corporate constraint. Despite a burst of thoughtful activity during the GFC that some may at the time have considered a new renaissance – but which was in fact a large number of under-employed professionals understandably looking for ways to stimulate interest (and business) – effectively the sector has stagnated intellectually.
I therefore pose a question – have we reached our own end of ideology? Here are some possible reasons why this may be the case, each of which being debateable in its own right:
- The communality of the brief – the gradual alignment of almost all corporate workplace requirements, sprinkled with a smattering of brand differentiation, driven by the understandable need for conformity, safety and the control of costs – who can afford to experiment?
- Old wine in new bottles – the endless recycling of ideas and concepts purported to be fresh, but in effect trawled from anywhere from the middle ages to the 20th century, the latest being the overblown “Activity Based Working” (ABW) which is nothing that we didn’t practice at High School.
- The emergence of thinking and writing on social business, subsuming considerations in the workplace field of culture, organisation and community within a larger, broader-based, enlightened and progressive body of activity.
- The distance we would need to go to move beyond the Workplace 1.0 in which we are rooted. While some have proclaimed the advance of workplace change (I even heard reference to Workplace 4.0 recently), it has not progressed in the same fundamental manner that say the Web went from 1.0 (flat pages) to 2.0 (user generated content and applications). We must not confuse changes in technology with workplace change. Transofrmations that might move the dial are those such as totally reconfigurable space, where the workplace mirrors social structures and control is relinquished…. or space is entirely and openly shared with the surrounding community, freely accessible and given, allowing everyone to seamlessly locate wherever they require. Stuff that was once as scary as letting people post their own ramblings on the Web.
The natural constraints of the workplace itself and our practices within it may inherently constrain the ideology it is likely to spurn. Have we ground ourselves into an unexciting, self-perpetuating reality governed by common sense?