Intervention and Change

  • David Knights


Almost by definition Operational Research (O.R.) involves intervening in the routines of conventional goal-oriented human practices for purposes of promoting change in the direction of a more rational and effective use and co-ordination of means towards specific ends. In this sense it is and cannot help being engaged in strategies of power. Now depending on whether one looks at power as wholly negative and repressive or as also positive and productive of subjective well-being, this may or may not imply direct criticism of O.R.. In this brief introduction to intervention and change, I want to suggest that the critics of positivist or conventional O.R. practice are right to draw attention to the neglect of the role of power and interpretation in the ‘object’ to which O.R. applies its expertise but wrong to assume that this — and especially their own — power can be eradicated. After a discussion of the epistemological and methodological dilemmas facing O.R., the paper assesses critically the critique of positivism and its relevance for the discipline. Drawing upon the work of Foucault (1970, 1980, 1982), it is concluded that as a major strategy of intervention designed to create change, O.R. has power effects that constitute subjects in its image which, in turn, will always be resisted in varying degrees. My argument is that to reform O.R. is to struggle with this resistance in ways that render the discipline more stable in its power relations and thereby productive of subjectivity.


Management Science Soft System Methodologist Sort System Positive Knowledge Ideal Speech 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Knights
    • 1
  1. 1.School of ManagementUniversity of Manchester Institute of Science and TechnologyManchesterUK

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