Toward a semiotic theory of cognitive dynamics in organisations

  • Barend van Heusden
  • René Jorna
Part of the Information and Organisation Design Series book series (INOD, volume 1)


Although in general we have little or no difficulties in speaking and thinking about organisations, describing the empirical reality of organisations is far from easy. Where should we look for organisations? How should we study them? Organisations are markedly elusive. They cannot be treated as empirical entities. What you perceive, when ‘looking’ at organisations, are artifacts (buildings, machines) and behaviour (linguistic and other forms). But neither artifacts, nor behaviour are ‘organisation-like’ in themselves. What is needed, therefore, is something that relates artifacts and behaviour to create a more or less coherent whole. Such a relation is a representation, shared, at least in part, by a number of interacting actors. It is the representation that gives both artifacts and behaviour their meaning. A representation is a mental activity of an actor. It should be clear that we take representations not as referring to some mental activities act upon (‘symbols’), but as a specific type of mental activity, also referred to as ‘cognition’, possibly only found in humans. To define cognition only in terms of (the manipulation of) ‘symbols’ is begging the question (petitio principii), as the symbol implies precisely that mental activity that has to be explained if we want to understand what cognition is. If anywhere, therefore, an organisation resides in the mental activities of the actors. This does not necessarily imply, however, that all the actors involved must represent an organisation in the same way.


Tacit Knowledge Mental Activity Abstract Knowledge Sensory Representation Perceptual Knowledge 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barend van Heusden
  • René Jorna

There are no affiliations available

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