Raymond Caldwell: Agency and Change in Organizational Theory

  • Mark Hughes
Living reference work entry


How we conceive our capacity for “agency” in the world has enormous implications for how we think about the possibilities and limits of our ability to manage change in organizations and society. For Raymond Caldwell, agency is the prism through which we think about change. If we conceive ourselves as things, as “substances” that simply think and act intentionally or rationally, we will end up with extremely limited epistemologies for understanding agency. For Caldwell the old models of knowledge and power, rationality and control, and agency and structure in organizations have fallen apart. The idea of “distributed agency” partly captures this reality by treating change as an ongoing process defined by practices, which in turn questions explanations of change that rely on intentional action or abstract notions of organizations as entities that change from one relatively fixed state to another. In sum, he treats agency as a practice and change as a process. But Caldwell’s recent work, partly under the philosophical influence of Whitehead, takes these ideas further by including the nonhuman in how we define distributed agency: agency is potentially everywhere in a social-material world in which the ontological divide between the social and the natural world no longer makes much sense. Always provocative, always challenging, Caldwell’s work is an important contribution to redefining the boundaries of how we think of agency and change in organizations. After briefly noting some early influences on Caldwell’s work, the chapter organizes his contributions into three major phases: agency and change, agency as practice, and change as a process. A key insight section then reflects on how his early contributions have influenced others. The chapter concludes with legacies and new directions in Caldwell’s search for a process-in-practice perspective on organizational change.


Process Practice theory Agency Organizational change 


  1. In terms of further reading, my own personal recommendation would be to start with Agency and Change (Caldwell, 2006). It is a difficult read, but it brings together Caldwell’s passions about the value of philosophy and social theory in critically advancing organizational change theory, and it is busting with research questions. If, however, one wants to explore the three phases of Caldwell’s work, then his separate articles on Foucault, Schatzki, and Whitehead are useful signposts (2007, 2012, forthcoming 2018). Finally, two insightful articles on Senge published in 2012 are also worth highlighting, because they cover an aspect of Caldwell’s work on “system thinking” which preoccupied him in Agency and Change and which, I suspect, may reappear, given his long-standing interest in complexity theory as a theory which allows for self-organizing disequilibrium and system change, simultaneously (Caldwell, 2006, p. 99).Google Scholar

Selected References

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HR Research

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Weber Scholarship

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Further Reading

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  5. Caldwell, R. (2018). Whitehead and organizational change theory: Rethinking process, becoming and agency. Organization Studies (under review).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brighton Business School/CROMEUniversity of BrightonBrightonUK

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