Ralph Stacey: Taking Experience Seriously

Living reference work entry


Ralph Stacey is one of the pioneers in taking up insights from the complexity sciences in organizational theory. Trained in South Africa and the London School of Economics as a macroeconomist, and latterly as a group therapist, Stacey has combined abstract analytical thinking with an interest in experience, the emotions, a sense of self, and belonging, which make us human. From his interdisciplinary education and experience in industry he has developed a perspective on organizations which combines insights from both the natural and social sciences. This has led to a substantial body of publications with international renown. From the sciences of complexity he argues by analogy that organizations are iterating patterns of human interaction, never in equilibrium, which cannot be controlled by any individual or group. From the social sciences he focuses on the importance of our interdependence, expressed through power relations, and daily conversational activity. Sixteen years ago, and with two close colleagues, he founded a group-based professional doctorate, which runs psychodynamically. The program encourages practicing managers and leaders to focus on their daily experience of managing in uncertainty. In starting this program, he has recreated the best traditions of the Academy dating back to the ancient Greeks, where students and staff engage together in reflective conversation about the things which matter to them, provoking each other to think. Though he is well past retirement age Ralph is still a faculty member, raconteur, and conversationalist, participating in ways which make us all, faculty and students alike, more fully ourselves.


Complexity sciences Complex responsive processes of relating Experience Ralph Stacey Doctor of Management Process sociology Pragmatic philosophy 


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Further Reading

  1. The most recent and comprehensive statement of Stacey’s work is to be found in the 7th edition of the textbook published in 2016 (Stacey and Mowles 2016). Meanwhile for a lighter and briefer overview of some of the key ideas, readers may be interested in: Mowles, C. (2011) Rethinking Management: radical insights from the complexity sciences, London: Gower. For an exploration of one of the key concepts of complex responsive processes, paradox, then Mowles’ next book (2015) Managing in Uncertainty: Complexity and the Paradoxes of Everyday Organisational Life, London: Routledge, might be helpful, as might a chapter he wrote on one of the key contributors to the theory of complex responsive processes, Norbert Elias: Mowles, C. (2015) The Paradox of Stability and Change: Elias’ Processual Sociology, in Garud, R., Simpson, B., Langley, A., and Tsoukas, H. (Eds) The Emergence of Novelty in Organizations, Oxford Oxford University Press :pp.245–271. For an insight into how the DMan program is run as a research community drawing on the ideas of the pragmatists and methods from group analytic practice then there are two articles in press. These explore the potential contribution of group analytic thinking to critical management education based on 16 years’ experience running the DMan, and, inversely, explain critical management thinking and practice to group analysts: Mowles, C. (in press 2017) Experiencing uncertainty – on the potential of groups and a group analytic approach for making management education more critical, Management Learning, and Mowles, C. (in press 2017) Group analytic methods beyond the clinical setting – working with researcher-managers, Group Analysis.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hertfordshire Business SchoolHatfieldUK

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