Translating Anarchism in a Voluntary Sector Organization
Although foundational texts in Critical Management Studies (CMS) pointed to the empirical significance of anarchism as an inspiration for alternative ways of organizing (Burrell, 1992), relatively little work of substance has been undertaken within CMS to explore how anarchists organize or how anarchist principles of organization might fare in other contexts. This paper addresses this gap by reporting on the experiences of a UK Voluntary Sector Organization (VSO) seeking to adopt non-hierarchical working practices inspired by anarchism. The paper analyses this process of organizational change by examining how ideas and practices are translated and transformed as they travel from one context (direct action anarchism) to another (the voluntary sector). Whilst the onset of austerity and funding cuts created the conditions of possibility for this change, it was the discursive translation of ‘anarchism’ into ‘non-hierarchical organizing’ that enabled these ideas to take hold. The concept of ‘non-hierarchical’ organization constituted an open space that was defined by negation and therefore capable of containing a multiplicity of meanings. Rather than having to explicitly embrace anarchism, members were able to find common ground on what they did not want (hierarchy) and create a discursive space for democratically determining what might replace it.