Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Death of Chris Argyris

Chris Argyris passed away on November 16th.  He made a very significant contribution to Systems scholarship, often in collaboration with the late Don Schon. That said he may not have claimed such an achievement as his work has usually been framed as in the field of organisational learning.

Only today I found myself using the distinctions these authors made between espoused theory and theory-in-use, which is explained on 'Resource Papers in Action Research' in the following terms:

"Argyris and Schon (1974) assert that people hold maps in their heads about how to plan, implement and review their actions.  They further assert that few people are aware that the maps they use to take action are not the theories they explicitly espouse.  Also, even fewer people are aware of the maps or theories they do use (Argyris, 1980).
To clarify, this is not merely the difference between what people say and do.  Argyris and Schon suggest that there is a theory consistent with what people say and a theory consistent with what they do.  Therefore the distinction is not between "theory and action but between two different "theories of action" (Argyris, Putnam & McLain Smith, 1985, p.82).  Hence the concepts Espoused theory and Theory-in-use:

Espoused theory
The world view and values people believe their behaviour is based on
The world view and values implied by their behaviour, or the maps they use to take action"
Based on: Anderson, L.  (1994).  Espoused theories and theories-in-use: Bridging the gap (Breaking through defensive routines with organisation development consultants).  Unpublished Master of Organisational Psychology thesis, University of Qld.

My appreciation to Rupesh for alerting me to Argyris' death.

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