A dialectical approach to the politics of learning in a major city police organization

Bristow, Alexandra; Tomkins, Leah and Hartley, Jean (2021). A dialectical approach to the politics of learning in a major city police organization. Management Learning (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1350507621991996

Abstract

In this paper we develop a dialectical approach to the organizational politics of learning, exploring complexity, tensions and asymmetries. Turning this kaleidoscopic lens on our empirical setting, a major city police organization, we mix the blue light of police vehicles into Driver’s (2002) ‘fluorescent’ light of office workplaces, fragmenting the brightness of ‘Utopian sunshine’ and the darkness of ‘Foucauldian gloom’ perspectives on organizational learning, and making visible a wider spectrum of political colours of learning. We identify four interdependent political modalities of learning: empowering, coercive, insurgent, and palliative, and explore how they interplay in complex and contradictory ways. We note that, whilst mainstream and critical literatures tend to focus on organizational learning as, respectively, empowering and coercive, and to a lesser extent insurgent, much of the politics of learning in our study converges in the palliative modality, where the emphasis is on learning-to-cope (rather than learning-to-thrive, learning-to-comply or learning-to-resist). We show that the palliative modality of learning is in many ways an outcome of the dynamic and complex engagement between the other three modalities. We discuss the implications of our findings for a more nuanced understanding of learning as political, and of the relationship between organizational learning and power.

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