Traverses

The problem with the idea that « only what can be measured can be managed » : Bataillean intuitions

par Mollie Painter-Morland  Du même auteur

George Bataille is perhaps best known for his contributions to our understanding of how and why we love, but in what follows, we will explore my intuition that he may have some important things to say to management scholars. His political economy is a treasure trove of historical analysis, a true interdisciplinary exploration, and in many ways a playful experimentation that draws us into a reconsideration of what makes us human. Bataille’s writing performs its view on the world, rather than simply stating it, being daring in its propositions, generous in its detail, even excessive in the boldness of its claims. In this way, it succeeds in pulling us towards a radical revision of who we think we are as agents, and the management strategies that flow from such understanding. Bataille challenges our belief in homo economicus, our typical way of thinking about agency within a restrictive calculative perspective preoccupied with scarcity. In return he paints a vivid picture of the often excessive « play » of living organisms. What emerges is a situated, relational human, which we may better describe as « homo ecologicus[1] ».

What Bataille may help us understand, is that we do not gather « facts » to weigh our options to make decisions based on utility and profit. Instead, what we value is driven by subjective desire, rooted in complex relational networks that operate as the basis of both constraint and opportunity, intuiting the best ways to remain in relation. We are always in the process of loving, acting, living – we relate first, and rationalize after the fact, in retrospect, always too late. This perspective urges us to rethink the ontological basis of facts versus value distinction. « Facts » are not to be measured, calculated and traded. Instead it is to be observed, understood, and experienced. In reality, it does not exist as such, but is bound up with our ongoing processes of valuation and our experiments in relating to others.

Beyond calculation… Sovereignty

The problem with the idea that only what can be measured can be managed, is that it leads to « misery thought », a calculative mindset that can only justify the expense of time, energy and resources when it will pay off in terms of a neat cost-benefit analysis[2]. Bataille’s political economy helps us understand our proclivity towards excess, non-calculative expenditure and relational exuberance, which characterize human behaviour and systems, but in a real sense, all life. He describes the three luxuries of nature, i.e. eating, death and sexual reproduction, as intimately related examples of our basic proclivity towards excess. Death is an inevitable, accidental consequence of eating another species, but death itself, as the inevitable passage of the generations over time is also an exuberant dispersal of molecules and energies, without which no new life can come into being[3]. In a real sense, our embodied life merely traps our molecules only temporarily, and they long to be freed. This desire to escape our bodily constraints is also evident in sexual reproduction, since in it, the individual foregoes his/ her own growth and creates another, generously caring and giving, indefinitely. Yet Bataille goes even further to suggest that the sexual act goes far beyond what is reasonably necessary for reproduction – for him the sexual act is in time, what a tiger is in space – luxurious, excessive, destructive[4]. A squandering of energy, the ultimate luxury. What we witness is what Bataille calls « a draining away, a pure and simple loss, which occurs in any case[5] ». There is no way in which this loss can be explained a somehow useful, because it is not at all a question of utility, but rather one of acceptability, which is a thoroughly subjective and relational affair.

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