Dirk Lindebaum

Understanding Freedom

What is freedom? Why does it matter for individuals and organisations and society of which they are part? Whose freedom matters (more than that of others)? And what are the mechanisms through which freedom at work is granted or repressed? These questions appreciably entertain my imagination, both for their intellectual stimulation and practical significance in the context of organisation studies and beyond.

In relation to the first question, Isaiah Berlin once proclaimed that the meaning of the term ‘freedom’ is so porous that it permits myriad interpretations. Part of the problem is the prolonged treatment of ‘freedom’ by moralists and philosophers as a human value. However, once we start interrogating whose values matter, whose values matter more, or whose values should be suppressed, we find ourselves again confronted with Berlin’s observation. Hence, I am interested in exploring theoretical angles in the study of freedom that are less value-based (and consequently perhaps less contentious) and more focused on the idea what the role of freedom (across levels of analysis) might be in sustaining or challenging social order.

The second question as to why freedom matters is intimately linked to Kant’s idea of Enlightenment, or ‘man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity’, immaturity implying ‘the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another’. Can there be freedom if individuals or groups cannot develop that understanding to ‘see through’ power relations without the guidance of others? Can there be freedom if others actively inhibit individuals or groups from developing their own understanding, or if individuals or groups are too afraid to develop it, when they ‘fear’ freedom as Erich Fromm once asked in his book Escape from Freedom? An attempt to answer the question imposes the need to engage more closely with what freedom is, who defines it, and what the consequences are for those who define it, and for those who have their freedom defined by others. In the context of work, these suggestions must take account of the economic system in which we examine what freedom is, and what its possibilities and limits are. For instance, since the roles ascribed to us at work under neoliberalism centre typically on being an independent, entrepreneurially-spirited and productive worker, it is noteworthy that our own aspirations, desires, passions, hopes and dreams in many cases do not align with these roles as Fromm already suggested. Some argue that that the free market ideology of neoliberalism does not appear to make workers free at all – contrary to its surface appeal. Instead, corporations have been described as ‘private governments’, tyrannizing workers into submission, especially those who are lower-skilled and easily replaced. Research on emotional labour and normative control are two further examples in the context of work, and they underline the individual costs of having one’s freedom to feel, think, and act limited. But in times of a rise of authoritarian leaders (even in so-called democracies), a close look at history reminds us of the atrocities that can ensue when we ‘cannot stand’ being free, when socio-economic conditions induce the psychic mechanism to escape from freedom and we, therefore, opt for abject submission to authoritarian or corporate leaders.

The third question, related to mechanisms through which freedom is granted or repressed at work, prompted me to pursue what might appear rather disparate research streams; one in relation to emotional manipulation on the context of work for economic (corporate) gain (as I have argued in my recent book and an essay in AMR), and another in relation to repressive scientific discourses and technologies that have potentially dehumanizing and freedom-limiting consequences for individuals at work, especially in the context of organizational neuroscience (see e.g., recent essays in AMLE, HR, and JMI) and more recently artificial intelligence and big data as well.

It is probably fair to say that my research orientation is decidedly normative in kind, and I take inspiration here from Durkheim who suggested in Division of Labour in Society that only ‘because what we propose to study is above all reality, it does not follow that we should give up the idea of improving it’. In following this injunction, I cannot deny the profound influence of Bob Solomon on my thinking and writing when he said that the role of a philosopher is to be a Socratic ‘gadfly’ that pokes and nudges, or stings the horse into action. Raising informed and pressing questions (even the wrong ones for some people’s taste) is thus guiding principle for me. This approach, naturally, may not resonate with everybody.

Please do get in touch if those ideas fan your curiosity, be it as prospective PhD student, or as someone in quest of a speaker at social movement events or organisational seminars.

    Academic Positions

    • -04/2016

      Professor in Management & Organisation

      Cardiff Business School

    • 12/201510/2015

      Visiting Full Professor

      Hanken School of Economics

    • 03/201612/2012

      Reader in Management

      University of Liverpool Management School

    • 11/201204/2012

      Senior Lecturer in Management

      University of Liverpool Management School

    • 03/201210/2010

      Lecturer in Management

      University of Liverpool Management School

    • 12/200911/2009

      Visiting research fellow

      Griffith University (AUS)

    • 09/201011/2008

      Post-Doctoral Fellow in Organisational Psychology

      Manchester Business School

    Education & Training

    • Ph.D 2008

      Ph.D in Organisational Psychology (ESRC-funded)

      Manchester Business School

    • MSc 2004

      MSc Construction Project Management (distinction)

      London South Bank University

    • Dipl.-Ing 2002

      Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Civil Engineering

      University of Applied Science Münster (GER)

    Awards

    • 2004: Ph.D Studentship (Manchester Business School)
    • 2006: Campion Grant (Statistical Society of Manchester)
    • 2005 - 2007: ESRC Ph.D Studentship
    • 2005 - 2007: Northern Leadership Academy Fellowship
    • 2011: Seed-Corn fund (ULMS)
    • 2013 & 2014: NARTI-funded PhD seminars
    • 2017: Society for the Advancement of Management Studies (SAMS) Grant to run NARTI writer workshop (with C. Gatrell)