Drawing as a method of organizational analysis

Authored by: David R. Stiles

The Routledge Companion to Visual Organization

Print publication date:  August  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415783675
eBook ISBN: 9780203725610
Adobe ISBN: 9781135005474


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Drawing pictures is one of the oldest and most universal forms of human expression. It predates the use of written language by thousands of years and is practised across almost all human cultures. It is also one of the most powerful and versatile means of communication, with the capacity to arouse strong emotions and provide a readily accessible conduit for ideas. Drawing has never been just about reproducing nature. Indeed, it is believed the first bison and reindeer pictures were drawn on cave walls not as decoration, but as magical devices to help the real animals succumb to the prowess of hunters (Gombrich 1995). Over millennia, drawings have provided a huge range of social functions, including developing imagination through play (Lowenfeld 1987); projecting deep-set mental states (Semeonoff 1976); supporting and critiquing social, religious and political ideas and enhancing and distorting perceptions (Gombrich 1982). Drawings also help convey technical and imaginative knowledge difficult to communicate in other ways (Meyer 1991). Yet, despite being an innate human activity, drawing is still uncommon in social and organizational research. As with other forms of image, this is partly because of concerns about intellectual property and reproduction costs in publishing. However, digitalization and the Internet have brought costs down considerably over the last decade, so more salient explanations may involve academic reluctance to embrace images. Fyfe and Law (1988) suggest images tend to be perceived as ‘subversive’ and are disregarded in sociology’s search for a distinct identity from fields such as art. Although verbal discursive analysis has become much more widespread (see Ezzamel and Willmott 2008) in social sciences, dominant realist ontologies and positivist epistemologies continue the assumption that words and numbers somehow represent more ‘scientific’ modes of analysis (Stiles 2004a).

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