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Schlicht, Ekkehart (1979): The Transition to Labour Management as a Gestalt Switch. In: Gestalt Theory, No. 1: pp. 54-67




The essay contains a highly speculative theory of social change together with an application to the theory of labour management. It draws on previous work done by the author (1972, 1978), partly in collaboration with C.C.v.weizsäcker (Weizsäcker/Schlicht 1979). In Part I the proposed theory of social change is developed in some detail. The argument leads to the conclusion that society interpets its rules of social organization and interaction as modifications of pure, or simple, or prototype rules, rather than viewing the prevailing set of rules as a self-sufficient archetype. This leads tothe proposition that continuous social changes might entail discontinuous switches in the scheme of social organization. Since the theory draws heavily on Gestalt psychology, these switches are termed Gestalt switches; discontinuous changes in superstructure brought about by smooth changes within the existing socio-economic framework. Part 2 deals with an application of this general kind of argument to the theory of labour management. Starting with a sketch of why labour immobility is a precondition for the viability of labour management in a competitive economy, it will be argued that technical progress will lead, through competitive pressure, to just that: a de-facto-immobility of labour. Thereby, the stage is set for the development of an efficient type of labour-managed organization which might evolve from competition; but immobility of labour will have another important consequence: The very notion of the firm will undergo a change, socially. People will cease to interpret employment relations as exchange relations. Rather, they will view the employment contract as establishing permanent rights and obligations. Since workers are tied permanently to a firm, firms will be considered as being constituted by their staff rather than by changing physicalequipment, just in the same way as a firm is viewed socially as being constituted by the owners of capital under capitalist conditions. Thus, firms will become ultimately identified with their staff rather than with the suppliers of capital, and the labour managed firm will appear as the "natural" form of organization. Actual firms will be considered as modifications of this pure form just in the same way as co-determination is considered as a modification of the pure capitalist mode of organization today. Thus, this precarious kind of theorizing leads to the conclusion that strong pressures are working towards a gestalt switch to labour management. The reader is kindly rtequested, however, not to take those conclusions at face value, since the foundations on which the theory is built are not excelling in firmness. Take all this, please, as a Gedanken-experiment, as one particular attempt towards a better understanding of social and economic change containing, perhaps, some elements of a fruitful approach