Marching toward the end of enlightenment?

How management and organization scholarship can help explain new forms of anti-enlightenment organizing

By Dennis Schoeneborn

In the scholarly field of management and organization studies, which is traditionally primarily concerned with business firms and their performance, we can lately observe an increasing attention toward addressing some of the most pressing societal challenges of our times, such as climate change, pandemics, inequalities, etc. (see George et al., 2016). At the same time, one of the most striking societal challenges has found comparably little attention by management and organizational scholarship up until today: the rise of anti-enlightenment movements and the potentially corroding effects they have for democratic societies.

The rioters’ march on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021 has showcased in painstaking ways how democracies can be endangered through social movements that center around anti-enlightenment and “post-truth” sentiments, incl. conspiracy theories, “alternative facts”, or other negations of scientific reason (for an overview, see Farkas & Schou, 2020). In the same context, the question arises how the scholarly field of management and organization studies can help address and explain the emergence of such anti-enlightenment movements and how they organize themselves.

To study the phenomenon of anti-enlightenment movements (i.e. coordinated agitation against scientific reason and facts, democratic values, or the rule of law), I suggest three research areas in organizational scholarship are of particular relevance and that each (in one way or another) cross-connect to the neighboring field of media and communication studies: 

(1) Explaining organizational emergence and dissolution

First, management and organization scholarship can explore questions of organizational emergence and design. This may involve questions like: To what extent can new forms of anti-enlightenment organizing (e.g., conspiracy theorists like QAnon or science denialists like the anti-vaxx movement) be explained with existing organizational theories – or to what extent are novel theoretical vocabularies needed to account for these phenomena? Also, how can anti-enlightenment forms of organizing be dissolved or “deconstituted” (cf. Bean & Buikema, 2015)? For example, how to counter and delegitimize anti-enlightenment ideologies in the public debate, if they are based on entirely different language games (Knight & Tsoukas, 2019), where the same signifier may have completely different meanings (e.g., truth is what is factually right vs. truth is when it serves my own interests)?

(2) Studying transformations of how the public discourse is organized

Second, management and organization scholarship can explore transformations of how the public discourse is organized. For instance, how did the media landscape change, especially through the rise of digital media, and how do these changes affect the possibilities of deliberative dialog and public will formation in democratic societies (Bennett & Livingston, 2018). In a similar vein, organizational scholars have critically addressed the spread of “fake news”, incl. the erosion of “the public” into multiple fragmented “publics” that gather info by-and-large from within their own filter bubbles and echo chambers (see also Knight & Tsoukas, 2019; Foroughi et al., 2019). Furthermore, in the same context, the question arises how to “detox” an increasingly polarized public discourse (Ward, 2019)?

(3) Exploring socio-technological conditions of “organized immaturity”

Third, management and organization scholarship can explore the underlying socio-technological conditions under which anti-enlightenment movements tend to emerge. For instance, in a recent working paper, Scherer and Neesham (2020) propose the term “organized immaturity” (which alludes to the notion of immaturity or Unmündigkeit in Immanuel Kant’s theory of enlightenment). As the authors hypothesize, individuals’ delegation of decision-making to socio-technological systems (such as algorithmic filtering of content in social media) tends to lead over time to an “erosion of the individual’s capacity for public use of reason” (p. 4; version from Dec. 22, 2020). Put this way, the concept may also help explain some of the root causes of what observers of the Capitol Hill events termed the “spoilt child version of America – so ‘free’ [that] it ignored the truths, laws and decency that actually enabled that freedom” (Paton Walsh, 2020).

To conclude, while we can find some first and important steps in the direction of exploring anti-enlightenment movements, further research in this direction is urgently needed, also as a chance to demonstrate management and organization scholarship’s ability to address (and potentially help solve) large-scale societal problems. In the same context, a recent Call for Papers by the journal Business Ethics Quarterly (Scherer et al., in preparation) invites for scholarly submissions that address the socio-technological conditions of “organized immaturity” and neighboring phenomena.


Bean, H., & Buikema, R. J. (2015). Deconstituting al-Qa’ida: CCO theory and the decline and dissolution of hidden organizationsManagement Communication Quarterly29(4), 512-538.

Bennett, W. L., & Livingston, S. (2018). The disinformation order: Disruptive communication and the decline of democratic institutionsEuropean Journal of Communication, 33(2), 122-139.

Farkas, J., & Schou, J. (2019). Post-truth, fake news and democracy: Mapping the politics of falsehood. New York: Routledge.

Foroughi, H., Gabriel, Y., & Fotaki, M. (2019). Leadership in a post-truth era: A new narrative disorder? Leadership15(2), 135-151.

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016). Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management researchAcademy of Management Journal59(6), 1880-1895.

Knight, E., & Tsoukas, H. (2019). When Fiction Trumps Truth: What ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ mean for management studies. Organization Studies40(2), 183-197.

Paton Walsh. E. (2020, Jan. 8). America was lucky to be saved by its democracy – even if some don’t realize

Scherer, A. G., & Neesham, C. (2020). New challenges to enlightenment: Why socio-technological conditions lead to organized immaturity and what to do about it. Working Paper (version from Dec,, 22, 2020).

Scherer, A. G., Neesham, C., Schoeneborn, D., & Scholz, M. (in preparation). Socio-technological conditions of organized immaturity in the 21st century. Special issue in preparation for Business Ethics Quarterly (submission deadline: 31/05/2021).

Ward, S. J. A. (2019). Ethical journalism in a populist age: The democratically engaged journalist. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

About the Author

Dennis Schoeneborn is Professor of Organization, Communication, and CSR at Copenhagen Business School and Visiting Professor of Organization Studies at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. In his research, he mainly focuses on organization theory, organizational communication, digital media and communication, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, as well as new forms of organizing.

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Delivering and Financing Better Societies

How can cities self-finance environmental and social solutions?

By Luise Noring

Every week, more than three million people move into cities looking for places to work and live. This puts an enormous strain on cities’ finances and capacity to provide for their residents. We can no longer – if we ever could – assume that taxes will pay for growing urban populations with growing demands for public infrastructure, goods and services. We need to find new ways of delivering and financing good societies for the billions of people living and working in cities.

Therefore, the challenge is not only to find the best environmental and social solutions for cities, but also to address how these solutions can be delivered and financed. All too often, for example, brilliant climate solutions are presented, but nobody wants to take responsibility for delivering and financing them. All too often, we hear of good solutions for social preventive action and public health that are never put into action. The solutions are there. The challenge is that the business case and investment proposition are either weak or non-existent. As a result, the only one with the incentive to implement the solutions is the cash-strapped government itself.

Hopeful scholars demonstrate how investing taxpayers’ money today could prevent massive expenditure tomorrow. Yet today’s tax revenues are already accounted for to pay for schools, roads, housing, hospitals, etc. This leads me to my principal research question and mission in life:

How do we deliver and finance better societies?

All too often, the only financial solution on the table is to increase and spend tax revenue. But there is no financial innovation in increasing and spending taxes. This ‘solution’ just means that bonds are repaid with future taxes even though we know full well that, in the future, taxes will still be needed to finance schools, roads, housing, hospitals, etc. Spending future taxes today only jeopardizes future generations’ ability to finance their schools, roads, housing, hospitals, etc. The same applies to tax increment financing (TIF), which is a common practice in urban development and economic revitalisation used in the US and subsequently adapted across much of the world.

The idea behind TIF is that local governments issue bonds based on future tax revenue increases. TIF assumes that urban regeneration can be financed by bonds that are serviced and repaid by future tax revenue increases. The proceeds of the TIF bonds are thus used to stimulate economic development through investments in urban regeneration, infrastructure and other public goods. The bonds are repaid mainly through property taxes resulting from investments and development activities. What happens though when the public investments fail to increase tax revenue paid by private owners? In such cases, local governments remain obliged to repay the government- guaranteed bonds.

Conventionally, in the US, local property taxes fund elementary and secondly education, supplemented by federal and state contributions. However, when future property taxes are used to finance infrastructure, public investment capital is in effect flowing from elementary and secondly education to infrastructure and other development activities in order to secure projected tax increases.

Thus, while TIF creates new economic development opportunities in one area, such as derelict neighbourhoods, it hollows out potential future investments in other areas, such as education.

Finally, it is common in many US cities for governments to woo private investment by offering tax reductions or exemptions. This amounts to making investments today with the tax revenues of tomorrow. This is how cities acquire unfunded liabilities.

The above paints a bleak picture of future financing of good solutions for better societies. However, during my research, I have come across many sound finance mechanisms. For instance, land value capture (LVC), which is commonly used in Northern Europe. LVC bundles publicly owned land, such as former port and military areas, or areas over which the public can take ownership, such as derelict areas. Once the local government has secured land ownership, it rezones and repurposes the land.

For example, former industrial land can be repurposed for commercial and residential use. This increases land values, which enables the government to take out loans based on the increased value of the land. With renewed borrowed capital, local government can make infrastructure and other investments in the land. This again increases land values. Once the land has been properly matured, it is sold to private investors and developers, including institutional investors, such as pension funds. Revenues from land sales are used to service and repay the debts. You can read more about this model in my Copenhagen City & Port Development report.

Another solution is for local government to raise seed capital, for instance from philanthropies, pension funds and other large institutional investors that invest with long time horizons. This seed capital is used in projects as low-yield and high-risk investment capital that is capable of attracting other investments that are more high yield and low risk. Once projects have been realised, they are refinanced, and the seed capital is withdrawn and put into another project. This is a kind of project-by-project financing. You can read more about this model in my Cincinnati Development Corporation report.

This blog post has offered a snapshot of several research projects I have conducted over the years. All my works contain key enabling features for replication, which allow me to scale solutions to other cities. If you want to learn more, please visit this page or get in touch with me:

Further Reading

Luise Noring (2019) Public asset corporation: A new vehicle for urban regeneration and infrastructure finance. Cities.

Bruns-Berentelg, J., Noring, L., & Grydehøj, A. (2020). Developing urban growth and urban quality: Entrepreneurial governance and urban redevelopment projects in Copenhagen and HamburgUrban Studies.

About the Author

Dr. Luise Noring is an Assistant Professor at CBS, where she also attained her Ph.D. in supply chain partnerships. Noring challenges taken-for-granted and commonsense solutions – which are only ever taken-for-granted and commonsense within their specific contexts. Part of what makes her work innovative and has assured its impact in research and practice is precisely her insistence on reaching across national and sectoral contexts, drawing experiences from a great diversity of urban systems. This has allowed Noring to identify what kinds of city solutions work best in particular contexts and how certain kinds of institutional vehicles and finance mechanisms can be adapted to diverse cities and countries.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash