Emergence in organizations: The reflexive turn

Christopher Goldspink*, Robert Kay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper we explore the role and meaning of the concept of emergence in the study of organizations. A brief recount of the history of the concept of emergence illustrates a general failure to distinguish between the mechanisms of emergence present in systems comprised of simple material or biological agents and those associated with systems comprised of human actors. We argue that it is reasonable to expect that what can emerge changes as the fundamental characteristics of the agent changes. Human agents are distinctive in the ability to distinguish 'self' from 'other' and in so doing to reflexively interact with our environment. We examine the implications of this observation and propose the definition of distinct forms of emergence. If we are to understand organizations as emergent properties of change then we must understand the nature of emergence itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-63
Number of pages17
JournalE:CO Emergence: Complexity and Organization
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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