Mumby and Putnam (1992) offer a poststructuralist, feminist reading of Herbert Simon’s (1976) concept of bounded rationality. According to a poststructuralist, feminist approach “social actors construct their identities in organizations through discursive practices, specifically, through the rules, behaviors, and meaning systems that become everyday occurrences” (pg. 466). Bounded rationality has been an influential concept in building theories of organizations; however, the two concepts, bounded and rationality, were defined in a historical period when patriarchy was the dominant value. Mumby and Putnam suggest that the tacit, male-centered assumptions of bounded rationality have shaped not just research, but the nature of organizations and organizing. The authors aim to create the possibility for new ways to theorize about organizing.
Mumby and Putnam present a theoretical framework for feminist analysis, repositioning gender from an organizational variable to a fundamental aspect of organizational culture and politics. The poststructuralist approach is intended to challenge and deconstruct the hegemonic discourse of bounded rationality. Their feminist reading of bounded rationality rests on four premises: the cognitive metaphor, mind-body dualism, devaluing of physical labor, and emotion as labor. Bounded rationality isolates and suppresses the physical self, excluding the emotional dimensions of self from the world of work. “Bounded rationality is not so much a critique of pure rationality as it is a way of isolating and suppressing the emotional/physical self from the process of organizing” (pg. 471).
Bounded emotionality is offered as an alternative to the traditional concept of bounded rationality. Bounded emotionality describes a dialectic of the individual and the group, unity through diversification, and bonding through emotional expression and support. Bounds are created not by cognitive capacity, but by the intersubjective context. Within the intersubjective context, individuals are able to recognize the other’s subjectivity. In addition, ambiguity is tolerated (an alternative to satisficing).
Mumby and Putnam deconstruct the binary oppositions of masculine/feminine and rationality/irrationality perpetuated by the concept of bounded rationality. Their concept of bounded emotionality creates a context for integration of emotionality and rationality. It moves away from a linear, fixed hierarchy of goals to which physical labor is directed, towards a fluid social context to which relational interactions are directed. From this position, organizing is creates a sense of community that “preserve[s] the integrated self-identity of organization members” (pg. 476).
Mumby and Putnam offer an example of how existing organization theory can be understood in a different way, allowing alternative interpretations to emerge. Thus, organizational theorists are challenged to examine their use of terms and concepts to shape organizational realities in a manner that implies finality (“the truth”). By treating these terms and concepts, as Mumby and Putnam suggest, as contingent, we may find that alternative, and more meaningful, readings to emerge.