Celebrating Mary Follett - Virtual Special Issue

Margaret Stout
West Virginia University

A Prophet Revisited

In light of this year’s centennial anniversary of The New State: Group Organization, the Solution of Popular Government, it is apropos to reconsider Mary Follett’s ideas about governance. Reflecting on her Progressive Era context and considering the political moment we currently confront, it would seem that a move toward progressivism of a Follettian nature would represent no less than a transdisciplinary counterhegemonic movement or paradigmatic shift.

This possibility is explored in a forthcoming edited volume, The Future of Progressivism: Applying Follettian Thinking to Contemporary Issues (Stout, 2018). The contributing authors explore how Follett’s particular type of pragmatist thinking holds promise in the face of global crises spanning climate change, social fragmentation, economic transformation, and political upheaval. The consensus is that effective collaborative governance across the sectors of society and domains of wicked problems demands her method of integration and community process. In short, we may finally have arrived in a moment where the clarity of her vision and inspiration of her voice is ready to be taken up by social movements, governance actors, and social and business entrepreneurs alike.

Follett’s philosophy and practices feature prominently in the thinking of a significant cohort of scholars publishing in the pages of Administrative Theory & Praxis and its predecessor, Dialogue, over the last four decades. This virtual issue gathers together seven more recent articles in order to highlight some of them: Fred Thayer, Michael Harmon, Camilla Stivers, DeLysa Burnier, Patricia Nickel, Angela Eikenberry, Margaret Stout, and Jeannine Love.

To provide overall framing, Matthew Witt’s (2017) review of Integrative Process: Follettian Thinking from Ontology to Administration (Stout & Love, 2015) argues that the book is “a must read for any social thinker serious about the relevance of relational process thought from ontology to praxis … a work of exegetical relevance, deserving a prominent place in the Follettian canon” (p. 59). In addition to contextual framing, the book provides a “careful and systematic explication” (p. 59) of Follett’s ideas, including ontology and language, psychosocial theory, epistemology, beliefs, ethics, and political, economic, and administrative theory.

Stout and Staton’s (2011) article delves deeply into the ontological underpinnings of Follett’s administrative theory. Morse (2006) explores how this philosophy guides her understanding of participatory democracy and public administration’s role in this work. Burnier’s (2009) review of Camilla Stivers’ (2008) Governance in Dark Times: Practical Philosophy for Public Service highlights how the author weaves Follett’s conception of participatory democracy through a deeply nesting federalism into in her recommendations. In her own article, Burnier (2003) brings forth Follett’s understanding of relationality and its ethic as a foundation for care-centered administrative praxis. Continuing with this feminist perspective, Nickel and Eikenberry (2006) trace its lineage in management thinking back to Follett and her own practice in community organizing and theoretical applications to discursive organizational administration. Wrapping up this virtual issue, in his reflections on the work of Fred Thayer, Harmon (2007), another follower of Follett, notes that her thinking was central to Thayer’s critique of both hierarchy and competition. While perhaps poorly named, his “structured nonhierarchy” aptly reflects Follett’s imagined “new state.”