Organizational hope: Reaffirming the constructive task of social and organizational inquiry
Human Relations; New York; Aug 1997; James D LudemaTimothy B WilmotSuresh Srivastva

Volume: 50
Issue: 8
Start Page: 1015-1052
ISSN: 00187267
Subject Terms: Studies
Organization theory
Organizational behavior
Human relations
Social sciences
Organizational structure
Organization theory
Classification Codes: 9130: Experimental/theoretical treatment
2500: Organizational behavior
A paper develops the construct of organizational hop as a methodological imperative for studying and strengthening organizations. It calls on organizational scholars and practitioners to move beyond the critical impulse by advancing textured vocabularies of hope that affirm the best and most promising dimensions of social and organizational life and provide a moral image of the future to guide collective action. A thorough analysis of hope is undertaken by tracing the construct throughout the Western intellectual tradition, 4 of hope's enduring qualities are highlighted, and a set of propositions are offered that extend the implications of organizational hope to scholars and practitioners.

Full Text:
Copyright Plenum Publishing Corporation Aug 1997
James D. Ludema,1,2 Timothy B. Wilmot,1 and Suresh Srivastva1

This paper develops the construct of organizational hope as a methodological imperative for studying and strengthening organizations. It calls on organizational scholars and practitioners to move beyond the critical impulse by advancing "textured vocabularies of hope" that affirm the best and most promising dimensions of social and organizational life and provide a moral image of the future to guide collective action. This can be accomplished by defining hopeful research agendas and choosing methods of inquiry that explore and illuminate the hopes and aspirations of a broad range of organizational members. After clarifying the concept of textured vocabularies of hope, this paper undertakes a thorough analysis of hope by tracing the construct throughout the Western intellectual tradition, highlighting four of hope's enduring qualities, and offering a set of propositions that extends the implications of organizational hope to our task as scholars and practitioners.

KEY WORDS: organizational hope; ultimate concerns; social constructionism; textured vocabularies of hope; social and organizational reconstruction; hopeful social sciences.

We can live three weeks without food, three days without water, and, yes, we can even live three minutes without air, but cannot live without hope. -Lewis Mumford

Think of the tools in a tool-box: there is a hammer, pliers, a screwdriver, a rule, a glue-pot, glue, nails and screws. The functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects.. -Ludwig Wittgenstein


It is widely understood that the contemporary world has entered an era in which the complexity and rapidity of social change parallels that of the dramatic period of social reconstruction following World War II. The expansion of information technology, the globalization of economic markets, the intermingling of cultures, and the reconfiguration of national and international boundaries are increasing pressures on individuals and organizations to find innovative approaches to addressing their own needs and the needs of society. This shifting global context raises questions of fundamental importance to the social and organizational sciences. Is it possible or even desirable in the current postmodern era for social science to play a lead role in the reconstruction of social relationships? Can and should social science attempt to remain relevant, or even to become a harbinger of positive possibilities for organizing in the face of such extensive geographical, cultural, and epistemological variety?

Some have grave doubts. Scholars and practitioners from across the social scientific disciplines are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the inability of existing epistemological and methodological alternatives to provide useful insights into human relationships. On the one hand, approaches based in empiricist foundationalism are distrusted for, among other things, resting on shaky theoretical ground and ignoring the impact of context on social phenomena (see, e.g., Kuhn, 1970; Feyerabend, 1978; Gergen, 1994a; Denzin & Lincoln, 1995; Argyris, 1973; Bartunek, 1983; Friedlander, 1984). On the other hand, efforts proceeding from the genre of postempiricist critique are questioned for launching "attacks without alternative" and contributing to a contentious scientific discourse that offers little emancipatory leverage for an increasingly cynical and despairing society (Hazelrigg, 1989; Brown, 1994; Gergen, 1994b; Marcus, 1994).

Thus, the questions remain: What should be the role of social and organizational science in the reconstruction of human relationships? How can it recover a central place in making a positive contribution to the enhancement of the human condition? What should be its purposes, commitments, and methods as it attempts to make this contribution in a global context of radical foundationlessness and human plurality?

This paper provides an optimistic response to these questions by proposing that the purpose of social and organizational science ought to be to create textured vocabularies of hope-stories, theories, evidence, and illustrations-that provide humanity with new guiding images of relational possibility. In much the same way that a hammer, pliers, screwdriver, and rule furnish the tools necessary to build new physical architectures for human inhabitation, textured vocabularies of hope provide the linguistic resources necessary to build new social architectures for human organizing and action.

The paper is divided into five sections. It begins by suggesting that much of contemporary social science has contributed to the deconstruction rather than the reconstruction of social relationships by producing vocabularies, not of hope and of possibility, but of deficit and deficiency. By so doing, social science has added to a growing cynicism about the future of human institutions and has deepened the despair about its own potential to be a catalyst for positive change. A constructive social and organizational science dedicated to producing a range of hopeful vocabularies is offered as an epistemological alternative that supports positive relational reconstruction.

In the second section, the task of building a textured vocabulary of hope is begun. A description of the methods used by the authors to study hope is offered, and a working definition of hope is elaborated. In section three, a broad review of the hope literature shows that throughout the Western intellectual tradition, hope has been considered a fundamental attribute of humanness and an invaluable resource for the creation of positive knowledge and action in human communities. In section four, the theoretical heart of the paper is developed. Based on a selective thematic analysis of the literature, hope is shown to display four enduring qualities that contribute to its transformative character: it is born in relationship; inspired by the conviction that the future is open and can be influenced; sustained through moral dialogue; and generative of positive affect and action.

The paper concludes with a call to social and organizational science to reaffirm its constructive task by advancing epistemologies and methods of inquiry that facilitate the creation of textured vocabularies of hope. Following Rorty (1980), it is suggested that by advancing vocabularies of hope social science may, in some small way, reverse the current trends of academic and cultural cynicism and contribute to a maturing spirit of human hopefulness at the organizational and societal levels. Appreciative and narrative methodologies that span boundaries of epistemology, profession, creed, and culture and that highlight and illuminate the best, most glorious aspects of our social and organizational lives are encouraged.


The current fascination with critical and deconstructionist social science can be traced back to the dualistic rationalism of Rene Descartes. For years prior to Descartes, the skeptics, in a manner similar to postempiricist scholars today, raised apparently insoluble doubts about the possibility of a certain and indubitable basis for knowledge. They argued that the sense illusions require us to question the reliability of our ordinary sense experience, and the possibility that all of our experience is a part of a dream creates the occasion for doubting the reality of the world itself (Popkin, 1979). In an attempt to rebut the skeptics, Descartes carried their argument to its furthest extreme. What if, he asked, there is a demon (malin genie) who is capable of distorting either the information we possess or the faculties that we have for evaluating it? What then can we be sure of? Any criterion, any test of the reliability of what we know, is open to question because either the standard or the application of it may be demonically infected. With this persuasive response, Descartes demonstrated that the skeptical method, when fully employed, leads beyond doubt to a complete negation of all warrants for truth. This opened the way for what he considered to be the only firm and unshakable foundation of science: "Cogito ergo sum" (Popkin, 1979).

In the last 50 years, interpretive social and organizational science has abandoned the quest for a universal foundation for knowledge, yet it has remained committed to doubt and negation as a methodological preference. Hosts of critical and deconstructive methods for doing social scientific research have emerged (see, e.g., Schwandt, 1994; Kincheloe & McLaren, 1994; Olesen, 1994; Stanfield, 1994; Fiske, 1994). Based on the premise that all claims of truth are arbitrary and should be questioned, these methods provide increasingly sophisticated tools with which to examine, expose, demystify, and debunk existing accounts of reality.

While some scholars celebrate this critical trend because of its emancipatory potential, others see it as a cause for concern. Comparing the methods of postempiricist critique to those of military combat, Gergen (1994b) writes:

. . critique as a rhetorical move has the effect of demeaning the opposition, generating animosity, atomizing the culture and blocking the way to resolution . . . [It] carries with it the additional difficulties of favoring the very kinds of totaling discourses against which it is set, and destroying the grounds of its own rationality. (p. 70)

Similarly, for Astley (1985), the arena of management theory has become a "jungle" which is daily becoming "more dense and impenetrable" and is symbolic of "deep fragmentation of the discipline" marked by "intense competing and rival paradigms." For George (1989) the variety of incommensurable perspectives within organizational science has become "a violent babble of competing voices . . leading nowhere loudly" (p. 269). And for Wollheim (1980) the quicksand of deconstructive reflexivity may lead to complete "immobilization of scholarship."

Of greater concern, however, is the growing awareness that the debilitating effects of critical and deconstructive social science extend well beyond the closely-guarded boundaries of the academic community. Gergen (1994a) argues persuasively that the vocabularies of deficit proffered by much contemporary social science support what he calls broad "cultural enfeeblement" (p. 148). By creating hierarchies of discrimination, eroding naturalized patterns of community, and expanding arenas for self-depreciation, scientific vocabularies of deficit contribute to a pernicious cycle of "progressive [societal] infirmity" (p. 155). To illustrate, the following example (adapted from Gergen, 1994a, pp. 155-161) shows how growth in deficit vocabularies of mental illness have served to compound rather than alleviate individual and societal suffering:

First, based on empiricist presumptions, the disciplines of psychiatry and clinical psychology are formed and begin to create categories of "mental illness."

Second, a collection of mental health professionals emerges and commissions itself with the task and responsibility of diagnosing and curing the multiple forms of mental illness as defined by its members.

Third, mental health professionals translate their clients' problems as presented in everyday language into the alternative language of the profession. Thus, "feeling blue" or "being sad" becomes depression and "getting distracted by everything" or "having a hard time sitting still in school" becomes attention deficit disorder.

Fourth, the mental health profession disseminates its language to the general public through universities, conferences, public policies, books, journals, magazines, newspapers, television, and other electronic media.

Fifth, as vocabularies of mental deficit are disseminated to the culture, they become absorbed into the common language and become encouraged for the construction of everyday reality. In essence, the culture learns how to be mentally ill. Writes Gergen (1994a), "Furnish the population with the hammers of mental deficit, and the world is full of nails. (p. 158)

Sixth, in the final phase of progressive infirmity, vocabularies of deficit are expanded. As people increasingly construct their problems in professional language and seek help, and as professional ranks expand in response to public demands, more resources are available to convert everyday language into a professional language of deficit.

Through this process, deficit vocabularies can come to approximate "small growth industries" (Gergen, 1994a, p. 160) that fuel the progressive enfeeblement of society (see Fig. 1 for a diagram of this process).

In a similar manner, the vocabularies of human deficit produced by the critical social and organizational sciences diminish the human capacity for positive relational reconstruction by rending and unraveling the intricate social, political, and moral fabrics that make human existence and organizing possible. Writes Gergen (1994b): "There is virtually no hypothesis, body of evidence, ideological stance, literary canon, value commitment or logical edifice that cannot be dismantled, demolished or derided with the [arsenal of critical weaponry] at hand" (p. 59). Relying on methodologies that by design are meant to delegitimate and destroy existing organizational understanding, critical and deconstructive science remains conspicuously quiet when it comes to reports of positive organizational transformation and the creation of new relational possibilities for the future.

In response to the growing body of deficit vocabularies produced by critical and deconstructive methods, a handful of scholars are calling for constructive approaches to social and organizational science that hold increased potential for revitalizing scholarship and enhancing the human condition by creating textured vocabularies of hope. Weick (1982) appeals for an affirmative approach to social science that creates compelling images of human possibility and seeks to discover examples of them in the "real world," even if they are extremely rare. Cooperrider and Srivastva (1987) encourage "appreciative" modes of inquiry that uncover the "ordinary magic, beauty, and real possibility of organizational life" (p. 165) and help scholars and practitioners to "shape the social world according to their own imaginative and moral purposes" (p. 161). Brown (1994) calls for a "hermeneutic of affirmation" that promotes conversation between scholars and citizens who are committed to "establishing moral authority and inventing positive values as central elements of any polity" (p. 24).

The Social Constructionist Alternative

Social constructionism (Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Gergen, 1982, 1994a; Morgan, 1993; Astley, 1985; Schein, 1985; Unger, 1987; Clegg, 1990; Weick, 1995) provides a useful starting point for developing an affirmative social science capable of producing vocabularies of hope. Like many other strands of postempiricist science, constructionism questions the tenants of empiricist foundationalism, but it moves beyond the critical impulse of its theoretical cousins by promoting constructive dialogue between competing epistemologies and by encouraging the creation of hopeful social theory. Based on the premise that knowledge is a social artifact (rather than a product of empirical observation or of individual cognition), constructionism emphasizes three principles that support textured vocabularies of hope.

1. Epistemologically, constructionism stresses the pragmatics of language. Words do not gain their truth value by accurately describing the world (picture theory of language); rather they gain their power by virtue of their function within sets of relationships. Thus, vocabularies that offer positive examples and hopeful possibilities for new ways of relating function as powerful resources for strengthening societal and organizational health.

2. Constructionism posits a direct and simultaneous link between language, knowledge, and action. All language sustains certain kinds of knowledge, to the exclusion of others, and all knowledge sustains certain patterns of activity, to the exclusion of others. Thus, the more hopeful the available vocabularies, the more positive will be the forms of social action and organizing that they support.

Caption: Fig. 1.

3. Methodologically, social constructionism encourages a generative theoretical approach. Based on the notion that "words create worlds," constructionism opens the way for methods of inquiry that locate and highlight the most hopeful and generative dimensions of social and organizational existence. Instead of asking, "Does this method efficiently eliminate the opposition?" the question for evaluating good method becomes, "To what extent does this method stimulate moral dialogue about how we can and should organize ourselves, and to what extent does it present provocative new possibilities for collective action?"

Given a constructionist epistemology, the development of "textured vocabularies of hope" becomes a methodological imperative if our intent is to make a positive contribution to the enhancement of the human condition.

The Structuring of Vocabularies of Hope

Textured vocabularies of hope can be defined as linguistic constructions that create new images of positive relational possibility, illuminate fresh avenues for moral discourse, and expand the range of practical and theoretical resources available for the construction of healthy social and organizational relationships. In contrast to vocabularies of deficit that erode individual and social well-being, vocabularies of hope serve as linguistic tools that promote the (re)construction of relationships in ways that conform to collective images of the good. Rather than providing "descriptions of deficiency" that contribute to cultural enfeeblement, they generate images of possibility that enhance social and organizational vitality. The process of social and organizational (re)construction through vocabularies of hope can be outlined as follows:

First, based on a constructionist epistemology, communities of inquiry and action are formed and begin to explore the most positive, life-giving, life-sustaining aspects of their collective existence. To enrich the range of discourse, communities of inquiry are intentionally designed to include as many relevant voices as possible.

Second, communities of inquiry construct vocabularies of hope by sharing stories, theories, evidence, and illustrations that highlight "best practices" and compelling examples of the forces and factors that give life and sustain their collective existence.

Third, communities of inquiry expand and enrich their vocabularies of hope through processes of moral dialogue and collective visioning.

Fourth, communities of inquiry disseminate their vocabularies of hope to the general public through universities, conferences, public policies, books, journals, magazines, newspapers, television, other electronic media, and personal relationships.

Fifth, as vocabularies of hope are disseminated to the culture, they become absorbed into the common language and become available for the construction of everyday reality. Best practices and positive examples provide a range of possibilities for societal and organizational innovation. In essence, the culture learns how to be hopeful and inventive.

Sixth, in the final phase of social and organizational (re)construction, vocabularies of hope are expanded. As people increasingly build their relational vocabularies with "best" examples from the past and hopes for the future, more linguistic and moral resources become available to convert dreams into reality and possibilities into practice (see Fig. 2 for a diagram of this process).

Vocabularies of hope come in all shapes and sizes-theories, ethnographies, case studies, vignettes, empirical data, personal narratives, rhetorical speeches, stories told in the classroom, boardroom, or around the kitchen table. One of the most famous and influential vocabularies of hope in the United States is Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech given at a civil rights march in Washington, August 28, 1963. The speech, and particularly the sentence "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," gave voice to the aspirations of an entire nation and has served as a hopeful harbinger of cultural change for more than a generation.

On a more scholarly note, the writings of Tavistock Institute founders which brought the principles of social science to bear on the challenges of post-World War II reconstruction; McGregor's (1960) Theory X-Theory Y which offered possibilities for a new human-centered form management; Gilligan's (1982) different voice which for the first time highlighted the unique patterns of women's moral development; Kolb's (1984) experiential learning which revealed and affirmed multiple ways of knowing; and Freire's (1994) pedagogy of hope which championed dialogue and advanced the concept of full voice, are but a few of the vocabularies of hope that have emerged in the social and organizational sciences in recent years. Each of these, in its own way, created new images of positive relational possibility, illuminated fresh avenues for moral discourse, and expanded the range of resources available for the construction of enhanced social and organizational relationships.

Caption: Fig. 2.

A textured vocabulary of hope from the authors' research is the story of Vision Chicago (Ludema et al., 1995). Countless newspaper and magazine articles, television documentaries, policy white papers, and academic journal essays have chronicled in detail the urban decline that seems to characterize many of the world's major metropolitan areas. These accounts offer innumerable despairing descriptions of the cities, providing statistics, stories, reports, and theories about poor education, lack of health care, unemployment, crime, violence, poverty, homelessness, and helplessness. Lost amid these vocabularies of deficit and deficiency are the compelling, inspiring, and instructive stories of many people, organizations, and institutions who are working to create healthy and vibrant urban futures. Vision Chicago provides one such example. In less than 2 years, the members of Vision Chicago brought together a variety of organizations and individuals across traditional boundaries of race, class, culture, sector, and geography to catalyze a vast array of formal and informal alliances committed to enhancing the health and vitality of the broader Chicago community.

The process used to study and support the emergence of Vision Chicago illustrates how vocabularies of hope can be employed to advance social and organizational (re)construction. First, a cadre of leaders from Chicago, together with the researchers, selected a group of individuals and organizations from business, social service agencies, city government, universities, faith groups, and neighborhood organizations, to form a community of inquiry. Second, positive research questions focusing on the health of the city and hopes for its future were formed. Third, individuals and organizations from throughout the city were interviewed, and the most compelling stories, quotable quotes, best practices, and most hopeful themes were shared in a series of large group conferences over a period of 18 months. The conferences created a context in which members could expand and enrich their stories of hope through dialogue and collective visioning, and begin to create the social architectures necessary to translate their visions into reality and their dreams into practice.

As a result of this process a collaborative alliance of dozens of organizations from the corporate, nonprofit, and government sectors was formed and began to address domain-level issues in Chicago. In addition, the forces and factors that contributed to the successful emergence and growth of Vision Chicago, as told by the participants themselves, have been disseminated through newspapers, magazines, television, and policy-related conferences and academic journals. A process of inquiry and action similar to that used in Chicago is being employed in six other cities around the U.S.

As is evident from these examples, the structuring of vocabularies of hope is less a technique than it is a commitment. As Rorty (1980) points out in his comparison of Dewey and Foucault, the methodological approach that we adopt is in no way forced upon us by the "nature of things;" it is simply a matter of choice, tone, or moral outlook. Dewey contributed to the growth of human hope by promoting inquiry into high human ideals-notions of truth, rationality, progress, freedom, and democracy. He affirmed the human will to truth, not as the urge to dominate but as the urge to create, an urge to enhance the human condition. By so doing, Dewey made a simple methodological choice to pursue a constructive option that, according to Rorty, eventually filled his theory with an "unjustifiable hope, and an ungroundable but vital sense of human solidarity" (p. 208).

The remainder of this paper begins the process of developing a textured vocabulary of hope for social and organizational scholars and practitioners. It begins by exploring briefly the ways in which hope has been understood in six traditions of Western intellectual thought. Then by means of a broad thematic analysis of the hope literature, four of hope's enduring qualities that contribute to its transformative character are identified. The paper concludes with a call to organizational scientists to experiment with forms of inquiry and intervention that generate compelling vocabularies of human hope and possibility.


In this section, it is argued that the act of hoping, far from being an exercise in groundless and naive wishful thinking as it has often been described, is in fact a holistic, relational way of knowing that unifies both the tacit and explicit dimensions of experience and puts them to work in transforming the future. When people inquire into the unexplored reaches of their collective norms, beliefs, and assumptions; values, mores, and purposes; plans, desires, and wishes; visions, ideals, and dreams, they engage in the act of hoping by prefiguring a valued and vital future that they hope some day to build, inhabit, and enjoy. These hopeful images of the future, in turn, become powerful catalysts for change and transformation by mobilizing the moral, social, and relational energies needed to translate vision into reality and belief into practice.


We began our inquiry by embarking on an extensive literature review of the topic of hope from the fields of theology, philosophy, history, political theory, art, music, literature, medicine, psychology, and sociology.3 The review demonstrated that the most thorough and compelling treatments of hope came from Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, early-Enlightenment, Psychoanalytic, Radical Humanist, and modern Cognitive traditions. After familiarizing ourselves with the literature, we, along with an expanded group of colleagues, searched for common themes that could be found spanning the various schools of thought. In keeping with the generative-theoretical aims of a constructionist epistemology, we searched for the themes that, based on our collective theoretical sensitivity (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), we felt held the greatest potential for creating compelling vocabularies of hope for organizational theorists and practitioners. Once the themes were identified, we returned to the literature to flesh them out and provide them with additional theoretical substance.

As we embarked on the literature review, we were met by a few surprises (these will be taken up in detail in subsequent sections of the paper but deserve brief treatment here). First, in a review of more than 40 books and 200 journal articles that address the concept of hope, the authors found not one contribution from the management or organizational sciences. This neglect stands in marked contrast to the attention given to the topic by the arts, humanities, and social sciences, which portray hope as a fundamental characteristic of humanness and an indispensable source of energy for collective activity.

Second, much of the literature suggested that hope is fundamentally a relational construct. It is always engendered in relationship to an "other," whether that other be collective or singular, imagined or real, human or divine. Perhaps the most poignant example of this idea comes from Frankl's (1963) experiences in German concentration camps during World War II. Even in the isolated agony of solitary work duty, Frankl gained hope by imagining himself into a future in which he would be free and reunited with his wife and his most esteemed colleagues at the university. This relational picture of hope stands in marked contrast to much contemporary thought that understands hope as an emotional or cognitive possession of the individual rational agent.

A third surprise was that hope is almost always portrayed as having a moral, spiritual, or religious dimension. While different epistemological traditions use different words to describe this dimension, they converge around the notion that often, when people persevere in the face of almost certain failure, they do so because of a belief in a sublime, transcendent, or noble purpose. Frequently, this purpose will sustain hope even after periods of failure, disappointment, or disability. We have tried to capture, though imperfectly, this spiritual dimension of hope in our construct of ultimate concern.

A Working Definition of Hope

Throughout the ages, the ways in which hope has been described and understood have reflected the ontological and epistemological concerns of the times. For example, during the medieval period when concern with the relationship between God and the soul predominated human thinking, hope was understood as a divine gift. For the Marxist philosopher, hope is seen as a form of authentic consciousness. In the context of modern psychology, hope has been characterized as a cognitive capacity to resist being overcome by the absoluteness of the present or to transform negative thoughts into images of greater aliveness. All of these definitions enrich our vocabularies of hope, and all of them will be addressed in more detail in subsequent section of the paper. For current purposes, we offer a working definition of hope as an affirmative form of social discourse through which communities of people (1) generate new images of possibility for social relationship, and (2) mobilize the moral and affective resources necessary to translate image into action and belief into practice. This definition is meant to highlight the three tenants of a constructionist epistemology as outlined earlier: the primacy of relationship, the pragmatics of language, and the generative potential of social knowledge.


Hope has been a topic of considerable interest for many traditions throughout the ages. A brief examination of the construct of hope as found in the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, Enlightenment, Psychoanalytic, Radical Humanist, and Cognitive Theorist traditions is offered to highlight the similarities and differences in their understanding of hope and its place in human affairs.

Hope as a Fallible Desire: Greco-Roman Interpretations

The Greeks and the Romans were ambivalent about hope (Day, 1991). They saw it as an emotion that could ignite the imagination and lead to a modicum of creativity, but it was essentially powerless in a world largely controlled by divine powers (Bultmann, 1966, p. 518). This ambivalence is given expression in the ancient Greek myth of Pandora. Pandora possessed a sealed box containing all the evils that were ever to plague humankind; the only good in it was the spirit of hope. When she opened the box, out of it flew all the sorrows, diseases, quarrels, and woes that have ever since afflicted human beings. She hastily snapped the lid back on, and thereby trapped the spirit of hope inside, leaving it impotent to alleviate the ills of the world (Grant & Hazel, 1973).

Hope as a Divine Gift: Judeo-Christian Interpretations

Members of the Judeo-Christian tradition understand hope as a divine gift that requires an active and moral human response. In his classic formulation, Aquinas claimed that hope always: (1) has as its object some good, not evil; (2) bears upon some possible future, not the present possessed; and (3) is difficult to obtain but can be obtained through patience, perseverance, and courage (Summa Theologica, Hope, 2a2ae, 17-22). In more recent years, a growing body of Christian theologians has highlighted the important role of hope in social transformation, characterizing it as a primary motivating force for action-to hope is to do, not merely to yearn (see, e.g., Teilhard de Chardin, 1964; Marcel, 1951; Metz, 1967; Moltmann, 1991; Pannenberg, 1968; Godfrey, 1987; Capps, 1970). Finally, Judeo-Christian authors present hope as a relational construct. While it can be directed toward either divine or human others, hope is born when we join with other "efficacious agents" (Dauenhauer, 1984) to influence the future.

Hope as a Reasonable Probability: Enlightenment Interpretations

With the onset of the Enlightenment, hope in a caring, loving God was replaced with a trust in the mathematical simplicity of nature. Hope lost its character as a belief in God's goodness and became a rational calculation of probability based on past experience. Hume, in his Treaty of Human Nature writes, "When good is certain . . . it produces joy. When evil is in the same situation there arises grief .... When either good or evil is uncertain, it gives rise to fear or hope, according to the degrees of uncertainty on either side or the other."

Hope as an Unconscious Urge: Psychoanalytic Interpretations

Psychoanalytic thinkers have attempted to link constructs like aspiration and hope to mental and biological processes. James (1961) depicted faith-and its expressions through hope, inspiration, and compassion-as the basic force by which human beings live. For Freud (1938, 1959), hope, along with bodily urges of sex, hunger, and thirst and the creative components of culture such as art, music, cooperation, and love, were viewed as part of human Eros-the life instinct that is the basis for all human behavior. Erikson (1963) accorded hope a central place in human development, treating it as an expression of an individual's basic trust in others, which is formed in infancy. More recently, Kast (1991) has linked hope to Jung's construct of a personal unconscious "vision of wholeness." She writes: "Since we know somewhere within us where we are going, we have ground for hope" (p. 317).

Hope as an Authentic Consciousness: Radical Humanist Interpretations

Since the mid-twentieth century, humanist, existentialist, and neo-Marxist theorists have described hope as a source of authentic consciousness. Sartre suggested that hoping, by helping us to see things in a new way, can free us from the domination of "alien powers" and inspire us to reach our full potential as conscious, creative, authentic human beings. Neo-Marxists such as Bloch (1986) claim that the act of hoping plays a pivotal role in societal transformation because it serves as a source of imagined alternatives that challenge the status quo, raise consciousness, and catalyze change. Similarly, Adorno argues that the most potent hopes are those that hold in front of us an image of an ultimate future, a future which represents perfect goodness and the culmination of the historical process (as cited in Mendes-Flohr, 1983, p. 635). Such hopes provide a powerful source of social action.

Hope as Positive Cognition: Medical and Psychological Interprelations

In the past few decades, the cognitive revolution in psychology and medicine has lead theorists to underscore the importance of hope as a mental and emotional resource that promotes psychological and physiological health. While only a few of the cognitive theorists address hope explicitly, many others highlight related constructs. For example, Rotter (1954), with his expectancy theory, showed that the potential for behavior in a given setting is determined by the strength of one's expectancy for success. Expectancy theory was subsequently applied to organizational goal-setting (Nadler & Lawler, 1977), decision-making (Vroom, 1975), and leadership theory (House & Mitchell, 1974). Related constructs that stress the importance of cognition in determining goal-oriented behavior include social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986; Locke & Latham, 1990) and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977; Wood & Locke, 1987; Gist & Mitchell, 1992). In one of the first cognitive studies from the field of psychology focused explicitly on hope, Stotland (1969) treated hoping unidimensionally as a presupposition of success, "an expectation greater than zero of achieving a goal" (p. 3) that influences behavioral outcomes. More recently, Seligman (1990) has related hope to learned optimism and suggests the way in which people explain life's misfortunes will determine their level of hopefulness.

In the fields of medicine and mental health, hope has been identified as an essential ingredient for human health and well-being (see Farran et al., 1995 for an excellent review of this literature). In nursing, much quantitative and qualitative research has been done to understand, reinforce, and facilitate hope in patients. These clinical studies have led to a broadening of Stotland's unidimensional view by identifying additional attributes of hope, such as its relational component; its future focus; its transcendent character, and the presence of a more global, nontime-constrained sense of hope. This research provided the foundation for the development of many multidimensional measures of hope (see Farran et al., 1995, pp. 45-46).

In the field of mental health, Lynch (1965), who calls hope "the very heart and center of the human being," (p. 31) suggests that anxiety is not so much a natural propeller of human behavior as it is a condition that results when hope is absent. Similarly, Hanna (1991) notes that in assessing the efficacy of treatments for mental depression the building and enhancement of hope is more productive and efficacious than the double negative goal of reducing helplessness. Finally, in a recent review of mental health research, Taylor (1989) claims that the very definition of mental health itself is beginning to change from "seeing reality as it is" to "seeing reality as it could be."

Emergent Themes

While the ways in which hope has been described and understood-such as fallible desire, unconscious urge, authentic consciousness, or positive cognition-have varied according the ontological and epistemological concerns of the times in which it was addressed, the foregoing analysis suggests that hoping displays four enduring qualities: it is (1) born in relationship, (2) inspired by the conviction that the future is open and can be influenced, (3) sustained by dialogue about high human ideals, and (4) generative of positive affect and action (see Table I for a summary of these qualities and their relationship to the six intellectual traditions of Western thought). The following section explores each of these qualities in some depth in order to illustrate the relevance of hoping for social and organizational science. The final section of the paper offers a set of propositions that extends the implications of the study of hope and hoping to the work of organizational scholars and practitioners.


Relationship as the Ground of Hope Hoping as Loving and Being Loved

A primary theme within the literature on hope is that it is born, nurtured and sustained in relationship. As Farran et al. (1995) point out, hoping is something that occurs between persons-a relational process inspired by love (p. 10). One can influence another's hope through the gift of presence, or by communicating positive expectations or exhibiting confidence in the individual's ability to overcome difficulties. Erikson (1963) suggests that hope is a developmental process based on early childhood experiences in which one first learns to trust. It is often these relational attributes of hope that enable persons to "make it through" difficult life experiences.

Marcel (1951) goes so far as to say that one cannot experience hope outside of relationship. He writes:

Caption: Table 1.

. . . [H]ope is only possible on the level of the us, or we might say of the agape, and that it does not exist on the level of the solitary ego, self-hypnotized and concentrating exclusively on individual aims. (p. 10)

Following Buber (1970), Marcel (1951) suggests that when people begin to hope in relationship with one another, they enter into the kind of "spiritual interconnection" characteristic of the I-You relationship. The I-You relationship offers previously unrecognized opportunities for discovering unexplored possibilities and encountering "images of the eternal" in the other (p. 150). In the same manner that Buber views the I-You encounter as the "cradle of actual life" (p. 60), Marcel understands relationship to be the ground of human hope.

Yet, as Lynch (1965) suggests, hope does not flourish under all relational conditions. It assumes relationships of mutuality in which the value and integrity of all persons is affirmed. Writes Lynch (1965):

I must not be in such a relationship to objects that I vanish out of the picture, I am destroyed. And the reverse is also true: ideally the object in coming to me must find itself. It is the hope for this mutuality that is the secret of all our hopes; it is its absence in substance that makes us hopeless . . . Hope searches for alternative objects that will not be destructive and that can partake in a relationship of mutuality. (pp. 44-45)

In this sense, supportive, mutual relationships are the primary forum for hoping:

To be wished with by a true friend, or by a few, who are in touch with the depth of real feeling and wishing in the soul, and who help a man to discover and contact his own soul, is a possession without price. Now there is a real hope, no matter what happens in the world outside such relationships. For the final object of all our hope is love. (p. 171)

Lynch goes on to suggest that this kind of mutuality enlivens hope in the helping relationship, personal or professional: "Hope is the interior sense that there is help on the outside of us . . . when we are especially aware that our purely inward resources are not enough . . ." (p. 40).

Hoping as an Act of Service

The literature suggests that while hope is often inspired when one receives sustenance or nurturance in a time of difficulty or of growth, it is also enkindled when one gives sustenance or nurturance to another. Marcel (1951) explains that "so long as [the ego] remains shut up within itself, that is to say, the prisoner of its own feelings, of its covetous desires" it remains dull and anxious, as though it has not yet awakened to the possibilities of existence that await it. Yet, it is not the empty relationship of mutual self-gratification that brings the ego to life; rather, it is a relationship in which one " . . . reaches out . . . beyond his narrow self, prepared to consecrate his being to a cause which is greater than he is, but which at the same time he makes his own" (p. 25). Hoping, therefore, prospers to the extent that people place themselves in service to others.

It is on this dimension that hope most notably distinguishes itself from optimism. Optimism is treated as an individual phenomenon in which one has confidence in the future based on one's own wit, luck, or good fortune. Hope, on the other hand, is the product of what Buber (1970) has termed the I-You relationship, in which what is created cannot be claimed by the individual I or You, but rather exists between I and You and transcends I and You. The merging of self-interest with the interests of others that occurs when people hope allows them to participate more fully in relationships. Persons who hope "remain part of the scheme of things and do not aggressively place themselves above others" (Pruyser, 1986, p. 122). By fostering heightened awareness about common values, interdependencies, and a shared destiny, the act of hoping instills confidence that one's own agency is not compromised by the agency of others (Dauenhauer, 1986, p. 93).

Hoping as a Binding Force of Community

In addition to being born in, sustained by, and deepened in relationship, hope serves as a source for healthy communal relationships. Kast (1991), perhaps the most expansive writer on this point, shows that hoping allows people to develop a sense of "symbiotic connectedness" with each other. Borrowing from Bollnow's works, Kast states that "hope represents the human being's basic source of Geborgenheit (safety, security, protectedness) upon which all higher feelings-and the energy for action-nourish themselves" (p. 138). In this symbiosis, one feels taken care of, freed from fear of attack, slander and harm, and invested in promoting the health and vitality of others. This basic trust undergirds active hope, which sustains life itself, even in times of disillusion when precious images of the future dissipate.

Moreover, it is suggested by some that the act of hoping can become a binding force of community for all relational forms-the family, organization, community, world, etc.-because it encourages exploration of the values and ideals that people share for their futures. It allows people to discover and develop a common understanding about that which unites them as people. Dauenhauer (1986), following Gadamer (1981), proposes that human history is a never-ending, self-renewing struggle for genuine solidarity and freedom for all. Embracing a dialogical character of human existence where human beings are inescapably tied to one another, Dauenhauer advocates that people are en route and rotationally free as agents to create their social and political realities collectively. He suggests that when people come together in acts of hoping, they engage their unbounded relational freedom to dream and creatively construct the future in ways that reflect their common ideals. By relating their shared aspirations and imagining together new and better worlds, members discover anew the interdependencies and common destinies that bind them and sustain their relationships.

The Constructive Stance of Hope

Hoping as an Openness to the Future

Numerous writers concur that human hoping celebrates the ontological stance that the future is open and becoming, rather than closed or fixed in a deterministic way. Kast (1991), for example, refers to hope as "an open orientation for the better that extends as far into the future as the afterlife" (p. 148). Bloch (1986) describes it as a unique human faculty to apprehend the future, which is grounded in the very being of humankind and the world. Marcel (1951) depicts it as a "fundamental openness" and an expectant act of the whole person in which "the soul turns toward a light which it does not yet perceive, a light yet to be born . . ." (p. 31).

Lynch (1965) claims that the hoping person is able to move beyond the particular constraints that seem to emaciate life's fullness by cultivating the imagination of an artist, which allows them to transcend the situation, to integrate disturbing facts with broader perspectives, and to build more creative constructions. Moltmann (1991) points out in a counterintuitive twist of conventional wisdom, it is only a dynamically open orientation toward the future that can be considered "realistic." Hope alone takes seriously the generative possibilities with which all reality is fraught. Not content to remain mired down in the deficiencies of the present moment, it recognizes that no matter how seemingly despairing current circumstances might be, "everything is still full of possibilities." Writes Moltmann:

Hope and the kind of thinking that goes with it consequently cannot submit to the reproach of being utopian, for they do not strive after things that have "no place," but after things that have "no place as yet" but can acquire one. (p. 25)

Furthermore, while conventional wisdom suggests that hope finds its meaning in contrast to conditions of adversity, if the stance is taken that hoping is the continuous act of reimagining the future, then adversity need not be accepted as hope's only starting point. As a response to the fundamental openness of the future, hope can thrive under all conditions. Whether in times of difficulty or in times of well-being, hope draws on people's creative resources and allows them to stretch beyond the status quo in search of even more possibilities.

Hoping as a Celebration of Uncertainty

Similarly, hope can be understood as a positive orientation toward the future that precedes and anticipates a coherent image of the future. Kast (1991) and Bloch (1986) suggest that, in affirming the "not-yet-seen," hope does not require a clear picture of the future to come alive. On the contrary, hope's positive orientation endures and perseveres even when the future looks bleak or is "still unnamed." As Kast puts it: "By hoping, we walk toward a light that we do not see but sense somewhere in the darkness of the future . . ." (p. 136). In fact, hoping can sustain us even when our most precious images are lost:

As long as things are going relatively well, we have concrete hopes filled with images and ideas. When we collapse in a heap of shattered hopes, we may still be sustained by hope that is absolute and devoid of images. Gone are any definite ideas about the future; only a sense of being carried and sustained remains. (p. 153)

When people hope, their stance is not only that reality is open, but that it is continually becoming. Rather than trying to concretize and force the realization of a preconceived future, by hoping people prepare the way for possible futures to emerge. In this sense, hoping can be seen as a deeply creative process, one which requires steadfast patience and the willingness to accept uncertainty as the open future is explored and molded into a compelling image of possibility. Writes Kast: "Hope, unlike expectation, does not demand immediate results. Aiming at a more distant future, hope enjoys a greater freedom to let events unfold in their own time" (p. 146). Similarly, Marcel (1951) equates hoping with a calm sense of timing, or "taking one's time," which comes from accepting the "vital rhythm" of one's self, others, and events in the temporal order. He compares this with "the supple movements of the swimmer or the practiced skier" (p. 38), and says that it is a result of recognizing that everything in life is "absorbed and transmuted by the inner workings of a certain creative process" of which we are only a part (p. 40). Drawing the connection between hoping and creativity Marcel writes, "The most genuinely receptive being is at the same time the most essentially creative" (p. 264).

Hoping as Creative Imagination

Taking this stance of reality as open and becoming, imagination is the expansive capacity that propels hope to continually reinterpret and generate realities that empower and enliven possibility. In the literature, imagination is portrayed as the engine of hoping: it is the uniquely human function that allows people to participate actively and construct their meaningful realities. For example, describing it as "the gift that envisions what cannot yet be seen," Lynch (1965) gives imagination a central role in fostering a sense of possibility:

Hope is tied to the life of the imagination-that constantly proposes to itself that the boundaries of the possible are wider than they seem . . . It is able to wait, to wait for a moment of vision which is not yet there . . . It is not overcome by the absoluteness of the present. (p. 35)

Hoping, then, involves a continuous inquiry into and affirmation of the best, most positive aspects of people and situations. As Kast (1991) notes, "Hope can be learned first by our being knowingly dissatisfied and rejecting deficiency, and then by our pursuing the daydreams and imaginary worlds that point the way to change" (p. 151). Hoping engages and apprehends all aspects of a situation but then transcends its seeming impossibilities and attends to its most promising features and possibilities. Thus, Bloch (1986) can say, hope "is in love with success rather than failure" (p. I).

In this sense, inquiry into and reconstruction of hopes must be continuous, for hope can remain a vital and generative force in society only to the extent that it remains dynamic and improvisational. As Marcel (1951) writes, human existence is, in the final analysis, an inexplicable mystery for which there are no final answers. There are simply no established theories that provide an adequate account of human existence. By becoming explorers of this mystery, people expand the realm of the possible for the future. Polak (1973) adds that in order to remain a generative force in society, images of the future require periodic renewal and change. Citing Toynbee, he writes, "that culture survives which can give timely and adequate responses to the evernew challenges that are presented to it" (p. 20). Similarly, Wieman (1930) points out that, while established ideals and hopes guide and inspire, they must never become ends in themselves. A people's ideals, once known, should ultimately serve them as they continue to explore, as their "last devotion," the realm of unknown possibilities (p. 251).

The Moral Dimension of Hope

Hoping as Ultimate Concern

If genuine hope is to be seen as a creative hope, one which takes the initiative to inquire, imagine, and inspire new possibilities for existence, then the question remains: How is hope created and sustained in human communities? More specifically, if hoping is to become a meaningful catalyst for social generativity and well-being, then what must be its object? An intriguing answer to these questions comes from a variety of authors who suggest that constructive hope is enkindled when people, facing the mystery of the future, dialogue about their highest human ideals. Hope springs to life when people pursue what Plato calls the good, the true, and the beautiful; Marcel calls universal values; Bloch calls the absolute, infinite, and unobtainable other; Otto calls the holy; and Fromm calls the transcendent or the spiritual.

Tillich's (1957) treatment of "ultimate concern" provides language that illustrates what these authors all seem to be pointing toward. In his explanation of the dynamics of faith Tillich defines ultimate concerns as those things that sustain and give meaning to the life of an individual or a group at a particular moment in history. Tillich writes:

Man, like every living being, is concerned about many things, above all about those which condition his very existence, such as food and shelter. But man, in contrast to other living beings, has spiritual concerns-cognitive, aesthetic, social, political. Some of them are urgent, often extremely urgent, and each of them as well as the vital concerns can claim ultimacy for human life or the life of a social group. (p. 1)

Tillich suggests that the pursuit of ultimate concerns generates hope by allowing human beings to transcend the relative and transitory experiences of ordinary life and to build for themselves an existence based on a high moral and spiritual ground.

Marcel (1951) talks of hope in terms similar to those of Tillich when he claims that there exists a persistent and inescapable transcendent or noble character to the standards by which human beings govern their collective existence, standards which seem to "belong to a different world, founded on kindness, scruples, sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one" (p. 8). For Marcel, the collective pursuit of these standards, or what he calls universal values, is the essence of human hoping. Likewise for Bloch (1986) hoping is a continuous movement toward the superlative, the sublime, or in his words, "the best as a totality." The best can have many faces-"Happiness, freedom, non-alienation, the golden age, the land flowing with milk and honey, the eternal feminine, the trumpet call in Fidelio, and the Christ pattern of the resurrection day afterwards" (p. 1627)-but it is the condition for hope in any situation. Any objective is hoped for as a realization of what is held to be the best possible.

Hoping as a Life-Giving Act

The notion of ultimate concern gives hoping a moral or spiritual quality that makes it a potent force for sustaining and nurturing human life, even in the midst of overwhelming hardship. Hoping has been characterized as the ability to resist being overcome by the absoluteness of the present; as a quality of being able to live beyond current circumstances; as moving persons in the direction of transcending the status quo; and as an aspect of resurrection or renewal that is not the creation of another reality but a transformation of the present reality into one of greater aliveness (Farran et al., 1995). Frankl (1959) provides an analysis of these life-giving attributes of hope in a personal description of his experience while imprisoned in a concentration camp in Germany. For many prisoners "there was a psychological `giving up,' a loss of faith and belief in the future resulting in apathy" (p. 64). Frankl described these behaviors as hopelessness and noticed that people did not continue to live very long after losing hope. However, even the slightest cause for hope enabled people to continue living even under the systemic horrors and daily executions. According to Frankl, hope was defined by those who survived as a "spiritual freedom, a freedom which cannot be taken away, a freedom that makes life meaningful and purposeful" (p. 66). It is this ability to rise above or to stretch beyond difficult circumstances and to renew life by seeing and building upon those things that claim ultimacy for human existence that is most notably associated with the moral or spiritual dimension of hope.

This moral dimension distinguishes hoping from wishing and optimism. Wishing is more superstitious and consequently more passive than hoping. People may "wish upon a star," use "wishful thinking," or "make a birthday wish," but these wishes depend upon a vague and impersonal luck or magic for their fulfillment rather than upon human or divine love and action. Similarly, optimism is less grounded and less active than hoping. An untested belief that "everything will turn out all right" or that "God will take care of it" can lead to naive spiritual bravado and dangerous physical inaction, especially in difficult, life-threatening, and life-changing situations. Hope's moral quality allows the hoping person to move beyond the traps of superstition and passivity by drawing on affective, spiritual, rational, and relational resources that place immediate circumstances in the context of broader and deeper possibilities.

Hoping as a Source of Moral Vision

In addition to providing a path to renewal, ultimate concerns serve as a source of wisdom that is more holistic and generative than strictly rational ways of knowing. Tillich (1957) suggests that the act of ultimate concern integrates the conscious and unconscious, rational and nonrational, cognitive and affective, social and spiritual, behavioral and linguistic dimensions of the Self and galvanizes them into multidimensional images of moral possibility that spur and guide future action and development. Thus, the act of hoping as ultimate concern takes advantage of a range of affective, normative, spiritual, and relational resources that are typically excluded from the process of knowing, and thereby provides people with a deeper and broader base of wisdom. According to Polak (1973), it is precisely this moral vision that infuses images of the future with generative power. While the rational and intellectual dimensions inevitably play a part in the formation of guiding images of the future, it is the picture of a world that is radically different emotionally, aesthetically, spiritually, and relationally that gives the images their gripping appeal.

It is along this dimension that hoping most clearly distinguishes itself from expectation, self-efficacy, and unidimensional constructs of hope (e.g., Stotland, 1969), all of which are based on rational calculations of probability. As we have seen, hoping as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality that stretches beyond the strictly rational to lead people to behave in ways that may be highly creative and generative and yet seem entirely irrational Many studies have shown that people who, because of some deeper motivation or yearning, persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, are those who make the greatest contributions in their areas of interest. Kuhn (1970) supports this proposition when he suggests that the great scientific revolutions have been products not of rational incrementalism, but of radical shifts in paradigm that were stimulated by the wishes, dreams, hunches, and hopes of scientists working outside the bounds of conventional (and therefore "rational") wisdom.

Hoping and the Integration of the Modes of Time

Commonly knowledge and hope are placed at opposite ends of the epistemological continuum, where knowledge belongs to the verifiable past, and hope belongings to the imagined future. Marcel (1951) and Tillich (1957) take exception to this view and suggest that hoping is a holistic way of knowing that transcends and integrates the modes of time. Marcel (1951), calling hoping the "memory of the future" (p. 53), suggests that when people hope they make a kind of triangulation between the past, present, and future, which frees them from the limits of momentary time and space and allows them to make certain global judgments about life and existence.

This transtemporal understanding implies that history plays an important role in the process of hoping. The images, ideals, values, and "ultimate concerns" embodied in the myths and legends of the past can serve as a rich source of positive possibility by providing the wisdom and linguistic resources necessary for inspiring stirring vistas of the future. Moltmann (1991) clearly and persuasively elaborates this point. He writes:

Past ages ... have to be understood from the standpoint of their hopes .... That is why past positions in history and the traces of vanished hopes can be taken up once more and awakened to new life. The dialectic of the past happening and present understanding is always motivated by anticipations of the future and by the question of what makes the future possible. Future is then found in the past and possibilities in what has been. (p. 265)

Thus, accounts of the past can instill confidence in groups and individuals by grounding their hopes for the future in the traditions, values, images and ideals that have nourished and sustained them in the past.

The Generativity of Hope

Hoping as a Source of Human Creativity and Culture

A variety of authors propose that hoping plays a primary role in determining human behavior at the personal, group, and societal levels. Tillich (1957), in his treatment of ultimate concerns, claims that all products of human creativity, from works of music, literature, art, and architecture to patterns of social organizing can be seen as symbolic expressions of ultimate concerns. Citing as examples the religious inspiration found in the art and architecture of premodern Christianity and the economic inspiration found in the works of modern secular culture, Tillich writes: "[Human] spiritual function, artistic creation, scientific knowledge, ethical formation, and political organization are consciously or unconsciously expressions of an ultimate concern which gives passion and creative eros to them" (pp. 107-108).

Similarly Bloch (1986), in his three-volume work The Principle of Hope, asserts that hope is the source of all human history and culture. To prove his point, Bloch undertakes a sweeping study of Western culture in which he presents "sketches of hope" from every conceivable area of human activity. He describes "wishful images in the mirror," including culturally defined standards of slimness or beauty, the lure of fairy tales, travel, dance, and comedy, and the wishes for a happy ending that pervade popular culture; he surveys "outlines of a better world," including social, medical, technological, architectural, and geographical utopias, as well as "wishful landscapes" contained in opera, painting, literature, philosophy, and leisure; and finally he sketches "wishful images of the fulfilled moment," including discussions of the contemplative life, music, death, and religion (Aronson, 1991).

Throughout his study, Bloch is careful to point out that hope is at work not only in the magnificent works of art and culture of the "masters," but in the dreams, expectations, intentions, wishes, desires, and longings of every member of society. He claims that hope is rigorously existential and can be seen at every moment in our existence: wanting to lose weight, to travel, to be loved and respected, to be successful, to see our children prosper, in paintings, in gardens, in our dreams of being secure and comfortable in old age. According to Bloch, every human creation (idea, relationship, action), which on the surface seems simply to be a mundane response to the vicissitudes of every day life, is in fact a bold proclamation and announcement of a desired future, a living testimony to the generative power of hope.

Hoping as a Source of Positive Affect and Action

Hoping is a source of positive affect that leads to feelings of joy, wellbeing, and fullness of life in human communities. Claiming that "hope is the emotion on which all the other emotions of elation are grounded," Kast (1991) suggests that an image of a better future, where many of the ills of the present situation are redeemed and one's humanness is renewed, creates a sense of security and happiness in the present (p. 135). She adds that because hoping allows a person to enter into symbiotic relationship with others it is connected in a self-reinforcing cycle with love and joy. Love leads to joy which in turn transforms people "into persons who are more alive, who are involved, who have energy to act, who believe in change and, finally, who hope" (p. 108). Similarly, Marcel (1951) draws a connection between hope and what he calls an "ardour for life" (p. 43) that serves as an antidote to despair and stimulates human creativity. In addition, Marcel (1951) claims that there is a "secret affinity between hope and relaxation" (p. 39). When people hope, they become aware that life's trials and tribulations are not final but rather are "destined to be absorbed and transmuted by the inner workings of a certain creative process" of life (p. 39). This awareness instills in the hoping person a sense of patience, security, and serenity.

Polak (1973) draws the link between hope and action when he claims that human beings exercise influence over the future through the images they project, and in turn these images of desirable future events foster the behavior most likely to bring about their realization. He goes so far as to suggest that the image of the future is the single most important dynamic in the process of cultural evolution:

The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive. (p. 19)

Moreover, argues Polak, a society's image of the future fuels social advance by working its way into the collective consciousness by means of utopian writings, which offer a total plan for human regeneration. He writes:

Many utopian themes, arising in fantasy, find their way to reality. Scientific management, full employment, and social security were all once figments of a utopia-writer's imagination. So were . . . all the current concepts concerning labor, from the length of the work week to profit-sharing .... Thanks to the utopists, the Twentieth century did not catch man totally unprepared. (p. 138)

Polak's conclusion is that for any collectivity its image of the future is not only a barometer but also a regulative mechanism which actively promotes certain choices and puts them to work in determining the future.

Hoping as an Inclusive Act

As we have seen, hoping is a relational construct that gains its relevance and its generativity only in the context of social discourse and interaction. Accordingly, many authors warn against the dangers of becoming possessive or exclusive in the act of hoping, suggesting that on both the personal and the societal levels possessiveness leads to false illusions and unrealistic fantasies by fragmenting relationships and pitting competing hopes against each other. Dauenhauer (1986), Marcel (1951), Moltmann (1991), and Polak (1973) suggest that hoping gains its greatest chances for generativity and "genuine futurity" (Bloch, 1986, p. 83) to the extent that it remains "public property," that is, to the extent that it remains an inclusive act, ever seeking to expand the number of participants and invite open dialogue. Writes Dauenhauer:

Hope promotes the sort of listening or hearing which is not confined merely to having one's own discourse somehow confirmed. It promotes a quest for ever more efficacious and comprehensive discourse . . . [and] works to preserve and expand the number of participants in [this discourse]. (p. 99)

To this relational formulation Moltmann (1991) adds that hoping, because it is an act of affirming the life and the potential of the Other, can never be limited in scope. It must always remain universal in character, committed to inclusiveness and to discovering ultimate concerns that announce "a universal horizon that embraces the whole world" (p. 263). Polak (1973) concurs, claiming that historically the most powerful images of the future have not been limited to individual or parochial sets of interests; rather they have included the collective destiny of all humankind. Examples of this kind of universalism include the Promethean myth, the Hellenistic image of democracy and justice, the Christian hope of universal redemption.

Finally, Marcel (1951) suggests that the key to making hoping inclusive, and through its inclusiveness, generative, is to recognize the fundamental relatedness of all humankind. Whenever hoping people see themselves as inextricably linked and essentially interdependent with the whole of humanity, two things begin to happen. First, because they are able to tap into the infinite life-giving opportunities of relationship, they become more generative themselves. Writes Marcel (1951):

The power of animating [existence] is the power . . .of allowing ourselves to be used to the full, of offering ourselves in some way to those . . . life-giving opportunities which the being, who is really available, discovers all around him like so many switches controlling the inexhaustible current flowing through our universe. iP 146)

Second, hoping people contribute more fully to the generativity of others. Understanding themselves to be part of a universal communion apart from which they have no meaning, they begin to hope for all humanity (p. 152). They also gain a sense of being carried and supported by others and begin to realize that even if there is no chance that they themselves will witness the hoped for scenario, in relationship they can carry the fulfillment of their hopes beyond their own existence. In this sense hoping people remain a part of an historical hoping process in which they contribute positively to the generativity of their own and succeeding generations.


In sum, the interdisciplinary literature on hope highlights hoping as a primary source of positive generativity in human communities. As people come together in relationships of mutuality, affirm a dynamic, open, and evolving future that is "full of possibilities," and collectively dialogue about their highest and most transcendent ideals, they create positive guiding images of the future which provide a logic and source of inspiration for social action (see Table II for a summary of hope's enduring qualities).

This perspective has important implications for our task as social and organizational scientists. If the premise that hope is a primary source of positive knowledge and action in organizational life is accepted, and the tenets of social constructionism-that knowledge is a social artifact, that language is the means by which knowledge is developed, that there is an inextricable link between language, knowledge, and action-are embraced, then it can be concluded that the creation of textured vocabularies of hope is one of the most powerful tools available to us if our aim is to advance relational reconstruction and create organizations of positive consequence. The following propositions provide some initial thoughts on how this might be initiated.

Proposition 1. The primary challenge for social science is to enact words, vocabularies, and forms of inquiry that generate relational knowledge of ultimate intent, knowledge which opens new possibilities for noble human action and contributes to the flowering of a vibrant social hope.

As social scientists our vocation is to create new knowledge of social consequence. In the contemporary context, the topic of human hope is an invitation to move beyond the realist pretensions of empiricist foundationalism and the critical urge of postempiricist critique, and to approach organizational research and theorizing as a means of generating the kind of value-rich knowledge necessary for both understanding and transforming socio-organizational realities according to our highest ideals. Since our words, interpretations, theories, and interactions do in fact create worlds, we are free to define research agendas and choose modes of inquiry that promote dialogue about our ultimate concerns and encourage forms of organizing that translate this "ultimate dialogue" into day-to-day reality. As Brown (1994) puts it: "This positive task begins with the human authorship of human worlds: it requires us to imagine more adequate narratives for our political community, and to show how academic writing can help create these narratives" (Brown, 1994, p. 25).

Caption: Table II.

This kind of intellectual and spiritual commitment can be found in the life and work of psychologist and organizational theorist Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933). The simplicity and depth of Follett's writing and the conviction of her social action bear testimony to the ultimate ideals which guided her personal and professional involvements. She dedicated her life to shaping the society of the future by bringing people together across previously polarizing boundaries-the rich and the poor, employer and employee, business and community, nations from around the world-to "see each other's viewpoints and to understand each other better, and integrate those viewpoints and become united in the pursuit of their common goal" (1965, p. 14). In 1940, seven years after her death, colleague Henry Metcalf wrote of Follett:

For she was a person of universal mind and viewpoint, rounded culture, combining an interest in religion, music, painting, nature, history and travel with her consuming lifetime absorption in discovering the basic principles which, put into operation in the government of city, state and nation, as well as of industry, would result in a socio-economic-political order in which every man would have the opportunity to . .live and grow and develop to the utmost of his capacity. (as cited in Follett, 1965, p. 20)

Thus, the picture we have of Follett is that of a dedicated social scientist committed to exploring, interpreting, and influencing concerns of fundamental significance, such as human dignity, respect, freedom, democracy, dialogue, and cooperation, in order to, in her own words, liberate "the socially constructive passion" of every human being (1965, p. 28).

It is to this same kind of commitment that we are invited as social scientists by the topic of organizational hope. By expanding the universe of our exploration to include the phenomena that claim ultimacy for our collective existence, our research can play a constructive role in society by promoting alternative patterns of discourse and generating new bodies of constructive vocabulary that contribute to human hopefulness. Moreover, as a constructionist logic would suggest, the ontological, epistemological, and methodological commitments upon which we base our inquiry will largely determine what we come to discover, know, and contribute to the world of human organizing. In this sense, the more we inquire into and promote constructive dialogue about our ultimate concerns, the more hopeful will become our theory, the more promising will become its potential for positive action, and the more we will become a source of hope to each other.

Proposition 2. As organizational scholars and practitioners, to nurture organizational conditions that unleash human hope may well be our most important task.

Based on the notion that hope is catalyzed and sustained when people come together in mutual relationship to inquire into their highest ideals and to construct a collectively desired future, it is proposed that the most promising methods for understanding and enhancing organizations are dialogic, appreciative, pragmatic, and moral in character. The fundamental importance of dialogic methods (Reason & Rowan, 1981; Kilmann et al. 1983; Freire, 1984, 1994) to human hope is reflected by the variety of OD and social change strategies-including the T-group, quality circles, sociotechnical systems interventions, work teams, executive retreats, future search conferences, learning communities, citizen's action meetings, consciousness-raising forums, and base communities-that are designed to bring people into face-toface conversation. Implicit in all of these approaches is the understanding that our organizational realities are generated in the context of social discourse, and to the extent that our methods include as many relevant voices as possible in constructing those realities, they hold the potential to be broadbased and powerful catalysts of human hope and action.

Appreciative approaches (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987; Srivastva & Barrett, 1988; Srivastva et al., 1990) are based on the constructionist notion that our organizations grow and evolve in the direction of our guiding images of the future. When we inquire into our weaknesses and deficiencies, we gain an expert knowledge of what is "wrong" with our organizations, and we may even become proficient problem-solvers, but we do not strengthen our collective capacity to imagine and to build a better future. By means of inquiry into the life-giving dimensions of our organizations, however, we stimulate our collective imagination and aspirations to create images of new possibilities that guide our action and thereby contribute to the growth and development of human hope.

Pragmatic methods contribute to human hope by producing knowledge that can be used, applied, and validated in action. In contrast to methods that seek to predict and control or merely to describe, pragmatic methods have transformative power; they offer organizational members tools (perspectives, understanding, vocabularies, resources, relationships) that enable them to create new collective realities. For example, cooperative inquiry (Heron, 1971; Reason & Heron, 1986; Reason, 1988), participatory action research (Tendon, 1989; Fals-Borda & Rahman, 1991; Whyte, 1991), action science (Argyris & Schon, 1974; Schon, 1983), action inquiry (Torbert, 1981, 1991), and generative theory (Gergen, 1982) are intended to open fresh alternatives for human action by offering new symbolic resources to people as they carry out their lives together.

While dialogic, appreciative, and pragmatic methods can be seen as an essential starting point for the flourishing of hope in human systems, our review of the literature suggests that collective inquiry into the positive, lifegiving aspects of our organizational existence will fail to reach its full potential as a transforming agent if it becomes stuck at the level of instrumental, transitory, or sectarian concerns. If in the process of our inquiry and intervention we reduce human beings to human resources, relationships to transactions, unlimited organizational possibilities to the confines of a particular strategy, structure, system, plan, policy, or procedure, we may still be able to produce the increased organizational effectiveness and efficiency associated with incremental first-order change, but it is doubtful that we will enliven the human hope and generative social action necessary to bring about fundamental change of the second or third order. As Freire (1994), Polak (1973), and Tillich (1957) suggest, when we create collective images of the future that are not focused on ultimate concerns we complicate and confuse the image rather than clarify it, we constrict and diminish hope rather than inspire it. Deep and collective exploration into ultimate concerns has the capacity to inspire hope precisely because it compels us to transcend the ego, to put ourselves in service of a cause that is beyond us yet that we make our own, and to move toward "the best as a totality."

Much needed is research into the differences between organizational inquiry and intervention processes based on a theory of hope with a specific agenda of ultimate concerns and those designed with a primary focus on strategy, structure, processes, or other such transitory organizational phenomena. We may find that in organizations the more we talk about life's fundamental and ultimate concerns the more our instrumental, transitory, and provisional issues (which at times seem so focal) take care of themselves because of the human hope and solidarity that has been enlivened. We will most certainly find, as the foregoing literature review would suggest, that the very act of collective inquiry into our ultimate concerns will itself contribute to transforming our organizations into places of genuine human hope.


This article has attempted to offer a "textured vocabulary of hope" that provides linguistic resources to organizational scholars and practitioners to enhance the reconstruction of social relationships. It has shown that throughout history hope has displayed four enduring qualities that have allowed it to remain one of the most important factors contributing to the health and vitality of human communities: it is born in relationship, inspired by inquiry into a future that is open to human influence, sustained by dialogue of ultimate concerns, and generative of human affect and action. Two propositions were offered as a conceptual framework for creating forms of socio-organizational inquiry that support the growth of hope in human systems.

Ultimately, textured vocabularies of hope are social constructions like any other; their relevance and meaning are ascribed by the community of voices in which they are debated. What we have tried to do here is offer a positive vocabulary to the dialogue about hope by suggesting that it can serve as a constructive resource for studying, understanding, and empowering organizations to become places of human significance for their members and for the world. Our hope is that these words will contribute to the healthy reconstruction of social relationships in an age of dazzling human variety.

1 Department of Organizational Behavior, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44106.
2 Requests for reprints should be addressed to James D. Ludema, Department of Organizational Behavior, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44106.

3 The review was limited to writings from the Western intellectual project for two reasons: first, it is the tradition with which the authors are most familiar, and second, the volume of literature found in the Western tradition was itself overwhelming. More would have been impractical. Nevertheless, Dauenhauer (1984) suggests that hope, though perhaps not explicitly named, has a central place in several traditions of Eastern thought. Citing Gandhi (1950) and the Bhagavad-Gita (Swarupananda, 1956), Dauenhauer claims that the fundamental message of Hinduism, to renounce everything and to work in service of everything that lives, must be seen as a message of hope because it recognizes a future open to human influence and calls for patient, confident, and courageous action. Likewise, in the Buddhist tradition, the story of the great king Asoka (Reynolds, 1972) signals the importance of hope by affirming the possibility of efficacious human agency in history. And finally, within Confucianism, hope can be found in the all-pervading concern with education and human relations as the means to a moral and socially stable society (Soothill, 1968; also see Dauenhauer, 1984 for more extensive analysis).


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JAMES D. LUDEMA is a Lecturer of Organizational Behavior and Executive Director of the Center for Social Innovations in Global Management (SIGMA) at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University. His interest in the topic of hope as catalyst for social and organizational transformation was initially inspired during the 1980s when he worked as a consultant to social change organizations in Latin America. Additional research interests include organizational storytelling, the human and organization dimensions of global change, and inter-organizational collaboration. Dr. Ludema received his PhD in Organizational Behavior in 1996 from Case Western Reserve University and his BA in Philosophy in 1982 from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
TIMOTHY B. WILMOT is a PhD candidate in Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University and director of research for that school's Global Excellence in Management (GEM) Initiative where he investigates the boldest and most innovative new forms of organizing emerging to address global issues. As an educator and consultant he has worked with a wide range of organizations from the private, public, and voluntary sectors including Bell and Howell Publications Systems, TRY Communications Group, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, and Food for the Hungry International. Mr. Wilmot received his BA in 1988 in economics from Eckerd College and has worked as an associate for the Center for Creative Leadership.
SURESH SRIVASTVA has been a Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Department of Organizational Behavior since 1970, serving as Chairman of that Department from 1970-1984, at Case Western Reserve University. Before coming to CWRU he was a Senior Professor from 1962-1969 at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta and was Visiting

Professor at the Alfred P Sloan School of Management at MIT from 1966-1967. After receiving his PhD in Social Psychology in 1960 from the University of Michigan and having taught at that University, Professor Srivastva joined the Department of Psychology and the Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of California in Los Angeles where he taught and did research from 1960-1962.

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