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About the Guest Editors Martin Harris is currently a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Accounting, Finance and Management, University of Essex. Martin has written widely on the information society and he has edited (with Ian McLoughlin) Innovation, Organisational Change and Technology. His research has been published in leading journals such as The Journal of Management Studies, The Journal of Information Technology, and Information, Communication and Society. E-mail: email@example.com
Harro Höpfl is a Reader in the Department of Accounting, Finance and Management in the University of Essex. His research and publications have mainly focussed on conceptions of authority, order and hierarchy, especially in the political doctrine and practice of religious organisations and thinkers. His most recent publication is Jesuit Political Thought: The Society of Jesus and the State, c. 1540-1630, Cambridge University Press, 2004. His current teaching is on accountability. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Organization in the age of post-bureaucracy
One of the most pervasive themes to emerge in the intellectual debates of the last 15 years has been the “discourse of endings” – derived, in large part, from a belief that the age of “high” modernity has given way to a period of late or post-modernity (Reed and Courpasson, 2004). The sense that the advanced industrial societies had reached an historic “ending” was germane to the “disorganized” forms of production which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s (Lash and Urry, 1987), and it has featured heavily in recent accounts of the new information and communications technologies (Castells, 2000). The master theme of discontinuity has also been reflected in the work of those who rejected the systemic unity and coherence of the rationalist “control” model of organization (Cooper and Burrell, 1988; Clegg, 1990). A parallel and related “ending” is the perceived decline of the welfare state, a growing disenchantment with bureaucratic modes of organizing, and the rise of the “new public management” (Hood, 1998; Greenwood et al., 2002).
Recent comment and debate in critical management theory points, however, to both a theoretical counter-movement and to a more nuanced view of bureaucracy and its relevance for contemporary societies. Large complex organizations have become increasingly heterodox and what has emerged is not “the end of bureaucracy”, but a more complex and differentiated set of “post-bureaucratic” possibilities which have acted to undermine many time-honoured distinctions (market versus hierarchy; centralisation versus decentralisation; public versus private sectors) (Reed and Courpasson, 2004). Whilst there can be little doubt that real and significant changes are underway, it has become apparent that there is no necessary trajectory of historic decline in the bureaucratic form. Yet, many aspects of the post-bureaucratic organization remain under-theorised and under-researched and it is with this in mind that we have assembled the contributions, which make up this special issue. The papers are presented in two loose groupings. The authors in the first group, (Höpfl; McSweeney and Hull) address some fundamental issues raised by “the post-bureaucratic turn” locating the complex changes associated with the latter in the broader historical, intellectual and political context.
Harro Höpfl's re-examination of the Weberian corpus reveals that the so-called “Weberian ideal type” is only ambiguously related to what Weber himself wrote. Weber constructed his ideal type from materials, which reflect a typically nineteenth century preoccupation with historical periodisation. Contrary to the retrospective interpretations of business academics, the Weberian ideal type says very little about the character of modern bureaucracy. Höpfl shows that Weber's ideal type can be re-theorized to include “any non-contradictory attributes”. It follows that there can be adaptations of bureaucracy, but ex hypothesi there cannot be a “post-bureaucratic era”.
The paper by Brendan McSweeney draws on evidence on the reform of the UK civil service over the last two decades to show the intensification of bureaucracy. The paper takes issue with the “epochalist” visions of sudden transformation which have underpinned much of the comment on post-bureaucracy, arguing that the concept of post-bureaucracy is analytically blind to the diversity and complexity of contemporary organizational change. Locating the debate on post-bureaucracy in the broader political economy of neo-conservatism reveals an authoritarian dimension which has been absent from most commentaries.
Richard Hull's paper presents new research on workload allocation models (WAMs) and the new public management (NPM) in the UK university system. The paper draws on the historical sociology of the professions to highlight the dilemmas posed by the adoption of WAMs. Hull argues that calls for increased resources to deal with WAM technology are likely to entail further bureaucratization. The paper concludes by arguing that a more transparent and accountable approach to academic work may offer a more viable way forward than elitist notions of “collegiality”.
Many accounts of post-bureaucracy literature have pointed up the increasing use of private sector models in the public sector organization – (Alvesson and Thompson, 2004). However, existing research shows that the changes associated with the NPM are mediated by the particularities of individual cases. Our second group of papers (written by Josserand, Teo and Clegg; Briand and Bellemare and Harris) examines some of these issues, and in doing so show the diverse and multifaced nature of the changes underway in public sector organizations.
Josserand, Teo and Clegg examine the difficulties experienced in the putative “refurbishment” of a large Australian public sector agency as it made the transition to “corporatization”. Their case study is focused on the transition from personnel management to a more “strategic” role for the human resources function. These changes entailed inherently intractable problems associated with the “stickiness of identity” and the politics of network formation within the organization.
Briand and Bellemare show the complex changes which occurred at the IRDC, a Canadian international development agency. The shows fundamental clash of values. The reform has brought about a “new order” which relies on a centralized model of governance. Moves towards the “post-bureaucratic organization” have entailed intensified surveillance and produced a new structure of domination.
The paper by Martin Harris questions contemporary accounts of “the network enterprise” and “the virtual organization”, arguing that these are founded on a logic which abstracts innovation from its institutional and organisational context. The paper uses a case study analysis of the British Library to explore the relationship between ICTs and new organisational forms. The paper highlights the need to go beyond the binary opposition of “bureaucratic” and “post-bureaucratic” forms. It also shows that the bureaucratic context offers a more propitious environment for innovation than has been suggested by managerialist accounts of the “post-bureaucratic organization”.
Martin Harris and Harro Höpfl
Alvesson, M. and Thompson, P. (2005), “Post-Bureaucracy?”, in Ackroyd, S., Batt, R., Thompson, P. and Tolbert, P. (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Work and Organization, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Castells, M. (2000), The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, The Rise of the Network Society, I, Blackwell, Oxford.
Clegg, S. (1990), Modern Organizations: Organization Studies in the Post-modern World, Sage, London.
Cooper, R. and Burrell, G. (1988), “Modernism, postmodernism and organizational analysis: an introduction”, Organization Studies, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 1-112.
Greenwood, J. et al. (2002), New Public Administration in Britain, Routledge, London.
Hood, C. (1998), The Art of the State: Culture, Rhetoric, and Public Management, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Lash, S. and Urry, J. (1987), The End of Organized Capitalism, Polity Press, Cambridge, MA.
Reed, M. and Courpasson, D. (2004), “Introduction: special issue on bureaucracy in the age of enterprise”, Organization, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 5-12.