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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited
Organizational Change: Sociological Perspectives
Organizational Change: Sociological Perspectives
David CollinsRoutledgeLondon1998214 pp.ISBN 0-415-17156-3£15.99
Keywords Management theory, Organizational change, Sociology
Like layers of skin in an onion, or a box within a box within a box, Organizational Change: Sociological Perspectives attempts to understand change from ever-widening perspectives. The author, David Collins, reviews the literature on management of organizational change, and criticises it as being simplistic, theoretical, biased and pragmatic. Collins outlines four prominent approaches to management: the classical school (power and authority); human relations (democracy and co-operation); contingency theory (contextual); and "guru" theory (eclectic models proposed by leaders in the business or academic world). Collins then catalogues the literature by dividing it into four types: reflections and biographies of hero-managers; the works of "gurus"; student-oriented texts; and critical monographs and research studies.
Following this, Collins proposes that two models dominate the literature of change management: "undersocialized" and "oversocialized" models, and classifies the types of literature accordingly. Undersocialized models are based on rational, sequential processes and offer simplistic, and politically naïve prescriptions. Ignoring social dimensions and contexts of the wider society they assume that all factors are under the control of management. They posit the existence of co-operation and altruism and imply that consent will be easy. Individuals are not seen as human agents and interpreters of events. Issues of control and conflict, and emotional, psychological or personality issues are omitted.
"Socialized" models of change confer on human resource management a key role in changing the culture and remodelling attitudes within organizations. Socialized models foster voluntary commitment of employees, quality improvements, and worker flexibility with regard to time and work tasks. Collins explores the nature of culture (flexibility, norms and values) and argues that change is not as easy to implement as is inferred by socialized models. He argues that culture is a matter of consensus and firmly held internalized attitudes and beliefs. Thus it is arrogant and dismissive of the problem to think it can be easily changed by management.
Advocating Pettigrew's axioms as guides for evaluation, Collins then examines four theoretical frameworks, which differ on the nature of society and organizations: unitarist, pluralist, radical and Marxist. Within them he categorizes undersocialized and oversocialized models. In the unitarist view managers are leaders and organizations are essentially co-operative, integrated harmonious wholes who can reach agreement on aims and means of achieving aims. In the pluralist view conflict is acknowledged as a key dynamic. Organizations are composed of competing interest groups (e.g. managers and trade unionists) and the process of bargaining brings change and development. The radical view examines inequalities in the distribution of power. Organizations reflect the interests of powerful groups, such as the state and larger financial systems, which control business. When challenged, the power inequalities of modern business underlie change management. Finally, the Marxist view tends to focus on inequalities of social class and economic power. The workplace is a site of control and domination of workers by management, and both are victims of capitalist class relations.
Having delved thus far into four layers of analysis, Collins concludes his book with four key philosophical positions that contribute to paradigms in the social sciences positions on ontology (nominalism vs realism); epistemology (positivism vs anti-positivism); views of human nature (determination vs voluntarism) and methodology (nomothetic vs idiographic). Using Burrell and Morgan's analysis, theoretical frameworks are placed within a 2 × 2 grid reflecting conflict and power vs order and stability. Quadrants in the grid are seen as distinctive and mutually contradictory and the unitarist, pluralist, radical and Marxist frames are classified accordingly. The recent claims of new paradigms of change by authors in the 1980s and 1990s are examined, and Collins argues that they are similar to past approaches.
In a final chapter, Collins presents his own view an appeal for "understanding". Collins urges awareness of the complexities and theoretical disputes. Managerial problems should be viewed with more sophistication and academics should not be the servants of management. He urges greater understanding of academic literatures to encompass the sociological nature and historical context of organizations, and greater awareness of bias in extant theoretical frameworks of change.
Collins' book is an amusingly written and refreshing commentary of the literature on change in organizations. The book would appeal to students already familiar with change management problems and theory, who would enjoy a review and critique of this area. The writing is sincere and thoughtful, and Collins strives for academic precision.
However, the book has several limitations, especially for the business novice or introductory student. Collins often does not define or clarify basic terms (e.g. change). One is left with the impression that the author understands and appreciates what he has read, and he often lists a model's selected core ideas; but he fails to succinctly summarize these ideas, clarify, and compare approaches. Concrete examples of managerial problems how particular management strategies may cause or cure them; how the five, ever-widening perspectives might apply to them discussion of such examples are omitted. One also questions the thoroughness and cogency of Collins' selection of review literature. There is no consideration or acknowledgement of core democratic or capitalist thought (individualism) that probably underlies many works. Overall the book is conceptually unwieldy and unsynthesized, lacking direction, coherence and integration. Ultimately, it does not present a framework for analysis. However, this is the challenge. The book was written to encourage a greater effort to construct a sound theory of change management. In this sense, it offers a credible contribution.