Rethinking Power in Organizations, Institutions, and Markets: Volume 34


Table of contents

(17 chapters)

Power and domination once occupied center stage in organizational sociology. But as the field developed, the concept of power was marginalized and its overall significance for the drama of organization life neglected. Normative critiques of domination were recast as puzzles of obedience to authority, while scholars wishing to study the concrete workings of power regimes found themselves groping in the shadows. In this introduction, we advocate putting power and domination back on the agenda. Following the lead of classical theorists of power, we argue that organizations should be seen as scenes of struggles and as political projects to be constantly achieved and reconstructed. We critique structural and abstract perspectives that neglect the constant engagement of people in the negotiation of rules, meanings, and destinies. And we survey novel ideas that can help us to see power not as an abstract entity but as a pattern of interactions and social relationships that is instantiated in specific projects of domination and resistance. It is through this lens that power studies can be reinvigorated.

This chapter reviews three analytical perspectives – ‘structural’, ‘network’ and ‘cultural’ – on the study of power and their implications for theorizing elites. It builds on this initial theoretical review by developing a critical realist approach to the study of organizational elites out of the structurally based perspective identified in the first section of the chapter. The explanatory potential of this critical realist approach is then illustrated through two case studies of ruling elites embedded in contrasting historical, political and social contexts. The final section of the chapter provides a discussion of the wider implications of these case study analyses for understanding and explaining the ‘new feudalism’ which is emerging in advanced political economies and societies.

Many bureaucracies still exist, and not just in the public sector. Increasingly, however, we would argue that they are more likely to evolve towards polyarchic forms because of the growing centrality of stakeholder resistance, especially that which is premised on empowerment of key employees. We suggest that managerial responses to this resistance are transforming bureaucracies through process of accommodation: upper echelon managers invent responses to contentious acts and voices so as to reintegrate ‘resisters’ while rewarding them for contesting decisions in a cooperative way. Understanding these processes help us understand why traditional bureaucracy is currently transforming itself as a result of the emergence of new forms of resistance in the workplace.

Bureaucratic power – the power derived from the formal authority of the bureaucratic organization – has become a central organizing mechanism in modern societies. In this study, we develop theoretical arguments to identify institutional sources as well as limitations of bureaucratic power. We argue that the very institutional sources of bureaucratic power also cultivate the countervailing forces that set limit to the exercise of bureaucratic power in formal organizations. These arguments and considerations are illustrated in two case studies of the “inspection and appraisal” processes in the Chinese bureaucracy. Our study raises issues about organizational isomorphism and calls for a closer look at the behavioral patterns in organizational processes.

This chapter uses the case of American think tanks to develop the idea of a “boundary organization,” or a formal organization that acquires its distinctiveness and efficacy from its intermediate location in the social structure. Traversing, overlapping, and incorporating the logics of multiple institutional spheres – including those of academia, politics, business, and the market – think tanks at first seem to be organizations “divided against themselves.” However, by gathering complex mixtures of otherwise discordant resources, they create novel products, carry out novel practices, and claim for themselves a crucial mediating role in the social structure. This chapter's ultimate aim is to consider the implications of this idea for theories of organizational power. With respect to this aim, I argue that boundary organizations – and organizational boundary-making processes in general – underscore the need to think about power in relational and processional terms.

Drawing on Bourdieu's field, habitus, and capital, I show how disparate experiences and “dispositions” shaped several departments’ development in the organization behind the annual Burning Man event. Observations and interviews with organizers and members indicated that in departments with hierarchical professional norms or total institution-like conditions, members privileged their capital over others’ capital to enhance their authority and departmental solidarity. For another department, the availability of multiple practices in their field fostered disagreement, forcing members to articulate stances. These comparisons uncover conditions that exacerbate conflicts over authority and show how members use different types of capital to augment their authority.

The question of power, long indispensable to organizational analysis, remains the elusive but essential key to understanding the employment relation within the contemporary capitalist context. Taking up this question, this chapter critically examines two of the more prevalent approaches toward work organizations – neo-institutionalist theory and labor process analysis – and engages a third, less widely utilized approach: Foucault's theory of governmentality. By weighing the strengths and weaknesses of familiar analytical traditions and providing insight into an emergent theoretical approach, we offer some observations and suggestions that might enrich the study of work, power, and organizations in the coming years.

This chapter explores dominant ideologies theoretically in an organizational setting. A framework is developed to advance our understanding of how ‘dominant ideological modes of rationality’ reflect predictability through the reproduction of accepted truths, hence social order in organization. Dominant ideological modes of rationality constitute professional identity, power relations, and rationality and frame prevailing mentalities and social practices in organization. It is suggested that members’ categorization devices structure and constrain social practices. Supplementing the existent power literature, the chapter concludes that professional identity produces rationality, power and truth – truth being the overarching concept assembled through the rationalities assembled in professional members’ categorization devices. Research and managerial implications are discussed.

This chapter examines the mass movement of Americans into investing during the 1990s as both a consequence and a cause of contested power between corporations and individuals. This movement was part of a larger historical pattern of economically marginalized people consolidating their power through associational strategies in the realm of finance. Using US investment clubs as a case study, the chapter draws on Foucault's theories to illuminate the bilateral power structure of modern capitalism, in which market institutions and small groups at the grassroots level mutually influence one another. While the investment club movement was in part a response to economic domination by corporate and political elites, it also catalyzed genuine shifts in the power dynamics between individuals and corporations.

At the nexus of social movement and organizational studies is the question of how social movements matter to organizational processes, such as how anticorporate activism impacts corporations, markets, and industries. This chapter presents a framework for better answering this question. The chapter suggests that the contentious and private politics literature should be brought closer together to understand this phenomenon. Drawing on the concepts of scale shift and the political, industry, and corporate opportunity structures, the chapter illustrates how the contentious politics literature can be adjusted to help explain the outcomes of private politics.

The discovery of meso-level social orders in organizational theory, political sociology, and social movement theory, what have subsequently been called sectors, policy domains, and most popularly, fields (or in organizational sociology, organizational fields), opens up a theoretical terrain that has not yet been fully explored (see Martin, 2003 for one view of fields). In this chapter, we propose that in fact all of these phenomena (and several others), fields, domains, policy domains, sectors, networks, and in game theory, the “game” bear a deep theoretical relationship to one another. They are all a way of characterizing how meso-level social orders, social spaces are constructed. We want to make a bold claim: the idea of fields is the central sociological construct for understanding all arenas of collective strategic action. The idea of fields is not just useful for understanding markets and political policy domains, but also social movements, and many other forms of organized social life. In essence, scholars working on their particular empirical corner of the world have inadvertently discovered something fundamental about social structure: that collective actors somehow manage to work to get “action” toward their socially and cultural constructed ends and in doing so, enlist the support of others in order to produce meso-level social orders.

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Research in the Sociology of Organizations
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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