No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Peter M. Blau (1974), On the Nature of Organizations, New York: John Wiley & Sons

 

Introduction

In this book, Peter Blau attempts to understand the social structure of interconnected positions in formal organizations by studying the following:

- the external constraints that social relations in a group exert on its members;

- the processes of social interaction in which interpersonal relationships are expressed and which manifest the patterns of social relationships characteristic of group structures (for example, cooperation, competition, deliberation, integration and exchange);

- the interrelationships of the features of social structures themselves (eg organizational size, division of labour, hierarchical and functional differentiation and administrative apparatus).

 

Consultation among colleagues

Blau's first study was a case study of working groups in a federal agency on how informal relationships between colleagues in a bureaucracy influence the performance of tasks. A supervisor who interviewed Blau said, “They (agents) are not allowed to consult other agents. If they have a problem, they should bring it to me.” However, there was an officially prohibited exchange process of consulting colleagues. The practice of consulting colleagues stemmed from the mutual pressure agents felt to consult only the supervisor and their reluctance to reveal their difficulties to him lest it affect his assessment of them. Agents discussed their case with colleagues because they wanted to share an interesting experience or think out loud. This reduced the anxiety caused by difficult problems and thereby improves the ability to solve them. In addition, the experience of being consulted by colleagues increases self-confidence. Through these two processes, the consultation pattern improves agents' ability to make the right decisions for themselves. Blau also found that the value of the respect inherent in being asked for advice again decreased, and the value of the time it takes to give another advice increased. So popular advisors, although they liked to give advice, did not like it when others consulted them very often.

 

From informal processes to structural analysis

Blau's theoretical interest shifted from socio-psychological processes that govern informal relationships in work groups to the principles that can explain the structure of organizations based on the relationships between organizational characteristics. He discovered that only empirical data on many organizations make it possible to dissect the relationships between different organizational characteristics and thus test and refine Max Weber's theory of these relationships in bureaucracies. Blau realized that most of the factors Weber analyzed do not require observation of day-to-day activities, but data on their size, the division of labor between official positions, the hierarchy of authority and the written rules, can be collected. short visits to organizations.

 

Structural analysis of organizations

Blau did a major survey of all employment security agencies and their local offices in the US. In a regression analysis, organization size (number of employees) was found to be related to many organizational characteristics and especially to the various structural characteristics. The relationships between size and division of labor, number of hierarchical levels and number of subdivisions took the same form in small offices as in the headquarters of large offices. Large organizations deal with their broad and complex responsibilities by breaking them down into simpler components, the narrower responsibilities of sub-units and individual functions. Large organizational size reduces the proportionate size of the administrative component, reflecting economies of scale in administration, while differentiation increases it, reflecting coordination problems in complex structures. The causal assumptions are that organizational size is an antecedent and managerial ratios a consequence of differentiation. An important connecting link is the conclusion that feedback effects of differentiation-induced governance problems dampen the influences of size.

 

Social structure

Blau conceives of social structure as the distributions, along different lines, of people across social positions that influence the role relationships between these people. The simplest form of social structure is the distribution of people according to a single parameter, such as age, power, class, and authority. These are not kinds of social structures, but analytic abstractions, and the elements abstracted by different parameters must be combined to give a meaningful description of social structures. People belong to ethnic groups, communities, religious denominations, companies or other places of employment, political parties and groups along various other lines; they differ in social origin, education, profession, prestige, power and in many other respects. Since the social structure is determined by the social distinctions people make, it always involves social differentiation. Blaudistinguishes two fundamental types of parameters: a nominal parameter that divides people into subgroups with clear boundaries without ranking (gender, religion, racial identification, place of employment and political community, organizational divisions, work groups and occupational specialties); a graded parameter distinguishes people based on a criterion of status gradation without defining clear boundaries (prestige, education, wealth and power); an ordinal parameter divides people into groups that have clear boundaries and are ordered in a hierarchy of ranks (castes and estates). Research has shown that:

- social interaction between blacks and whites is less frequent and less close than within each group;

- the role relationships between superiors and subordinates differ from those between subordinates;

- large differences in education hinder frequent and intimate social contacts.

 

In the case of nominal parameters, social intercourse is expected to differ within groups, generally more frequent and intimate. In the case of graduated parameters, such differences are expected to be inversely proportional to state distance. If these expectations are not met by any indication of interpersonal relationships for an attribute that the researcher initially assumed was a parameter, then the assumption that it is a structural parameter serving as a basis for making social distinctions must be abandoned writes Blue. The defining criterion of structural parameters is their association with processes of social interaction, which provides a coherence in the conceptual scheme between social structure and social processes. However, the study of the social processes in organizations and the study of the structure of interdependent attributes of organizations each involve different theoretical concerns, conceptual schemes, and research methods. Therefore, the two should be kept separately.

 

If people who are alike in one respect differ in others, their tendency to associate with persons in their own group or stratum in terms of one parameter inevitably implies that their companions belong to different groups or strata in terms of others. parameters. The ensuing social interaction and communication between groups form the connective tissues that integrate the different parts of the social structure. When a parameter is much larger than the rest in its salience and thus its association with social intercourse, it reduces the propensity to engage in intergroup relationships. Large differences in hierarchical status, especially if status differences coincide in several respects, form strong barriers to social interaction. Marked and convergent differences in wealth, prestige, power and rewards hinder the social integration of complex social structures. The authority structure in large organizations, which entails large and concomitant status differences, is such a barrier, Blau writes.

Blau's analysis of social structure is concerned with the conditions influencing and consequences of structural features, including, in particular, how some structural features affect others, that is, their interdependence.

 

According to Durkheim, a society's division of labor depends on its size and, in particular, on its population density, which intensifies both social interaction and competition in the struggle for subsistence, facilitating the exchanges necessary for specialized pursuits and creating incentives given to reduce competition. conflicts between people in the same profession by diversifying their occupations. Other important influences on the division of labor that Blau sees are the stage of technology and the degree of industrialization in a society, as they free up manpower from agricultural work, needed to provide livelihoods, to engage in a variety of other occupations.

The situation in organizations is different, according to Blau: The influence of technology on the organizational structure is small and is far overshadowed by the major impact of size on it.

 

Durkheim believed that the division of labor in society reduces competitive conflicts, and he largely attributes its development to having this function. The division of labor can also affect education levels and skills. While the subdivision of work makes some jobs more routine, it makes other jobs more specialized, requiring more training, knowledge and skills. Within organizations, structural differentiation increases the managerial component by reinforcing coordination and communication problems.

A final problem of structural analysis is dissecting the interrelationships of various structural features. Blau uses a comparative framework. The fact that family size is related to status for individuals does not tell us whether or how the variances in the two are related for societies, which is what we want to know in structural analysis.

 

Organizations and society

Membership in labor organizations is a nominal parameter of society's structure, which divides the labor force according to where they work into a large number of groups of widely varying sizes. The relationships between organizations and the environment in which they exist are often neglected in organizational studies, says Blau. These can be studied from the significance of the conditions in a bureaucracy and its working groups for the orientation of its members towards the public; or by examining the influences on organizations of their community environment and the wider organizational context in which they are embedded; or one can study the implications of the existence of many large organizations for the structure of society.

 

Power, rather than bureaucratization

Blau writes that there are many theoretical speculations about the impact of bureaucratization on social life. Rather, he looks at the concentration of power. In organizations, top management has the interest and authority to limit competition between departmental managers for budgets to hire more employees and for power, but civil government exerts far fewer restrictions on competition between organizations to expand their size and power. especially in a political system based on a laissez-faire ideology, such as the US.

 

Personal power is limited in scope by its limited liquidity. While it can be used to obtain other valuables in some sort of exchange, an individual's coercive power is limited to those he can subdue, and a charismatic leader's influence is limited to those inspired by his charisma. Financial resources are potential power in liquid form. In an organization, this potential power translates into actual power because employees are limited in good alternative ways to earn wages and salaries. In addition, a large organization with many employees increases the power of top management in the market and in society as a whole. Power in organizations is institutionalized as official authority vested in impersonal offices and principles, and the employment contract obliges employees to conform to these principles governing official relations between incumbents of different offices. The chain of command makes power cumulative by giving successive leadership ranks authoritative control over increasing numbers of employees. Management's authority is reinforced by impersonal controls designed under its direction, such as official written procedures, performance reports, and equipment installation. The pronounced influence of a successful manager who has held his position for a long time tends to become institutionalized and extend the authority of the position.

 

Finally, Blau writes about the power concentrated in the hands of top executives of gigantic organizations. The concentration of organizational power in the hands of few men ("there are few women among them"), shielded from public scrutiny and scrutiny, poses a serious threat to democracy. Societal action is needed to avert this threat, as is knowledge about both the internal structure of organizations and the structure of societies that are increasingly dominated by organizations.

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