Exit and Voice
Hirschman, A.O. (1986), Exit and Voice: An expanding sphere of influence, in: Rival Views of Market Society and Other Recent Essays, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Below, you can firstly read my application of Hirschman's paper to safety management, and secondly my summary of the paper.
Exit and Voice in Safety Management
Albert Hirschman coined the terms Exit and Voice, referring to:
- Exit: the act of withdrawing from a relationship, such as leaving a company or organization;
- Voice: expressing dissatisfaction and proposing improvements through complaints or suggestions.
In the context of safety management, employees may choose to exit an organization if they feel that their safety is not being adequately protected. However, the threat of exit can also increase the pressure for employees to voice their concerns and propose improvements to safety management within the organization.
In terms of voice, Hirschman differentiates between horizontal and vertical dissent:
- Horizontal dissent refers to the expression of opinions, concerns, and criticism among employees, e.g. in informal "learning teams";
- Vertical dissent refers to the expression of grievances or protests to those in power, e.g. through formal reporting systems.
Hirschman writes that horizontal dissent is a necessary precursor to the mobilization of vertical dissent.
Hirschman has coined the concepts of "exit" and "voice" as two responses to dissatisfaction with a given economic or social system. Exit refers to withdrawing from the relationship, such as leaving a company or a country, while voice refers to expressing dissatisfaction and proposing improvements through complaints or suggestions. These concepts can be applied to both economic and political spheres and bridge the gap between them. Certain circumstances may lead to one response over the other, but both mechanisms are often available for choice. The threat of exit can increase the pressure for voice, but actual exit can decrease the expected voice. Short-term decisions for exit can have negative effects on the overall system, and loyalty and trust can play a role in preventing premature exits and promoting voice.
Voice: both vertical and horizontal
Challenges must be overcome before customers or members of an organization can voice dissent. Considering the extreme case of an authoritarian state that suppresses all dissent, Hirschman introduces the distinction between horizontal and vertical dissent.
- Horizontal dissent refers to the expression of opinions, concerns, and criticism among citizens, which can be measured through regular opinion polls.
- Vertical dissent refers to the expression of grievances or protests to those in power.
Horizontal dissent is a necessary precursor to the mobilization of vertical dissent. The worst authoritarian regimes are those that not only suppress vertical dissent but also suppress any form of horizontal dissent. This is a deliberate tactic employed by such regimes to maintain power and stability by isolating and atomizing citizens. Horizontal dissent is also relevant for the prospects of dissent in general. For vertical dissent to occur, members of an organization must be willing to commit to one another and establish an organization that can effectively advocate for their interests.
Exit and Voice in labor unions
The main function of unions is to inform management about the desires and complaints of workers. Collective dissent in the form of negotiations over collective bargaining agreements provides more accurate information about worker dissatisfaction and potential solutions than individual decisions to quit. This leads to decreased turnover, increased productivity and improved working conditions that more than cover the additional costs incurred by management. While unions may play zero-sum games in trying to secure a larger share of profits from concentrated industries, this is less important than the fact that union dissent benefits not only workers and the economy as a whole, but also management.
Exit and Voice in public services
Public services are typically provided by a single public or publicly controlled provider, due to technical or legal monopolies, non-payment, or societal consensus that certain services should be provided to all citizens in equal, publicly controlled quality. Since public services are not subject to the discipline of the market, the question arises of how to maintain performance and quality. One solution is to introduce some form of competition, such as by providing certain goods or services to all citizens through vouchers that can be used to purchase goods and services through regular market channels, reintroducing the possibility of exit. This system has been particularly successful in the allocation of food subsidies.
Exit and Voice in migration
Migration movements can weaken resistance and progress in the areas that people leave. This can be observed in different types of migration, such as rural to urban migration, suburban migration, and international migration. There are cases where migration can have the opposite effect, strengthening resistance and rebellion, which Hirschman calls the "Zigzag model" as it doesn't fully align with his original hypothesis. This could be the case with specific types of migration, such as migration movements where the pressure and dissatisfaction with the current situation is so high that it leads to increased resistance.
Migration can weaken resistance (voice) and reduce the chances for progress and reform in the areas that people leave (exit), and it can also lead to a process of decay. Migration can also strengthen resistance (voice), by providing the potential for the people who leave (exit) to return with new ideas and resources. Additionally, the mobility of capital and its tendency to migrate can be a major reason for the weakness and instability of peripheral capitalist states.
Exit and Voice in marriage
When a marriage is in crisis, couples can either try to repair their relationship (voice) or get divorced (exit). The ease and low cost of divorce can lead to weaker attempts at reconciliation, and this trend has been observed in the United States in recent years(Hirschman was writing in the 1980s), with the passage of laws making divorce easier. This development has negative consequences for the stability of marriages, and the removal of the requirement for one partner to be at fault in a divorce has led to a significant increase in the divorce rate.
Exit and Voice in adolescence
The development phase of adolescence is often seen as a process of detachment from parents and an independent honor, but maintaining and enriching the connection with the older generation through continued communication is important too. The conflict between adolescents and parents is difficult to resolve solely through contradiction and it involves a mix of exit and voice which is gender specific. Girls are said to place greater value on enduring family ties than boys and therefore experience more tension between exit and voice.