Research Proposal: Organizational Theory: Strengths and Weaknesses

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Organizational Theory: Strengths and Weaknesses of the Modernist, Symbolic-Interpretive and Postmodern Perspectives

Organizational theory, or the theory of how individuals function within formal and informal groupings, has undergone several paradigmatic shifts: from the classical or modern systems theory style of analysis, to the symbolic interpretive paradigm, to postmodern theory, although all of these ideas continue, to some extent, to influence managerial practices in business and public organizations. The modernist or classic theory of organizations came about partially as a result of the ideas of Max Weber and Karl Marx. It views modern bureaucracies as a product of industrialization and the need to organize, classify, and negotiate the complexities of urban life. Industrialization requires organizations to be standardized, mechanized, and impersonal, and proceed according to objective guidelines under its tenants. Control, routine, and specialization are preconditions for capitalism and free trade to function (Hatch, 1994, p. 22). The newest incarnation of modernist theory, also called systems theory, stresses laws, rules, and systems over the importance of individuated personal actors. The whole structure is more important than its component parts.

Systems theory gets its name from the fact that a system is an entity with interconnecting parts -- it can describe a cell in the human body, a government, or a corporation. Systems theory in the natural sciences had a profound effect on the way managers saw the world. The systemic view of the world, like how a frog's leg kicks as part of a series of biological reactions, has been applied to the complex bureaucracies that make up the modern world. Bureaucratic rules generate reactions that fulfill functions and enable the whole system to survive, and the systems dependant upon the organization are dependant upon other systems. The theorist Kenneth E. Boulding even created a hierarchy of systems, beginning with Stage 1 systems as simple as frameworks (such as atoms) to transcendental theoretical systems that attempt to categorize and organize the entire universe (Hatch, 1994, p. 36). Stage 4, or open systems such as cells take in elements from the environment as well as transmit products, so they are the foundation of modern systems theories because they are dynamic in nature. Natural science has proceeded far beyond such conceptions of systems theories, but the fundamental concepts that defined the idea remain influential in the social sciences.

The value of systems theories is that it enables analysts to see how all elements of organizations are connected -- how logistics affects human relationships: forcing employees to do frequent shift work at a plant will affect their attitude about the company and the strain of long hours will affect the quality and safety of the production process itself. Also, systems theory is dynamic on the macro level, allowing for ever-more complex organizational levels to be generated. Organizations are composed of super-systems (such as the top management personnel), systems (middle manageable) and subsystems (supervisors) (Hatch, 1994, p. 40). All of these different levels must be synchronized and subject to continual improvement. For example, an organization can have wonderful retail clerks who are friendly, but if the product is not delivered on time, customers will no longer purchase the product. A friendly bank with prudent branch managers will fail if top-level executives at the helm of the multinational organization are corrupt. The influence of systems theory is still evident in modern organizations such as in companies where 'continuous improvement' of the product is fostered by broad, organizational rules and in a negative fashion where too much bureaucracy is criticized for creating a culture of corruption or intransigence in government.

Symbolic interpretive perspectives focus on the social construction of reality and suggest that organizations do not grow organically and naturally more complex, but are created and sustained in a more socially and verbally discursive and less logical fashion. In fact, the subconscious rather than the conscious level of organizational creation is more important to symbolic interpretivsts. According to sociologist Karl Weick, there is no objective reality, it is only by speaking of our reality that we create it -- for example, by classifying 'truancy' as a crime amongst juveniles, this status is created as potentially troublesome (Hatch, 1994, p. 41). By stressing 'value' in their advertising, food companies such as McDonald's create the equation of quantity with value in the customer's mind, even though eating to excess may not really be logically valuable.

By analyzing the constructed world, symbolic interpreters can gain insight about how human beings function in a specific context. Symbolic interpretivists see… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Organizational Theory: Strengths and Weaknesses."  Essaytown.com.  August 20, 2009.  Accessed November 15, 2019.
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