philip selznick, 1919-2010

I learned recently that Philip Selznick, the great organizational sociologist and legal scholar, passed away on June 12. Here is an excerpt from the Berkeley press release:

“The Berkeley community lost one of its post-war academic giants, whose scholarship and leadership helped shape the theory and sociology of organizations and transform the social study of law,” said David Lieberman, professor at UC Berkeley School of Law (Berkeley Law) and a close colleague of Selznick’s.

Selznick was considered a founder of the institutional perspective in organization theory.

“He showed that organizations are living institutions imbued with cultural and informal characteristics that can constrain and also enhance rationality,” said Lauren Edelman, associate dean of Berkeley Law’s Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program and a professor of law and sociology.

Selznick is credited with helping transform the social study of law by developing a new scholarly approach, one that combined elements of traditional jurisprudence concerning the aims and nature of law with social science understandings of organizational dynamics and constraints.

“The resulting mixture of institutional realism, social theory and normative inquiry offered a novel approach to the understanding of legality and the rule of law while making a decisive contribution to the developing field of law and society,” added Lieberman.

I am an admirer of Selznick and feel lucky that I was able to talk with him on the phone a couple of years ago.  He was still interested in scholarship and was willing to help out a young scholar like myself. I’m grateful for that.

We’ve written a lot about Selznick here at orgtheory. Here are some highlights:  Matt Kraatz on Selznick’s ideas about ideals and ethics, institutional thinking, authentic values, and a humanist science; Selznick on the formation of character as a life-stage process;  Selznick’s underrated Leadership in Administration; Omar on why Selznick is due for a revival; and the major contribution of organizational theory comes, of course, from Selznick.

Written by brayden king

August 20, 2010 at 12:28 am

Posted in brayden, sociology

6 Responses

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  1. Big loss for the field. Great contributions. (Wish I had had a chance to meet him personally.)



    August 20, 2010 at 12:35 am

  2. […] Selznick is dead: Selznick was considered a founder of the institutional perspective in organization […]


  3. So glad you wrote this as the only official write-up I had seen was the Berkeley press release and I have found his work really useful. Is it odd that the Times did not do an obit, or did I just miss it?



    August 20, 2010 at 1:17 pm

  4. I didn’t see a NYTimes obit either. Must be an east coast thing.


    brayden king

    August 20, 2010 at 5:41 pm

  5. I had no idea he had passed. Leadership in Administration should be mandatory reading for all MBAs. Thanks for the information.



    August 22, 2010 at 10:47 pm

  6. […] sometimes spearheading controversial research, always questioning the orthodoxy of liberal ideas. Selznick, of course, was very influential in shaping the fields of organizational sociology and law and […]


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