thinning out orgtheory

Recently, Elizabeth and Brayden have drawn attention to the institutional position of organizational sociology. Three pertinent facts:

  1. A lot of organizational sociologists have moved to b-schools.
  2. The major orgtheory/b-school journal, ASQ, rarely publishes people in sociology programs.*
  3. The dominance of institutional theory

When I look at these trends, I see two things. One, orgtheory has market value. A low budget discipline like sociology simply won’t retain people. Two, I think there is a “thinning” that is occurring in orgtheory. While orgtheory remains vibrant, it is now, in sociology, a field that has jettisoned much of its heritage. Sociologists have gravitated toward big structural theories, like institutionalism, networks, and ecology (the big three, as Heather might say). But what happened to the rest? Why don’t sociologists care about Carnegie school theory? Why have people stopped working on Blau style middle level theory? Human relations?

The answer is not clear to me. One culprit might be the journal system. To succeed in sociology at the higher levels, you need fast publication in two or three journals and it’s probably easier to just work on well established variables/processes (diffusion/density/networks). I certainly did that and I freely admit that I’d be unemployed if I tried to hatch new variables. Second, there might simply be a new division of labor in academia. The “sociology of organizations” now simply means structural analysis. An “b-school orgtheory” means other features of orgs, like performance, that sociologists care less about.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

* That didn’t have to be the case, Don.


Written by fabiorojas

June 12, 2014 at 12:14 am

2 Responses

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  1. Sociology is a field that is very broad; the ASA has 52 sections. As students take up the study of sociology, they develop new ideas and spend only a small amount of time integrating past ideas into their new ideas. What exactly are emerging ideas? Also, historical events cause the value of different theories to change. Sociology before and after WW1, and before and after WW2, and before and after the Vietnam War are quite different. Only when historians of sociology attempt to integrate the oeuvre of major sociologists, and then compare their work with others of that and different time periods. What is going on in the field is usually known only to major writers, editors, and publishers. The collaborations and conflicts between and within schools and individuals is not readily apparent until years later when reflective analyses try to interpret what happened.

    For example, if you consider the work of Talcott Parsons, Peter Blau, Basil Bernstein, Alvin Gouldner and many many others, it is hardly obvious how their work was extended or how their work was applied or integrated with others. What effect does their work have on managers, policy decisions in government or corporations? These things are not obvious. Even the role of organization theory, or organizational dynamics, is simply not clearly delineated. Perhaps, some individuals use their ideas to develop insights or even to apply within their work contexts in explicit ways, but it is not clear how. It seems to me that the work of Erik Olin Wright and Anthony Giddens could stand to be integrated from a meta-analytical level, but I haven’t seen any serious studies that look at paradigms and their social effects. The major sociologists go through a period of criticism where their work is downsized or minimized until they are considered historical; I do not think that Comte or Durkheim or even Park and Burgess should be forgotten or given a short section in a textbook. But, the key names often do not take hold among the everyday people and their situations.

    The relationships between ideas or theories depends on pragmatic contexts where talk and interaction are integrated with theoretical consciousness. This is rare and occurs only among persons who are either at or more likely above the professorial status level. The ethnographic level of analysis is common and is used merely to elucidate what is already happening, not potentials or correctives to social fields of relationships and interactional contexts. Who follows Geertz that closely? The role of power, influence, propaganda and policy pertains to leadership positions which cannot be said to be theoretically informed. Consider the small protests relative to the majority surrounding the truth of what 5 presidents said about Vietnam, arguably an unnecessary war. It is not clear that theory has a role of directing action, however, a few theorists have become popular.


    Fredrick Welfare

    June 12, 2014 at 1:13 am

  2. Do you mind if I re-ask the question, “Why don’t sociologists care about Carnegie school theory?” (I am a political scientist who does care about it.)



    June 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm

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