from Marx, Durkheim, and Weber to demographic, relational, and cultural perspectives

orgheads alert, courtesy of Eric Dahlin!  Still thinking about the conversation started at the 2014 ASA panel about the future of the sociology of organizations?  The organizations and work section of the  Sociology Compass continues this conversation in two overview articles, both of which are currently ungated until the end of this month.  Heather A. Haveman and Rachel Wetts introduce organizational sociology, starting with the founders of sociology:

Organizational theory: From classical sociology to the 1970s


Organizations are the fundamental building blocks of modern societies. So it is not surprising that they have always been at the center of sociological research, starting with Marx and Weber. And although Durkheim did not explicitly analyze organizations, his work has clear implications for the study of organizations. We review the insights of these three pioneering sociologists and then discuss ideas about organizations proposed by other scholars, from both management and sociology, from 1910 to the mid‐1970s. Marx, Weber, and Durkheim’s theoretical frameworks were tools for understanding the transition to modernity. Marx and Weber saw organizations as sites of class struggle and rationalization, respectively, while Durkheim focused on social cohesion and collective sensemaking, both of which underpin organizations. Later theorists focused more closely on the meso‐level and micro‐level processes that happen within and between organizations. These later theorists emphasized pragmatic concerns of optimizing organizational efficiency and labor productivity (scientific management and human relations theories), processes of affiliation and hierarchy (Simmel), limits to rational decision‐making (the Carnegie School), and environmental conditions that shape organizational processes and outcomes (contingency theories). A companion paper describes the three perspectives (demographic, relational, and cultural) that have dominated sociological research on organizations since the mid‐1970s.

Their second article continues into recent decades with typologies of research:

Contemporary organizational theory: The demographic, relational, and cultural perspectives


We review three perspectives—demographic, relational, and cultural—that have dominated sociological research on organizations during the past four decades. These perspectives arose in reaction to the atomistic and rationalist–adaptationist assumptions of earlier perspectives on organizations. These perspectives have different conceptions of social structure and thus different conceptions of what creates opportunities for and constraints on action. The demographic perspective holds that social structure is constituted by distributions of social actors along salient dimensions of social and physical space; the relational perspective, by webs of social relationships; and the cultural perspective, by widely shared and patterned understandings of reality and possibility. These perspectives also have different conceptions of identity and therefore motivations for action. For demographers, identity derives from position, absolute or relative, along salient dimensions of social life; for relational scholars, from ties among individuals, groups, and organizations; and for cultural scholars, from social interaction. All three perspectives have been applied to explain behavior at five different levels of analysis: the individual, group or organizational subunit, organization, industry or organizational population, and field. Up to the 1990s, these perspectives were generally applied separately, but over the past two decades, studies have increasingly used multiple perspectives.


Written by katherinechen

March 20, 2019 at 11:07 pm

One Response

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  1. Thanks, Katherine!


    Heather Haveman

    April 5, 2019 at 5:06 pm

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