12 August 2009

Even the 1950s Recognized the Utility of Valence Theory

Or at least, something like Valence Theory. I'm currently reading - a lot - to gather up the literature contexts for my research findings. In Martin Parker's 2000 book, Organizational Culture and Identity, the author recites a history of "organizational culturism," mostly demonstrating that it has been primarily of the managerialist persuasion. This means that authors like Edgar Schein (famous for his 1985-with-two-subsequent-editions classic, Organizational Culture and Leadership) for example, engineer organizational culture as a means to more humanistically instill control mechanisms via cultural hegemony.

Parker then draws our attention to a passage from Fritz Roethlisberger and William Dickson, they of the famous Hawthorne Experiment that laid the groundwork for the Human Relations Movement in organizational behaviour:
Many of the actually existing patterns of human interaction have no representation in the formal organization at all, and others are inadequately represented by the formal organization. … Too often it is assumed that the organization of a company corresponds to a blueprint plan or organization chart. Actually, it never does. In the formal organization of most companies little explicit recognition is given to many social distinctions residing in the social organization. (In Merton, et al., 1952)
What’s fascinating to me is the recognition during the 1950s of the importance of the types of informal interactions that occur in what we now call a network organization (Castells, 1996) using more a more contemporary metaphor. I would argue that the “network organization” metaphor is limiting, drawing, as it does, on associations with computer networks that are perceived by many to dominantly transfer information (or more precisely, data)*. As our understanding of the effects of social media increases, one could say that computer networks are becoming understood to transfer relationship connections and social interactions, gradually bringing more general applicability and relevance to the “network organization” metaphor. Nonetheless, that early recognition of the inadequacy of formal organizational representations supports a more general model, like Valence Theory, as being more useful in understanding organizational dynamics and behaviours.

* My problem with this knowledge/information-favouring metaphor is that it reinforces knowledge supremacy in the Druckerian conception of the so-called knowledge economy. And what's wrong with that? In the application of that discourse, Knowledge is constructed as a rivalrous commodity both within and among competing organizations. Knowledge is thus no longer the flame that can ignite a thousand candles without diminishing itself. Rather, it is equated with political, social, and economic power, to be held to one's own advantage, restricting creativity and innovation to our collective detriment.

  • Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Merton, R.K., Gray, A.P., Hockey, B. & Selvin, H.C. (1952). Reader in bureaucracy. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
  • Parker, M. (2000). Organizational culture and identity: Unity and division at work. London: SAGE.
  • Schein, E. H. (1985/1992/2004). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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