Organisational behaviour is one of the most complex and dynamic fields of study. This is because of the different avenues of study. The other reason is the availability of many theories and perspectives. Bolman and Deal (2008) have suggested that the best way of studying this field is via different lenses or rather perspectives of the organisation. Organisational behaviour can be studied through modern, Symbolic-Interpretive and Post-modern perspectives.
The modernist perspective argues that it is not possible to totally understand the social world separate from the autonomous minds of the social players as well as its environment. This means that for a researcher to understand culture within organizations, which is a social phenomenon, cannot be understood without incorporating the views of the players within the organisation and the environment within which the organisation operates.
From the modernist perspective knowledge can only be developed and understood from the perspectives of the people who work and operate within the organisation (Hatch and Cunliffe 2006). Symbolic interpretive suggests different interpretations of social situations. The theorists who follow this point of view argue that in any given circumstances, there exists different interpretations since as in the modernist perspective, there are various players. The individual players have their own ways of interpreting different aspects of the organisation (Bolman and Deal 2008).
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Postmodernism is a completely different philosophy from the other two. Hatch (2006) argues that “postmodernism diverges from the other two perspectives in its unwillingness to seek Truth, or to make permanent ontological or epistemological commitments such as those that give rise to modernist forms of scientific endeavour or to symbolic-interpretive descriptions of meaning and human meaning making activity” (Hatch 2006: 16). Postmodernism claims that settling on a particular philosophical perspective gives some knowledge a higher privilege than others.
This perspective rejects the idea that there is any definitive Truth in the social world. Similar to interpretivist perspective, this perspective suggests that social knowledge is relative or contextual. This means that it relates to the persons and their experiences at a given point in time. Nevertheless, since language is a contextual construct, that has no particular meaning, this perspective claims that it is impossible to have an accurate account of remote experiences. It is also not possible to have ultimate statements about social actuality.
This means that according to the theorists in this perspective, there is no partiality of ontological or epistemological ideologies. Postmodernism is the perspective that takes into account the modern idea of social reality (Hatch and Cunliffe 2006). This paper in on Power and control within organizations as understood through Modern, Symbolic-Interpretive and Post-modern perspectives. Power can be defined as the underlying capacity to influence other people’s actions, thoughts and feelings.
Power and control can be considered as structural phenomena that are closely associated with resource allotment and dependence within an organisation. For power and control to be in place, there must be uneven relationship between parties where one party depends on another for some resources. In formal organisations power can be seen as authority. In organisations, there are different kinds and levels of power. One of the forms of power is authority that a person gains in respect to his or her position or rank within the organisation (Hatch and Cunliffe 2006).
Modern perspective of power in organisations Gerald Salancik and Jeffrey Pfeffer came up with strategic-contingency theory. Their idea was based on the belief that power is an essential part of an organisation’s capacity to ally itself within is environment. This theory is in line with systems theory, which takes organisations as systems that have boundaries that trades with the environment and must adapt to the environment as their means of survival. This means that for organisations to make exchanges with the environment and adapt to it, power is necessary.
According to strategic-contingency theory the subunits of the organisation that are capable of coping with the critical difficulties and uncertainties of the organisation are able to gain power. Therefore as per Salancik and Pfeffer the sources and those who hold power are persistently in flux depending on the challenges faced by the organisation. Their idea is significant and represents a move in thinking about the use and meaning of power in organisations.
Therefore, where power is viewed as an acceptable and basic element of organisation’s wellbeing, then ‘organisational politics’ should not be stopped for apprehension that the adaptability of the organisation will be reduced. Salancik and Pfeffer argue that “to the extent that power is determined by the critical uncertainties and problems facing the organization and, in turn, influences decisions in the organization, the organization is aligned with the realities it faces. In short, power facilitates the organization’s adaptation to its environment…” (Pfeffer and Salancik 1977: 366).
This theory is in line with modern perspective of organisation since it is dependent upon formal and objective structures of organisations like subunits so as to offer an explanation on the sources and utilisation of power. The theorists argue that the sources or power and control within organisations are dynamic and continuously changing depending on the environment within which the organisation operates (Pfeffer and Salancik 1977) Interpretive view of power and control French and Raven suggested five kinds of social power: reward, coercive, legitimate, referent, and expert power.
The reward power is the kind of power where those in authority are able to offer positive rewards. Coercive power is where those in authority use force to have things done, where failure results to some form of penalty. Legitimate power is based on the values and commitments that a person has for the entity in authority. Referent power is the kind of power that is achievable through association. Expert power is the kind of power that is achieved via specialised knowledge. Key to French and Raven’s concept of power is the belief that all recognised bases are central to individual level of evaluation.
According to these two theorists: “Our theory of social influence and power is limited to influence on the person, P, produced by a social agent, O, where O can be another person, a role, a norm, a group, or part of a group” (French and Raven 1959: 346). They base their theory of power and control within organisations on the attraction and resistance between P and O. They also argue that these bases are perceptual. This is because the P must expect O to have the given power base. This means that the five kinds of power can only be effective when P accepts that O rightfully has the power and authority.
There is a subjective balance in P and is argued to be dynamic founded on the kinds of power used by O. This interpretation of power and control within organisations differs from the modern perspectives in that it focuses on multiple sources of power and control based in the insights in the person and without any actual reliance on an objective structure (French and Raven 1959). According to John Kotter there are four ways by which managers develop power and control within an organisation.
Firstly, this is achieved by developing a sense of obligation in other people. Once a manager is successful, the juniors feel that they should let the manager to have influence over them within particular boundaries. The second way that managers generate power is through belief in the experience of the manager. The third method is through unconscious or psychological identification. On the basis of Freud’s ideas of unconscious, Kotter views the conscious and the unconscious perspective of managers as a source of power and control.
The last method is the perceived reliance on managers. Kotter argues that this is possible through either the real accumulation of resources or just through the perception of such accumulation. After Kotter discusses the sources of power, he goes ahead to explain how the power can be used to influence and transform organisational behaviour. Just like the argument of French and Raven, Kotter claims that it is totally up to people to give power to the manager and therefore power goes in multiple directions (Kotter 1977).
Postmodern perspectives of power and control within organisations Michael Foucault came up with the idea of disciplinary power that happens when “the anticipation of control causes people to engage in self-surveillance” (Hatch, 2006: 275). This means that having people police themselves, they get to be submissive and self-disciplined. This kind of power is evident where there is a habitual practice of surveillance for example educational institutions and correctional facilities. Good example given here is Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptican prison system.
In this system, there is a single guard tower placed in such a way that the guard can watch every cell, but the inmates are not able to see the guard. The effect here is that the prisoners are aware that they are under surveillance, but they cannot tell when. This creates a sort of disciplined control within the inmates themselves. This theory stresses on the significant part played by disciplinary technologies and as a result of internalised control within the people in the organisation.
In the contemporary technological era, where the cost of disciplinary technology has become low, the organisational life is managed through disciplinary power. Foucault as well as other postmodern theorists argue that disciplinary power is available in all social relationships making it part of the daily lives. Rather than rely on hierarchical and well-organized systems or exclusively reliant on personal insights, this kind of power is contextually based (Foucault 1995). Joan Acker contributed to postmodern perspectives in her idea of gendered organisations.
According to Acker, the attempts to eliminated sexuality from organisations, as put forward by modern theorists, were part of the general process that distinguished “the home, the location of legitimate sexual activity, from the place of capitalist production” (Acker 1990: 151). This initial differentiation fuelled the idea of gender-based power and control within organisations. As a result of this differentiation between the private and public arenas, the dynamics of power and control within organisations became more masculine-oriented, marginalising the role and worth of females.
Acker advocates for gender equality in terms of power and control within the organisation. Her theory belongs to postmodern perspective due to the contextual relationship between gender and power within organisations. Her argument is that power within organisations is founded on symbolic models of ideal roles, where masculine is not founded on any logical or structural analysis (Acker 1990) Conclusion This paper attempt to discus how power and control within organisations can be seen through three major perspectives: Modern, Symbolic-Interpretive and Post-modern.
Modern theories rely on the formal organisational structures and ranks within the structures in explaining acquisition and utilisation of power and control. From these points of view, power and control are exercised via authority as a way of achieving productivity. Symbolic-Interpretive theories look at power and authority as more evenly sourced with the possibility of acquiring and using power and control being at every level of the organisation. This means that power and control can be looked at as both a positive and negative force.
Postmodern perspectives rely on being critical of the acquisition and utilisation of power and control as explained in the modern perspectives. Reference List: Acker, J. 1990, Hierarchies, jobs, bodies: A theory of gendered organizations, Gender and Society, 4(2), 139-158. Bolman, L. G. , & Deal, T. E. 2008, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership (JOSSEY-BASS BUSINESS & MANAGEMENT SERIES). Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. French, J. R. P. , & Raven, B. 1959, The bases of power. In Ott, Parkes, Simpson, Classic Readings in Organizational Behavior (346-354), Wadsworth Publishing, San Francisco. Foucault, M.
1995, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Vintage, Illinois IL. Hatch, M. J. 2006, Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives. Oxford University Press, USA. Hatch, Mary J. and Cunliffe, Ann L. , 2006, Organization Theory, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press: Oxford. Kotter, J. P. 1977, Power, Dependence, and Effective Management. Harvard Business Review, 125-136. Pfeffer, J. , & Salancik, G. 1977, Who gets power-and how they hold on to it: a strategiccontingency model of power. In Ott, Parkes, Simpson, Classic Readings in Organizational Behavior (365-374), Wadsworth Publishing, San Francisco.
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