Image: Winchester Mystery House by russavia, via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-2.0)
[Ed note: This is the first of six articles in a virtual panel on Who should benefit from organizational research?]
Academic careers reward publication, and our system of journals often privileges novelty over cumulative insights. Judgments of quality are difficult and time consuming, and so we rely on proxy measures of “impact” that are easily gamed. Paradoxically, journals have evolved a sophisticated set of standards for evaluating research claims, but they reward being “counterintuitive.” As a result, while there is a lot of sound and fury, it is difficult to point to many areas of settled science when it comes to organizations.
Things are about to get worse unless we evolve new standards rooted in a clear sense of who and what organizational research is for.
The changing nature of organizations means that we need to reconsider who our constituencies are, as “managerial relevance” is becoming an elusive goal. Enterprises today bear little resemblance to the postwar hierarchies that animated early research. Some of the best-known companies have few employees to manage, while some of the biggest rely on computer algorithms to schedule, monitor, and evaluate. This raises a fundamental question for our field: who should benefit from organizational research? Answering this question can help guide standards of evaluation for research.
[Ed note: This is the sixth of 14 posts in a virtual panel on The Future of Organizational Sociology.]
Organizational sociology may have reached its high water mark 25 years ago, when Chick Perrow penned “A society of organizations.” Perrow argued that organizations had absorbed society, which implied that organizational sociology was now the master key for making sense of society. He stated, “I argue that the appearance of large organizations in the United States makes organizations the key phenomenon of our time, and thus politics, social class, economics, technology, religion, the family, and even social psychology take on the character of dependent variables.” Stratification happened through organizational practices of hiring and promotion. Work went on inside organizations, structured by organizational rules. Social movements increasingly constituted themselves as formal organizations. In a society of organizations, organizational sociology should be the sun around which the other subfields in sociology orbit. Instead, organizational scholars are scarce on the ground in most departments today, as if the Rapture had come and left behind only the demographers and criminologists.
Many or most of the disappeared wound up in business schools. It’s not hard to see why: the money is better, and the jobs were more plentiful. Yet it would be a mistake to imagine that b-schools are crammed full of organizational sociologists, at least in North America. While fancy schools like Stanford, Northwestern, and MIT are strong outposts for organization theory, most schools are not. Hiring is typically driven by teaching needs, and there is surprisingly little demand among MBA students for courses on organization design (much less institutional logics or categorization). Most organization theorists in business schools wind up teaching strategy and, if they want to get tenure, publishing work that can pass for strategy. All of this bodes ill for organization theory, wherever it is done.