Background To Organization And Organization Theories Cultural Studies Essay

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An organization may be looked at as an assembly of people working together to achieve common goals. This is done through the creation of processes whereby individuals strengths are brought together so that the aggregate efforts achieved is more than what individual could achieved if they worked independently. Organizations are generally formed with the aim of delivering goods or services to the consumers at a profit.

According to Acker (1992) organizational theories reflect the practical concerns of those who formulate them and the organizational participants whose actions are described by the theories. Consequently, the theories are expected to guide organizational participants in their efforts to understand and control organizations. Therefore over the years, business analysts, economists, and academic researchers have come up with several theories that attempt to explain the dynamics of business organizations. According to Acker (1992) these dynamics include the ways in which organizations make decisions, distribute power and control, resolve conflict, and promote or resist organizational change.

Background to the Organization Theories

According to Fagenson (1993), the modern organization theory is rooted in concepts developed during the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) believed that bureaucracies, staffed by bureaucrats, represented the ideal organizational form (Fagenson, 1993).In a nutshell, Weber's theory was based on an impersonal attitude towards the people in the organization. .

Henry Fayol is credited with identifying strategic planning, staff recruitment, employee motivation, and employee guidance (with policies and procedures) as important management functions in creating and nourishing a successful organization.

Researchers became more concerned with human influences in the organizations in the 1930s. Fagenson (1993) points out that this development was influenced by several studies that tended to lay emphasis on the place of human fulfillment in organizations. The most famous of these studies was the Hawthorne Study which sought to determine the correlation between workplace conditions and productivity. Incidental to this was the Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of human needs" theory which showed that people have different needs and that these needs change over time (Pfeffer, 1997).

In the 1980s Theory Z, a blending of American and Japanese management practices, received much attention. This was partially because Japan' was seeing an improvement in its output while the United States was experiencing manufacturing difficulties (Hatch, 1997).

Problems with the Organization Theory

The organization theory is deemed to have excluded some sections of the society in a way that might not be intentional but rather a short misstep by the theorist .Their failure to recognize the different categories of workers (such as immigrants, women, lower caste and lower class) was ill informed, though it appears to have simplified their research, and given rise to a useful branch of knowledge. This lumping together perhaps made them to close an eye on some key issues that characterize today's workplace. This to the point that some analyst feel that the organization theory in itself fails to address the real issues as regards managing in today's dynamic and complex environment.

The theory also appears to have excluded from its analysis the indignities of racism, disability, sexism and ethnicities and other forms of discriminations which to a greater extend forms the basis for various forms of oppression. All forms of oppression are life changing and demeaning (Hatch,1997).In fact, those who found themselves on the receiving end are emotionally injured to the point that the only option is to leave or put up with the oppression for lack of alternatives. And yet though these forms of oppression affect workers productivity, the organization theorists chose to ignore them. To them discrimination at the work place was perhaps a myth, and therefore the kind of organization they talked about might be largely a model, especially in today's world where discrimination at the place of work has taken centre stage in public debates steered by activists who are more concerned with human rights.

Today, the organization theory is facing various challenges, some of which tend to question its applicability in the current world. For example,(Acker (1992) doubts whether the Organization theory was ever a matter of knowledge. He goes ahead to assert that the theories are all 'figments of a past that is endangered today'. Indeed, today's organization is a matter of putting into place structures so that one fits in the current world. That means that you have to make a choice as to how you are going to live and which mode of existence you will adopt. Therefore Pfeffer (1997) holds that an organization theory cannot be reduced to figures of knowledge, perspective, paradigm or discourse. Drawing from this, it is possible to decipher why some analysts look at the organization theory as elitist and out of touch with the current world.

Some analysts and thinkers hold the view that the organization theory might be incomplete in itself. Incomplete in the sense that some sections of workers and the society have not been adequately covered or are entirely left out. So much to the extend that Pfeffer (1997) refers to organization theory as 'a mechanism for exclusion which has been very effective at incorporation by inclusion'.

Feminist Organization Theory

Organization theory has traditionally been constructed as non-gendered. Derrida (1981) holds that the theory is written through a male perspective, culture and discourse besides espousing theories of empiricism, rationality and hierarchy which are masculinized concepts. This gender blind aspect of the organization theory presents a biased picture of the organization.

Even in the conduct of the Hawthorne Studies and other empirical studies that gave rise to the various organization theories, it appears that the that the researchers were not aware of the possible effects of the sex of their subjects on the outcome on the experiments (Alvesson and Billing, 1997).Again, Alvesson and Billing (1997) add that during the various experiments, treatment of men was very different with the way women were treated. Hence the blanket conclusions derived tend to point to the fact that the needs of a woman worker are the same as those of her male counterpart. This is fallacious in the sense that two different individuals with different societal responsibilities will draw different levels of satisfaction from the same treatment.

  The organization theory closes its eyes on the gender imbalance at the work place. Acker (1992) argues that the vast majority of organizations across the globe is male-dominated and benefit males at the expense of females who work in them. In fact, the higher up the organization you go, the fewer the number of females you are likely to find. This is a common observation in most organizations.

The reasons behind this are various, but one that comes out immediately are the, inherent inequalities in the society. This inequality goes down deep within our societal values especially as relates to the place of the sexes. Unfortunately, this has also translated into the difficulty with the accessibility of opportunities. That aside, even in the developed world where women can be considered to be at par with their male counterparts because the societies are much more open, Acker (1992) observes that there are "glass ceiling" which the upwardly mobile women are likely to bang their heads into. This might be due to stereotypes at the work place, but nevertheless, they make the ascend of women in the work place difficult.

According to feminists, to succeed in the male-dominated organization, the female executive has to behave more and more like a man (Galbraith ,1994).This means that the woman needs to be assertive, ambitious, and highly competitive. In sum, a woman has to work harder than her male colleagues if she hopes to be recognized. Besides, women are expected to neglect family life by working long hours, and being ready to go for business trips even at short notice. Typically, the woman becomes married to her job. Some people have also noted that there is the existence of "pink collar ghettoes" in the job world.(Galbraith,1994). These are jobs which Galbraith (1994) refers to as low-paying, low prestige, temporary, unstable or dead end and which is mostly reserved for women. And yet the organization theories have been mum over these practices. Infact, all workers are treated as equal and there is no distinction on how the genders should be handled, if only to get the best out of them, without necessarily tilting the scales to the disadvantage of some.

In view of the above scenario, some radical feminists have argued for the setting up of women-only organizations that give a wide berth to the challenges such as competition and domination for "female values" like cooperation and close relationships(Acker,1992). Women-only organizations have also been envisioned to eliminate the problem of sexual harassment of female staff members by male colleagues and supervisors.

Hence the failure by the organization theory to capture this reality in the modern work place, it appears to have not only excluded this reality but is in itself based in the days gone by, when feminists organizations were not yet vocal.


Radical Organization Theory

  This version of organization theory focuses on the dark side of the work place. These consist of the abuse of power, large differentials in prestige and compensation, unsafe working conditions for low-level workers and so on. Incidentally, in the current world, such forms of abuse have taken an ethnic and racial dimension, so that those greatly affected mostly comes from what can be described as 'second class' citizens. They are mostly the minorities and the downtrodden.

According to Cherrington (1994) the Marxist organization theory concentrated on vilifying all examples of exploitation borne out of the quest by the organization to maximize its profits. Marxists argued that bosses in organizations played on ethnic group, gender, citizenship and other divisions among workers in order to "divide and rule" and prevent unified resistance to exploitation(Cherrington ,1994). Fagenson (1993) observes that the pioneering radical organization theorist Harry Braverman viewed division of labour, propagated by organization theorist as a basis for efficiency as a move towards "deskilling" workers so as to better control the work force. This is because by breaking down complex work that requires thinking into fragmented, highly simplified work that does not require thinking; one needs only the unskilled workers. In fact, such workers are easily manipulated and exploited. And this pushes us back to the above point. In the current world, majority of those supplying the unskilled labor are those who have been elbowed out in the quest for opportunities; the minorities, and the lower class. The failure by the classical organization theorist's to capture the place of the downtrodden, and instead handle all workers as equal is thus putting them at loggerheads with their critics.

Drawing from today's practical examples, it is not only the adoption of better worker sensitive programmes that will increase performance at the work place. The experience from elsewhere in the world shows that manipulation and exploitation will also give the boss higher productivity from his workers. Take the example of China. The trade unions are weak and almost non existent. Wages are poor and multinationals are flocking there to take advantage of the low wages. In most instances, workers, mostly immigrants from other Chinese states are exposed to poor working conditions where they are treated in inhumane ways (Pfeffer, 1997).Yet; the Chinese firms appear to be doing better than the European firms where the concern for the workers welfare and motivation forms the foundation for the work place ethics.

  And lastly, the efforts to humanize the work place has been seen in some quarters as a move aimed at brainwashing the workers without making any tangible developments towards improving their welfare. And mostly this is done by exploiting the social status of the worker. Be it race, immigration status, or economic status, the treatment of workers have been same across the board; that of exploiting the weak points of the worker because they lack alternatives. This exploitation is seen in terms of discrimination in terms of wage levels and working conditions vis a vis those who come from privileged societal status.

Hence, the improved production should be considered in terms of factors that contribute to that production .Lack of alternatives due to high unemployment levels has meant that workers have to put up with very poor working conditions, contrary to what was envisioned in organization theory. Yet we see organizations moving forwards due to high performance rates. Considering the exploitation rates, it is clear that the organization theory did not envision a state where unemployment rates will soar, to the disadvantage on the minorities who have to bear the brunt of oppression and brutality at the work place for lack of alternatives(Hatch,1997).Indeed, some work places are termed as Dirty, Dangerous And Demeaning .These jobs, are mostly reserved for those seen as second class citizens; an idea that was completely given a wide berth by the organization theorist. This brings up the idea that the theorists were elitist and were not ready to tackle issues of discrimination of the minorities and the poor.


Anther issue that comes out strongly is the avoidance of peasants in these analyses. According to Hatch (1997), peasants play an important role in national economies, and as such, issues relating to how they can be managed so that productivity is improved have been largely ignored. Normally, their plots are small and they cannot improve productivity through aspects such as putting more working hours on the farm. Besides, increasing the acreage of their farms is almost impossible due to the inaccessibility of funds to purchase additional acreage. Improvement of yields through adoption of technology such as use of the new and improved seeds, the fertilizers and even machines is impossible because such steps are uneconomical.

A dilemma also exists as to their operations given the fact that it is only the farmer who manages the farm, and in most cases he/she is both the manager and the employee. So, how do you fit such a scenario into the conventional organizational theory? What about issues of motivation so that you be able to work harder on the farm?

Besides the above issue, conspiracy theorists are of the idea that organization theory was formulated by the rich during the industrial period in Europe (Galbraith, 1994). To such individuals, aspects of peasants were alien to them. These 'elites' therefore tended to favour management in the form of domination (Galbraith, 1994). Whereby one person, the boss, dominated his subjects, who had little say in the way they were to be managed. Holding onto this line of thinking, it is possible to see why the later day analysts of the 1990s took that cue.


While various theorists have come up with their ideas of how organizations can be managed so as to get the best out of the workers, it is clear that there are some glaring loopholes in their analysis. This to the point that some groups within today's workforce, as we know it appear to have been left out completely.

Besides, domination appears to have been a guiding principle. Maybe it is because the organization theory in itself has its origin in a society that was male dominated, with a culture of master-servant relationship being rampant. As a result, organization theory has come to be viewed as a conglomeration of elitist ideas. In fact the insistence on the existence of a proper kind of relationship between persons and organizations serves to place some importance on commitment which implies that individuals must submit to the organization. Hence the concept of domination and control.

As a result of the above, we have found an organization theory pays little attention to today's discrimination that occurs at the work place. Hence we find ourselves stuck with a series of theories which are ill prepared to explain the complex and dynamic work environment that we find today..

Lastly, it is very tricky to pass a judgment as to whether the organization theory is still relevant or outdated. This is because of the fact that most of its core principals are still widely applicable, albeit, with varying degrees. Hence, perhaps the best standpoint is that the theory has inadequacies and therefore each principal must be analyzed in light of the range of workers one is dealing with. Any wholesale application might be satisfactory to some at the expense of others.