Community against efficiency

1. Power, community and democracy: Mar y Parker Follett

Not everyone contributing to the imagination of futures at work in management theorizing shared the same dreams. There were signs that what for some augured a dream of efficiency, for others foreshadowed a nightmare of isolated sociability, alienated being, and wasted humanity. Additionally, it became increasingly evident that it was an insufficient level of reform and innovation to be merely mechanically efficient in terms of the relation between the body and the immediate environ- ment. Such reform, while necessary, could not be relied upon to create the desired results because the free will of the workers interceded. If rational calculations were to be as effective as possible, then a new kind of actor needed to be inscribed into practice, one who gave their consent willingly. Initially, these ideas of willing participation were imagined in terms of quite classic debates about democracy, although these terms of trade were rapidly forgotten, along with their author, Mary Parker Follett.

Mary Parker Follett conducted community studies and enquiries into local democracy in Massachusetts. Optimism about management was widespread in the early years of the twentieth century and was captured in the management texts of the day, most notably by Follett (1918; 1924). Born into a wealthy and privileged Boston family, Follett was passionately committed to democratic ideals. After grad- uating from the Women’s College at Harvard, she became involved in social work in a diverse Boston neighborhood. Follett never lost her commitment to democracy and local group organization, which she honed in her community work in Boston. What she learned in making community centers work for people lacking in the obvious resources of a wealthier society was that, with experience in ‘modes of living and acting which shall teach us how to grow the social consciousness’ (1918: 363), many people were far more capable than they or others might have imagined. Follett sought to establish conditions in which management and workers cooper- ated together to achieve not only productivity but also social justice. She suggested that Taylor’s ideas were incomplete. In particular, they had not been thought through for their democratic potential. Taylor’s lone individuals, in a massive func- tional structure, under strict control, did not accord with American ideas of democ- racy. Something had to change in management thinking if this were to be the case. Central to Follett’s worldview was the concept of power. She saw power as legit- imate and inevitable. But because power is so central it does not mean that it need be authoritarian. Follett was concerned to democratize power, distinguishing between ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ (or coactive power rather than coercive power). She argues that it is the former that needs developing and the latter that needs diminishing, in an effective strategy for challenging silence about how power relations were by talking about how they were not. Here, naming ‘power’ functions as a way of shaping power.

Follett believed that people in a democracy had to be able to exercise power at the grassroots level. Democratic diversity had great advantages, she said, over more authoritarian homogeneity. Organizations must be developed democratically as places where people learn to cooperate, especially managers and workers. We should welcome difference because it feeds and enriches society, while differences that are ignored feed on society and eventually corrupt it (Follett 1918). Given democratic opportunities, she thought that people could make the most of their situation, even if they seemed relatively impoverished in their access to resources. Her view of democracy was that it should be participatory, because the experience of being participative was empowering and educative.

Follett saw the central questions of organization in terms of power, legiti- macy, and authority in a way that few of her contemporaries did. She produced a rationale for authority distinct from Taylor’s ‘scientific’ approach, which identified management as a responsible discharge of necessary functions rather than the priv- ilege of elites. Authority and responsibility should derive from function, not privi- lege. Both politics and business require an understanding of how to produce collaborative action between different people integrated in a common enterprise rather than creating their mutually assured destruction through the incivility and non-democracy of a despotic regime of formal organization borne on the body of the worker.

It seemed to Follett that Taylor’s system of scientific management might have achieved efficiency but at the cost of eroding civility. Her model took as its norm the quintessential small-scale communities of American democracy. Mass produc- tion and large scale were made possible through efficiency in the division of labor, but this division had gone too far. It had removed the social bonds that constrained individuals and now pitted them ruthlessly and relentlessly against each other in a highly competitive individualism. What was required was a reinstitution of civility, society, and fellowship in and through work and its organization if the corrosive effects of possessive individualism on the moral character of the American employee were to be halted. People needed to think not just of themselves and the individual benefit to be gained through competition at work but how they fitted into an overall pattern of functions, responsibilities, and authoritative entitlements to command and to obey.

Follett had an appreciation and anticipation of what was required in fully bring-ing democracy to the USA of her time. In her own words, ‘democracy rests on the well-grounded assumption that society is neither a collection of units nor an organism but a network of human relations … We shall have democracy only when we learn to produce this will through group association – when young men [and women] are no longer lectured to on democracy, but when they are made into the stuff of democracy’ (1918: 142, 7).

Her views of Taylor’s influence were evident in her assertion that individuality is represented best in the capacity for union between people, rather than in their non-relation, which she defined as evil. In her view the potentialities of the individual remain potentialities until they are released by group life. Only through the group can men and women discover their true nature, and gain their true free- dom. On this basis, she opposed the modern legal conception of the corporation as an individual fiction. She thought that corporations had the capability for ‘real personality’ only when their members were able to interknit themselves into genuine relations, as a human group. Out of this vital union comes creative power (1918: 7–8). Or, more poetically, ‘We find the individual through the group, we use him always as the true individual – the undivided one – who, living link of living group, is yet never embedded in the meshes but is forever free for every new possibility of a forever unfolding life’ (1918: 295).

Follett is a long way from Taylor and his view of the person as an individual unit whose body is to be disciplined in a scheme of engineering efficiency. She points, instead, to a belief in the importance of human relations as essentially communi- tarian. She emphasizes conflict resolution as well as the importance of learning from disputes, and the necessity of drawing leadership skills from the group through partnership and coordination rather than just relying on hierarchy, ulti- mate authority, or competition (which later becomes a major stream of tutelage in its own right: see Lewin 1950). In contemporary terms, she was for polyphony in organizations, for diversity, rather than strong cultures and homogeneous recruit- ment and training. By getting rid of conflict, she said, most managers mean getting rid of diversity so that their ideas are never challenged. She saw conflict as ‘a nor- mal process’ which enabled ‘socially valuable differences’ to be registered ‘for the enrichment of all concerned’ (1995: 86). What was important was, first, not sup- pressing, eliminating or denying conflict, and second, how the conflict was dealt with. Three approaches were possible. First, there was what she called domination, where there was a victory of one side at the expense of the other. Second, there was compromise, where all parties relinquish a part of their original interests. Third, there was her favored option of integration, in which a new, and better, solution emerged from negotiation that preserved the original interests of both sides.

Follett’s stress on unfolding democracy is a decisive shift from Taylor’s envelop-ing autocracy of expertise being imposed on the body. It enlists a new subjectivity to shape the ranks of those persons being subjected. As Rose puts it:

To rule citizens democratically means ruling them through their freedoms, their choices, and their solidarities rather than despite these. It means turning subjects, their motiva- tions and interrelations, from potential sites of resistance to rule into allies of rule. It means replacing arbitrary authority with that permitting a rational justification … to rule subjects democratically it has become necessary to know them intimately. (1996: 117)

2. Power positive and negative; power coercive and coactive

Follett’s communitarian democracy has been seen not only as the opposite pole to Taylor’s individualism but also as a program for ‘management, owners, and labor working together in a theory of coactive power’ (Boje and Rosile 2001: 90). The meaning of coactive power is normatively contrasted with that of coercive power in terms of a contrast between ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ (Follett 1924: 101). Her view was that ‘Coercive power is the curse of the universe; coactive power, the enrichment and advancement of every human soul’ (1924: xii). Given the nature of Foucault’s (1977) argument that contemporary forms of power are engaged in a struggle for the soul, her use of language in this respect is quite revealing. She believed that coactive power could be achieved through cooperative governance in which workers were trained in the knowledge of the whole business and its markets, thereby making democratic governance through joint situation search processes workable. Employees need empowering, rather than disempowering, as in Taylorism.3

Figure 3.1 Follett’s diagram of power

Follett’s ideas can be represented diagrammatically as in Figure 3.1. Experience in the community is the seedbed of democracy, where ordinary people are able to discover that they have extraordinary abilities to get things done in concert with other people. In communities they learn about democratic empowerment and coactive power.

Through experience of positive power, people come to accept the legitimacy of power when it is coactively constituted. The legitimacy that they build through sharing in grassroots democracy means that they learn from difference. When organization can incorporate this sense of virtuous and positive power then it will become more robust, more capable, and more able to tap the creative energies and abilities of all its members.

3. Situating Follett

Follett represented a break with earlier – and subsequent – conceptions. Her work was obviously very different from Taylor’s views. She also differed greatly from the approach to sociology that was institutionalized in the Sociological Department at Ford in 1914. One might think that there were continuities: the latter sounded the death knell of the conception of the person as merely a repository for external coer- cive powers directed by engineers at a subject conceived of only as a body. Ford’s innovations signaled a shift in focus from the body of the worker to their moral life. However, it was a concern that differed significantly from Follett’s approach.

First, the concern with morality at Ford was in large part simply a displaced con- cern with the body. As we discussed in Chapter 2, only moral bodies, those that lead sober, disciplined and wholesome lives, were worthy of the five-dollar day. Rather than have an extensive apparatus checking the body at work, Ford instituted the Sociological Department to monitor and survey whether or not the desired balance between maintaining the rhythm of toil and the restorative powers of recreation, mediated through sober and disciplined consumption and social reproduction, was being achieved.

Second, although the Sociological Department was of some significance, it was neither widespread nor long standing. Few other organizations had the resources to support something similar. And, from the 1920s onwards, they barely had the need. The knowledge required moved from the interior space of the organization to, on the one hand, the prohibitions of the state, and, on the other, the positive power emanating from the universities. There was an institutionalization of the disciplinary knowledge of the body, both the individual bodies of the workers and the collective body of the workforce.

One important source of institutionalization, the Harvard University Fatigue Laboratory, was to play a significant role in a double shift of knowledge: from the workplace to the universities and from the management of the body to the collec- tive consciousness. It was through Harvard’s sponsorship that the next lesson in the construction of a manipulative power at work was to be constructed. A shift was under way from a focus on the political economy of the body to a focus on the moral economy of the collective soul.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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