Organizational form and power: Organizations as regimes

In the political realm of organizations, the social fabric of power structures is the pillar for the perpetuation of patterns of domination. Through the notion of political

Power and Organizational Forms                                                                                     331

performance, the contemporary action of power holders is describable as a permanent striving for new forms of legitimacy and new forms of internal governance, which avoid or minimize the effects of possible contestations and oppositions. When we connect power to the social fabric of organizational forms we think of organizations as regimes. To describe an organization in terms of a regime is not to denote it as a place in which a particular model, a particular form, could serve as a perfect instan- tiation and implementation of a political structure (either of a democratic or of an oligarchic structure) but to see it as a space and occasion in which concrete modes of rule will be in struggle with each other. Organizations are politically pluralist settings, where the activity of leaders is to order symbolically and structurally a set of social relations between ‘adversaries’ (Mouffe 2000), between legitimate enemies, in an effort to organize human coexistence and contain relations of subordination in a context of inequality between people.

In a way, theories of organization power all converge on the understanding of

how specific institutions (such as organizations) struggle to make things that are morally, ethically, and humanely unacceptable appear acceptable and necessary for the common good. The theory of organizations is an object lesson in how politics can overwhelm value-based rationalities by incorporating values in the business of politics. Theoretical efforts in the service of this ideal can be sketched as a perma- nent striving to find alternative political forms to those of the iconic bureaucracy, oscillating between patterns of permanent contestation and deliberation, and the production of durable consensus.

The payoff of most typologies of political forms proposed over recent decades is

to stress the hybrid character of organizational power structures, which we analyze as polyarchic systems, stemming both from the polycratic Weberian forms and from the analysis of the approximations of ‘pure’ democratic regimes (Dahl 1971). In other words, political struggles about the production of a minimally acceptable power structure tend systematically to generate hybrids, more than to impose a given struc- ture on the least powerful of the adversaries. From a theoretical perspective, power analysis stretches out from the understanding of consensus production to that of relentless contestation. Politics concerns the acceptance by a majority (or a powerful minority) of the conditions under which tolerance of contestation occurs.

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

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