For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Weber and Foucault: Social Theory for the Study of Organizations"

by Clegg, Stewart (1994)


Weber, credited with having founded organization theory, did so inadvertently, as the study of the ideal type of bureaucracy. A contrary interpretation suggests organization analysis would be a branch of cultural studies with the analysis of values at its core.The contemporary theorist who has come nearest to carrying out a Weberian project with respect to the analysis of organizations, without acknowledging that this was so, was Foucault. Foucault's imputed foundations for the analysis of organizations bring into effect two liberations from the Weberian legacy. The first liberation is from analysis of organizations principally as structure, the predominant interpretation of Weber in the literature. The second liberation is not to lapse into the obverse of the structuralist view, a perspective that seeks to interpret individuals through the practice of verstehende. Structural analysis has no truck with individuals and their subjectivity, unless these become privileged by being embedded in strategically powerful representations in the organization. By contrast, analyses that function principally at the level of interpreting the putative motives, intentions and other attributes of subjectivity that, supposedly, are recoverable from an interpretative understanding of the individuals that compose organizations, rarely grasps the means and forms whereby some subjective representations become strategically sovereign. While the former offers an overstructuralized account of organizations, the latter offers-one that is understructuralized. In the former, individuals are regarded as bearers of a structural rationality worked out by impersonal forces of size or efficiency, while in the latter individuals are conceived of as subjectivities abstracted from structure.More appropriately, analysis should focus on how it is possible that certain structures of subjectivity and modes of what passes for rationality get constituted. At the core of this analysis are a post-Foucauldian, post- interpretative and post-structuralist account of power. Central to this are the analytically paradoxical interconnections of values, power, rules and discretion. Certain forms of organization structure seek to fix these in specific fields of force through contractualizing and otherwise freezing specific relations of meaning. Structure, in this sense, does not concern the scalar and other properties of bureaucracy that Weber identified so much as the forms of organization design that creative and dominant imagination envisages and concretizes.


Foucault, Weber, Organisation Theory, Social Theory, Organisations, Bureaucracy, Cultural Studies


Weber, On Foucault, Foucault

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