Orgs as social entities and structure

One of the most important points to make about orgs is that they tend to develop internal cultures. In the case of many big organisations, including many corporations and governmental orgs, they develop a particular culture deliberately. Whether they do it deliberately or not a culture develops and within that particular attitudes and particular ethical practices.

Most organisations are top-down structures, so the culture does not develop as among a group of friends. How does vertical versus horizontal structure affect cultural development? Will having nice people at the top of top-down orgs solve ethical problems, or is there, as I suspect, something about top-down structure that undermines our ability to interact with people as full people? That is to say, if we see organisations putting people into boxes and dealing with us as things, or only temporarily treating us as people, is this down to structure, down to internal culture, down to wider economic organising, wider cultural practices, or something else?


  1. d

    I think the role of constraints that are effected through coercion can’t be ignored (“we, as your employer, can decide not to pay you” – or similar for self employed / sub contractors). Thus one significant way they’re different from a friendship group – the same constraints aren’t operating on my ability to withdraw engagement from a friend as with my employer.

    Also, perhaps more in line with what you’re saying about boxes and the like, does instrumentalisation have a role? So to an organisation, an employee (or participant in a non-commercial org) might be seen in terms of what value / use it derives from that person. Or the formalisms inherent in an organisation (bureaucracy / process) can create an excessive cost in certain actions being undertaken.

    As an aside, this book is a pretty interesting analysis of the organisational ‘culture’ at Nasa, which was investigated in the aftermath of the Challenger space shuttle disaster.

    1. preorg

      From my experience the ‘culture’ of an organisation, though difficult to define, can mean that it can and will actually engage in activities with irrationally high costs while not doing activities with low costs.

      I think instrumentalisation has a massive role here, but again we shouldn’t equate that with rational decision-making. I feel like I’ve seen organisations where more could be got out of the staff members if they were actually treated as human beings.

      Interestingly I’ve started to see that the ‘charity’ sector can be just as instrumentalist as business. Those at the top have their big goals and precisely because they are looking downward, everyone below starts to look like a ‘resource’ to be moved around or got rid of at will.


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