plural social systems
plural social systems
In the 1960s the industrial sociologist Tom Burns argued that organization theorists
were mistaken to assume that individuals within organizations act solely in accordance with the formal purposes of the enterprise, since they may well be motivated by concerns that conflict with those of the organization itself. Rather, organizations can be conceived as the simultaneous working of at least three social systems
, only one of which is the formal authority system in terms of which all decision-making overtly takes place. There is also a career system, within which people compete for advancement, and a political system in which individuals and departments compete for power. Thus, within firms, one should expect to find ‘conflict [about] the degree of control one may exercise over the firm's resources, the direction of the activities of other people, and patronage (promotion and the distribution of privileges and rewards)’. In short, a ‘plurality of action systems’ are available to the employee, who ‘may invoke any of them as the dominant reference system for this or that action, decision or plan’ (see ‘On the Plurality of Social Systems’, in J. R. Lawrence ( ed.) , Operational Research and the Social Sciences
). Burns's research was important in demonstrating that it was naive for organizational theorists to conceptualize the firm as a unitary system which could be equated with the formal structure set down in the organization chart or blueprint.
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