Social Organization

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note:Although the following article has not been revised for this edition of the Encyclopedia, the substantive coverage is currently appropriate. The editors have provided a list of recent works at the end of the article to facilitate research and exploration of the topic.

It is necessary to highlight this central area selectively, considering the breadth and variety in its specification, and to emphasize current concerns, relying on past overviews to detail their origins (e.g., by Znaniecki 1945; Gerth and Mills 1953; Faris 1964; Eisenstadt 1968; Parsons 1968; Udy 1968; Smelser 1988).

Social organization is nonrandom pattern within human populations that comprise society by sharing the main aspects of a common existence over time as well as nonrandom patterning, the human and interhuman activities through which patterns are formed, retained, altered, or replaced. These twin aspects of social organization had been considered structure, relatively stable patterns of interrelations among persons or other social units, and process, the manner in which the patterns are produced, reproduced, or transformed (see, e.g., Faris 1964). The distinction is blurred to the extent that interrelations vary in degrees of regularity, uniformity, and permanence in the rhythms of coexistence, contact, or avoidance of which they consist (Williams 1976). In short, structure can also be viewed as patterned process among human agents (e.g., Blumer 1969, pp. 78–89; Giddens 1979, pp. 49–95; Coleman 1990, esp. pp. 1–44).

At issue is not what is patterned or how, but simply the extent to which there is any pattern or patterning at all. The antithesis of social organization is not opposition or discord. Conflict and other aspects of tension or unrest can, for example, exhibit regularity and uniformity as readily as can union, harmony, and tranquillity. Rather it is randomness, consisting of chaos, formlessness, and idiosyncratic human behavior (Blau 1975) and is called social disorganization. Yet patterned occurrence of disorganization is no contradiction.

Social organization is characterized by interdependence—that is, what occurs among certain components has, to varying degree, consequences for some or all of the other components and their relations with one another. These consequences can range from loss, even annihilation, to survival and other types of gain. Subsumed are regulation and stability as well as replacement and transformation.

The socially organized units or sets of units are generally activities or actors, individual or plural, that affect one another more immediately—even if simply by coexisting or by their sheer numbers — than do other activities or actors. The former are therefore distinguished (to varying extents) from an environment that might include those other units.

The units considered vary in their distinguishability, modifiability, and permanence. For some purposes they have been defined as concrete entities, such as persons or countries, or as activities by these entities, such as acts of persuasion or conquest. For other purposes the units have been defined abstractly as only certain aspects of concrete entities or of their activities, called roles or functions (e.g., Hawley 1986, pp. 31–32), that signify position or participation in a particular aspect of collective living, or as complexes of these entities or activities. Examples are worker, labor, industry in production; official or bureau, directive, central administration in governance; judge or court, adjudication, court system in jurisprudence; supplicant or temple, prayer, denomination in religion; friend or friendship group, attachment, solidary web in emotional bonding; and lecturer or college, teaching, school system in social learning. It will be noted from these examples that units can be sets or combinations of other units. They are called substructures when they constitute broad components of social organization not detailed as to their composition. Examples of societal substructures are political state, economy, or moral community.

Structure subsumes both form and content: form generally in the senses of numbers, sizes, shapes, assemblage, connections among units, and directions of flow (say, of resources or persuasion); content in the sense of type of unit, substructure, relationship, or process. Clearly this distinction, though convenient for exposition, is not absolute. Units have been assigned to types on the basis of their forms. And there is form when the same everyday dramas can be "performed" in virtually any setting, whether work or nonwork (Goffman 1959).


In conventional usage, form implies arrangement in space (not necessarily physical space) and in time. It also implies relationships among elements, in this case the units, against a background—the environment—which is conceived as external to structure (Hawley 1986, pp. 10–44; Smelser 1988). The environment may contain units with which concrete portions of the structure have relationships. Thus environment's separation from structure is often abstract, especially where environment's nonphysical attributes are concerned.

Form can be classified by the processes that occur among the units. Among pure types that are widely investigated are markets, characterized by competition and exchange; arenas, characterized by interunit struggle and alliance; collectivities, characterized by cooperation in joint activity—that is, acting in concert (Parsons and Smelser [1956] 1965, p. 15), even if coerced; and aggregates, characterized by the absence of relations between the units.

These forms occur with a variety of contents. For example, markets not only process goods, services, and labor; they can also process social resources, such as information, intimacy, commitment, information, influence, and prestige. Arenas need not only be political; they can also exist within, say, the family. Collectivities may be found in any or all aspects of human living. And labor forces, electorates, viewerships, school enrollments, and populations of organizations (Aldrich and Marsden 1988) may all be conceived to constitute aggregates. Crosscutting the degrees to which these pure types are approximated are the variables of segmentation, stratification, specialization, scale, and endurance.

Segmentation. Segmentation is division into or banding together of like units (Parsons and Smelser [1956] 1965, p. 256; Parsons [1966] 1977, p. 25; Luhmann [1977] 1982, pp. 231–235, 242– 245; Wallace 1988). Tribal societies, for example, can, in their inception, be considered markets constituted by exchange of spouses among relatively small family groups—the segments—that avoid internal marriages (Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 161–162). In the case of collectivities, segmentation—called categoric organization (Hawley 1986, pp. 70–73)—enables each to accomplish more than could be accomplished separately, as, say, in the union of family groups in hunting and gathering societies (Duncan 1964; Lenski 1975; Hawley 1986, pp. 34–35), in a union of persons pursuing the same occupation, or in the replacement of one national corporation with several regional units. Categoric organization can also replace, at least in part, what would otherwise be mutually destructive competition or conflict or can otherwise create a more predictable environment for the participating unit. Examples are umbrella units that form among populations of special collectivities facing unpredictability in "turbulent environments" (cited by Scott 1987, pp. 122–123), even if they serve as no more than clearinghouses for information. All things being equal, ethnic pluralism—that is, subdivision into collectivities having different histories and life-styles—is another illustration of segmentation.

Stratification. For present purposes, stratification means the ranking of units or sets of units in their capacities to affect the existence and activity of other units or sets by controlling resources. This occurs through manipulation or struggle, as a result of competition or exchange, or voluntarily. Stratification and segmentation can co-occur. Where agriculture is the main economic activity, for example, it has been observed that rank tends to be associated primarily with size of landholding, if any; and where land ownership is also associated with other ranking criteria, as in earlier India, it is likely to serve as a basis either for strata (layers) or for collectivities of same-rank kinship units (Landecker 1981, pp. 33–34, 97). More complex social organization can consist of stratification among units that are themselves stratified. For example, it has been shown that the nations of the world are both internally stratified and stratified vis-à-vis one another (Wallerstein 1979), although effects of the one structure on the other are variable (see, e.g., Evans and Stephens 1988).

Specialization. In its pure sense, specialization refers to composition of unlike units that only taken together can accomplish all that is deemed significant. As a division of labor (Smith [1789] 1976; Durkheim [1902] 1964; Rueschemeyer 1986), specialization is characterized by greater interdependence—facilitative or inhibitory—than in the cases of simple segmentation or stratification. Segments can be added or lost with little effect; specialties cannot. Specialization ranges from little more than by age and sex in hunting and gathering societies, possibly with part-time political and religious leadership, to thousands of occupational specialties and nonoccupational roles in industrial and postindustrial societies (Lenski 1975, 1979; Hawley 1986, pp. 31–37, 64–67).

Generally also stratified, this form of social organization has been called corporate in distinction to categoric (Hawley 1986, pp. 68–69). The specialized units can be individuals or certain of their roles, as in a family, a small commune, or a small business enterprise; or they can themselves be segmented, stratified, or specialized internally.

Scale. Frequently associated with other aspects of social organization is its scale, variously specified as, for example, the number of units encompassed; the number of levels at which units are nested into progressively more comprehensive units; or lengths of chains in the modification and flow of materials and services, information, influence, or command.

Contrasted with today's enormous urban settlements and nation-states are the unspecialized and unnested bands of twenty-five to forty or so hunters and gatherers (Lenski 1979). Specific examples of nesting—often accompanying or accompanied by stratification and one type of chain—are world system, country, province, and locality; Catholic Church, archdiocese, diocese, parish, and priest or parishioner; corporation, division, department, and job. Nesting is bypassed when, for example, transnational corporations become disassociated from local, provincial, or national jurisdictions; when religious ties crosscut nation-states; or when staff activities or occupational associations occur irrespective of level (Turk 1977, pp. 923–224; Tilly 1984, p. 136; Hawley 1986, p. 104).

The more activities become organized into large, specialized, but unnested units at higher levels of social organization, according to one body of theory, the less likely are the constituent units to be interconnected (references cited by Turk 1977, p. 65; McAdam et al. 1988). Each of the aggregates that result, sometimes the set of all such aggregates, is called a mass. An example is loss of relationships based on common residence to the extent that the local community is penetrated by specialized large-scale nonlocal collectivities called organizations (e.g., Turk 1977, pp. 65–66, 208–209).

Endurance. An important basis of classifying structure—or, for that matter, any complex unit or relationship that comprises structure—is by the extent to which it predates and outlives, or is otherwise independent of, specific units. Factory workers and managers are relatively replaceable, but a marriage does not substitute a new spouse for one that has been lost without becoming a different marriage. A market can be independent of particular producers and consumers, but a partnership or international bloc is not. Moreover, general features of factory, family, market, partnership, or bloc—or the means of generating these—tend to predate and survive as prototypes any of their specific instances (see, e.g., Jackson 1990).

Combinations. Hybrid forms, some of them complex, occur when segmentation, stratification, specialization, and nesting are considered with respect to one another or with respect to markets, arenas, collectivities, and aggregates. Further, units can themselves be composed of other units in ways other than by nesting, or they can themselves be patterned. A few illustrations follow.

Organizations are specialized collectivities. Defined as complexes of more or less cooperative relations directed toward more or less specific objectives, these units have been said to occur in every known society as "the major vehicle through which concentrated goal-directed effort takes place" (Udy 1979). They, the aggregates they comprise, and relations among them—including organizations of organizations—are considered to be primary units of social organization, at least in industrial and postindustrial communities and nations (see, e.g., Turk 1077, 1985; Skocpol 1979; Perrow 1986; Evans and Stephens 1988; Perrucci and Potter 1080; Coleman 1990).

Markets and arenas generally affect and are affected by collectivities—including ones that they nest or in which they are nested, that they constrain or by which they are constrained—shaping units so they can compete, exchange, struggle, or ally themselves with one another (see, e.g., Stinchcombe 1986; Coleman 1990, esp. pp. 266– 321, 371–396, 689). Indeed, organizations and other kinds of collectivities can affect the conditions under which other organizations are formed in substitution for markets (Williamson 1990). Clearly, positions within the organizational substitutes may be filled in turn by labor markets (Stinchcombe 1986; Granovetter and Tilly 1988).

Sizes of aggregates can affect social organization (see citations by Eisenstadt 1068). Sheer numbers make it impossible for each unit to have relations with each other one. This affects the probabilities of positions, networks, or organizations that channel and mediate social relationships (research stimulated by Simmel 1908, pp. 55–56). More recent work shows how specific interconnections, such as marriage or crowd behavior under conditions of threat, can be affected by aggregates, by their relative sizes and other properties, and by relations among these properties (e.g., Blau 1987, Coleman 1990).

Network analysis has added precision to the measurement of form—say, of stratification or of degrees of interconnectedness—by detailing the connections (links) among units and the patterns that these provide (see, e.g., Cook 1977; Leinhardt 1977; Burt 1982; Turner 1986, pp. 287–305). Its techniques are uniquely suited to the chains, clusters, and sequences of exchange, cooperation, alliance, or command over which goods, services, money, information, or influence flow. Associated with scale, for example, can be the number of points between origin of flow and its completion. Network formulations have also proven especially useful in identifying relations among organizations that affect concerted action locally (Turk 1977; Galaskiewicz 1989) and ones that affect it nationally (Laumann and Knoke 1989).

Complexity. The very complexity of social organization—the number and variety of units, levels, and interconnections—is itself an aspect of form. Though admittedly crude (Luhmann [1977] 1982, pp. 232–233; Tilly 1984, pp. 48–50; Rueschemeyer 1986, p. 168), this variable can be used to account for other aspects of social organization (e.g., Lenski 1075, 1979; Turk 1977; Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 153–197; Luhmann [1977] 1982, pp. 229–254; Rueschemeyer 1986).


Classification of units—including complex units—is necessary for similarity, stratification, or specialization to signify more than simply differences in form. Among many, two bases of classification stand out. Sometimes applied jointly, the one emphasizes objective consequences—positive, negative, or neutral, and varying from 0 in degree—the other communicated, remembered, or recorded meanings and rules. Examples of the two bases follow.

Consequences. Substructure has been classified according to its consequences for stability and change in overall structure (e.g., Marx and Engels [1846] 1970; Marx [1859] 1971; Parsons [1966, 1971] 1977; Luhmann [1977] 1982; Habermas [1981] 1987; Hawley 1986). Among these, adaptation to the environment and of units to one another have been stressed (see, e.g., Duncan 1964; Lenski 1975, 1979; Parsons [1966, 1971] 1977; Habermas [1981] 1987; Luhmann [1974–1977] 1982; Hawley 1986), quite likely because socially organized life has been observed to be the major adaptive means available to primates (e.g., by Lenski 1975).

Thus, the distinction is often made between (1) economic substructure affecting environmental adaptation for the generation and distribution of general resources (e.g., gross national product, homelessness) and (2) political substructure affecting the generation and distribution of general capacity to mobilize resources for concerted action, including action by opposing collectivities (e.g., national efforts, party campaigns, uprisings). Further distinction involves (3) substructure affecting the generation and distribution of general bonds or schisms that provide harmony or discord among units (e.g., community cohesion, solidary antagonism; see Parsons and Smelser [1956] 1965, pp. 48–49; Parsons [1966] 1977, pp. 135–140; Hawley 1986, p. 66; Coleman 1990, pp. 91–116, 175–196, 517–527) and (4) substructure affecting the generation, distribution, and maintenance of participation in structure: recruitment of units (including but not limited to procreation) and their training, allocation, motivation, and retention—in short, the populating and regulating of social structure.

Meanings and Rules. The classification of content can also rest on disputed or common meanings, understandings, purposes, or binding rules (including law) that are communicated about environment and structure. Communication can involve all kinds of participants or only certain ones and can be modified depending on the context (Goffman 1959). The products of communication vary in their permanence through repetition, recording, or recall; in their breadth of dissemination and acceptance; and in their association with sanction—that is, support by enforcement or other incentives to comply. They can, but often do not, coincide with the structure's objective consequences (Habermas [1981] 1987, esp. pp. 153–197) but can affect it.

Most theories of social organization allow for the effects on stability and change of sanctioned agreement, or of oppositions among sanctioned agreements, calling the product institutional or cultural. They differ in terms of the importance the institutional component is said to have for structure.

Near the one extreme, institutional rules are viewed as "higher level" determinants of social organization (Parsons [1971] 1977, pp. 234–236), not only of relations among units but also of the units themselves (Meyer et al. 1987; Coleman 1990, pp. 43–44, 325–70). Here the rules governing specific structure are considered to be products of more inclusive structure, such as political state or church (Znaniecki 1945; Turk 1977, pp. 210, 215– 221), or to be elements of a world "culture pool" (Moore 1988; Meyer et al. 1987). Near the other extreme, meanings ("ideas") are viewed primarily as by-products of the material relations of production (Marx and Engels [1846] 1970, pp. 57–60) or in terms of their significance for organized adaptive processes vis-à-vis the environment (e.g., Duncan 1964; Lenski 1975). Meaning, if the concept is employed at all, is restricted to the acting unit's purposive rationality: its adoption, within the limits of error and imperfect knowledge or skill, of means that are appropriate to specified outcomes (see, e.g., Hawley 1986, pp. 6–7).

A second source of variability is the degree to which the institutional can be seen as analytically distinct from structure. Some consider the institutional to be an aspect of the environments of substructures and other units (Parsons 1968; Meyer and Rowan 1978; Hawley 1986, p. 79; Meyer et al. 1987; Coleman 1990, pp. 43–44). Others see it as relatively inextricable from structure (e.g., Giddens 1979, pp. 49–85), specifically where structure is viewed as formed and modified through interpretive interaction between persons or groups, in which interpretations are frequently but not always shared (Blumer 1969, pp. 86–88).

The third issue regards the degree to which structure is "spelled out" by the institutional. There can be precise rules that govern even the minutiae, as on an assembly line or in religious ritual. There are also general principles that reduce the number of structural alternatives without determining structure precisely (Parsons [1971] 1977, pp. 193–194), as in such ideals as freedom, rationality, retribution, obedience, protest, solidarity, revolution, contract, and property. Relatedly, there can be shared common-sense reasoning (Collins 1988, pp. 273– 291 on Garfinkel) on the basis of which "sense" is made of structure. Or there can be broad myths that serve to provide accounts of social organization (Meyer and Rowan 1978, Goffman 1959) on the basis of which, rather than on the basis of performance, structure is justified.

Agency, as do most theories incorporating meaning, rests on the general idea of interest—variously called purpose, intention, motive, or goal and variably emerging during a course of action—and on the availability of action alternatives (e.g., Giddens 1979, pp. 55–56). Agency is the extent to which purposive action by and interaction among the units affect social organization. There is little need to consider what individual units contribute to organization or why (Hawley 1986, pp. 6–7). When structure, environment, or rule are viewed as an absolute constraint or as providing only limited choice (see, e.g., Blau 1987), or where social organization results from natural selection (Lenski 1975, 1979).

This is not the case where structure and culture simply set loose conditions for action and interaction. Important here for structural and cultural stability and change are the processes (1) by which interests are pursued under the influence and constraint of other actors (Homans 1975); (2) by which the conditions of action are interpreted through social interaction (Blumer 1969); (3) by which the acting unit monitors and adjusts the components of action, even intention, throughout (Giddens 1979, pp. 53–59); and (4) by which individual and collective actors choose means of implementing their interests (Coleman 1990). These processes are significant both to the reproduction and to the transformation of structure and institutional rule.

Classifications of meaning are numerous. Yet they frequently rest on one or more of the following variables (polar approximations in parentheses): (1) specificity: the scope of the relationship, from specific to diffuse content (e.g., organizations or special markets vs. unspecialized collectivities or conflict arenas); (2) universalism: the extent to which relationships hold for all units belonging to a category or only for particular ones from that category (e.g., upholding sovereignty of any nation or opposition toward all governments vs. a treaty or a declaration of war); (3) neutrality: the extent to which relationships are means to ends vs. ends in themselves (e.g., banking transactions or job competition vs. flag-raising or flag-burning ceremonies); and (4) performance: the extent to which relationships are based on what units do rather than on what they are (e.g., production relations or industrial conflict vs. aristocracy or racial conflict).

Concrete as well as abstract structures have been classified according to various combinations of values of these variables, leading to widely used typologies. More generally, any variables used to define content and form serve the analysis of overall structure by describing its various aspects or its different parts.


Structure can vary in the extent to which substructures—such as the four whose consequences were noted—are abstractions, involving the same concrete units rather than different ones. At the low end of this continuum, the units comprise a single unstratified and unspecialized collectivity, approximated by a tribal society or a commune, in which each act affirms the totality (Durkheim [1902] 1964; Luhmann [1974] 1982, 1987, pp. 153–197), having every kind of consequence for it. In it myth tends to blur distinctions among the objective, social, and subjective worlds and between society and its natural surroundings (Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 158–159), and there is comprehensive and detailed regulation of activity. The units not only resemble one another but also tend not to have separate identities. In short, relations tend to be particular to the given collectivity, not universal; affective, not neutral; ascriptive, not performance-based; and diffuse, not specific.

In examples of this noncomplex instance, economic and political organization tend to be extensions of family, extended family, religious group, and common territory, which overlap to considerable degrees. Commitment to any one aspect of social life tends to be supported and sanctioned within all of the others (Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 156–157), and there are relatively few conflicting constraints, structural or cultural (Blumer 1969, pp. 87–88).

Compliance to one cluster of rules and understandings is approximated, with utility, sanction, attachment, and/or commitment as its basis or bases. Here change has been attributed, in the main, to changes in the environment or in ways of coping with it (e.g., Hawley 1986, pp. 15–18) or to ubiquitous "tension" between rules of action and the situation of the acting unit (e.g., Parsons and Smelser [1956] 1965, esp. pp. 50–51). There is little institutional provision for change.

With greater complexity, however, activities can be removed from these primordial units and assumed by large-scale economic, political, and other kinds of organizations (e.g., Lenski 1979; Coleman 1990, pp. 584–585). Varied organizational purpose as well as interaction among organizations can constitute bases of change that are themselves institutionalized.

Domination. Stratification implies domination—that is, setting the conditions of existence by certain units for other units through disposition over key resources; over the generation and selection of often self-serving meanings and rules (see, e.g., Landecker 1981); and over the means of securing compliance. Such disproportion is one of the most widely considered sources of strain, hence of change through conflict (see, e.g., the modifications of Marxian theory by Dahrendorf 1959 and Skocpol 1979).

Considered under various names (see, e.g., Marx and Engels [1846] 1970; Parsons and Smelser [1956] 1965; Dahrendorf 1959; Duncan 1964; Hawley 1986; Giddens 1985), domination includes disposition over means of coercion, material inducement, social support, or rules of command (adapted from Weber [1920] 1978, pp. 53–54; Hawley 1986, pp. 33–37). Domination reflects power, the capacity to affect action and its outcomes (Giddens 1979, pp. 88–94). Suggested by Weber ([1920] 1978, p. 53) as the probability that the acting unit can carry out its will despite resistance, power has also been defined as the structure's capacity to mobilize resources in effecting outcomes through concerted action, such as the production of sustenance (or other ways of supporting units) and environmental control (Parsons and Smelser [1956] 1965, p. 48; Hawley 1986, pp. 36–37). This capacity is conceived to be distributed in different ways, depending on the structure under consideration (Hawley 1986, pp. 74–77), serving political relations as money serves economic relations (Parsons 1975).

Domination can effect both form and content. For example, domination can cause segmentation to give way to stratification, frequently as a result of conquest, as when multicommunal societies become kingdoms or empires (Lenski 1979) or numerous petty sovereignties are gathered under nation-states (Tilly 1984, p. 48). By setting the conditions for competition and exchange or more directly by affecting concerted action that favors certain specialties or even by imposition, domination can also make specialization possible or influence its nature and degree (Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 161–163; Hawley 1986, pp. 64–67, 91–95; Rueschemeyer 1986).

The resources on which domination is based need not only be material. They can be social—for example, active support, institutionalization by organizations and movements that generate and implement ideology or legality, and the absence of opposition. Generalized control over all manner of resources has been called hegemony, and political processes have been characterized as struggles for hegemony (Wallerstein 1979, 1984; Tuchman 1988). Domination has been conceived, in its extreme form, as rendering certain alternatives invisible (Giddens 1985, pp. 8–10) through taken-forgranted opposition by powerful units (Polsby 1980, pp. 189–218), lack of relevant language (Parsons 1975), absence of relevant substructures, agendas set by the mass media of communication (Tuchman 1988), and uncontested legitimacy—that is, common understandings as to what is valid or binding. The elementary stratified society is, by definition, hegemonic, since it is unspecialized in terms of the control of various types of resources.

Domination can be by one or more substructures over the others. History shows, for example, cases of kinship-based, religious, military, economic, and political domination (e.g., Tilly 1984; Evans and Stephens 1988). The hypothesis has been suggested that the greater the specialization, the less stable is domination through fusion of, say, political with economic activities (Parsons and Smelser [1956] 1965, p. 83). The expected trend is for substructures to become concretely separate. For example, underground markets arise as responses to shortages and bottlenecks in socialist societies, which are characterized by political domination of economic activity, or by the "informally" organized demands of their workers ( Jones 1984).

Pluralism and Plasticity. The degree to which meanings are single or plural can be affected by segmentation or specialization. Different collectivities, constituted, say, on the basis of different fundamental beliefs, different descent, or different economic circumstances (Landecker 1981), coexist segmentally either by loose agreement or by coercive regulation, each with separate rules and understandings (Tenbruck 1989), or struggle with one another over which ones shall prevail (e.g., Landecker 1981, pp. 136–169; Wallace 1988).

The greater the specialization among units, all things being equal, the greater also is the plurality of interests, according to some models. A recurrent theme is that this form of pluralism affects the probabilities of different degrees of involvement by given units and of different alignments among units from one issue to the next. Such differential participation can have a negative effect on the probability of broad or intense conflict (Dahrendorf 1959, pp. 215–231; Polsby 1980, pp. 84–97, 122– 138; Turk 1977, pp. 97–103, 1985; McAdam et al. 1988).

Specialized forms, including organizations, are by definition relatively indifferent to the activities or aspirations of supporting, component, or utilizing units in other social settings (Luhmann [1975] 1982, pp. 78–79; Labovitz and Hagedorn 1977, pp. 12–15). Entire areas of indifference are seen to result, for example, from "gaps" left between interests served by organizations (Luhmann [1975] 1982, pp. 79–80, 87, [1977] 1982, p. 237). The intrusion of, say, race and gender in contemporary labor markets suggests, however, that organizational indifference is a matter of degree (see, e.g., Stinchcombe 1986; Granovetter and Tilly 1988).

Accompanying segmentation or specialization, according to several theories, is plasticity: the probability of loose and variable connections among segments or among organizations subsumed by substructures like the four singled out. Here overall organization is limited to compatibility, falling short of the pursuit of unified or concerted outcomes across substructures (see, e.g., Luhmann [1975] 1982, pp. 78–79). Change is endemic in the absence of overall structure, save for markets and conflict arenas and rules that govern these (Luhmann [1977] 1982, pp. 238–242). It tends to occur as accommodation (1) through exchange, say, between segments or between political and economic substructures (Parsons and Smelser [1956] 1965), or (2) through new forms and modification of older ones in responses to changes elsewhere, as in the case of the family's loss of economic activity in the United States but its growing importance in providing incentive for such activity (Schumpeter, cited by Suttles and Janowitz 1979).

The greater the segmentation or specialization, the more general the accommodative meanings and rules that encompass social organization overall—for example, the idea of tolerance and its enforcement, or of universal civility (Parsons [1971] 1977, pp. 182–193; Hawley 1986, p. 66). Another example is the idea of freedom in classic liberal society, implemented as economic laissez faire, religious autonomy, voluntary rather than arranged marriage, political competition for electoral support, and stratum membership on the basis of achievement rather than family (Gerth and Mills 1964, pp. 354–357).

There is disagreement about the extent of hegemony under conditions of specialization, even where, say, political or economic organizations overshadow other organizations in control over resources. At the one extreme incumbents of dominant positions within the various specialized organizations have been conceived as constituting a single elite capable of joint domination (e.g., Mills 1956) or as being generally dominant to the extent that they hold positions in multiple organizations (Perrucci and Pilisuk 1970). Relatedly, large organizations have been observed to divorce themselves from the interests they were established to represent—as, say, those of capital and labor—and strike bargains with one another (Evans and Stephens 1988). These conceptions of unified domination have partly been verified and partly refuted (e.g., by Lieberson 1971; Mizruchi 1982; Johnsen and Mintz 1989).

Specialized as they are, according to another partly verified view, the same set of organizations can facilitate one another in certain respects and be in mutual struggle in others, therefore resisting direct domination by any one or a few of their number (citations in Turk 1985). Under these conditions policy that is the basis for binding domination is formed through action by those masses or by those nonpermanent coalitions of public agencies and private organizations that are concerned with any particular matter (Turk 1977, pp. 136–205; Galaskiewicz 1989; Laumann and Knoke 1989).

Crosscutting the issue is the question of whether, given specialization, either an organized elite or an interorganizational coalition has the capacity for concerted action that transcends the substructures. Specialization can mean that, at the most, even the most powerful organization is dominant only with respect to one or two issue areas (Luhmann [1975] 1982, pp. 76–89; Polsby 1980, pp. 122–128). However, even within organizations the normal decision process has been defined as organized anarchy by certain investigators (e.g., citations by Scott 1987, pp. 277–282; Meyer and Rowan 1978). Carried to an extreme, the question is one of the extent to which coordination by domination is haphazard, whether actual coordination might not result from the "invisible hand" of a market (Smith [1789] 1976, Vol. 1, pp. 477– 478) or of an arena of conflict.

Standardization. Mitigating the diversifying possibilities of segmentation and specialization that have been noted are tendencies for units to become alike in certain aspects of form and content—that is, isomorphic (Hawley 1986, pp. 66– 70; Udy 1979; Kerr 1983, pp. 85–89). This can be because units require similar internal arrangements for purposes of connection with one another (Hawley 1986, p. 70), or model themselves after other units in the preservation of competitive effectiveness (suggested by Aldrich and Marsden 1988, citing DiMaggio and Powell). It can also be through institutionalization by drawing upon a common "culture pool" available, say, to the countries of the world (Moore 1988) or through, say, political or religious imposition within a given society (Znaniecki 1945; Landecker 1981, p. 136) or by either (Hawley 1986, p. 66; Meyer et al. 1987).

Not only can there be standardization of form, there can also be standardization of process. For reasons of predictability and economy of effort, among others, the joint reproduction of habitual patterns has been considered to lie at the heart of social life (e.g., Berger and Luckmann 1966). This not only accounts in part for compliance with meanings and rules that standardize feeling, thinking, and acting in such relatively unspecialized settings as tribal societies, it also accounts for standardized, partly area-specific media and codes that symbolize and routinize all manner of activities and products where there is more specialization. Examples are language (Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 56–57), money, property, prestige, influence, power, legality, administrative principles, criteria of truth (Parsons 1975, Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 153–197, 367–373; Luhmann [1974] 1982, pp. 168–170), and credentialed expertise (Collins 1988, pp. 174–184; Luhmann [1976] 1982, pp. 303–331; Bauman 1989). These standardize and objecify aspects of markets, conflict arenas, collectivities, or aggregates. Unless it fails noticeably, it is believed, routine tends not to be questioned, especially where relevant knowledge is not widely pursued and alternatives are not at hand.

Collective Agency. Mainly based on exchange, conquest, or revolution, change is seldom institutionalized in segmental or stratified society. Pluralism generally includes provisions for categoric organization in the form of mass action, say through referenda, or in the form of movement and interest organizations, which not only participate in the coalitions that seek to dominate given matters but also define matters for action by the mass. These institutionalized means of structural and cultural change through collective agency are thought to occur where pluralism means lack of overall institutional detail (e.g., Gusfield 1979). Recent investigations have not only examined their causes and effects but also their forms and ways of acting (Zurcher and Snow 1981; McAdam et al. 1988). Their efforts can be toward increasing the material and social resources controlled by given categories of units, as in the case of gay rights, or they can be directed toward broad structural changes or changes in meaning that occur for their participants and for nonparticipants alike, as in the case of civil liberties (Gusfield 1979). Like revolutions, movements have been considered to be processes that can begin by effecting transitional social organization and end with new institutionalized structure (Alberoni [1981] 1984).

Commitment and Trust. Commitment of units to one another and to their common structure is a widely recognized influence. The "we" that characterizes collectivities (Cooley 1902, 1916) or the "consciousness" that causes support of existing social organization or generates struggle within it (Marx and Engels [1846] 1970; Durkheim [1902] 1964) is seen as having either of two effects. It can be direct, producing commitment to the given structure, or indirect by habitualizing the commitment and trust that serves participation in a variety of settings, even ones that are specific and neutral (also see Coleman 1990, p. 297).

Increasing specialization and other forms of organizational complexity and increasing scale have been viewed as negative influences on commitment, even on commitment to disputing factions or to revolutionary movements seeking structural change. Commitment to large-scale organizations comprising specialized substructure is generally considered less than to other kinds of collectivities because of anonymity among the constituent units, which are likely to have the characteristics of a mass, and because only part of the constituent is involved.

With complexity and scale, participation in one substructure is less contingent on participation in others, incurring separate, possibly conflicting obligations; indeed, everyday interactions that produce common meaning have been considered divorced from structure and rules (Luhmann [1974–1977] 1982, 1987; Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 117, 153–197), and even everyday life is penetrated by the actions and generalized media controlled by organizations (e.g., legal and monetary), reducing its potential for social integration (Habermas [1981] 1987, pp. 267, 330–331, 367–373). Under these conditions the influence of trust on social organization is less likely (Coleman 1990, pp. 300– 321), and benefits are more likely sought without corresponding contributions (Coleman 1990, pp. 650–655).

The greater the specialization and accompanying standardization, it has been observed, the more of the population can be included in whatever substructures comprise various areas of social life (Parsons [1966] 1977)—that is, the more universalistic, for example, are criteria for suffrage and military service, access to public facilities, mass education, and employment opportunity. One reason follows. The more social structure consists of aggregates of organizations whose concerted activities are narrowly focused on specialized consequences—meaning specific and neutral orientation toward performance—that tend to be unranked, the less relevant these aggregates are to one another as criteria of exclusion (Luhmann [1977] 1982, pp. 236–238). Examples can be found in references to "customer," "patient," "student," or "defendant," independently of the beneficiary's other social attributes. At its extreme it can even lead to "the gall bladder in bed 27." Aided by standardized media such as money, the result of inclusion can be the diminution of commitment and trust through the transformation of agents into commodities for exchange (e.g., Marx [1859] 1971, pp. 78–84), or their more general removal from meaningful communicative interaction (Habermas [1981] 1987, e.g., p. 343).

The other side of inclusion is regulation. The more central that large, specialized organizations are to social structure, it has also been claimed, the less social organization depends on commitment and the greater is the shift from mutual trust to trust in expertise. The state, for example, is said to require less legitimacy as its expert-driven political technology provides, say, surveillance, "correction," welfare supervision, "medicalization," or "psychiatrization" (Bauman 1989). Indeed, the electorate's growing cynicism about government (e.g., Institute for Social Research 1979) has had little apparent effect on political structure in the United States.

(see also: organizational structure; social dynamics; social network theory; social structure)


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