(Chapter 6); as physical structures that support and constrain both activity and meaning
(Chapter 7); and as arenas within which power relations express themselves through
organizational politics, conflict and control (Chapter 8). These core concepts are related in
numerous ways, yet each will contribute something unique to your understanding of
organizations and organizing. As you read and reread these chapters, strive to develop your
appreciation for both the similarities and differences between the concepts because this
will develop your imagination for theorizing.
In addition to providing exposure to the core concepts of organization theory, Part II
will present several different theories of organization that were built using the core
concepts. Within each chapter these theories will be presented in historical order; in most
cases this means beginning with modern and proceeding to symbolic-interpretive and
postmodern perspectives, although organizational culture is an exception in that
symbolic-interpretivists were complicit with modernists in introducing this concept into
organization theory. This format should help you to experience organization theory as an
unfolding series of challenges and disagreements among theorists and their ideas about
and different perspectives on organizations and organizing.
The theories I am going to present will not only give you exposure to the various
types of explanation, understanding and appreciation offered by organization theory,
they will also provide a means to describe some of the skills and practices organization
theorists use. In discussing how theorists produce theory, I mean to encourage you to
become more actively theoretical in your approach to organizations and in your management
practices. In this regard, Part III will show you how organization theorists sometimes
combine concepts, theories and perspectives to analyze and recommend action on practical
18 WHAT IS ORGANIZATION THEORY?
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issues and problems such as organizational design, organizational change, knowledge
management and organizational learning (Chapter 9). The final chapter will introduce
you to ideas that lie on the horizon for organization theory: critical realism, network theory,
organizational aesthetics, complexity theory and organizational identity (Chapter 10).
Thus Part III will show you some of the tricks of the trade practiced by organization
A Conceptual Model of Organization
Throughout this book I will provide many conceptual models such as you see in Figure 1.2.
These models visually represent theories as sets of concepts and their relationships.
Organization theorists use them to make abstractions seem more tangible. Figure 1.2, for
example, is a visual way of communicating my definition of organizations as technologies,
social structures, cultures and physical structures that exist within and respond to an
environment. The grey tint over the entire model indicates that all of these elements of
organizing are colored by relations of power.
Diagrams such as Figure 1.2 can help you to remember a great deal about the theories
you will be studying. Giving these diagrams close attention will often reveal aspects of
organization theory that are subtle but important. For example, let the interconnections of
the four small circles in Figure 1.2 remind you that none of these concepts or the theories
and perspectives associated with them is complete in itself; each shares some aspects with
the others and it is the combination of these different ways of knowing that will allow
you to produce rich and complex explanations and descriptions of organization, or to
WHY STUDY ORGANIZATION THEORY? 19
Figure 1.2 A model for the concept of organization
The five intersecting circles of this model represent the organization as five inter-related phenomena conceptualized
as shown. Power, a sixth core concept, is symbolized by the grey tint that infuses the other circles.
These six concepts will be examined in depth in Part II of the book.
01-Hatch-Chap01.qxd 12/1/06 08:24 AM Page 19
challenge theories offered by others. Now imagine that each of the circles is a sphere spinning
on its axis and rotating around the others. Let this image remind you that these core
concepts are dynamic, mutually reactive parts of an organization interacting with and
within an environment. Then focus on the intersections of the circles and the gray tint
infusing them all. Let these features of the model remind you that any conceptual distinction
can be regarded as insupportable, that from some other perspective your distinctions
will break down and blend into each other.
I should warn you that, as you move toward understanding each core concept, there
will be times when you get caught in the intersections and become confused as to which
concept, theory or perspective you are using. Expect this. Try not to feel discouraged when
it happens because this is part of the process of becoming knowledgeable about organization
theory. Trust that out of your confusion new possibilities for theorizing, designing and
managing organizations will emerge in ways that you would never have imagined before
you studied organization theory.
20 WHAT IS ORGANIZATION THEORY?
A theory attempts to explain (modernist), describe so as to produce understanding and appreciation
of (symbolic-interpretive), criticize or create (postmodernist) a segment of reality. Which of
these purposes you believe theory serves depends on your ontological and epistemological
assumptions. The particular focus of a theory is called its phenomenon of interest. In organization
theory the primary phenomenon of interest is the organization. A theory consists of a set of concepts
and the relationships that tie them together into an explanation (or an understanding, critique
or creation) of the phenomenon of interest.
Because of the complexity and pluralism of organizations, managers who make sense of
and use multiple perspectives are better able to bring their knowledge of organization theory to
bear on the wide range of analyses, decisions and plans their organizations make each and every
day. This book is built upon the framework of multiple perspectives, and in particular, modern,
symbolic-interpretive, and postmodern perspectives will structure our discussion. Studying organization
theory from multiple perspectives will help you to enlarge your knowledge base, master
a wide range of skills and see situations in different ways—all of which are crucial for understanding,
analyzing and managing the complexities of organizational life.
The modernist perspective focuses on the organization as an independent objective entity and
takes a positivist approach to generating knowledge. Modernist organization theorists focus on how
to increase efficiency, effectiveness and other objective indicators of performance through the application
of theories relating to structure and control. The symbolic-interpretive perspective focuses on
the organization as a community sustained by human relationships and uses a predominantly subjectivist
ontology and an interpretive epistemology. Instead of treating organizations as objects to be
measured and analyzed (modernist perspective), symbolic-interpretivists treat them as webs of
meanings that are jointly created, appreciated and communicated. Symbolic-interpretive organization
theory explores how meanings are created and realities (note the plural) made sensible to those who
participate in sustaining them.
Meanwhile postmodernism will generate healthy skepticism toward any dominant theory
and will license you and others to try something completely different. The postmodern perspective
does all this by expanding the focus of theorizing from the organization per se, to how we
speak and write about organizations. Thus one phenomenon postmodern organization theory
addresses is theorizing itself: how what you may perceive as stable or objective elements of
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organizations and organization theory (structure, technology, culture, control, etc.) are but the outcomes
of linguistic convention and discursive practice. As such, postmodernism always makes
you aware that theories are open to revision and invites you to ask who supports them and why.
You should recognize, however, that most postmodernists would object to being categorized as
they are in Figure 1.1 and Table 1.2. Remember, postmodernism challenges categories, seeking
to undermine them by blurring their boundaries and exposing the motivations that produced or
maintain them. In the case of Figure 1.1, for instance, a postmodernist would probably argue that
this typology objectifies organization theory and theorizing in ways that reproduce and legitimize
seeing the field as constructed of modern, symbolic-interpretive and postmodern perspectives,
when other perspectives might be promoted at the same time or instead of these (some others
will be discussed in Chapter 10).
I believe that the best theories are those that you have found or invented to match your own
experience of organization. In this book you will learn about the theories of organizations and organizing
that others have developed and the skills they used to formulate them. This will give you a
foundation for your own theorizing. You can use the already formulated theories as they stand, if
this proves useful to your purposes, or as inspiration for your own theory-building efforts, but in
either case, using organization theory will require both the mastery of existing theories and personal
development of the skills of theorizing, analysis, interpretation and critique. Just remember:
when you want to apply your abstract reasoning to concrete situations you will need to reverse
the process of abstraction and that will require you to perform a creative act.
Finally, you have your own reasons for studying organization theory. Mine are that organization
theory broadens my appreciation of organizations and the world in general and opens my
mind to new ideas and possibilities for change and transformation. I am constantly renewed by
my work in this field and find that the ideas it has given me promote an increased ability to
develop new concepts and theories and enhance my ability to learn. Although it may hold other
meanings and possibilities for you, I hope that my enthusiasm, which is built on my own particular
needs, values and experiences, will inspire you to explore and learn to use organization theory
in ways that enhance your life and career.
WHY STUDY ORGANIZATION THEORY? 21
phenomenon of interest
1. See Miller (1956).
2. The multiple perspectives approach to
organization theory has been employed by a
variety of researchers. One of the earliest and
most influential of these was American
political scientist Graham Allison (1971),
who analyzed the Cuban Missile Crisis using
several different theoretical perspectives. John
Hassard (1988, 1991; Hassard and Pym 1990)
has been particularly active in promoting
Burrell and Morgan’s (1979) framework.
W. Richard Scott (1992) presented rational,
natural, and open system views of
organizations, while Joanne Martin (1992)
built her analysis of organizational culture
theory around a multiple perspective
01-Hatch-Chap01.qxd 12/1/06 08:24 AM Page 21
Smith, Adam (1957). Selections from “The Wealth of
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Marx, Karl (1954). Capital. Moscow: Foreign
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Durkheim, Émile (1949). The division of labor in
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Taylor, Frederick W. (1911). The principles of scientific
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Follett, Mary Parker (1923). The new state: Group
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New York: Longmans, Green and Co. (originally
Fayol, Henri (1919/1949). General and industrial
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Weber, Max (1947). The theory of social and economic
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Gulick, Luther, and Urwick, Lyndall (1937) (eds.).
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Barnard, Chester (1938). The functions of the executive.
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22 WHAT IS ORGANIZATION THEORY?
approach including integration,
differentiation, and fragmentation
3. This assumption is important because theorists
use language to create and communicate their
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reality then it would be impossible to lay claim
to positive knowledge.
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5. Foucault (1977).
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