The Meeting pp 89-114 | Cite as

An Organized Anarchy

  • Helen B. Schwartzman


Organizational researchers have traditionally studied large-scale, mainstream, bureaucratic organizations. Attention has been focused on both public and private sector organizations, and the range of topics and types of settings is enormous, from studies of mismanagement in federal bureaus to interaction on industrial shop floors. Coexisting with these large-scale organizations and in the spirit of populist reform that has characterized American society since its inception are the multitude of small-scale, experimental associations and organizations that develop often in opposition to some aspect of bureaucratic practice. These “border” groups (as they have been characterized by Douglas and Wildaysky 1982) exhibit a variety of structures and purposes, but, for the most part, they remain at the border of the organizational research literature.1 Swidler (1979) notes in her study of alternative schools that “de-spite their radical challenge to traditional organization [alternative organizations] have received little more than polemical attention. Analysts have had difficulty taking them seriously as social forms with their own structure and inner dynamics” (p. vii).


Mental Health Mental Health Center Community Mental Health Center Mental Patient Free School 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Demarath and Thiessen (1970) suggest that “most organizational analysis follows in the wake of Weber’s concern with the bureaucratic monolith. While the topic of organizational growth is common, studies of organizational demise are rare. While the conservative organization has been compelling, the deviant organization is frequently ignored and often shunted to the less attended realm of collective behavior” (pp. 237–238). In this regard, Kanter’s (1972) review and analysis of the development and demise of several utopian communities stands out as a uniquely informative study of deviant or “border” organizations in American society.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A good example of the effect of this concern with exotic populations on studies of American society is illustrated in Messerschmidt’s (1980) review article, “Inside Looking Around: Studies of American Culture.”Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    f course, the works of Weber (1946) and also Michels (1966) are the most well-known analyses of the process whereby an organization may subvert its original goal and adopt more conservative objectives and bureaucratic procedures in order to maintain itself. Simmel (1964) describes the process whereby “structures which resist larger, encompassing structures through opposition and separation, nevertheless themselves repeat the forms of these structures” and he refers to this as a “ubiquitous social norm” (as quoted in Kanter 1972:130). Lipset, Trow, and Coleman’s (1970) study of the history and structural development of the International Typographers Union is an important work that attempts to specify those organizational conditions and processes that lead to a change in democratic goals and those that contribute to the maintenance of these goals.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    y implication, this approach is also critical of the culture that supports these models, but this is not developed by the authors. Sahlins’s critique of utilitarian and materialist thought in Western society in Culture and Practical Reason (1976) could be joined with March and Olsen’s work to develop a cultural analysis of decision making and ideas about decision making.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen B. Schwartzman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and Center for Urban Affairs and Policy ResearchNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Personalised recommendations