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Organizational Theory and Public Management:
Marx, Weber, and Freud.
When one considers the vast topic of organizational theory, one of the foremost names in modern study is undoubtedly Robert B. Denhardt. As a professor of Public Administration at Arizona State University, he has authored numerous works on the topic of human behavior as it relates to public organization. Of course, in today's world, this area of study is no small thing -- for in virtually every society the role of the organization -- especially the public/governmental organization is of tremendous influence on the lives of humankind. In such an environment, then, Denhardt has come to focus directly on issues of behavior and ethics -- and draws heavily on the ideas of Weber, Marx and Freud to illustrate just how the governing theories and scholarly assumptions concerning organizational theory has developed into what one recognizes today.
Of course, one of the most influential thinkers on organizational theory was Max Weber. According to Weber, the "organization" or the "bureaucratic administration" is a symbol of the exertion of control based on knowledge.
What was interesting about his work, however was his distinction between the idea of "power" and "authority"-where actual authority is distinguished by a belief in the "legitimacy" of the exercise of power (as apposed to despotism, for example). Further, another hallmark of his work was his classification of organizational power based on the type of legitimacy granted by those governed by that power.
One type of organizational power may be based on something akin to individual "charisma." In this case, there must be a kind of feeling of sacred right of the leading individual or organization. Thus, the "divine right of kings" in many nations (Historical England, for example), could be explained under this heading. So, too, may be a religious organization (Catholicism under the Pope), or even a small "cult" (The People's Temple).
Another type that Weber characterizes is one of "tradition." That is, perhaps traditionally (as in a cultural sense), an individual or society may bow to an organizational power because it has always been so -- for instance, within a Bedouin tribe where one allows a "tribal leader," to have authority or final "say" over the fate of the individual or individuals within the tribe.
Finally, Weber goes on to describe the third type of authority which is based on a "rational legal authority."
This is a type of authority legitimized or agreed upon based on a code of laws or rules that make it so. For example, most modern "democracies," especially ones like the one exemplified in the United States are based on the acquiescence and acceptance of authority based on democratic law (especially the laws of election).
However, this is not to say that the rational type of authority is always pure in form. On the contrary, it can be, at least to some extent, tinged by the other two types -- in effect producing a kind of legitimization of power based on the combined strength of cultural, ideological/moral, as well as legal ideologies. For example, the present Bush administration is in some ways buoyed by all three -- with some religious or nationalistic groups believing the nation is "destined" to be led by the present administration, that it is essential to pledge allegiance to the administration whether one believes in it or not (as in today's patriotic movement), and that it is supported by the "law."
Interestingly, it is here that one can note that, according to Weber, it is the degree to which any organization holds power based on the third category (that is though efficient bureaucracy), that the organization is at its most effective state. Thus, from the highest form of state government to the lower realms of business, those in power assure organizational power and efficiency by avoiding anything smacking of the first two forms of authority in favor of a formal system of rational and legal "rules." This is accomplished, according to Weber, by:
The establishment of a legal code can be established which can claim obedience from members of the organization.
The implementation of a system of abstract rules which are applied to particular cases; and administration looks after the interests of the organization within the limits of that law.
The person(s) exercising authority also obeys this impersonal order.
Only through being a member does the member obey the law.
Obedience is due not to the person who holds the authority but to the impersonal order which has granted him this position.
According to Denhardt, another figure greatly responsible for the nature of organizational theory today was Karl Marx. Unlike Weber, Marxist thought focuses greatly on the nature of power in organization not as it pertains to efficiency as a means by which financial control profit is made -- largely at the expense of the worker. Thus, instead of organizational control as a means by which efficiency is gained, exploitation is the order of the day. Thus, organized control is, according to Marx, one of the key causes of conflict based on class stratification and alienation from the society in which they live.
Clearly, it is difficult for one to see the Marxist perspective reflected in Capitalistic societies, especially within the United States. However, there does remain a strong cultural tendency to value human interest with regard to fairness, egalitarianism, and well-being. Although this is largely absent from the highest "powers-that-be," this tendency can at times temper the "bottom line" that can cause the alienation that Marx speaks of. However, there still remains a strong push toward the universal definition of "efficiency" as pertaining to financial efficiency rather than the efficiency of egalitarian human satisfaction and comfort.
Finally, Denhardt also describes how the work of Freud influences modern conceptions of organizational theory. Although few lay people bring issues of power with regard to organizational authority to mind when they think of Freud, they do often bring to mind "unconscious symbols."
Further, due to these unconscious symbols, " ... Each of us has a representation, a "prototype" or "script" of our self, others, events. These scripts are carried within us and they affect how we react across situations ... "
Thus, within an organizational framework -- particularly a framework of power (say, managerial), those scripts can affect the operation of the organization in positive or negative ways wholly independent of the "reality" of the situation.
So, too, according to Freud's theory, individuals may react to those in power due to their internalized scripts (largely gleaned in childhood). This too may be far removed from "reality" and may cause unexpected or adverse effects to the efficiency of the organization (take, for example, an employee going "postal"). Additionally, other purely psychological phenomena can also affect the organization. Take, for example obsessive compulsive tendencies. Although may might point to a particularly "driven" employee or manager as an example of shining efficiency, that drive may be attributable to a kind of psychological flaw rather than any real merit or drive based on genuine organizational need.
Of course, the benefit of understanding just how Freud's theories may impact organizational theory lies in its power to recognize potentially harmful personality traits (harmful with regard to the health of the organization). Thus, although it may seem on the surface to have an extremely driven "workaholic" type in charge of any given enterprise, such a personality may actually have a negative organizational effect with regard to employees or other "subject" individuals. In the end the organizational efficiency may be jeopardized by these "narcissistic" or obsessive types.
In the end Denhardt makes several interesting observations concerning organizational theory with regard to public management in the United States. However, understanding some of the key sources of theory can help identify the extent to which the points espoused by Weber, Marx and…[continue]
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