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The Vulnerable Fortress

The Vulnerable Fortress: Bureaucratic Organization and Management in the Information Age

James R. Taylor
Elizabeth J. Van Every
Hélène Akzam
Margot Hovey
Gavin Taylor
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 283
  • Book Info
    The Vulnerable Fortress
    Book Description:

    In this challenging book, James R. Taylor and Elizabeth J. Van Every argue that partly as a result of the introduction of information and communications technology into the workplace, the nature and authority of the traditional bureaucratic form of organization is being called into question. While not espousing technological determinism, they contend that developments in telecommunications, and computer software, constitute at one and the same time, a globalization and a fragmentation of organizational communications. These trends transcend the bounds of bureaucratic lines of control and integration, and presage the emergence of new organizational forms.

    Suggesting that existing models of the organization as a rational machine are no longer adequate to explain or to cope with the complexity of the organizational changes taut are occurring in an information economy, Taylor and Van Every outline a communication-based alternative. Their approach explores the technology's impact on the transactional and symbolic dimensions of organization, and its implications for radical 're-framing' of management's own role.

    The book touches on important issues in at least three major areas of research: organizational theory, informational technology, and the information society. Taylor and Van Every's interdisciplinary synthesis focuses attention on the fundamental nature of modern organizations from a unique communicational perspective.

    Taylor and Van Every identify problems which are having and will continue to have a significant impact on business, governance, and society.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8317-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
  5. Part One Organization in the Information Age

    • 1 A world in flux
      (pp. 3-33)

      This is a book about organization, and our ideas of organization, and how, by transforming the organization, the realities of the so-called information age are also making our ideas of organization obsolete. The result is that our notions about how to administer the organizational processes that support the institutional structures of our society are no longer very realistic. We are in danger of losing the art of managing – in both the ordinary and the technical senses of the term: both of coping, and of administering.

      This introductory chapter first sketches an image of that elusive phenomenon, the ‘information age’ (or...

    • 2 Coping with office automation: the conversation and the text
      (pp. 34-71)

      At the end of the previous chapter, we presented evidence showing that implementation of new technologies is fraught with difficulties for the organizations and managers who embark upon it. In this chapter, by using a couple of case studies of office automation, we begin to explore the reasons why.

      Despite the recent trend to smaller size, large and powerful enterprises and ministries of government have dominated the social, economic, and political landscape of late-twentieth-century Western democracies. Since so many of us have hitched our individual wagons to the fate of those organizational behemoths, their responses to the new communication environment...

    • 3 Beyond the machine metaphor
      (pp. 72-104)

      This chapter, like the last, is about office automation. While in chapter 2 we focused on the ‘practice’ of computer-supported information work, we are now going to consider it from a theoretical perspective. There, we were preoccupied with the what? and how? of automation; here, with the why?

      We are intrigued with office automation less because of the organizational miracles that it promised – and frequently failed to deliver – than because of its not-so-obvious ideological commitments. Office automation was, and still remains, more than a package of new office communication and information-processing hardware and software; it also incorporates, as we illustrated...

    • 4 Organization as talk and text
      (pp. 105-142)

      The sometime clumsiness of forced automation (and its uneven record of success) inadvertently called our attention to the deficiencies of the ‘rational’ theory of organization, especially in its technical manifestation as a ‘software-driven’ system. How can we then reach beyond the machine metaphor of organization to see the latter as a communication system – but a system that is more than a bare-bones network for the transmission of information? How can we achieve a theoretical model that is closer to the image of Weick, March, Kuhn, Brunsson, and others who take a more realistic, and down-to-earth, view of how organizations actually...

  6. Part Two Management in the Information Age

    • 5 The changing transactional environment
      (pp. 145-177)

      Until recently, bureaucratic management has been assisted in its growth by communication technologies which enabled administrators in both public and private spheres to achieve vertical integration of activities on an unprecedented scale. It appears, however, that developments in telecommunications and computing have now outdistanced these communicational lines of control and integration and may even be working against them. The technologies are not only accelerating the pace of the evolution in the economy and the workplace that we sketched in chapter 1 but are affecting its shape.

      On the one hand, developments in telecommunications are increasing transactional interdependence and connectedness, on...

    • 6 The evolution of software: the new text
      (pp. 178-199)

      In chapter 2, we developed the germ of an idea: that organization is endlessly regenerated through a dialectic involving, as its poles of tension, a conversation and a text. We began by considering practical, down-to-earth illustrations. The first case was a community of users accustoming itself through spontaneous day-to-day interaction, realized as conversation, to a system of technology shaped by the logic of today’s evolving software, which it incorporated into a communication network. The second case, by way of contrast, was a community of developers coming to grips, through conversation with clients, with the formally unexplicated, but stubborn, logic of...

    • 7 Managing in the information society
      (pp. 200-227)

      In the last chapter we contrasted two versions of the software ‘text’ of the organization. In one, the single organizational text (office automation being an example), by transforming workplace activities into data, helps maintain centralized control over a distributed network of transactions. In the other version, software texts illuminate events and the relationships between them in new ways and also foster a distributed interpretation of the organization.

      This contrast is a matter of more than managerial ‘alternatives.’ We are in the midst of an organizational transformation which is calling traditional management practices into question. As we saw in chapter 5,...

    • 8 The fall of the fortress?
      (pp. 228-244)

      Social scientists face the same problem as everyone else in identifying and describing the relationship between processual change and structural effect, in the context of broad secular trends. It is very difficult to determine when or how change has taken place when you are actually living through what may later turn out to have been a transition from one era to another. Which variables should we be looking at? When does the sum of individual experiences of change add up to a collective structural transformation?

      This indeterminacy lies at the root of our present dilemma as a society – how to...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 245-262)
  8. References
    (pp. 263-278)
  9. Index
    (pp. 279-283)