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Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay: The Theory of the Organizational Ideal

Howard S. Schwartz
Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 166
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfxqm
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  • Book Info
    Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay
    Book Description:

    Howard S. Schwartz shows how American industry is in a process of decay unable to cope with foreign competition and stagnant in technological development. He attributes this Organizational Decay to a reluctance in the part of corporate members to deal with reality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8879-0
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. PART ONE The Theory of the Organization Ideal
    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-6)

      When I left graduate school and began teaching organizational behavior courses, I was struck by the irrelevance of what I had learned to the actual organizational experience of my students.

      My students experienced and understood organizational life as a kind of “vanity fair,” in which individuals who were interested in “getting ahead” could do so by playing to the vanity of their superiors. One needed to do this in two ways: one needed to flatter the superior as an individual and as an occupant of the superior role. This latter process tended to trail off into an adulation of the...

    • 1 The Clockwork or the Snakepit: An Essay on the Meaning of Teaching Organizational Behavior
      (pp. 7-15)

      There is a problem in teaching introductory organizational behavior courses that used to cause me great distress. Most of the textbooks in this area have always seemed to me to be essentially useless for the purpose of teaching students about organizations.¹ Yet the students expected and even demanded that one of these texts be used. For my own part, believing that my purpose was to teach students about organizations and that organizational reality more closely approximates a snakepit than the bland picture most texts convey, I’ve developed and used a psychoanalytic framework, expressed in this book, that explains much of...

    • 2 On the Psychodynamics of Organizational Totalitarianism
      (pp. 16-30)

      Understandably, discussions of totalitarianism tend to focus upon its more dramatic manifestations. Unfortunately, this often leads us to miss aspects of totalitarianism that pervade our own times and culture and that may be, if not equally destructive, at least sufficiently destructive to require study and criticism. An exception is the work of Earl Shorris (1981) on totalitarian aspects of corporate life.

      Shorris definestotalitarianismas the process of defining people’s happiness for them. The element that makes this process noxious is that the definer of happiness is not the person whose happiness is being defined. This has the effect of...

    • 3 Antisocial Actions of Committed Organizational Participants
      (pp. 31-46)

      In the movieSilkwood,a managerial employee of a nuclear chemical corporation is observed by Karen Silkwood as he retouches the photographs of welds in fuel rods intended for nuclear reactors. The man is evidently a committed organizational participant, concerned about the effects on the company and its employees of late delivery on a contract. He does not appear to be a loathsome, evil creature, and yet, the activity he is engaged in is not only illegal; it is potentially destructive in an order of magnitude that is sickening to contemplate. The question that I wish to address in this...

  5. PART TWO Organizational Decay and Organizational Disaster
    • Introduction
      (pp. 49-52)

      My first understanding of narcissistic process, organizational totalitarianism, and the organization ideal was in moral terms, in terms of the psychological damage done to the individuals involved and in terms of the damage that could be wrought outside of the organization. But as time went by, it became more and more clear to me that the processes I was coming to understand must have practical consequences as well—consequences for the effective functioning, the efficiency, the profitability, and the competitiveness of organizations. In a word, it did not seem to me that organizations as I understood them could possibly be...

    • 4 Totalitarian Management and Organizational Decay: The Case of General Motors
      (pp. 53-72)

      In the most basic sense, organizational totalitarianism places falsehood right at the core of organizational functioning and therefore cannot help but lead to a loss of rationality. As I have noted before, the return to narcissism is impossible, short of psychosis, and therefore organizational totalitarianism means the superimposition of a psychosis upon organizational functioning. Ultimately, such a loss of rationality leads to generalized and systemic organizational ineffectiveness.

      Moreover, I suggest that this condition of generalized and systemic ineffectiveness has a unity to it and therefore represents something like an organizational disease. I would like to give it the nameorganizational...

    • 5 Organizational Disaster and Organizational Decay: The Case of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
      (pp. 73-89)

      Explanations of disasters often assume that the disaster was the result of a single, isolated decision that was wrongly made. Indeed, it is typically asserted that the decision-making process employed was one that is ordinarily valid but that, in the specific case, crossed over some vague boundary and led to the disaster.

      Explanations like this take for granted that the organizational context of the decision was basically sound. Set against the presumed backdrop of the organization’s continuing healthy activity, the decision and the disaster that followed from it are seen as an aberration, an unfortunate accident—as much a tragedy...

    • 6 On the Psychodynamics of Organizational Disaster: The Case of the Space Shuttle Challenger
      (pp. 90-104)

      That NASA became a decadent organization, an organization that had abandoned reality for fantasy, provides a perfectly adequate explanation for theChallengerdisaster. The physical world is not an “enacted environment” (Weick 1977). It is not the external dramatization of our wishes and whims. On the contrary, it possesses a resilience and recalcitrance that will mock the dreamer. An organization like NASA, whose business involves dealing with physical reality, has only a very limited margin in which it can indulge itself in fantasy before disaster becomes inevitable. I wish now to show how the decision to launchChallengeremerged from...

  6. PART THREE American Culture and the Challenger Disaster:: A Historical Perspective
    • 7 The Symbol of the Space Shuttle and the Degeneration of the American Dream
      (pp. 107-126)

      I am looking at a photograph. Seven smiling people look back at me. Five of them are men, two are women; five are white, one is black, one is Oriental. Of the men, two look boyish, one is gray haired and looks older than the rest. They are all dressed in identical coveralls that give no hint at all of the specific characteristics of their bodies. Each coverall has the NASA logo on it. On the table next to them is a model of a space shuttle. Behind them is an American flag. They will be the crew of the...

    • 8 Conclusion: Addiction and Recovery
      (pp. 127-136)

      In bringing this project to a close, it may be worthwhile to first observe that there is nothing in psychoanalytic theory, history, or logic that necessitates a happy ending for the account of decay that I have presented here. On the contrary, history especially suggests that the trajectory that takes social systems from triumph tohubrisand then to decay is a common one. Thus, Lord Byron fromChilde Harold:

      There is the moral of all human tales:

      ’Tis but the same rehearsal of the past,

      First Freedom, and then Glory—when that fails,

      Wealth, vice, corruption—barbarianism at last....

  7. Notes
    (pp. 137-142)
  8. References
    (pp. 143-146)
  9. Index
    (pp. 147-153)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 154-155)