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Information and Organizations

Information and Organizations

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    Information and Organizations
    Book Description:

    An ambitious new work by a well-respected sociologist,Information and Organizationsprovides a bold perspective of the dynamics of organizations. Stinchcombe contends that the "information problem" and the concept of "uncertainty" provide the key to understanding how organizations function. In a delightful mix of large theoretical insights and vivid anecdotal material, Stinchcombe explores the ins and outs of organizations from both a macro and micro perspective. He reinterprets the work of the renowned scholars of business, Alfred Chandler, James March and Oliver Williamson, and looks in depth at corporations like DuPont and General Motors. Along the way, Stinchcombe explores subjects as varied as class consciousness, innovation, contracts and university administration. All of these analyses are distinguished by incisive thinking and creative new approaches to issues that have long confronted business people and those interested in organizational theory. A tour de force,Information and Organizationsis a must-read for business people and scholars of many stripes. It promises to be a widely discussed and debated work.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90962-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 Information, Uncertainty, Structure, and Function in Organizational Sociology
    (pp. 1-31)

    Rationality necessarily involves an analysis of the future, because the consequences that give purpose to acts are necessarily in the future. Thus all rationality is based on predictions of one kind or another, not on knowledge. Assuming that actors are perfectly rational, of course, implies that they are certain what the future holds, that in all relevant respects our notions about the future constitute knowledge. The assumptions of neoclassical economics are that various financial quantities (e.g., the interest rate and the savings and investment rates if distinct) summarize all the relevant information about the future that one needs in order...

  5. 2 Individuals’ Skills as Information Processing: Charles F. Sabel and the Division of Labor
    (pp. 32-72)

    The basic argument of this chapter is that when we say a person is “skilled,” “semiskilled,” or “professional,” we are describing what sort of an information-processing system he or she is. If organizations have to deal with uncertainties, then someplace in the organization there have to be people who bring information to bear on those uncertainties. The flow of unpredictable events to a worker’s or professional’s area of responsibility sets problems for that worker or professional. The capacity to use the news about what uncertainty has come in, to decide what to do and then to do it or arrange...

  6. 3 Manufacturing Information Systems: Sources of Technical Uncertainty and the Information for Technical Decisions
    (pp. 73-99)

    The main argument of this chapter is that middle managers in manufacturing set up specialized information systems and keep them running. If most of the decisions in most organizations are “programmed,” in March and Simon’s language (March and Simon 1958), someone has to program them. In particular, they have to program them in the light of the uncertainties that affect the departmental part of the operations.

    In this chapter we deal with lower level, “departmental,” information and decision systems in manufacturing. We will find that there are different kinds of information systems in place in the different departments of a...

  7. 4 Market Uncertainty and Divisionalization: Alfred D. Chandler’s Strategy and Structure
    (pp. 100-151)

    A central theme in organizational sociology for the last couple of decades has been the growth and distribution of “decentralized” management. Broadly speaking this has divided into two branches: the “contracts” branch that says that decentralization is often achieved by autonomous firms tying themselves together for specific purposes, and the “decentralized administration” branch started by Alfred D. Chandler (1962) and Peter F. Drucker (1946). We will treat the contracts tradition more extensively in Chapter 6. In this chapter we treat Chandler’s argument. Since the richest source of data on the development of the multi-divisional structure is still Chandler’s own, this...

  8. 5 Turning Inventions into Innovations: Schumpeter’s Organizational Sociology Modernized
    (pp. 152-193)

    The general purpose of this chapter is to elaborate the fundamental distinction made by Joseph Schumpeter (1942) between invention and innovation. Since Schumpeter was interested in the transformation of the economy by the development of new technology, he was concerned only with innovations that could produce a continuous effect in the market, not with inventions that remained visions of isolated discoverers. He made the distinction between invention and innovation to distinguish those new ideas that revolutionized the economy from those that did not.

    The particular lines that Schumpeter drew between inventions and innovations are not very useful in a modern...

  9. 6 Organizing Information Outside the Firm: Contracts as Hierarchical Documents
    (pp. 194-239)

    Coase (1937), Dahl and Lindblom ([1953] 1976), Williamson (1975), Teece (1976), and Lindblom (1977, 27-29, 237-309) have all built and used a contrast between market transactions among firms and hierarchical administration within firms. The basic notion is that when many adjustments will have to be made during the course of contract performance, the transaction costs of negotiating and enforcing contract rise, and the great flexibility of a labor contract used to create a hierarchy saves transaction costs (see Williamson 1975, 64-72). Thus, whenever it is difficult to specify the required performance in advance (Marschak, Blennan, Jr., and Summers 1967, 64-72),...

  10. 7 Segmentation of the Labor Market and Information on the Skill of Workers
    (pp. 240-273)

    No firm that hires a new person knows quite what it is getting, or in particular what it will geton the averageover the eight or so years it can expect to employ the new person. Even while the person is employed the firm does not know exactly what it has got. Let us start with the measurement of performance after the worker gets the job, since if that is impossible to obtain, predictions of that performance at the time of hiring cannot help but be yet more inexact (March and March 1978).

    We will analyze first performances of...

  11. 8 Class Consciousness and Organizational Sociology: E. P. Thompson Applied to Contemporary Class Consciousness
    (pp. 274-311)

    By class consciousness we mean the tendency of people to think of their position in the larger society in terms of their position in an employing organization. Workers are class conscious when they think of their grievances at work and their interests in politics as both derived from their employment relation to particular organizations. The central role of organizational position in class consciousness means that such consciousness is a legitimate subject of organizational sociology. But the fact that class consciousness is a conception of one’s relation to the larger society means that it also falls within political sociology.

    Chapter 7...

  12. 9 University Administration of Research Space and Teaching Loads: Managers Who Do Not Know What Their Workers Are Doing
    (pp. 312-340)

    My purpose in this first section is to specify why the uncertainty of scientific advance is central to the work of universities, by trying to describe what business universities are in. This will then serve as a background for exploring why administration of university space and teaching loads is as it is and, in turn, for saying why what looks like a pretty haphazard system is actually more or less rational. Most research space is allocated as if to sovereign states—the departments and research centers. Teaching loads tend to be administered by departments, with relatively intense supervision by deans...

  13. 10 Conclusion
    (pp. 341-362)

    This book has been guided by three main criteria for theories of organization: (1) they should explain how organizations can be more rational than individuals (though of course they are not always); (2) they should be social structural and thus able to explain, for example, why 10 percent of an organization’s parts can be absent on a given day and the organization still work the same way; and (3) they should explain variance deep inside organizations by variations in what the individual parts have to do—and by extension, they should explain variations among organizations as well as why some...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 363-378)
  15. Author Index
    (pp. 379-384)
  16. Subject Index
    (pp. 385-391)