The Historical and Epistemological Foundations of Organization Theory: Fusing Sociological Theory with Engineering Discourse

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Abstract

This article provides an alternative historiography of the field of organization theory (OT). It follows two discourses - the engineering and the sociological - and their merger, in order to historicize the epistemological assumptions of contemporary OT directly back into the professional project of social engineering around the beginning of the twentieth century. It also presents the roots of the engineering-managerial discourse about organizations that dominated industrial America prior to the translation of Weber to English. This discourse was later incorporated into the work of early sociologists and management scholars. Furthermore, this article presents Weber's project on rationality, and analyzes the manner in which his work was interpreted by American sociologists. Then, it discusses the epistemological ramifications resulting from the nexus between the two discourses, focusing on two of the key concepts in OT: rationality and uncertainty. These were central concepts in the construction of organizations as rational actors.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory
PublisherOxford University Press
Pages1-672
Number of pages672
ISBN (Print)9780191577222, 9780199275250
DOIs
StatePublished - 2 Sep 2009

Keywords

  • Epistemological assumptions
  • Organization theory
  • Rational actors
  • Social engineering
  • Weber's project

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