The Importance of Studying Organizational Sociology

Elizabeth M Young's image for:
"The Importance of Studying Organizational Sociology"
Image by: 

Organizational behavior, organization, and activity has been a major area of study for psychologists, economists, and sociologists for over a century, with a growth in interest and concentration in the past fifty years. Beginning with classifications of the types of organizations, study of the ways in which rules or codified efforts to manage activities develop in bureaucracies, and with studies of various leadership, communication, and change elements, there has been no shortage of material on the sociology of organizations.

The early students of organizational Sociology, such as Weber, and later Peter Blau,(1965), did not consider the need to integrate study of the components of organizations, but studied organizations as an "ideal" whole. This only served to create theory and understanding that was non empirical, incomplete, and which tended to support the status quo, rather than to actualize true study of the realities of organization.

In the 1940s and 1950s, sociologists began to realize that interpersonal behavior, the actual design and structure of real organizations, and a host of other factors needed identification, classification and empirical work. Peter Blau (1968) made the important observation that, while the very nature of an organization is to be formed under the plan, or intent of operating under formalized structure, rules, and programs, the reality is that the actual behaviors, interactions, and functions of the organizational elements can be quite different than planned. In other words, people do not necessarily behave with conformity to the plans, expectations, structure, goals, or codified elements of the organization. Intent, in other words, does not come close to reality in organizations.

As a result, cause and effect, the real organization versus the charted or formally described organization, the planned and formally described goals as opposed to the actual goal setting and accomplishment, was not examined in detail until the traditional theory and methodology (or lack of it) was challenged and replaced with improved and detailed study of organizations and organizational behavior.

Chris Argyris further confirmed the need for a field of organizational sociology, in order to deal with future challenges. (1992) During these volatile times, when societal, economic, market, and other foundations of organizational forecasting and planning can change with alarming frequency and magnitude, there is a need for more detailed development and study of alternative organizational structures, such as departures from the traditional pyramid structure, with areas of centralized workspace, management, and leadership.

There is a need for mechanisms that allow comprehensive and rapid changes in organizational components, such as departments, divisions, and even regional constructs, as markets, mergers, competition by state and local entities to provide cheaper options for locating plants and offices, and so on, tend to disrupt even the most refined, responsive and innovative plans, structures, and charts.

As analytical tools for forecasting, developing models, and aggregating data needed for decision making are developed, they need to be tested against the realities of organizational behavior, interpersonal activity, internal and external relationships to other organizations, such as unions, governmental agencies, and even the burgeoning market for quasi-professional certifications and associations where none existed before.

There will always be a need for sociological, as well as psychological, economic, and other social science approaches to understanding the organization, all of its components, iterations, developments, and aspects.


Chris Argyris, "The Applicability Of Organizational Sociology" Cambridge Press, 1972

Chris Argyris, "On Organizational Learning" Blackwell Publishing, 1992

More about this author: Elizabeth M Young

From Around the Web