Political Action and Alignments in Organizations
Lawler, Edward J.; Bacharach, Samuel B.
[Excerpt] A political model of organizations implies an emphasis on action and alignments. Political action consists of the tactics actors use to deal with opposition and to maximize their influence. Political alignments refer to the network of coalitions within which action takes place at a particular time. Political action and political alignments are interrelated. Alignments emerge from action, action modifies existing alignments, and the prevailing alignments constrain and channel political action. The importance of action suggests that a political model be grounded in social-action theory (Weber, 1947; Parsons, 1937; and Schutz, 1967), since political action can best be construed as a type of social action. The “fact” that alignments emerge from political action suggests, further, that we identify basic types of political action and show how these lead to different types of political alignments in organizations. This paper, specifically, argues that: (1) political action, whether at the individual or subgroup level, is the most appropriate unit of analysis for organizations; (2) a political analysis, grounded in social-action theory, suggests a treatment of rationality as a form of thought (not to be confused with the content of thought, particular organizational procedures, or specific inputs to a decision); (3) an analysis of political action requires a tactical approach to power and conflict, such that tactics and countertactics become the critical elements of the political process; (4) “absorption” and “insulation” are the broadest categories for examining tactical action by subunits in an organization; (5) these tactics— absorption and insulation—are grounded in actors’ subjective evaluation of power; and (6) tactics of absorption and insulation lead to different types of political alignment. This paper interrelates social-action theory (Weber, 1947; Parsons, 1937) with the political model of organizations (Bacharach and Lawler, 1980) and, in this context, conceptualizes absorption and insulation as political processes giving rise to various political alignments. We will begin by discussing the implications of social-action theory.
political action; alignments; organizations; social action
Required Publisher Statement: © Emerald. Final version published as: Lawler, E. J., & Bacharach, S. B. (1983). Political action and alignments in organizations. In S. B. Bacharach (Ed.), Research in the sociology of organizations: Vol. 2 (pp. 83-107). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.