Changing Organizations: Business Networks in the New Political Economy

By David Knoke | Go to book overview
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1
Generating Change

Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
.

—William Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611)

As they entered the twenty-first century, American business corporations and their employees were increasingly buffeted, battered, and bewildered by dramatic changes. The U.S. economy enjoyed its longest period of uninterrupted expansion, with bullish stock markets making many investors overnight millionaires. Following decades of stagnating family incomes and widening inequality, real earnings finally began growing again. The accelerating march of technological innovations and the rapid succession of new production and distribution processes forced organizations to reinvent themselves continually. The chaotic turmoil in formerly stable product markets and industries left many companies vulnerable to relentless pressures from domestic and foreign competitors, stakeholders, and governments. Interorganizational alliances increasingly bound once and future rivals together in uneasy collaborations. The fates of local communities were susceptible to decisions about investments and relocations made by distant geopolitical actors. The loss of social capital through dwindling organizational reputations combined with wrenching internal reorganizations to flatten corporate hierarchies and erode personal statuses and privileges.

Periodic waves of corporate downsizings, restructurings, mergers, and divestitures tore up the employment contract binding employers and employees. Many workers, especially in white-collar occupations, experienced the swift disappearance of lifetime job security. Increased project length and temporary employment eroded traditional attachments at the same time that new high-performance work designs placed heavier demands for highly skilled, self-directed workers. Blue-collar union ranks shrank to a

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