A Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Managers' Power - Functional, Socio-Political, Interpretive-Discursive, and Socio-Cultural Approaches**

By Diefenbach, Thomas; By, Rune Todnem et al. | Management Revue, October 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Managers' Power - Functional, Socio-Political, Interpretive-Discursive, and Socio-Cultural Approaches**


Diefenbach, Thomas, By, Rune Todnem, Klarner, Patricia, Management Revue


Managers' power within organisations has been analysed by several approaches: Orthodox management and organisation studies ('functional approach'), Critical Management Studies ('socio-political approaches'), interpretive, discourse-oriented and constructivist concepts ('interpretive-discursive approaches'), and anthropological, socio-psychological and sociological approaches ('socio-cultural approaches'). In organisational reality functional, socio-political, interpretive-discursive, and socio-cultural aspects are closely related and intertwined. However, because of division of intellectual labour, probably more because of different worldviews, researchers often make use of these approaches quite selectively. Such focussing has its advantages but also weaknesses. This paper therefore argues that it often helps to investigate complex phenomena such as managers' power in multi-dimensional ways.

Key words: power, managers, management studies, organisation

1. Introduction

One of the constitutional principles of hierarchical organisations, perhaps of any social system, is power. Power forces people to do certain things in a particular way (or not to do certain things), it empowers and controls people and it is power which keeps many social institutions, structures and processes going. Since Lukes' 1974 radical view on power at the latest we know that power is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. However, because of a division of intellectual labour within academe as well as other reasons such as different worldviews, several approaches have been developed in order to interrogate the problem of (managerial) power. Managers' power within organisations has been analysed, explained and justified within several, quite different approaches:

Orthodox management and organisation studies' (e.g. Donaldson 2003; Zaleznik 1989; Blau 1970; Lawrence/Lorsch 1967; Chandler 1962; Drucker 1954; Fayol 1949; Taylor 1911/1967). This approach claims to cope solely with the functional and technical aspects of organisations and management; it is predominantly about managers' tasks and responsibilities, strategic decision-making, structures and processes - all described and analysed in functional, (allegedly) value-free and objective ways with little mentioning of power at all.

'Critical Management Studies', in contrast, concentrate explicitly on the identification, critique, and change of (dominant) ideologies, managerial power and oppressive social structures (e.g. Diefenbach 2009, 2007; Clegg et al. 2006; Brookfield 2005; Willmott 2003; Walsh/Weber 2002; Courpasson 2000; Willmott 1997; Alvesson/Willmott 1992a, 1992b; Pettigrew 1992; Willmott 1987; Hamilton 1987; Mintzberg 1985; Knights/Willmott 1985; Therborn 1980; Abercrombie et al. 1980; Burns 1961). It is about revealing interests behind systems of power and control, political behaviour (particularly of powerful actors), and to demonstrate that management overall is anything else but value- free and neutral (By et al. 2008).

Interpretive, discourse-oriented and constructivist concepts1 'cope with, and analyse symbols, language, narratives, texts, interpretations, sense-making, discourses, and story-telling (e.g. Sillince 2007, 1999; Vickers/Kouzmin 2001; Alvesson/Kärreman 2000; Isabella 1990; Daft/Weick 1984; Berger/Luckmann 1966). Social reality (and, hence, phenomena such as managers' power) is largely seen as socially constructed and shaped by human perceptions and knowledge, discourses and rhetoric.

'Anthropological, sociopsychological and sociological approaches' (e.g. O'Brien/Crandall 2005; Sidanius et al. 2004; Sidanius/Pratto 1999; Scott 1990; Ashforth/Mael 1989; Giddens 1976, 1984; Foucault 1972, 1977) focus more on social relationships, human agency and institutions which can be identified in different (stratified) social systems and might occur in same, similar or different forms in different cultures.

Because of their prime foci one might call these four distinct approaches functional', 'socio-political', 'interpretative-discursive', and 'socio-cultural'. …

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