TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study in the Sociology of Formal Organization

By Philip Selznick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
UNANTICIPATED CONSEQUENCES, 1: THE STRUGGLE IN AGRICULTURE AND THE ROLE OF TVA

I'm not opposed to security spelled with a small 's'; but when you use a large 's,' it leaves me cold.

DIRECTOR OF AGRICULTURAL RELATIONS, TVA ( 1943)

THE EXERCISE of administrative discretion gives life and meaning to the abstractions of policy and doctrine.1 The injunctions of a statute, the directives of a central management mobilize action on the assumption that common organizational goals exist and that these goals are effective in shaping rational administrative behavior. But this assumption breaks down as, in the exercise of discretion, officials are faced with the need to deal selectively with their environments. For as they come upon an existing social situation, individual administrators find it difficult to restrict their interest and involvement to the formal goals of the policy they are executing; they tend to be involved wholly, bringing to bear their own fractional interests upon day-to-day decisions. These special commitments may be well organized and consistent, or diffuse and sporadic. They range from the extreme case, in which the whole allegiance of the official is to some outside group or interest, to the relatively mild and thoroughly normal attention which a field representative may give to bolstering his position within the organization. The former case may require drastic correctional measures, whereas the latter may involve only minor changes in the mechanics of central control. But whatever the forms, or the intensity of their expression, the centrifugal tendencies inherent in the delegation of discretionary powers must be recognized and taken into account by those responsible for the integrity of the whole organization.

In the analysis of this centrifugal tendency, we are led on theoretical grounds to the following considerations: (1) The organization may enter upon a preexisting social situation in which there are loci of power which will not permit themselves to be ignored as activities in which they have an interest are initiated. (2) Intervention may occur in a context of controversy among forces within the area of operation, so that the problem of influencing the controversy may be posed. (3) The intervening organization may be actually or potentially split into fac

____________________
1
See above, pp. 64-68.

-155-

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