Informality: Social Theory and Contemporary Practice

Informality: Social Theory and Contemporary Practice

Informality: Social Theory and Contemporary Practice

Informality: Social Theory and Contemporary Practice


For most of the twentieth century, modernity has been characterised by the formalisation of social relations as face to face interactions are replaced by impersonal bureaucracy and finance. As we enter the new millennium, however, it becomes increasingly clear that it is only by stepping outside these formal structures that trust and co-operation can be created and social change achieved. In a brilliant theoretical tour de force, illustrated with sustained case studies of changing societies in the former eastern Europe and of changing forms of interaction within so-called virtual communities, Barbara Misztal argues that only the society that achieves an appropriate balance between the informality and formality of interaction will find itself in a position to move forward to further democratisation and an improved quality of life.


In all differentiated societies, as in many simpler ones, there are categories of social situation in which the social code demands from members raised in the society that they behave in formal ways—or, to use a noun, it demands formality of behaviour; and there are other categories of social situation where, according to the code, informal behaviour,—that is, a more or less high degree of informality is appropriate (Elias 1996:28).

why are managers still TRAVELLING?

Despite modern communications technologies (teleconferencing, video-conferencing, faxes, electronic mail, telephones, etc), senior managers still spend the majority of their time in face-to-face encounters (Rice 1991). in order to meet their business partners, bosses of the biggest corporate giants travel up to five days a week (The Economist, 16 December, 1995:16). So, why are they travelling? the answer to this question will illustrate why people, despite the fact that the essence of modern social life is the replacement of informal obligations and interaction by impersonal and formal rules, still value informality.

Generally, it can be said that managers do travel because they value face-to-face contacts as having the potential to draw individuals deeper into relationships with one another and thereby offer a fuller sense of individual recognition and trust.

Managers’ well-documented preference for face-to-face communication (Minzberg 1973; Kurke and Aldrich 1983; McKenney, Zack and Doherty 1992; Nohria and Eccles 1992) is based on their belief that co-present communication can reduce the risk of uncooperative behaviour due to its capacity to build an understanding and to enact solutions to disputable problems (McKenney, Zack and Doherty 1992). Managers ‘forsake the convenience of e-mail for the discomfort of air travel’ because they presume that nothing succeeds in creating trust better than ‘eyeball to eyeball’ contact (The Economist, 16 December, 1995:16). Modern organizations and their managers operate under the new conditions of the growing division of labour, the

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