Organization without Authority: Dilemmas of Social Control in Free Schools

Organization without Authority: Dilemmas of Social Control in Free Schools

Organization without Authority: Dilemmas of Social Control in Free Schools

Organization without Authority: Dilemmas of Social Control in Free Schools

Excerpt

This book explores the organizational consequences of the attempt to abolish authority. Based on a study of two alternative high schools, it examines the ways organizations without formal authority coordinate and control social life.

Normally we take authority for granted. It seems necessary and inevitable that some people should claim the right to govern others. In modern organizations we have come to expect a formal hierarchy of superiors and subordinates with specified rights and duties. Yet in the contemporary period, we have seen new challenges to authority. Countercultural movements of the 1960s and the 1970s have attacked hierarchy and bureaucracy, while alternative organizations, such as communes and collectives, free schools, and free clinics, have experimented with more egalitarian, participatory organizational forms.

When we look closely at the dynamics of social control in nonhierarchical, antibureaucratic organizations, we find that they do invent ways to regulate social life. In free schools, communes, and other such organizations, personal charisma provides one alternative to authority. People cooperate and participate out of attraction or devotion to dynamic, engaging personalities. Organizations that reject authority also liberate other sources of energy and enthusiasm. The gratifications of collective life, a sense of enhanced identification with the goals of the organization, and the pleasures of equality itself can provide sources of organizational strength.

There are also heavy costs to the decision to renounce authority. Charismatic influence is fragile and unpredictable. Group sentiments are subject to swings from euphoria to depression, which alternately overload and then paralyze collective organization. The enhanced motivation, produced by . . .

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