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

By Philip Selznick | Go to book overview

CHAPTM VII
THE VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATION AT THE END POINT OF ADMINISTRATION

In our state, we feel that the extension service must control the system of community organizations, county associations, and neighborhood leaders. Other agencies must! come through the extension service. After all, it's our baby.

A SUPERVISOR ON THE JOINT TVA-EXTENSION SERVICE PROGRAM ( 1943)

THE CONSTRUCTION of an administrative constituency, whereby the dominant agricultural leadership in the Tennessee Valley area was afforded a place within the policy-determining structure of the TVA, is an example of the process of informal coöptation. The preceding chapters have traced the origin and structural details of the constituency relationship and have sought out its unanticipated consequences for the role and character of the Authority. The explication of these consequences functions at once as evidence for, and as a key to the meaning of, the coöptative mechanism. The unacknowledged absorption of nucleuses of power into the administrative structure of an organization makes possible the elimination or appeasement of potential sources of opposition. At the same time, as the price of accommodation, the organization commits itself to avenues of activity and lines of policy enforced by the character of the coöpted elements. Moreover, though coöptation may occur with respect to only a fraction of the organization, there will be pressure for the organization as a whole to adapt itself to the needs of the informal relationship. Viewed thus broadly, the process of informal coöptation represents a mechanism of comprehensive adjustment, permitting a formal organization to enhance its chances for survival by accommodating itself to existing centers of interest and power within its area of operation.

This analysis directs attention to the unavowed meaning of the official grass-roots policy. One of the major tenets of that policy is the injunction that the program of a regional agency be channeled through the existing institutions of the area of operation, and that a positive policy of strengthening those institutions be maintained. In formal terms, this is taken to mean that the institutional resources of the local area will be fully utilized, and a democratic partnership with the people's institutions effected. The informal organizational consequences of that injunction depend on the relative strength and the respective prob-

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