These are the very factors which reinforce, disguise or even justify inequalities, power and hierarchies in organizations.
These are what organizational theorists should be studying.
An Understanding of the Influence and Heavy-hand of History is Important
Mike Aiken argued that the bulk of organization theory could be characterised as being in a curious state of suspended animation.
It was almost as if history and the development of organizations either did not matter at all, or was viewed as a group of
contextual variables which, since they seemed to offer little explanation of variance, were relegated to being unimportant.
Yet, like Renate Mayntz (elected an EGOS Honorary Member two years ago), Mike Aiken emphasized that organizational change
is both historically specific and the development of organizations and their current constellation of inter-relationships
can be seen as the product of power plays carried out over time and often in historically specific episodes or conditions.
- The Needs of Management are only one aspects of Organization Theory
Taking his cue from the work of sociologists such as Robert Merton, Mike Aiken questioned the role of organization theory
insofar as it seemed to preserve the status quo in organizations. This phenomenon was largely fuelled by researchers looking
predominantly at the needs of management or, even worse, taking managements definition of the problem as the only starting
point for research.
In doing so, they ignored other aspects of organization (not least workers and minorities) and presented a highly partial
view of what went on in organizations and what were the important processes. It was even more complex. The whole infrastructure
of the research process was designed to restrict the imagination of the sociologist. The selection of research questions is
carried out by a small and perhaps unrepresentative group - this includes managers and those bodies which fund research.
The dissemination of research is heavily influenced by what is read by academics and what gets into the journals editors
have a powerful screening role (along with reviewers) and decide what is published and what is not to a large extent.
- Organizations are not constrained and are dynamic
The prevailing contingency school of thought held an overly contrained view of organization according to Aiken. He argued
that there was no one way process whereby the environment imposed itself on organizations. In line with Michel Crozier and
others, Aiken argued that, first, organizations could themselves act upon the environment and change it; and secondly that
any conception of the environment as a homogenous whole was misplaced. Such an environment is in reality a multiplicity of
characteristics and has a level of diversity which is unlimited. Such characteristics and inter-actions between organizations
and their environments are also dynamic relationships and change over time. To consider them as almost law-like and deterministic
is both unrealistic in practice and bad science.
Another source of dynamism lies in the variety of power relations found in most complex organizations. Mike Aikens work
is characterised by the concerns of the sociologist to uncover the dynamics of power and various interests in organizations.
Such a perspective brings topics such as domination, subjugation, coercion, manipulation corruption and extortion to the fore.
These are the essence of understanding complex organization and should take pride of place as analytical constructs in the
study of organizations.
Given recent events in the world of organizations (such as the collapse of Enron; scandals and alleged corruption and deceit
by powerful interests - Parmalat and Shell are well-known examples) Aikens work had something of the prophetic quality
The emphasis on power and politics took Mike Aiken in his later work to look at public policy, in particular in large urban
conglomerations. His comparative analysis of Urban systems and urban policies (including German, Italian and Belgian cities)
remains a landmark in urban and political studies.
So to summarise:
Over forty years of contribution to Organization Theory and not just any contribution, but continually keeping a critical
and analytical eye open to question and to stimulate fresh analytical thinking and new perspectives.
A key founding father of EGOS. Without Mike's pressure and energy to get European scholars into a community, EGOS would arguably
not be the strong scholarly society that it is today.
But he also knew how to put some tricks of persuasion into practice - Mike was doing work in Belgium while living in Paris.
He had a clapped out old Volvo in which he commuted to Brussels. Every time he crossed the border the guards would try to
turn him back because the car wasn't roadworthy. He'd talk them out of it by claiming it was the last trip he was making.
He must have pulled that trick half a dozen times.
Mike also has musical skills which are perhaps less well-known than his social scince prowess. Colleagues who used to be at
Wisconsin tell me that he used to play the banjo at faculty parties when he first came to Wisconsin. I dont know whether
he still plays, but if he does, I am sure it will be to the same exacting standards that he applied to his extensive work
in organization theory.
Mike, we are honoured and delighted to accept you as an Honorary Member of EGOS.
Please accept our warmest congratulations!