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Information and Organizations

Arthur L. Stinchcombe

Publication Year: 1990

An ambitious new work by a well-respected sociologist, Information and Organizations provides a bold perspective of the dynamics of organizations. Stinchcombe contends that the "information problem" and the concept of "uncertainty" provide the key to understanding how organizations function. In a delightful mix of large theoretical insights and vivid anecdotal material, Stinchcombe explores the ins and outs of organizations from both a macro and micro perspective. He reinterprets the work of the renowned scholars of business, Alfred Chandler, James March and Oliver Williamson, and looks in depth at corporations like DuPont and General Motors. Along the way, Stinchcombe explores subjects as varied as class consciousness, innovation, contracts and university administration. All of these analyses are distinguished by incisive thinking and creative new approaches to issues that have long confronted business people and those interested in organizational theory.

A tour de force, Information and Organizations is a must-read for business people and scholars of many stripes. It promises to be a widely discussed and debated work.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv

Contents

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pp. v-ix

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

As I look back over my files, I find old syllabuses labeled "organizations as information," but in those days my desktop computer did not date my syllabuses for me. What that means is that many students for many years have put up with me thinking about the subject of this book. Some of the materials that went quite directly into the book were developed in lectures ...

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1. INFORMATION, UNCERTAINTY, STRUCTURE, AND FUNCTION IN ORGANIZATIONAL SOCIOLOGY

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pp. 1-31

Rationality necessarily involves an analysis of the future, because the consequences that give purpose to acts are necessarily in the future. Thus all rationality is based on predictions of one kind or another, not on knowledge. Assuming that actors are perfectly rational, of course, implies that they are certain what the future holds, that in all relevant respects ...

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2. INDIVIDUALS' SKILLS AS INFORMATION PROCESSING

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pp. 32-72

The basic argument of this chapter is that when we say a person is "skilled," "semiskilled," or "professional," we are describing what sort of an information-processing system he or she is. If organizations have to deal with uncertainties, then someplace in the organization there have to be people who bring information to bear on those ...

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3. MANUFACTURING INFORMATION SYSTEMS: SOURCES OF TECHNICAL UNCERTAINTY AND THE INFORMATION FOR TECHNICAL DECISIONS

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pp. 73-99

The main argument of this chapter is that middle managers in manufacturing set up specialized information systems and keep them running. If most of the decisions in most organizations are "programmed," in March and Simon's language (March and Simon 1958), someone has to program them. In particular, they have to program them in the light of the uncertainties ...

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4. MARKET UNCERTAINTY AND DIVISIONALIZATION

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pp. 100-151

A central theme in organizational sociology for the last couple of decades has been the growth and distribution of "decentralized" management. Broadly speaking this has divided into two branches: the "contracts" branch that says that decentralization is often achieved by autonomous firms tying themselves together for specific purposes, and ...

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5. TURNING INVENTIONS INTO INNOVATIONS: SCHUMPETER'S ORGANIZATIONAL SOCIOLOGY MODERNIZED

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pp. 152-193

The general purpose of this chapter is to elaborate the fundamental distinction made by Joseph Schumpeter (1942) between invention and innovation. Since Schumpeter was interested in the transformation of the economy by the development of new technology, he was concerned only with innovations that could produce a continuous effect in the market, ...

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6. ORGANIZING INFORMATION OUTSIDE THE FIRM: CONTRACTS AS HIERARCHICAL DOCUMENTS

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pp. 194-239

Coase (1937), Dahl and Lindblom ([1953] 1976), Williamson (1975), Teece (1976), and Lindblom (1977, 27-29, 237-309) have all built and used a contrast between market transactions among firms and hierarchical administration within firms. The basic notion is that when many adjustments will have to be made during the course of contract performance ...

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7. SEGMENTATION OF THE LABOR MARKET AND INFORMATION ON THE SKILL OF WORKERS

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pp. 240-273

No firm that hires a new person knows quite what it is getting, or in particular what it will get on the average over the eight or so years it can expect to employ the new person. Even while the person is employed the firm does not know exactly what it has got. Let us start with the measurement of performance after the worker gets the job, since if that is impossible ...

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8. CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS AND ORGANIZATIONAL SOCIOLOGY: E. P. THOMPSON APPLIED TO CONTEMPORARY CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS

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pp. 274-311

By class consciousness we mean the tendency of people to think of their position in the larger society in terms of their position in an employing organization. Workers are class conscious when they think of their grievances at work and their interests in politics as both derived from their employment relation to particular organizations. The central role of organizational ...

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9. UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATION OF RESEARCH SPACE AND TEACHING LOADS: MANAGERS WHO DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEIR WORKERS ARE DOING

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pp. 312-340

My purpose in this first section is to specify why the uncertainty of scientific advance is central to the work of universities, by trying to describe what business universities are in. This will then serve as a background for exploring why administration of university space and teaching loads is as it is and, in turn, for saying why what looks like a pretty haphazard system ...

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10. CONCLUSION

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pp. 341-362

This book has been guided by three main criteria for theories of organization: (1) they should explain how organizations can be more rational than individuals (though of course they are not always); (2) they should be social structural and thus able to explain, for example, why 10 percent of an organization's parts can be absent on a given day and the organization ...

Bibliography

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pp. 363-377

Author Index

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pp. 379-383

Subject Index

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pp. 385-391


E-ISBN-13: 9780520909625
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520067813

Page Count: 404
Publication Year: 1990

Series Title: California Series on Social Choice and Political Economy

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Industrial sociology.
  • Industrial organization.
  • Organizational behavior.
  • Management information systems.
  • Uncertainty.
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