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David (P.G.) Herbst Alternatives to Hierarchies1 Processes of social change often move from a given state to its opposite or to its converse. Moving in either of these directions, the transformations achieved remain contained within the logic of the given. Moving out of an authoritarian structure which has become discredited, obsolescent or inefficient, a transition may occur to a converse authoritarian form. Alternatively, if an authoritarian structure becomes simply eroded, as happened in the Victorian middle class structure of parent/child relationship, then a transition may go to its opposite— a laissez-faire relationship. From here a transition may occur at the next stage to an authoritarian form in new institutional settings such as paramilitary youth movements. Changes of this type are shifts within an essentially one-dimensional conception of society. It is more difficult to find and achieve a fourth alternative that is neither authoritar­ ian nor laissez-faire and that lies outside the logic which generates this type of process cycle (Figure i). In much the same way, transition from a pattern of competitive individualism within an academic community may take the form of establishing the opposite— making group decisions on all issues. In the case of bureaucratic hierarchical organizations, an attempt to move out of this system may be perceived as going in the direction of the opposite, that is, a chaotic unstructured state. Alternatively, transition from, say, a centralized to a decentralized system produces the converse without neces­ sarily changing the basic mode of operation of the organization. There has been a view that a hierarchical organization is the only possible form of organization. This would be true if each of the component parts were restricted to a specialized function. In this case a single structure of hierarchical levels is generated to coordinate the functioning of the specialized parts. The alternative argument has been that since each element is part of a larger whole, which is again part of a larger whole, and so on, a pattern of hierarchi­ cal domination is inevitable. This assumes that development of part/whole relationships is the only way in which elements can be related to one another. Here again, the process of social change can become locked within, and ‘Slightly revised from Chapter 3 in Alternatives to Hierarchies. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976. 284 Conceptual Developments Figure 1. Locked-in authoritarian and laissez-faire logics unable to go beyond, the inherent organizational logic. The steps required to find a way out are to • Identify the basic assumptions which generate the organizational logic. • Search for an alternative set of assumptions. • Derive the characteristics of alternative types of organization. The basic assumption which generates bureaucratic hierarchical structures is that each member is restricted to a single specialized task. As a result, a single structure of hierarchical linking relationships is established within which the functioning of each level is controlled by the next higher level. If the one person/one task principle is abandoned, then the requirement for a hierarchical organization disappears and organizations result which, instead of having a single rigid structure of relationships, have the capacity for multi­ structured functioning (Figure 2). The first case of an alternative type of organization which was studied in some detail is the composite autonomous group. This is based on the principle that each member is able to carry out all, or at least most, tasks. More recently it was discovered that if the principle is adopted that each member has a specialist function, but at the same time an overlapping competence with other members, then what is generated is a matrix organization. Figure 3 shows the type of organization generated by each of these design principles. The study of nonhierarchical organizations of this type shows that these have the capacity for functioning by way of directive correlation of the ac­ tivities of members who may be working independently or in smaller subsets. That is, although members may work independently for shorter or longer periods, the work of each supports and facilitates the work of others in the direction of the achievements of a joint aim.2This makes it possible to identify 2The concept of directive correlation was formulated by Sommerhoff (1950). Its relevance to the study of social systems was pointed out by F. Emery (1967). Initial authoritarian converse Converse w authoritarian structure structure° X N \ laissez-faire Alternatives to Hierarchies 285 Figure 2. Identification of a fourth alternative the operating principle of a network in which members may be geographically dispersed and...


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