Institutions in conflict, Weber's bureaucracy in an electronic world

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Mollison, Valerie A.
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This paper argues that the dominant communication media in a society are a primary influence on the organizational structures that are characteristic of that society. It focuses on Western industrialized society, and on bureaucracy as defined by Max Weber. Dominant communication media are treated as a societal institution, as defined by neoinstitutionalist theorists. As an institution, they exert a cognitive and nonnative influence on society, legitimating certain organizational elements in the environment and delegitimating others. Organizations are assembled from these legitimated elements. Bureaucracy, as described by Weber, is a creation of the print institution in that it is built from elements legitimated by the print institution. These elements include hierarchy, objectivity, written rules, clear spheres of competence, centralized control and separation of person and office. The rise of electronic media represents the rise of a new societal institution, which will legitimate new elements, and thus lead to new organizational structures. At the same time, the elements from which bureaucracies are built will slowly lose legitimacy, and may become handicaps to organizational success. To be perceived as legitimate, organizations will have to incorporate a least some of the elements fostered by the electronic media institution. These include egalitarian structures, decentralization and diffusion of power, temporary structures, and increased subjectivity.