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Social Movements and Organization Theory

Social Movements and Organization Theory

by Gerald F. Davis
Although the fields of organization theory and social movement theory have long been viewed as belonging to different worlds, recent events have intervened, reminding us that organizations are becoming more movement-like and volatile and politicized while movements are more likely to borrow strategies from organizations. Topics covered in this volume range from


Although the fields of organization theory and social movement theory have long been viewed as belonging to different worlds, recent events have intervened, reminding us that organizations are becoming more movement-like and volatile and politicized while movements are more likely to borrow strategies from organizations. Topics covered in this volume range from globalization and transnational social movement organizations to community recycling programs.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Davis, McAdam, Scott, and Zald have assembled superb scholarso in an enterprise that is truly more than the sum of its parts."
Frank Dobbin, Harvard University

"...fascinating and fruitful. The book breaks important new ground..."
Neil Fligstein, University of California, Berkeley

"In his influential statement on the development of middlerange theory, Merton pressed social scientists to develop “a progressively more general conceptual scheme that is adequate to consolidate groups of special theories.” Despite this call to action, scholarship in many substantive areas, including administrative science, has become increasingly balkanized and dominated by specialized concerns. Social Movements and Organization Theory is a welcome antidote to this trend, deftly combining theory and empirical findings from two of the most vibrant areas of sociology... [A] must read for researchers in both fields."
Administrative Science Quarterly

"a groundbreaking work such as this reflects the innovation of its sources rather than its comprehensiveness, so its implications are more far reaching than can be covered in one volume. These essays represent, nonetheless, considerable progress towards the integration of two perspectives encompassing social change and stability and will serve as an invaluable resource to students of social movements and organizations for years to come." - Mathew E. Archibald, Emory University

"Social Movements and Organizational theory is a significant, theoretically edited volume that draws on senior scholars of organization thory and social movements organizations...this limited space cannot begin to do justice to the rich and varied contributions of this book" - Heidi Swarts, Rutgers University, Perspectives on Politics

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Cambridge University Press
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Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics Series
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Social Movements and Organization Theory
Cambridge University Press
0521839491 - Social Movements and Organization Theory - Edited by Gerald F. Davis, Doug McAdam, W. Richard Scott and Mayer N. Zald


Creating a Common Framework

Assume for the moment that you are convinced that these two fields of scholarship - the study of social movements and organization theory - can be usefully brought to bear on each other; that theories, concepts, and problems raised in one of the areas can be usefully used to focus on issues that are less prominently featured in the other area. How does one do that? Are there intellectual strategies for synthesizing and integrating somewhat disparate fields? One strategy, which no one in this volume attempts, would be to subsume both objects of analysis, organizations and social movements, within a larger or more abstract theory or framework of analysis. For instance, one could show how both social movements and organizations can be analyzed in the language of a general theory of action or of social systems. Another approach, which is in fact adopted by most of the authors of the chapters in Sections II to V, is to begin with a fairly concrete problem or issue in one or the other of the domains, and to seek guidance for understanding in the literature of the other or related domains.

To take one example, in Chapter 10 David Strang and Dong-Il Jung ask the question of how they can account for the adoption of innovations related to the movement for Total Quality Management (TQM) in a large corporation. They want to understand how and why employee attitudes develop in the way that they do; why there is so much cynicism or skepticism; why there is so little institutionalization of TQM practices. They find that thinking about the adoption of these practices as part of an elite-sponsored social movement within the organization and nested in a larger social movement in modern industry gives them substantial purchase on the issue. To take another example of applying a concept or mode of thinking from one area to another, John D. McCarthy (Chapter 7) employs the concept of "franchising" - well developed in the organizational study of the replication of units of corporations such as McDonald's or Marriott Hotels - to think about the reproduction of chapters or local social movement organizations (SMOs) based on national movement models or templates. McCarthy uses the spread of chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving across the United States to illustrate the perspective.

A third intellectual approach is to systematically survey some of the main developments and concepts in each area and ask two related questions: how much commonality is there in some of the major theories or approaches as they have developed in recent times, and how can the differences in the fields be usefully imported to their neighbor? The two essays in Section I attempt to answer these questions.

"Organizations and Movements," by Doug McAdam and W. Richard Scott, and "Where Do We Stand? Common Mechanisms in Organizations and Social Movement Research," by John L. Campbell, are overviews of the convergences and divergences of the two fields of studies. McAdam and Scott note that organizational studies and social movements have been two of the most active and creative areas of scholarship during the past few decades but, with some exceptions, have moved in different directions. Organizational studies focused on formal units governed by institutionalized authority; social movements on emergent processes aimed at challenging and destabilizing established organizations and/or institutions. They note that in recent times a number of commonalities have emerged. For instance, both fields have begun to emphasize analyses of the context of organizations and social movements. In the case of organizational studies, analyses have shifted to institutional logics and the institutional fields in which organizations are embedded. In the case of social movements, the dominant focus has been on the role of the broader political environment in shaping the emergence and development of movements. Building on their understanding of the developing commonalities, Scott and McAdam construct a conceptual framework that allows scholars to view the two bodies of work not as competing but as complementary. The utility of the framework is demonstrated by a reexamination (by Scott) of changes in the U.S. health care sector and (by McAdam) of the phases of the U.S. civil rights revolution.

John Campbell takes a somewhat different tack on the question of the overlap of the fields. This chapter shows that in important respects these two literatures have already developed striking similarities. Many of the similarities have to do with how organization theorists and social movement theorists study social change. First, much organization theory is concerned with explaining how organizational practices evolve in path-dependent ways. Similarly, social movement scholars discuss how the already existing repertoires and tool kits inherited from the past contribute to the evolution of movement structures and strategies. Second, the social movements literature stresses the importance of issue framing as critical to movement success. Recently, organizational analysis does too. Third, organizational theorists have sought to explain how different practices diffuse within organizational populations. Social movement scholars have adopted a diffusion approach to map, for example, how social movements develop and disseminate programs and strategies through networks of activists. Fourth, organization theory suggests that the regulatory, normative, and cognitive dimensions of institutions affect how organizations develop. Thus, organizations are embedded in institutions. Research has also demonstrated that cognitive structures limit the range of practices that social movement activists can imagine; normative structures limit what is considered appropriate movement practice; and regulatory structures limit the range of practices that movements pursue. Fifth, the social movements literature has been concerned with how states spark, repress, and channel movement activity in one direction or another. Organizational theorists have made similar arguments about organizational change. For instance, different types of political arrangements (liberal, statist, corporatist) affect how business is organized just as they affect how social movements are structured. Finally, much organizational theory is devoted to identifying the conditions under which different organizational forms, such as decentralized networks or centralized hierarchies, emerge. The same is true for social movement theory, which specifies the conditions under which social movements become centralized or decentralized. The point is, Campbell argues, these two literatures have already developed serendipitously along parallel tracks that, if fully appreciated and exploited, could provide the basis for mutually beneficial cross-fertilization.


Organizations and Movements

Doug McAdam and W. Richard Scott


There is little question that two of the most active and creative arenas of scholarly activity in the social sciences during the past four decades have been organizational studies (OS) and social movement analysis (SM). Both have been intellectually lively and vigorous in spite of the fact that scholars in both camps began their projects during the early 1960s on relatively barren soil. Students of OS took up their labors alongside the remnants of scientific management, their human relations critics, and scattered studies of bureaucratic behavior. SM scholars were surrounded by earlier empirical work on rumors, panics, crowds, and mobs together with a "smorgasbord" of theoretical perspectives, including the collective behavior, mass society, and relative deprivation approaches (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1988: 695). In both situations, prior work provided scant theoretical coherence and little basis for optimism. Moreover, in this early period no connection existed or, indeed, seemed possible between the two fields since the former concentrated on instrumental, organized behavior while the latter's focus was on "spontaneous, unorganized, and unstructured phenomena" (Morris 2000: 445).

OS began to gain traction with the recognition of the importance of the wider environment, first material resource and technical features, then political, and, more recently, institutional and cultural forces. Open systems conceptions breathed new life into a field too long wedded to concerns of internal administrative design, leadership, and work group cohesion. SM studies also began to revive because of increased recognition of the environment - not just as contexts breeding alienation or a sense of deprivation, but as the source of resources, including movement members and allies - as a locus of opportunities as well as constraints. In addition, SM scholars increasingly came to recognize the importance of organizations and organizing processes. Resources must be mobilized and momentum maintained for movements to be successful, and both tasks require instrumental activities and coordination of effort: in short, organization.

Since the onset of the modern period, then, both fields have flourished and there has been some interchange and learning. The learning to date, however, has been largely uni-directional. SM scholars have been able to productively borrow and adapt organizational ideas to their own uses; OS scholars have been far less opportunistic in taking advantage of movement ideas. (We detail this imbalance below.) Recent developments in each field, to our eyes, suggest a pattern of complementary strengths and weaknesses. If this is the case, then increased interaction of the two sets of scholars, with heightened collaboration and diffusion/adaption of ideas and methods, should be especially beneficial.

Today, as we ease into a new century, we see signs of increased interest and interaction among participants in the two fields. We seek to encourage this interchange and to help insure that the ideas flow in both directions. Both of us believe that the most interesting problems and greatest advances in the sciences often take place at the intersection of established fields of study.

In section I of this chapter, we outline in broad strokes the development of the two areas, paying particular attention to weaknesses in one field that might be redressed by insights from the other, and we begin to sketch a general analytic framework that draws on recent work from both fields of study. In section II, we pursue the development of concepts designed to move from an organization or movement focus to an organizational field approach and from a static to a more dynamic examination of change processes linking movements and organizations.

In section III, we illustrate the power and generality - and, inevitably, no doubt point up the limitations - of our schema by applying it to two "cases" on which each of us has previously worked. The first case involves contention over changes in health care delivery and financing during the period 1945-95, a situation that Scott and colleagues have studied (Scott, Ruef, Mendel, and Caronna 2000). The second case involves contention over civil rights during the period 1946-70, a set of developments that McAdam has examined (McAdam 1982-1999). Both cases occurred in the same country, the United States, and in the same general historical period, but beyond that they differ in many ways, as our analysis attempts to make clear. If the framework can be helpful in examining these varied situations, it is likely to find applications to other times and places.

Two Bodies of Work

No attempt will be made to provide detailed overviews of what have become two substantial, diverse literatures. Rather, our brief review is intended to identify broad trends as well as lacunae or weaknesses in each area that might be addressed by strengths and insights in the other. We conclude this section by noting some recent signs of convergence.

Social Movements

Beginning in the mid-1960s, a group of young scholars, including Gamson, Tilly, and Zald, began to formulate more explicit organizational and political arguments to account for social unrest, converting the earlier focus on "collective behavior" to one on "collective action," "social movements," and, even, "social movement organizations" (Gamson 1968, 1975; Tilly and Rule 1965; Zald and Ash 1966). Some of this work usefully built on a theoretical perspective spearheaded by the early OS scholar Philip Selznick (1948, 1952), that employed an institutional perspective to examine the ways in which tensions between value commitments and survival concerns shaped the development of an organization (e.g., Zald and Denton 1963). SM scholars reframed the view of protest and reform activities from one of irrational behavior - a flailing out against an unjust universe - to one involving instrumental action. Rather than stressing common grievances, SM theorists focused attention on mechanisms of mobilization and opportunities to seek redress. While sharing broad similarities, two somewhat divergent approaches gradually emerged.

Zald and colleagues, in crafting their resource mobilization perspective, privileged organizational structures and processes (Zald and McCarthy 1987). Drawing on developments in OS, these theorists stressed that movements, if they are to be sustained for any length of time, require some form of organization: leadership, administrative structure, incentives for participation, and a means for acquiring resources and support. Embracing an open systems perspective, the importance of the organization's relation to its environment - social, economic, political - was underscored. Following the early lead of Michels, analysts were sensitive to the contradictory and complex relation between organizing and bureaucratizing processes and retaining ideological commitments (McCarthy and Zald 1977). More so than in mainstream OS, this work stressed the central role of power and politics, both within the organization and in its relation to the environment (Gamson 1975; Zald and Berger 1978).

A complementary political process perspective was pursued by Tilly and his associates. Though probably best known for its stress on shifting "political opportunities" (and constraints), this "external" focus on the political environment was always joined with an "internal" analysis of the "critical role of various grassroots settings - work and neighborhood, in particular - in facilitating and structuring collective action" (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996: 4). In many situations, the seedbed of collective action is to be found in preexisting social arrangements that provide social capital critical to the success of early mobilizing processes when warmed by the sunlight of environmental opportunities that allow members to exploit their capital (Tilly 1978; Tilly, Tilly, and Tilly 1975).

Organizational Studies

Foundational work by Simon (1945) and March and Simon (1958) provided important building blocks in identifying the structures and processes that undergird "rational" decision making, supporting the systematic collective pursuit of specified goals. The differences between organizations and other, "nonrational," collectivities were stressed. This seminal micro administrative behavior approach was soon joined by a number of more macro perspectives emphasizing the relation of the organization to its environment. An early and still widely employed modern, macro perspective on organizations, contingency theory, emerged in the mid-1960s as a guide for research on the adaptation of organizations to their environments (Lawrence and Lorsch 1967; Thompson 1967). Organizations that were better able to match their structural features to the distinctive demands of their environments were expected to be more successful. Contingency theory continued to focus on those organizational features and processes that were thought to be most distinctive to organizations, allowing them to serve as rationally constructed collective instruments for goal attainment.

Within a decade, however, a number of alternative theoretical perspectives were developed - we focus on developments at the macro level - that shifted attention to less rational, more "natural" political and cultural conceptions of organizations. The organizational ecology perspective, applied primarily at the population level of analysis, resembled contingency theory in its focus on the material resource environment. However, emphasis shifted to organizational survival, rather than efficiency or effectiveness, with analysts expressing skepticism regarding any straightforward linkage between performance and persistence (Aldrich 1979; Hannan and Freeman 1977). Resource dependence (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978) and conflict theory (Collins 1975; Clegg and Dunkerley 1977) directly challenged rationality-based conceptions of organizational design and operation, arguing instead the central role played by power. Resource dependence theorists directed attention to the political implications of asymmetric exchange processes while conflict theorists resurrected and refurbished Marxist arguments viewing organizations as fundamentally structures of dominance and exploitation. Neoinstitutional theory (Meyer and Rowan 1977; DiMaggio and Powell 1983) emerged during the same period, calling attention to the role of wider cultural and normative frameworks in giving rise to and in sustaining organizations. These theorists asserted that organizations are evaluated in terms of their "social fitness" as well as their performance: legitimacy and accountability are as important as, if not more so than, reliability and efficiency.

In sum, OS experienced a highly creative period during the past four decades, which witnessed the development and testing of several somewhat conflicting, somewhat complementary theoretical perspectives. Rational system models were joined and challenged by political and cultural models; but all embraced open systems assumptions (Scott 2003). The general trend in theoretical frameworks and research designs has been both up and out: "up" to encompass wider levels of analysis and "out" to incorporate more facets of the environment.

Complementary Strengths and Weaknesses

Even this brief review begins to showcase some of the obvious strengths of past theoretical work in the two areas and to suggest important differences. (See Table 1.1.) First, many SM theorists had the perspicacity to embrace OS concepts and arguments fairly early and adapt them for use in their own theories. But, in doing so, they retained their distinctive focus on social process. They have given particular attention to such phenomena as the mobilization of people and resources, the construction and reconstruction of purposes and identities, the building of alliances, and the crafting of ideologies and cultural frames to support and sustain collective action. By contrast, OS scholars have devoted more attention to structure, including both informal and formal - but with increasing attention to the latter - within as well as among organizations. While there are important exceptions that feature process approaches - for example, case studies such as those of Selznick (1949), Blau (1955), and Barley (1986); change-oriented analyses such as those by Fligstein (1990), Pettigrew and Whipp (1991), and Van de Ven et al. (1999); and ecological and evolutionary studies such as Hannan and Freeman (1989), Baum and Singh (1994), and Aldrich (1999) - the vast majority of OS works up to the present focus on structure. More so than their SM counterparts, OS scholars have emphasized organizations over organizing, structure over process.
Table 1.1. Complementary Strengths and Weaknesses
Organizational Studies Social Movements
Structure Process
Established organizations Emergent organizations
Organization field Movement-centric
Institutionalized authority Transgressive contention
Localized regimes (sectors) Societal regimes

A closely related difference pertains to the origins of organizations. Only very recently have OS students concerned themselves with the creation of organizations - with entrepreneurship and organizational "genetics" (see Aldrich 1999; Suchman forthcoming; Thornton 1999). SM scholars, in contrast, have spent much time and effort attempting to discern the conditions under which new (movement) organizations arise and do or do not succeed in gaining sufficient mass and momentum to survive and flourish.

A third difference pertains to the scope or level of analysis employed by the two sets of scholars. Although there are important exceptions, most SM scholars have been relentlessly movement-centric in their research designs, focusing either on a single movement organization - for example, the Knights of Labor (Voss 1993) - or on organizations of the same type (an organizational population), such as chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (McCarthy et al. 1988). Even though McCarthy and Zald (1977) were quick to appropriate the concept of industry (or organizational field) from OS, they and others have generally employed it to examine the effects of other, alternative and rival, movements on a focal movement organization and population rather than consider the industry or field itself as the subject of analysis. Exceptions to this generalization include McAdam's (1982-1999) study of the civil rights movement, which included an examination of the major movement organizations and their sources of resistance and support, and Clemens's (1996) analysis of the alternative forms utilized by groups active in the American labor movement during the period 1880-1920.

While OS scholars have conducted many studies of individual organizations and organizational populations, they also in recent years have expanded their concern to the industry or organizational field level. In this respect, the concept of organizational field developed by OS students represents a valuable new analytic lens. As defined by DiMaggio and Powell (1983: 148), a field refers to

those organizations that, in the aggregate, constitute a recognized area of institutional life: key suppliers, resource and product consumers, regulatory agencies, and other organizations that produce similar services and products.

(See also Scott and Meyer 1983; Scott 1994a.) The concept of field identifies an arena - a system of actors, actions, and relations - whose participants take one another into account as they carry out interrelated activities. Rather than focusing on a single organization or movement, or even a single type of organization or movement (population), it allows us to view these actors in context. Representative studies include DiMaggio's (1991) analysis of the high culture field of art museums, Fligstein's (1990) study of the transformation of corporate forms in the United States during the twentieth century, and Dezalay and Garth's (1996) examination of the emergence of an institutional framework for transnational commercial arbitration.

A fourth difference pertains to the treatment of power in the two literatures. SM scholars have from the outset emphasized the crucial role of power and politics in social life. These studies are replete with discussions of activists, bloodshed, conflicts, contentious uprisings, challenges to authority, polarization, rallies, repression, riots, sit-ins, strikes, and tactics. For their part, thanks to the enduring legacy of Max Weber and Karl Marx, OS scholars also recognize that organizations are systems of domination, so that issues of centralized decision making and control loom large. However, with only a few exceptions - for example, scholars such as Clegg and Dunkerley (1980), Perrow (1986), and Pfeffer (1981; 1992) - OS students have opted for the Weberian rather than the Marxist framing. Their subject has been institutionalized power: power coded into structural designs and bolstered by widely shared cultural norms and ideologies. They have attended less to the ways in which power in and among organizations operates in unintended or unconventional ways to challenge or change existing structures.

© Cambridge University Press

Meet the Author

Gerald Davis received his PhD in Organizational Behavior at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and subsequently taught at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business. He spent academic year 1997/1998 as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and has been at the University of Michigan since then. Davis's research examines the influence of politics and social networks on the evolution and structure of the institutions of corporate governance, and conversely on the influences of financial globalization on social structure and politics. His work has appeared in the Administrative Science Quarterly, the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Research in Organization Behavior, Strategic Organization, and elsewhere. In 2003 he was elected to be Chair of the Organization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management. He is also a member of the American Sociological Association and serves on the editorial boards of Administrative Science Quarterly and Strategic Organization.

Doug McAdam is Professor of Sociology at Stanford University and Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He is the author or co-author of ten books and more than 50 articles in the area of political sociology, with a special emphasis on the study of social movements and revolutions. Among his best known works are Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930–1970, a new edition of which was published in 1999 (University of Chicago Press), Freedom Summer (1988, Oxford University Press), which was awarded the 1990 C. Wright Mills Award as well as being a finalist for the American Sociological Association's best book prize for 1991. His most recent book is Dynamics of Contention (2001, Cambridge University Press), with Sid Tarrow and Charles Tilly. He was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003.

W. Richard Scott received his Ph.D degree from the University of Chicago. He is now Professor Emeritus of Sociology, with courtesy appointments in the School of Business, School of Education, and School of Medicine, at Stanford University. He is the author or editor of more than twenty books, the most recent being Institutional Change and Healthcare Organizations 2002, with Ruef, Mendel and Caronna; Institutions and Organizations, 2001 (2nd ed), and Organizations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems 2003 (5th ed).

Mayer N. Zald is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been Chairman of the Section on Occupations, Organizations and Work and the Section on Collective Behavior and Social Movements, both of the American Sociological Association. He has also been Vice-President and a Council Member of the ASA. A two time Fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, he is the author of numerous books and articles, including Organizational Change: The Political Economy of the YMCA (Chicago, 1970) and editor (with Doug McAdam and John McCarthy) of Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements (Cambridge, 1996).

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