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Joan Woodward

(1916—1971)


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(1916–71)

A British professor of industrial sociology who led the South-East Essex research team in a survey of manufacturing organizations in that area during the 1950s. Her many publications included The Dock Worker (1955), The Saleswoman (1960; an early and neglected study of service workers), and the influential Industrial Organisation: Theory and Practice (1965).

Woodward argued that differences in the organization of work and in behaviour at work (the number of levels of management, area of responsibilities of supervisors, division of functions among specialists, clarity with which roles and duties are defined, amount of written communication, and such like) could usually be traced to the immediate work situation itself. In particular, in the Essex survey, differences in technology accounted for many of the differences in organizational structure. She produced a widely discussed typology of production systems, distinguished according to their degree of technical complexity, ranging from unit and small-batch production, through large-batch and mass production, to the most complex form of process production. Often accused (unjustly) of technological determinism, Woodward's work was instrumental in setting new standards of empirical research in the sociology of organizations, and in demonstrating the possibilities of systematic comparison as against the (hitherto predominant) isolated case-study. See also contingency theory.

Subjects: Sociology.


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