Article

The Historical and Epistemological Foundations of Organization Theory: Fusing Sociological Theory with Engineering Discourse

Yehouda Shenhav

in The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780199275250
Published online September 2009 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199275250.003.0007

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Business and Management

 The Historical and Epistemological Foundations of Organization Theory: Fusing Sociological Theory with Engineering Discourse

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This article provides an alternative historiography of the field of organization theory (OT). It follows two discourses — the engineering and the sociological — and their merger, in order to historicize the epistemological assumptions of contemporary OT directly back into the professional project of social engineering around the beginning of the twentieth century. It also presents the roots of the engineering–managerial discourse about organizations that dominated industrial America prior to the translation of Weber to English. This discourse was later incorporated into the work of early sociologists and management scholars. Furthermore, this article presents Weber's project on rationality, and analyzes the manner in which his work was interpreted by American sociologists. Then, it discusses the epistemological ramifications resulting from the nexus between the two discourses, focusing on two of the key concepts in OT: rationality and uncertainty. These were central concepts in the construction of organizations as rational actors.

Keywords: organization theory; epistemological assumptions; social engineering; Weber's project; rational actors

Article.  11409 words. 

Subjects: Business and Management ; Organizational Theory and Behaviour ; Business History

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