Article

The Agency/Structure Dilemma in Organization Theory: Open Doors and Brick Walls

Michael Reed

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/9780199275250.003.0011

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Business and Management

 The Agency/Structure Dilemma in Organization Theory: Open Doors and Brick Walls

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This article reviews and assesses the various ways in which the agency/structure dilemma has been dealt with in organization theory. It identifies three major ‘moves’ for attempting to clarify this issue that will not quietly fade into obscurity as a philosophical curiosity properly consigned to the dustbin of intellectual history. First, the reductionist move on the agency/structure dilemma that simply reduces structure to agency or vice versa, but usually the former. Second, the determinist approach to the agency/structure problem that starkly dichotomizes the relationship between them in such a way that each, irreparably divided, side of this ontological/methodological dichotomy necessarily results in either behavioural or structural reification, but usually the latter. Third, the conflationist interpretation of the agency/structure paradox that directly collapses the latter into the former, and consequently treats it as a ‘virtualized reality’ only traceable in ongoing ‘strips’ of social interaction.

Keywords: organization theory; reductionist move; agency/structure dilemma; determinist approach; structural reification; conflationist interpretation

Article.  8600 words. 

Subjects: Business and Management ; Organizational Theory and Behaviour ; Research Methods

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