On Organizations and Oligarchies

Pamela S. Tolbert and Shon R. Hiatt

in The Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Organization Studies

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9780199535231
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Business and Management C

 On Organizations and Oligarchies

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Business and Management
  • Organizational Theory and Behaviour
  • Business History


Show Summary Details


This article argues that Michels's core arguments about the nature of oligarchies in organizations, and research generated in response to his work, are not only relevant to understanding the dynamics of political organizations but can be extended as a useful framework for thinking about important aspects of contemporary economic corporations as well. In making this argument, the article highlights the parallels between Berle and Means's analysis of modern, publicly held corporations and that of Michels. Both analyses address the general organizational problem of ensuring representation of members' interests. In political organizations, it is the rank-and-file members' interests that leaders are charged with representing; in publicly held organizations, leaders are primarily responsible for representing the interests of stockholders, as the nominal ‘owners’ of the firm. In this context, the article considers evidence and research on problematic corporate behavior to show how Michels's work provides a useful framework for understanding these problems and for formulating ways of addressing them.

Keywords: oligarchies; political organizations; economic corporations; organizational problems; rank-and-file; stockholders

Article.  11084 words. 

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

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.