Organizations and the Chicago School

Andrew Abbott

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

Organizations and the Chicago School

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



Sociology's interest in organizations is customarily traced to three sources: the Harvard-based human relations school, the Weberian tradition descending from Parsons through Merton at Columbia, and the more formal and economic approach associated with March and Simon at Carnegie Tech. Omitted from these lineages is the dominant body of sociological thinking in the inter-war period, the Chicago School. To be sure, organizations play a small role in the canonical image of Chicago sociology. This absence did not involve any lack of interest in social organization more broadly, about which the Chicagoans wrote a great deal. But by ‘social organization’ they meant ‘the organizing of social life’: a gerund rather than a noun, a process rather than a thing. The study of fixed pieces of social structure such as bureaucracies and other formally enacted groups was not for the Chicagoans a separately delineated body of inquiry. This article first sketches the Chicago School and the organizational world it confronted. It then turns to social and formal organization as they actually appear in the Chicagoans' writings. It closes with a discussion of the lessons organization theory today might take from the Chicago sociological tradition.

Keywords: sociological thinking; Chicago School; social organization; social life; bureaucracies; organization theory

Article.  9756 words. 

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

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