From Micro to Meso to Macro and Back: A Systems-Theoretical Framework for Understanding the Relation Between New Organizational Forms (NOFs) and Society

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Seminar 31 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Cristina BESIO, Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg, Germany
Michael GROTHE-HAMMER, Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg, Germany
Today, there is an increasing emergence of NOFs, such as market organizations or partial organizations. Although numerous research streams deal with the question of how distinctive societal logics affect organizations and vice-versa, so far, none of them have adapted in a noteworthy manner to NOFs. Against this backdrop, we elaborate upon a theoretical framework able not only to understand the functioning of NFOs, but also their relationship to society. To address this issue, we build upon modern systems theory (MST) by Niklas Luhmann, and illustrate our approach by using examples from film industry and social work. We see three major advantages in this approach:

First, MST is of increasing interest in organization studies, especially when it comes to NOF (Schreyögg/Sydow 2010; Ahrne/Brunsson 2011; Ahrne et al. 2015). Scholars embrace Luhmann's radical idea of seeing organizations as operatively closed systems of recursive communication processes; this definition also fits NFOs, even if they differ from the classic organizational model. Second, MST offers an encompassing theory of modern (world) society, which is described as differentiated into subsystems such as politics, economy, or mass media. Third, it provides an integrated framework for the micro-level (interactions), the meso-level (organizations), and the macro-level of analysis (society). They are linked through the basic operational element of social systems; namely, communication. Communication is multi-referential, simultaneously existing in multiple forms of organization and differing societal subsystems (e.g. a conference is a scientific event, but it also involves face-to-face interactions and various organizations). Analyzing communication processes opens the way for a deeper understanding of how differing societal logics affect (new) forms of organizations, and vice-versa (e.g. how modern science is organized and how this affects the selection of scientific topics).