Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Comparing Organizational Theory Courses

For the first time in years, I am not taking a law school course.

This is big news, people. It's as if I have rejected my own kind. I fought the Law, and I won. I said "I wish I knew how to quit you Law," and I did.

Truth be told, this wasn't planned. I wanted to stay faithful. I really did want to take Employee Benefits, but the course was too much about lawyer-as-planner, helping businesses create retirement plans for their employees. It's interesting to me, but not as useful for my dissertation. And at this point, everything is for the dissertation. In any other program, I'd be ABD, but for some reason I still have to take a few courses (thank you, independent study units!). So the courses must help me dissertate. Because my fate is to dissertate.

I like all my courses. It does feel like I'm thumbing my nose at the law school though. I just love the seminar environment and the almost informal way of teaching and learning. So far I'm taking (slightly renamed, but accurate):

Research Methods in Social Science
Micro Approaches to Organizational Theory (from the Business PhD School)
Organizational Theory (from the Sociology Department)

Rejected: Public Organization Theory from the Political Science Department.

If I wasn't finally convinced that I have made the right choice in my subject and career path, I really wish that I could go back in time and enroll in a Ph.D program. No, Jurisprudential Boy of Wonder, I am not going to right now. I'm already in deep enough. I guess I can't quit you, Law. I'm really pleased to discover that every department, while different in its approach to organizational theory, is very cognizant of the other approaches. Interdisciplinary isn't just a word, it's a way of thinking and teaching. The political science professor admitted that
no discipline covers org theory perfectly; and that the best is to consider all the disciplines. I find this plays out even in the demography of my coursees. The professor teaching the sociology course has a Ph.D. in business/organizational behavior; and the professor teaching the business school course has a Ph.D in psychology. My classmates are from all over the campus: I offer the legal institutional/employment law perspective; others the public health, social welfare, business, public policy, and sociological perspectives.

All the classes have great dynamics and verve. I'm excited about the readings and the discussion that will follow. I think it will be a collaborative learning experience, and very much a fishes-and-loaves type of approach to learning. All of my professors are asking the students to take charge of each class discussion as "session leaders," and each leader will come prepared with questions for discussion, a short presentation on the required material, a fuller presentation on recommended reading or outside reading the leader has found to be pertinent, and will moderate discussion. I think this is a great pedagogical approach. It will make the students more accountable and collaborative in their learning. I'm also just happy anytime I get to work out my presentation skills.

I think I most enjoy the macro approach of sociology to organizational theory, and the micro approach of the business school model. I think it will be useful for me to understand fundamentals of organizational theory and what makes them distinct from studying individual human actors or other institutions or collective bodies. I also think it will be highly useful to understand the inner workings of organizations. But I would have loved to be able to fit in the public administrative theory approach of the political science department. As it is, there is only so much time, and I am only writing one dissertation on organizational approaches to the FMLA (how employers interpret the legal rule and promulgate it among their employees and administer the leave), and currently another article on organizational theory as applied to sexual harassment workplace self-regulation. If only to take it fully macro up to the level of adminstrative bureaucracy, but no time, no time, and not even room in the units anyway.

But for your benefit, I'll put up snippets of the syllabi so that you may compare for yourself.

Macro Organizational Theory (Sociology):

Organizations are the basic building blocks of modern society. From birth to death, the lives of people in modern societies play out in formal organizations. Thus, organizations have an enormous impact on social life; they wield tremendous power and distribute innumerable benefits. All interests – economic, political, social, and cultural – are pursued through formal organizations. It is only through organizational devices that large-scale planning and co-ordination – for the modern state, the modern (capitalist) economy, and modern civil society – become possible. To understand the world we inhabit, then, we must appreciate the power and scope of organizations.

This course is an introduction to the sociological study of organizations. The literature on organizations is vast and our time is limited. Therefore, the course touches lightly on many important topics and approaches (e.g., corporate governance) and neglects others entirely (e.g., the internal demography of organizations).

Micro Organizational Theory (Business):

This course concentratse on the micro foundations of organizational behavior. We begin by grappling with fundamental, and still sharply contested, questions about human nature. The key questions revolve round: (a) human rationality (are we as consistently clever as some economists claim or as incorrigibly superficial as some psychologists claim?); (b) human motivation (are we as irredemably selfish and ethnocentric as some behavioral scientists claim or as fair-minded as others claim?). The course will then explore the vexing issues that arise when we place human nature in organizational, cultural, and political context. The key questions revolve round: (a) the robustness of psychological laws (does human nature take different forms in different places and times?); (b) the causal interplay between micro and macro levels of analysis (how human nature can simultaneously play the role of cause and effect of social arrangements?).

Public Organizations/Administrative Theory (Political Science)

This seminar offers an opportunity to read extensively in the wide-ranging, somewhat shapeless literature to the study of complex organizations. We examine the opportunities and limits of organization and/or administrative theories in addressing the consequences for bureaucratic and institutional dynamics of several important changes in the conditions that confront many public organizations, and some that may be in teh offing. Much of this material comes from disciplines other than political science. We will be alert to the implications of using it in the sutdy of public organization and governmental institutions. In the process, we take a side-long look at public administration materials, some tradiotional some contemporary. Your challenge is to develop a cognitive map of these materials and relate them to public organizational and institutional life and to analytical problems of prime salience to you.


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