Erving Goffman’s ‘total institutions’ warrant inclusion in a comprehensive theory of management
According to a blurb, the Very Short Introductions of which close to 400 have been published by Oxford University Press, “are for anyone wanting a stimulating and accessible way in to a new subject. They are written by experts, and have been published in more than 40 languages worldwide.”
Management and morality
Chapter 10 of John Hendry’s overview, which addresses management and morality, brings to mind Erving Goffman’s concept of the ‘total institution.’
In such institutions, the rules – and sense-making and storytelling – of everyday life outside no longer have validity for their members. The link in the previous paragraph outlines the concept.
In Chapter 8, modern organizations are characterized as settings from which questions of morality are excluded. Chapter 6 describes “strong individualizing tendencies of contemporary management” (p. 116), a theme that points in the same direction as Chapter 8.
Chapter 2, on the other hand, “pictures management practice as an inherently social activity that would seem to have an essentially moral dimension” (p.116). This picture would, Hendry adds, be reinforced by the socializing tendencies described in Chapter 5 and sense-making and storytelling functions of management outlined in Chapter 9.
Dehumanizing effects of bureaucratic technology
Hendry adds that the tension that he describes – between management viewed as not concerned with morality, and management viewed as having a moral function – is endemic to management.
The links embedded in the quotations that follow refer to previous posts.
Traditional bureaucratic corporation
“The traditional bureaucratic corporation,” Hendry asserts on p. 117, “was in many ways a traditional moral community, modelled on the societies in which it operated. Hierarchical structure was accompanied by an ethic of duty, in which each member served the interests of the whole by conscientiously playing his or her particular part.”
Hendry adds, however, that critics view such a corporation as “morally disabling.”
“The bureaucracy,” the critics would argue, according to Hendry, “established rules for everything and the manager, acting as an office holder rather than as an individual person, could not do other than follow those rules, even if the purposes of the organization were quite unethical. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman pointed to the bureaucratic organization that made possible the Holocaust as an example of the dehumanizing effects of bureaucratic technology.”
Hendry’s own conclusion is that the state of affairs in history when a bureaucracy was “turned to immoral ends by unscrupulous leaders … was essentially a pathological state. It relied on the exercise of power, through charisma and coercion, in ways that were completely alien to the bureaucratic ideal. In a properly functioning bureaucracy the leader or chief executive is as much a servant of the community as anyone else.”
Whether Hendry’s conclusion, about what has happened in the past, is valid, or adds to our capacity to make sense of what management entails, is a matter of opinion.
One can add, as is evident from The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account (1974), among other accounts, that in some cases in history, genocide has proceeded without much assistance from bureaucracy.
Marjorie H. Goodman and Vasily Grossman
The discussion concerning the tension related to the morality, or lack of morality, of bureaucratic organizations brings to mind the work of Marjorie Harness Goodwin (2006) and Vasily Grossman (2005).
As outlined at an earlier post, linguistic anthropology provides an apt means by which asymmetrical power relationships in society can be analyzed, and provides a basis whereby destructive social scenarios including bullying can be addressed in ways that possess a likelihood of achieving positive results.
Chapter 16 in The Handbook of Language Socialization (2014) by Marjorie H. Goodwin and Amy Kyratzis, entitled “Peer Language Socialization,” reviews the broader context within which linguistic anthropology contributes to our understanding of how we as citizens are socialized from an early age “through language and to use language.” The latter quotation is from the opening paragraph of Chapter 16 of the handbook in question.
Linguistic anthropology may, by way of illustration, entail a detailed analysis of a video recording of a specified social interaction, for example of children at a playground at recess. Requisite permissions to video and audio record would be obtained beforehand in such research.
Beats, pauses, and intonation contours
The resulting recordings are converted into a script that bears similarities to a motion picture script. However, in the research analysis, the inflections, beats, pauses, intonation contours (which can be analyzed using Pitchworks), and emphases of spoken dialogue are included in the detailed script – which, in turn, serves as a key element in a subsequent research report.
In contrast, with a motion picture script, it is the actors who would be responsible for bringing the script to life – for example by deciding where the beats will be, in the spoken dialogue – in the course of acting out a series of specified scenes.
In a sense, in the form of research that linguistic anthropology entails, from what I can gather, a segment of everyday life is recorded, and through a process akin to reverse engineering, a detailed script – more precise and detailed than a motion picture script – is presented to the reader.
Goodwin approaches the study of social interactions in a manner that builds upon the work of Erving Goffman.
The work of filmmaker Laura Poitras similarly demonstrates elements of a Goffmanesque approach toward sense-making, storytelling, and themes of relevance to linguistic anthropology among other academic disciplines.
A Writer at War (2005)
Among other works, Vasily Grossman is the author of A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, 1st ed. (2005).
An April 6, 2015 New Yorker article is entitled: “The System: Two new histories show how the Nazi concentration camps worked.”
An April 22, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Oskar Groening, former Auschwitz guard, describes camp in chilling detail at trial.”
A May 7, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: ” ‘Forbidden Films’ Exhumes Nazi Poison From the Movie Vaults.”
The opening paragraphs read:
“The Third Reich was not only a totalitarian state but also a total multimedia regime. Seven decades after its fiery collapse, the embers remain — including some 1,200 feature films produced under Joseph Goebbels’s ministry of propaganda. Are they historical evidence, incitements to murder, fascist pornography, evergreen entertainments, toxic waste or passé kitsch? All of the above?
“Those questions are raised by ‘Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film,’ a documentary essay by the German filmmaker Felix Moeller, opening May 13 at Film Forum for a weeklong, free-admission run.
“Mr. Moeller, born 20 years after Germany’s defeat, is concerned about what he sees as youthful disinterest in the Nazi period and the concurrent rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe. He arrived at “Forbidden Films,” he said by telephone from Berlin, after making ‘Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss,’ a documentary about the family legacy of Nazi Germany’s most celebrated director, Veit Harlan. Harlan’s most notorious film, “Jew Süss” (1940) — a period melodrama in which a Jewish moneylender connives to take control of the duchy of Württemberg — is as incontrovertibly anti-Semitic as it was enormously popular.”
[End of excerpt]
A Feb. 7, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “‘My family resisted the Nazis’: why director had to film Alone in Berlin.”
An Aug. 15, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’: Brunhilde Pomsel worked at the heart of the Nazis’ propaganda machine. As a film about her life is released, she discusses her lack of remorse and the private side of her monstrous boss.”