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Organizational studies

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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

Organizational Studies (also known as Organizational Behavior) is a distinct field of academic study which takes as its subject organizations, examining them using the methods of economics, sociology, political science, anthropology, and psychology. Its cousin disciplines include human resources (HR) and industrial and organizational psychology (I/O psychology).

Overview of the field

Organizational studies is the study of individual and group dynamics in an organizational setting, as well as the nature of the organizations themselves. Whenever people interact in organizations, many factors come into play. Organizational studies attempts to understand and model these factors.

Like all social sciences, organizational behavior seeks to control, predict, and explain. But there is some controversy over the ethical ramifications of focusing on controlling workers' behavior. As such, organizational behavior or OB (and its cousin, Industrial psychology) have at times been accused of being the scientific tool of the powerful. Those accusations notwithstanding, OB can play a major role in organizational development and success.


Though it traces its roots back to Max Weber and earlier, organizational studies is generally considered to have begun as an academic discipline with the advent of scientific management in the 1890s, with Taylorism representing the peak of this movement. Proponents of scientific management held that rationalizing the organization with precise sets of instructions and time-motion studies would lead to increased productivity. Studies of different compensation systems were carried out.

After the First World War, the focus of organizational studies shifted to analysis of how human factors and psychology affected organizations, a transformation propelled by the discovery of the Hawthorne Effect. This Human Relations Movement focused more on teams, motivation, and the actualization of the goals of individuals within organizations.

Prominent early scholars included:

The Second World War further shifted the field, as the invention of large-scale logistics and operations research led to a renewed interest in systems and rationalistic approaches to the study of organizations.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the field was strongly influenced by social psychology and the emphasis in academic study was on quantitative research.

Starting in the 1980s, cultural explanations of organizations and change became an important part of study. Qualitative methods of study became more acceptable, informed by anthropology, psychology and sociology.

Current state of the field

Organizational behavior is currently a growing field. Organizational studies departments are generally within business schools, although many universities also have industrial pyschology and industrial economics programs as well.

The field is highly influential in the business world with practitioners like Peter Drucker and Peter Senge turning the academic research into business practices. Organization behavior is becoming more important in the global economy as people with diverse backgrounds and cultural values have to work together effectively and efficiently. It is also under increasing criticism as a field for its ethnocentric and pro-capitalist assumptions (see Critical Management Studies).


Further reading

See also

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