MIS40640 – Managing Technology & Change: Cultural & Political Perspectives – IS and power in organisations

Readings of the Week:

Bloomfield and Coombs – IT, Power and Control – Centralization

Fincham and Rhodes – Power

Questions & Comments:

Fincham & Rhode’s paper:

Fincham & Rhodes have mentioned that the individual selection either for promotion or a new role is an important power tool within an organisation. Why is it that organisations impose leaders upon teams? In social realm, most of the modern societies has long since embraced democracy and allow their members to chose their own leaders. The earlier societal institutions of imposed monarchies and dictatorships has long since disappeared. But in organisational realm the leadership is still imposed arbitrarily by the people in power. Why is it that modern organisations have not kept pace with the rest of society and progressed towards democratization of the selection processes.

Now we are in knowledge society and most of the organisational employees are highly educated and rational but still they have no say in choosing their own leaders. Is this normal or is it that power within an organisation is more well entrenched than the power within wider society? Do we need a similar organisational level French revolution to break these out-dated power shackles within organisations?

clip_image001In Fincham and Rhodes paper the mention the idea of Panopticon, originally suggested by Jeremy Bentham. I really think we are not too far off that in the world of the sharing everything on the internet. I recently was in the process of recruiting someone to work in my team. I have a service available to me whereby I can basically see anything he did on the internet and all his public posts on social media. I found some things he had said and done I found objectionable, and thus this gentleman did not get the job. Even 5 years ago this would not be possible, and its only going to get worse. We are now very close to existing in a virtual version of that Panopticon, where that permanent visibility exists. Any tech savvy person or company can find out virtually anything about anyone, and as such and your past and your present can very often come back to haunt you!

Understanding the types of power within an organisation is an effective way to understand why & how of power. Fincham & Rhodes could have spent more time on the types of power we typically see within an organisation. From my own experience, power comes from a number of different sources. In my company, the two most prevalent are: the status & level of a person – a VP has more power than I do. The other being: an expert in their field, where I rely on their knowledge to help me do my role, they have a power over me I need to complete my tasks. What can make a role interesting, is the times one has power and the times one doesn’t, and how one goes about managing that.

Bloomfield & Coomb’s paper:

Bloomfield and Coombs explain power is being exercised on the group or individual who is its target. Information system professional exercising the power on its users, means that the users would have behaved differently if not for the professional. Role of computer based information system in mediating and reinforcing the views that concerned with discourses and associated bodies of knowledge (disciplines) which constitute the dominant view and meaning of things. Information system embodies a particular view or model of the organisation and it shouldn’t be the reflection of power or politics in the system. Do you think understanding the power/politics help for the IT implementation?

Minutes of the Class:

I. Agenda

a) Presentation and discussion – group E (Justyna, Connor, Julian and John),

b) Lecture – Seamas.

II. Presentation and discussion

a) Presentation

The nature of power has been an important point of interest in sociology since 19th century (Marx, Weber, Foucault…).

Power is a complex phenomenon; numerous definitions exist, often contradictory.

Power is a relational concept: emerges from interaction between groups or individuals.

Foucault’s definition of power remains the most recognised: power is a relational construct – not a sovereign or abstract thing, it emerges from interaction between multiple social units; what is one’s ability to bend other individuals to own will.

Argument with Fincham’s statement that development of technology led to decentralisation of power. Counter-example: call-centres (technology supports oversight over agents).

In the context of importance of information in managing hospitals and doctors’ resistance to power, mentioned the movie “Amazon.com” and the article ” Telemedicine in the Upper Amazon: Interplay with Local Health Care Practices” (by Gianluca Miscione).

b) Discussion

Issue raised by Caitríona: there were no positive examples of power presented. The issue was addressed by Foucault’s neutral approach to the phenomenon.

Conclusion was made that according to Foucault people often don’t realise that they are being dominated.

Question from Seamas: What did you learn from the readings?

John: if you are trying to understand organisation, you may look at it from the perspective of power,

Julian: how to identify power conflicts and how to address them to optimise and streamline processes,

Justyna: power exists even if one is oblivious of it; the papers help finding balance between power and resistance; lack of the balance may lead to damaging an organisation.

III. Lecture

a) Issue raised: Why study power & politics in organisation? How is this related to cultural perspective?

In terms of organisations, the predominant view of power and politics is biased: they are seen as something marginal and unimportant.

Since organisations are seen as rational and harmonious places where distinct parts cooperate smoothly, the only significant impact power and politics may have is seen as a disruption.

Example of the predominant view of power and politics – House of Cards (manipulation, domination, dirt, recklessness, money, greed, corruption, nepotism). This view is perhaps linked to the popular view of politicians.

Question: Why is the above view of power and politics in organisations predominant? Why are organisations not seen as political entities? The reason is that rationalists believe that there is always an objective way to do things.

Power and politics are not measurable.

Conclusion: Politics is how things are done; politics allows for alliances; politics is why structures endure or change; politics is to get people onboard; politics is negative only when one is on the wrong side. Without politics it is impossible to resolve conflicts between individuals, thus organisations are political structures in essence. It is much more productive to see power as central motor of organisations and people as political actors.

Everyone is engaged in political struggle: no input into the struggle (e.g. introverts tend to detach themselves from public life) is still an input.

b) Issue raised: How to understand power?

Power shapes how we look at things, how and when we do things.

It is often exercised in a very subtle way; according to Foucault “power is at its most insidious when […]” it is silent and concealed.

Structure and culture must be reproduced through actions. Power is crucial for the reproduction and the action.

Stephen Lukes’ 3 faces of power:

1. People who bend other people to their will. Power is exercised when Group A makes a decision and imposes the decision on Group B,

2. More subtle way to exercise power: exclusion of people who may object,

3. Radical perspective (the most subtle way): preventing people from forming preferences. E.g. caste system in India, futile incentives for poor people to go to college.

Problem with the radical perspective: false consciousness (believing there is a powerful group able to impose their will; on the other hand feeling that I know what is best for other people).

Summary: although power and politics are marginalised, they are the central aspect of relations between people.

c) Foucault and his perspective on power

Foucault specialised in the area of power. Inspired by how people infected by leprosy were separated from society and how the modern prison system is similar to the exclusion of the lepers: rather than making example of criminals by public torture and execution, prisons were built and criminals were imprisoned for rehabilitation and not punishment.

Rehabilitation is achieved by constant surveillance of prisoners and punishing the ones who break rules; this way the desired social behaviour is internalised by the prisoners.

In today’s society the role of the prison guards is played by various social institutions.

Foucault’s key point – social behaviours are not natural, so discipline must be enforced and maintained through surveillance and imminent punishment of adverse actions.

Social norms are established by normalised judgement.

Individuals are produced by discourses – ways of doing things, thinking and talking about things.

Self-discipline may be enforce or reshaped by introducing new types of knowledge (e.g. doctors’ knowledge about resources utilised by other doctors introduces rivalry and thus leads to sparing resources).

Language and knowledge are closely related to discourses; language is not innocent.

d) End of the lecture

Practical implications of power and politics will be discussed in following weeks as the module moves from its current theoretical building phase to the practical relationship of it to ICT.

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