Universität Bielefeld

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Organizational Sociology

Why is the sociological study of organizations a worthwhile endeavour?

Organizations are everywhere in modern society. Just think of your own life so far. You were probably born at the maternity ward of a hospital. You very likely went to a day care centre, from which you then changed to a school. Perhaps you joined a local sports club, maybe even as a child; perhaps you paid regular visits to churches, mosques or synagogues and got involved in the Scouting movement, the Arbeiterwohlfahrt or the Falcons. At some point, you then opened your first bank account, got your first ID card and started your vocational training or university studies. Like it or not, you have also been regularly in touch with your tax office and the social insurances. At least you were relatively free to decide which company, government agency, school, university or association would have you on their lists of members or customers – that is, if you did not just start your own company or if employment agencies and job centres have you listed as ‘seeking work’.

As different as schools, government agencies or hospitals are as social entities, they all have one crucial thing in common – you become a member as a result of a specific decision to do so. You cannot just go and join them, you have to be accepted as a member, and it is the fact that joining and being accepted as a member are based on conscious decisions that distinguishes organized social systems from other types of collectives, such as families, informal groups, cliques, neighbourhoods or social networks. When viewed from this perspective, terrorist groups, mafias and prison populations are borderline cases – which makes them particular interesting to organizational sociology. Whether clear-cut or borderline case, whether legal or illegal, we are interested in the specifically organizational structures and inherent logics of such entities, the social conditions of making them possible or restricting them under which they emerge and develop, and the mechanisms that allow for the reproduction of the organizations in their interactions with their environments – and that occasionally spell their end. Thus, when we speak of organizations, we always and inevitably imply the wide variety of processes involved in organizing.

In Bielefeld, organizational sociology is ‘done’ by two working groups around two professorships that together form the Research and Teaching Unit on Organizations – namely, the working groups of Prof. Dr. Veronika Tacke and Prof. Dr. Stefan Kühl.