Howard E. Aldrich

American sociologist

Howard E. Aldrich (born 1943) is an American sociologist, and Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, known for his work on "Organizations and Environments."



Organizations and Environments, 1979


Howard Aldrich (1979/2008). Organizations and Environments,

  • Organizations are goal-directed, boundary-maintaining, activity systems.
    • p. 4
  • Organizational forms — specific configurations of goals, boundaries, and activities — are the elements selected by environmental criteria, and change may occur either through new forms eliminating old ones or through the modification of existing forms. Environmental niches are distinct in combination of resources and other constraints that are sufficient to support organizational form. Organizational forms, then, are organized activity systems oriented toward exploiting the resources within a niche.
    Selection pressures may favour or eliminate entire groups of organizations, such as industries, and the changing population distribution of organizations in a society reflects the operation of such selection pressures.
    • p. 28
  • A niche is created by the intersection of resource constraints— an abstract resource space consisting of a unique combination of resources (information, access to materials, customers, and so on) that could permit a form to survive there. Forms thus either take advantage of a niche resource space" or fail.
    • p. 40; cited in: Frank Marutollo (1990). Organizational Behavior in the Marine Corps. p. 33
  • Active loose coupling occurs when a subsystem of an organization is more tightly coupled to an environmental sector than other subsystems, and a feedback loop connects environmental conditions with organizational responses. A feedback loop is present when an organizational mechanism for monitoring the environment exists, and when the state of the environment (or intended target of the organization's action) is compared to some desired state by members of the organization.
    • p. 85
  • In general, growth is an intrinsic source of change with potentially unintended effects and some subunits are better positioned than others to protect themselves against such effects. Oligarchical tendencies are present in almost all membership-based organizations, such as unions and voluntary associations, and if unchecked, can lead to transformations. Organizations with diffuse goals or innovative leadership are sometimes able to survive the crisis of complementing their original mission by moving onto other goals.
    • p. 204

Quotes about Howard E. Aldrich

  • Organizations and Environments was originally issued in 1979, it increased interest in evolutionary explanations of organizational change. Since then, scholars and practitioners have widely cited the book for its innovative answer to this question: Under what conditions do organizations change?
    • Howard Aldrich (1979/2008). Organizations and Environments, Back cover
  • Aldrich achieves theoretical integration across 13 chapters by using an evolutionary model that captures the essential features of relations between organizations and their environments. This model explains organizational change by focusing on the processes of variation, selection, retention, and struggle. The "environment," as conceived by Aldrich, does not refer simply to elements "out there"—beyond a set of focal organizations—but rather to concentrations of resources, power, political domination, and most concretely, other organizations.
    • Howard Aldrich (1979/2008). Organizations and Environments, Back cover
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