Philip Selznick

American sociologist

Philip Selznick (January 8, 1919 – June 12, 2010) was an American sociologist and Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of California, Berkeley. A noted author in organizational theory, sociology of law and public administration.

Quotes edit

  • Organisations are technical instruments; designed as means to definite goals... they are expendable. Institutions... may be partly engineered, but they have also a “natural” dimension. They are the products of interaction and adaptation; they become the receptacles of group idealism; they are less readily expendable.
    • Philip Selznick, quoted in Charles Perrow (1960, p.4), as cited in: Owen A. Jones. The Sources of Goal Incongruence in a Public Service Network. 2013. p. 35-36
  • Leadership, pure and simple, is the assumption of responsibility for the pursuit of excellence in group life.
    • Attributed to Selznick in: Kobi Yamada, ‎Dan Zadra, ‎Steve Potter (2003), Everyone Leads,

"An Approach to a Theory of Bureaucracy," 1943 edit

Philip Selznick (1943). "An Approach to a Theory of Bureaucracy". American Sociological Review 8 (1): 47–54

  • Running an organisation... generates problems, which have no necessary (and often an opposed) relationship to the professed or "original" goals of the organization. The day-to-day behaviour of the group becomes centered around specific problems and proximate goals, which have primarily an internal relevance. Then, since these activities come to consume an increasing proportion of the time and thoughts of participants, they are-from the point of view of actual behaviour – substituted for the professed goal.
    • p. 48; as cited in: Owen A. Jones. The Sources of Goal Incongruence in a Public Service Network. 2013. p. 23
  • There seems to be little doubt that the factor of sheer size is a very important element in concrete bureaucratic structures. However, because of the patterns exhibited in the behavior of agents in small organized groups and because of the implications for greater generality, the formulation used here does not make the factor of size crucial for the existence of bureaucratic behavior patterns.
    • p. 50
  • The action of the officials tends to have an increasingly internal relevance , which may result in the deflection of the organization from its original path, which, however, usually remains as the formally professed aim of the organization.
    • p. 51
  • [Even if established procedures exist for replacing leaders,] they are relatively harmless to the entrenched leaders (because functionless) so long as the ranks fear the consequences of using them

"Foundations of the Theory of Organization," 1948 edit

Philip Selznick (1948). "Foundations of the Theory of Organization". American Sociological Review 13 (1): 25–35.

  • Trade unions, governments, business corporations, political parties, and the like are formal structures in the sense that they represent rationally ordered instruments for the achievement of stated goals.
    • p. 25
  • [Formal structures of formal organizations] never succeed in conquering the non-rational dimensions of organizational behavior.
    • p. 25
  • The formal administrative design can never adequately or fully reflect the concrete organization to which it refers, for the obvious reason that no abstract plan or pattern can—or may, if it is to be useful—exhaustively describe an empirical totality. At the same time, that which is not included in the abstract design (as reflected, for example, in a a staff and-line organization chart) is vitally relevant to the maintenance and development of the formal system itself.
    • p. 25

TVA and the grass roots : a study in the sociology of formal organization, 1949 edit

Selznick, P. (1949). TVA and the grass roots : a study in the sociology of formal organization, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • The most important thing about organizations is that, though they are tools, each nevertheless has a life of its own.
    • p. 10
  • Cooptation is the process of absorbing new elements into the leadership or policy- determining structure of an organization as a means of averting threats to its stability or existence.
    • p. 13
  • Whereas some consequences of our actions occur as planned, others are unanticipated; social actions are not context-free but are constrained, and their outcomes are shaped by the setting in which they occur. Especially significant are the constraints on action that arise from commitments enforced by institutionalization. Because organizations are social systems, goals and procedures tend to achieve an established, value impregnated status. We say that they become institutionalized.
    • pp. 256-257

Leadership in Administration: A Sociological Interpretation, 1957 edit

Philip Selznick, Leadership in Administration: A Sociological Interpretation, 1957, 2011.

  • An organization is a group of living human beings. The formal or official design for living never completely accounts for what the participants do. It is always supplemented by what is called the “informal structure,” which arises as the individual brings into play his own personality, his special problems and interests. Formal relations co-ordinate roles or specialized activities, not persons.
    • p. 8
  • To institutionalize is to infuse with value beyond the technical requirements of the task at hand. The prizing of social machinery beyond its technical role is largely a reflection of the unique way in which it fulfills personal or group needs. Whenever individuals become attached to an organization or a way of doing things as persons rather than as technicians, the result is a prizing of the device for its own sake. From the standpoint of the committed person, the organization is changed from an expendable tool into a valued source of personal satisfaction.
    • p. 17
  • The institutional leader, then, is primarily an expert in the promotion and protection of values.
    • p. 28
  • The relations outlined on an organization chart provide a framework within which fuller and more spontaneous human behavior takes place. The formal system may draw upon that behavior for added strength; it will in its turn be subordinated to personal and group egotism.
    • p. 29
  • Institutionalization is a process. It is something that happens to an organization over time, reflecting the organization’s own distinctive history, the people who have been in it, the groups it embodies and the vested interests they have created, and the way it has adapted to its environment.
    • p. 34 (in 2011 edition)
  • The term “leadership” connotes critical experience rather than routine practice.
    • p. 48
  • It has been well said that the effective leader must know the meaning and master the techniques of the educator.
    • p. 127
  • The art of the creative leader is the art of institution building, the reworking of human and technological materials to fashion an organism that embodies new and enduring values.
    • p. 152-3

Quotes about Philip Selznick edit

  • Selznick's early fascination was the paradox that organizations are created for rational action, but that they never quite succeed in conquering non-rational elements of organizational behavior because they are "inescapably embedded in an institutional matrix" (Selznick, 1948, p. 25).
    • Edward R. Maguire (2003). Organizational Structure in American Police Agencies. p. 231

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