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"Academy ot Management Review, 1988, Vol.

13, No, 1, 53-64,

Configurational and Coactivational


Views of Organizational Structure
GREGORY K. DOW

University of Alberta
Two distinct vie'ws of organizational structure, configurational and
coactivational, are discussed. The conhgurational view stresses the
authoritative coordination of work, whereas the coactivational view
emphasizes recurrent patterns of interaction among participants. These
two conceptual schemes differ in their stances toward hierarchy,
power, and organizational purposiveness. The coactivational view
substitutes "invisible hand" explanations of structure for the intentionalist explanations advanced by configurational theory.
Organizations are singularly complex systems,
and it is far from obvious how their internal structures can best be described. Two distinct views
of organizational structure can be found in the
literature: the configurational and the coactivational. The configurational view emphasizes the
integration of work tasks under common managerial authority, whereas the coactivational view
stresses recurrent patterns of interaction among
organizational participants. These two conceptual schemes differ in their stances toward hierarchy, power, and organizational purposiveness.
Configurational theory advances intentionalist
explanations of organizational structure, whereas
the coactivational view is more compatible with
"invisible hand" modes of explanation.
This paper is concerned primarily with descriptive uses of these views, rather than with the
prescriptions for organizational design that can
be derived from them. The prescriptive stances
of the two views are compared briefly in the closing section of the paper.
The coactivational view opens up promising
new avenues of attack on questions which seem
largely impervious to the tools of configurational
analysis. These questions include the relationship between organizational hierarchy and mar-

ket exchange, the ways in which labor-managed


firms differ from conventional enterprises, and
more generally, how conflict and power become
embedded in organizational structure. Although
it is impossible to justify these claims fully here,
it is hoped that the coactivational view of structure, when coupled with invisible hand explanations of the sort described in the final section,
will point organization theory in fruitful new
directions.

Configurational View of Structure


In the configurational view, an organization's
structure involves two core features: the decomposition of an overall objective into subtasks, and
the integration of these subtasks to achieve an
effective organizational performance. Subtasks
are coordinated by placing related activities under the supervision of a single manager. These
ideas imply a purposive view of the organization; indeed, in this literature organizations often
are defined as purposive human associations
(Blau, 1974, chap. 1).
The archetypal image of the configurational
perspective is the organizational chart with its
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early configurational writing. Its advocates advanced the idea that structure is a result of the
organization's size, technology, and environment. However, the contingency theorists continued to view structure in configurational terms,
much as the classical theorists did. For example,
Lawrence and Lorsch reformulated the division
of labor and task coordination as differentiation
and integration, remarking that these ideas
"suggest a return to the central concern of early
organizational theorists; i.e., the optimal division
of labor given a general organizational purpose"
(1967, p. 2). Although the notion of a single best
way to organize was rejected by contingency
theory, observed structures were regarded as
appropriate adaptations to technological and environmental exigencies.
Economists arrived at a configurational perspective by two quite different routes. First, this
viewpoint figured prominently in Chandler's
(1962, 1977) work on business history, particularly in his account of the transition of large U.S.
firms from functionally departmentalized structures to multidivisional structures. Chandler's
analysis stimulated the development of transaction cost economics (Armour & Teece, 1978;
Williamson, 1975, chap. 8) and provoked an extensive body of empirical research by other industrial organization economists (Caves, 1980).
Another more mathematically oriented variant of economic configurationism has developed
that has few, if any, precursors in common with
sociological organization theory. Much of this
work traces generally to the planning and market socialism debates of the 193Gs and 1940s
(Nelson, 1981; Ward, 1967, chap. 2), and more
specifically to the explosion of interest in the
economics of information during the 1970s
(Spence, 1975). Popular research areas have included identifying the limits to a firm's size
(Beckmann, 1977; Calvo & Wellisz, 1978; Williamson, 1967), explaining observed intraorganizational pay differentials (Calvo & Wellisz, 1979;
Mirrlees, 1976; Rosen, 1982), and the optimal coordinating of subunits (Cremer, 1980; Groves &
Radner, 1972; Weitzman, 1974). Each of these
studies postulates an organizational objective

vertical lines of managerial authority. Three


types of variables are regarded as central:
The properties of the organizational hierarchy.
Classic examples include the number of levels
at which tasks are grouped together (height of
the hierarchy) and the number of subtasks supervised by a single authority (span of control).
The principles used to group tasks at each level
in the hierarchy. For example, tasks can be
grouped by intended purpose or product, the
processes or raw materials used, the clientele
served, the time at which activities are carried
out, or their geographic location.
The administrative mechanisms used to coordinate subtasks. Examples include the relationship between line and staff, the degree of centralization in decision making, and the ratio of
administrators to production workers. Pugh,
Hickson, Hinings, and Turner (1968) provided a
more extensive list of variables; one paradigmatic example of empirical research in this vein
is that of Blau and Schoenherr (1971).
Intellectual Grenealogy
The roots of the configurational view are ancient. Wren (1979, chap. 2) pointed out examples
of it dating back to the early military, religious,
and state bureaucracies of Egypt, Mesopotamia,
and China. Often, modern configurational analyses use Max Weber's portrait of the ideal bureaucracy as the point of departure (1978, pp.
212-226, 956-1005). The configurational view also
is indebted to the work of management theorists
such as Fayol (1930), Gulick (1937), Mooney and
Reiley (1939), and Urwick (1937, 1943). The human relations school flowered partly as a reaction against the methods advocated by these
writers, and the configurational approach
declined in importance. It was revived in Woodward's (1965) attempt to test the validity of classical management principles, however. Her work,
in turn, presaged the rise of contingency theory
variants of the configurational view (Lawrence
& Lorsch, 1967; Perrow, 1967; Pugh, Hickson,
Hinings, & Turner, 1969; Thompson, 1967).
Contingency theory moved away from the "one
best way" approach that characterized much
54

(cost minimization, profit or utility maximization,


or Pareto efficiency), hypothesizes that certain
aspects of organizational structure will be adjusted to promote attainment of this objective,
and assumes a hierarchical coordination or supervision scheme.
Hierarchy and Power in Configurational
Thought

The configurational emphasis on managerial


authority leads to certain theoretical blind spots,
including a reluctance to interpret market relations as a form of organization. For many years,
economists have sought to explain why some
transactions are mediated by market exchange
whereas others are internalized within firms
(Coase, 1937); often they have found it useful to
think of market and hierarchy as endpoints on a
continuum of possible organizational structures
(Mirrlees, 1976, p. 106; Williamson, 1985, p. 83).
The configurational view, however, postulates
qualitative differences between market exchange
and hierarchy. Blau (1974, pp. 28-29), for example, distinguishes organizations (e.g.,
hierarchies) that arise through deliberate design
from nonorganizations such as markets that arise
through merely emergent forces. This line of demarcation seems increasingly artificial in light
of recent efforts to handle transactions within
firms and across markets in a unified way
(Arrow, 1974; Dow, 1987a, 1987b; Powell, in press,
Williamson, 1985).
A second blind spot involves issues of power
and legitimacy. When managerial authority is
depicted as being exercised on behalf of a common goal, unless one regards the organizational
raison d'etre as unacceptable per se (e.g., organized crime) it tends to be seen as both legitimate and functional. The tacit assumption that
subordinates and superiors share in a common
organizational purpose leads the theorist to speak
not only of managerial power, but also of managerial authority (that is, legitimated power).
This aspect of configurational analysis may account for its failure to shed much light on the
possible merits of the labor-managed firm (Dow,
55

1986; Horvat, 1982; Putterman, 1984; Russell,


1985). The idea that workers should exercise ultimate control over the managers of an enterprise
makes little sense if all exercises of managerial
power are legitimate. Thus, the configurational
view obstructs recognition that monitoring and
controlling behavior is a two-edged sword because subordinates have a stake in curbing selfinterested abuses of power by their superiors
(Dow, 1987a).
Role of Intentionality in Configurational
Thought

Once an organization has been defined as a


purposive association, it is only a short step to
the assumption that its internal structure will be
adjusted to facilitate its purposes. Explanatory
reasoning then acquires a highly intentionalist
coloration: Observed structures are understood
as rational devices for pursuing assumed organizational goals, within a given technological,
institutional, and market environment.
Such reasoning is most visible among economists, who routinely prescribe particular organizational forms as a means to allocative efficiency
(Groves & Radner, 1972; Hurwicz, 1985; Weitzman, 1974). This openly prescriptive stance
shades off imperceptibly into descriptive theories postulating that efficient structures will in
fact be observed (Williamson, 1980, 1981). Indeed,
the role played by Pareto efficiency in economic
analyses parallels closely the role of organizational survival goals in functionalist sociology.
The difficulties of functionalist social theory are,
of course, well known (Burrell & Morgan, 1979,
chap. 4; Elster, 1983, chap. 2; Giddens, 1979, pp.
1-7).
Once an intentionalist view of structure is
accepted, organization theory easily slips into
"arguments from design" reminiscent of those
used by natural theologians to explain the
adaptations of living organisms (Mayr, 1982, pp.
103-105). The subtle adaptations of an organization to its environment are interpreted as the mark
of the organization's designers, who instituted a
suitable structure at the outset and reshaped that

sources and information. The organization's


structure is inferred from regularities in the behavior of these actors as they are observed over
time (Mackenzie, 1976). Conventional organizational charts are replaced by flow charts depicting the movement of symbols and resources
through the system (e.g., Cyert & March, 1963;
p. 87).
Writing in this spirit, March and Simon defined structure as "those aspects of the pattern of
behavior in an organization that are relatively
stable and that change only slowly" (1958, p.
170). A slight modification of this definition is most
useful for present purposes:
The structure of a social system is identical with
the recurrent patterns of resource and informationflowgenerated by the decision rules of its
component actors or subunits.
Such structures can be represented mathematically using a variety of block-modeling,
simulation, or stochastic process techniques. It
might be said that organizational boundaries are
taken as given under this definition, and it is
true that some universe of actors must be specified in advance. However, if boundaries can be
identified behaviorally (e.g., as regions of lowfrequency interaction separating regions of highfrequency interaction), then the location of such
boundaries within the prespecified system of actors can be regarded as endogenous.
The decision rules that generate an organizational structure specify with reasonable accuracy
how each actor responds to messages from other
actors or from actors in the external environment.
The key task of organizational theory, in the
coactivational view, is to explain why decision
rules are what they are; that is, why a given
structure of interaction emerges in a specific social setting. The coactivational view highlights
Coactivational View of Structure
the following variables:
The coding systems and observed behaviors
The term coactivity is borrowed from ecology,
of each actor. Decision rules are not observed
and it emphasizes the importance of ongoing
directly. Each actor's decision rules must be inbehavioral interactions for the study of organizaferred by studying the relationship between intional structure. In the coactivational view, an
coming messages or resources and his/her beorganization is a communication network in
havioral responses (Barley, 1983; Gregory, 1983).
which actors or subunits recurrently process re-

structure over time in response to changing


circumstances. These designers typically are
identified as founders, entrepreneurs, top management, or a dominant coalition. Chandler
(1962), for example, believed that structure follows strategy, meaning that the strategic choices
of corporate managers determine organizational
structure. Industrial organization economists
(Caves, 1980, p. 64) and sociologists concerned
with strategic choice in organizations (Child,
1972) have expressed similar views.
This analysis is at best an incomplete descriptive theory of organizational structure because it
ignores the counterstrategies of organizational
actors who may contest managerial objectives.
Implicitly, the configurational approach presupposes that some privileged group has the power
to impose its preferred structural arrangements
upon other organizational participants. While this
presupposition often approximates reality, a satisfactory theory of organizational structure should
regard the power to impose particular patterns
of behavior on others as a fact requiring explanation, not as a given. Further, explanatory assertions based on the premise of organizational
intentionality tend to distract attention from patterns of behavior rooted in intraorganizational
conflict.
Philosophers of science have endorsed the ancient maxim that you can't beat something with
nothing. In the words of Lakatos: "[A]n objective
reason [to abandon an existing scientific research
program] is provided by a rival research programme which explains the previous success of
its rival and supersedes it by a further display of
heuristic power" (1970, p. 155, emphasis deleted).
The coactivational view provides an alternative
to the configurational view.

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Technological and institutional constraints on


the acquisition of resources and information by
organizational actors. These constraints define
the avaiiable channels of interaction, and,
hence, iimit the range of possible structures. Ii is
vital to distinguish these exogenousiy given ruies
of the game from the decision rules of the actors,
which are the dependent variables to be explained. In practice, this distinction can be difficult to make because seemingly exogenous
"technical" constraints are sometimes imposed
on an actor through the strategic behavior of
other actors (Dow, 1985; Noble, 1984). Rules of
interaction that are institutional givens in one
analysis may be treated as endogenous structures in another, but any analysis must posit
some framework within which feasible or permissible interactions take place.
The response of the external environment to
actions by organizational participants. All organizations exchange resources and information
with their environments. Actors in the environment generally reward some actions and punish others. Environmental states often can be manipulated through strategic behavior to the advantage of particular organizational participants.
Intraorganizational decision rules cannot be explained adequately without referring to this web
of incentives, information exchanges, and power
relations that link actors with the external environment.

ences to which he is subject in making each of


these decisions" (1976, p. 37). The socialpsychological focus implicit in this approach
forced organization theorists to consider the link
between the decisions made by individual actors and the structure of the organization, a theme
later developed at length by Weick (1979).
A second crucial break with previous work
came with the emphasis on dynamic, rather than
static, modeling of organizational phenomena.
March and Simon revised classical management
theory by taking into account "contingent activities." These are activities that depend either on
information obtained from others in the organization or on signals about the external world, and
they come "with time subscripts attached" (1958,
pp. 26-29). Ultimately, this line of thought led to
computer simulations of organizations (Cohen,
1981, 1984; Cohen, March, & Olsen, 1972;
Crecine, 1969; Cyert & March, 1963) as well as
models using the mathematics of stochastic processes (Dow, 1987b; Padgett, 1980).
The coactivational view entered political
science through the studies of federal and local
budgeting processes conducted by secondgeneration researchers at Carnegie (e.g.,
Crecine, 1969, and Gerwin, 1969) who built on
the earlier work of Wildavsky (1964). Since then,
the insights of these authors have been absorbed
into the mainstream of theoretical and empirical
work on public sector budgeting (Danziger, 1978,
chaps. 6-7). TTie Carnegie school also influenced the study of foreign policy decision making (Allison, 1971, chaps. 3-4; Steinbruner, 1974,
chap. 3).
Important economic contributions to the coactivational view were made by Nelson and Winter (1982, chap. 5); they argued that decisionmaking routines provide the basis for organizational continuity over time, and that evolutionary
forces select from among alternative structures
on the basis of the profitability of the firm. Some
elements of transaction cost economics, especially Williamson's (1985, pp. 20-22) emphasis
on the decision procedures used by transacting
parties in adapting to changing circumstances,
also have a coactivational flavor (Dow, 1987a).

Intellectual Genealogy
Among U.S. writers, the coactivational view
received its first clear formulation in the works of
Cyert and March (1963), March and Simon (1958),
and Simon (1976), a group often labeled the
Carnegie school, although Barnard (1938) and
the human relations school also were significant
in its development. The fundamental difference
between the Carnegie school and classical theory was the former's elevation of individual decision making to a paramount analytic position.
At an early stage, Simon argued that a scientifically relevant description of an organization
"designates for each person in the organization
what decision that person makes and the influ57

Marschak and Radner's (1972) theory of teams


explicitly modeled organizations as communication networks in which the flow of messages is
governed by consistent decision rules. Radner
(1972, pp. 177-188) also proposed a gametheoretic extension of the theory of teams to account for intraorganizational conflict, and he
gave the bounded rationality precepts of the Carnegie school a precise mathematical formulation (Radner, 1975a, 1975b). Of related interest
are the efforts of game theorists to anchor conventional solution concepts either to underlying
processes of adaptive learning (Crawford, 1985;
Schotter, 1981) or to natural selection (Axelrod,
1984; Friedman & Rosenthal, 1985).
Examples of coactivational analysis from outside the United States include Giddens' theory of
structuration, in which the structural properties
of collectivities are "rules and resources recursively implicated in the reproduction of social
systems" (1979, p. 64), and Crozier and Friedberg's conception of formal structure as "a provisional codification of a state of equilibrium among
opposing strategies of power" (1980, p. 61). These
ideas are particularly relevant to questions of
power and intentionality.
Hierarchy and Power in Coactivational Thought
Giddens provided the foundation for a coactivational interpretation of power relations among
organizational actors: "The notion of human action logically implies that of power, understood
as transformative capacity: 'action' only exists
when an agent has the capability of intervening,
or refraining from intervening, in a series of
events so as to be able to influence their course"
(1979, p. 256). As Giddens pointed out, if one
uses this definition, power may or may not be
consciously exercised. One's power is determined solely by the potential impact of one's actions on subsequent events, regardless of whether or not these repercussions are intended.
Viewed from the coactivational perspective.
Actor A's power hinges on the decision rules
used by other actors and, hence, on organiza-

58

tional structure because the decision rules of others partially determine the consequences of his
or her actions. Therefore, to study power relations one must examine the opportunities that a
given structure of interaction affords each actor
to alter the behavior of other actors and the distribution of resources among them (Mackenzie,
1986; Ranson, Hinings, & Greenwood, 1980). In
particular, if one actor's behavior is unilaterally
conditioned by the decisions of another, an authority structure can be inferred (Dow, 1987b);
complex hierarchies are characterized by nested
power asymmetries of this type.
Systematic investigation of power relations
from a coactivational perspective requires knowledge of the decision rules of the actors, the available channels of resource and information
flow, and the nature of the exchanges between
the organization and its environment. Since an
actor's power is derived from his or her role in
an organizational structure, a theoretical account
of the decision rules that constitute this structure
simultaneously explains the power relations embedded in it. This broad view of power allows
one to map the power relations that arise under
unconventional forms of administration (the
labor-managed firm) or in settings devoid of formal hierarchy (relations of bargaining or market
exchange).
Economists often are uncomfortable with the
idea of intraorganizational power because it runs
counter to the usual assumption that market competition eviscerates any potential bargaining
power an organizational actor might seek to
exercise. However, this conventional assumption
becomes untenable if some actors control idiosyncratic physical or informational resources that
cannot be replicated on comparable terms in
the external market. The advocates of transaction cost economics have argued convincingly
that instances of asset idiosyncrasy are commonplace; indeed, they also help to explain the very
existence of business firms in a market economy
(Williamson, 1985). Accordingly, intraorganizational power relations are partially insulated from

the discipline of the market, even where the external market has a competitive structure (Dow,
1985, in press).

approach have gazed upon ideas of collective


purpose with profound suspicion. Giddens, for
example, declared that "social systems have no
purposes, reasons or needs whatsoever; oniy human individuals do so. Any explanation of social reproduction which imputes teleology to social systems must be declared invalid" (1979, p.
7, emphasis in original). Crozier and Friedberg
held that "we cannot speak of an organization's
rationality and objectives as though they existed
in themselves, apart from and above the individuals and groups who embody them in their
strategies and behavior" (1980, p. 46).
Therefore, it is somewhat surprising to find that
Cyert and March regarded their theory as "predicated on the essential purposiveness of the
firm" (1963, p. 44). However, the Carnegie tradition derives organizational goals by treating the
aspiration level of each subunit as a constraint
on the choice of organizational policies, so that
any policy satisfying all such constraints is said
to satisfy the "organizational" aspiration level
(Cyert & March, 1963, chap. 3; Simon, 1964). Because organizational goals are merely an aggregate of disparate individual goals, real purposiveness at the organizational level of analysis is
absent.
In any event, the technique of superimposing
diverse subunii aspiration levels breaks down
for more complex goal structures. Indeed, Arrow (1963) showed that when individual preference orderings are unrestricted there is no general way to aggregate these goals to obtain a
consistent collective preference ordering or social welfare function. If individual goals can be
expressed in terms of a common medium of
exchange, such as money, tlien it is arguably
an "organizational goal" to maximize the size of
the collective pie prior to its division among
individuals. However, even in this special case
distributional issues can be settled only by recourse to shared norms of justice or the use of
power.
In short, the notion of collective purpose is excess baggage for coactivational theory. Abandoning this concept in no way precludes interesting explanations of organizational structure.

Role of Intentionality in Coactivational Thought


That power need not be exercised intentionally raises larger questions: How much intentionality lies behind the decision rules of an individual actor, and how much purposiveness should
be imputed to the organization as a collectivity?
At the level of the individual actor, any of the
following views would appear to be compatible
with the coactivational view.
Hypercognition (the von Neumann actor). Decision rules are consciously chosen strategies that
maximize the expected utility of the agent, given
the rules of the game and the strategies being
used by other actors. Predicted structures are
derived by applying a suitable game-theoretic
solution concept, such as Nash equilibrium (Dow,
1987b; Radner, 1972).
Bounded cognition (the Simon actor). Actors
are "intendedly rational, but only limitedly so"
(Simon, 1976, p. xxviii); they cannot anticipate all
of the consequences that flow from using a given
decision rule. The problem of calculating consequences is truncated by satisficing, adopting a
myopic planning horizon, and using simple
search heuristics to modify unsatisfactory decision rules.
SubcogniWon (the Skinner actor). Decision rules
are shaped by operant conditioning mechanisms
of which the actor may be entirely unaware.
Structures arise spontaneously as a result of reciprocal behavior modification within interacting
groups.
ITie loaded term rationality was avoided in
the preceding paragraphs because here, the theoretical issue at stake is simply the degree to
which foresight determines decision rules. In particular cases, the choice among hypercognitive,
boundedly cognitive, or subcognitive models will
be governed by criteria of theoretical tractability,
empirical adequacy, and personal taste.
While coactivational theory can maintain an
eclectic stance toward intentionality at the individual level, many writers sympathetic to this
59

flicting aims of individual actors. Thus, the coactivational view demands an invisible hand explanation of organizational structure.
The concept of an invisible hand is derived
from Adam Smith's (1974) idea that market forces
could yield a coherent allocation of resources
without deliberate guidance from any economic
actor. In the present context, no connotations of
economic efficiency or social harmony are intended. Simply, the point is that often one can
explain patterns of social behavior as the unplanned outcomes of processes of social interaction (UUmann-Margalit, 1978),
An invisible hand approach at the social level
of analysis is logically compatible with an intentionalist view of individual behavior (Schelling,
1978); modem microeconomic theory provides the
most highly elaborated instance of such a blend.
Also, although invisible hand theories can have
functionalist overtones, as in economic models
of perfect competition and in some interpretations of evolutionary biology (Elster, 1983, chap,
2), they need not. Thus, theories of this type offer
an escape from the quicksands of functionalist
organization theory (Burrell & Morgan, 1979,
chap, 5), The game-theoretic concept of Nash
equilibrium, for example, constitutes an invisible hand model of social interaction in the sense
that the equilibrium position of the game is not
directly dictated by any single player. In prisoners' dilemma situations, a Nash equilibrium
can prove socially disastrous (Axelrod, 1984),
The clash between visible and invisible hand
perspectives is illustrated through controversies
about corporate culture, A configurational approach encourages the belief that top managers
can and should engineer an effective organizational culture, much as they engineer the coordination of work tasks more generally. This proposition is endorsed to varying degrees by the
contributors to a volume of readings on the topic,
titled Gaining Control of the Corporate Culture
(Kilmann, Saxton, Serpa, & Associates, 1986),
On the other hand, the coactivational view
stresses the idea that shared beliefs and values,
like the patterns of behavior fhey support, emerge
from processes of social interaction in which top

because game-theoretic equilibrium concepts, interactive learning processes, and evolutionary


selection mechanisms all remain as viable explanatory frameworks. In none of these frameworks are organizational structures directly chosen by any specific actor or coalition, much less
by the organizafion as a whole. Even if organizational behavior seems to be rationalizable
in terms of some imputed collective goal
(McFadden, 1975, 1976), such goals can be regarded as entirely epiphenomenal; they are a
reflection of structure, rather than its cause.

Visible and Invisible Hands


All theories of organizational structure are an
attempt to understand patterns of social interaction. The two perspectives described in this paper support dramatically different styles of explanatory theory. For example, the two perspectives involve significantly different commitments
regarding the subjective or objective nature of
social reality, and disagree over the relative importance of social conflict and integration (Burrell
& Morgan, 1979), For present purposes, however,
the key area of contrast involves a distinction
between intentionalist "visible hand" and interactionist "invisible hand" explanations of social
structure,
Configurational theory posits a visible hand of
authority which shapes structure fn the service
of shared objectives, A structure is explained by
showing that it enables an organizational designer to accomplish certain tasks in a given
environment. In coactivational theory, on the
other hand, structure is seen as a joint product of
various interlocking decision rules or strategies
adopted by individual actors. Thus, the coactivational view explains structure by explaining how
these rules arose and why they remain viable
for the actors who employ them.
Due to conflicts of interest, observed patterns
of interaction do not reflect fully the desires of
any single actor. Therefore, it is necessary to
decipher the processes operating at fhe social
level of analysis which mediate (perhaps only
incompletely and temporarily) among the con60

management is only one player among many.


Culture in this view is not an object open to
deliberate, unilateral choice by any single participantas Riley (1983, p, 418) puts it, culture
"should not be analyzed as something an organization has, it should be analyzed as part of what
the organization is,"
At a deeper level, the coactivational view
questions whether any tacit organization-wide
consensus on fundamental values and beliefs
actually exists, just as it doubts the axiom of
shared organizational purposes, Schein poinfed
out that within a given organization one may
find "a managerial culture, various occupationally based cultures in functional units, group cultures based on geographical proximity, worker
cultures based on shared hierarchical experiences, and so on" (1986, p, 7), Organizations
often are multicultural (Gregory, 1983), and they
may exhibit conflicts between an "official" managerial culture and various other cultures. Therefore, it is important to stress that coactivational
studies of structure do not hinge on the existence
of a common culture; as Barley stated, "behavioral regularity is a necessary, but not sufficienf, condition for fhe explication of a cultural
understanding" (1983, p, 398), Even in a social
system wracked by open warfare or class conflict,
the structure of behavioral interaction between
the warring camps could still be analyzed.
The development of configurational ideas by
the classical managemenf theorists coincided

with the emergence of what Wren (1979, chap,


16) terms a top management viewpoint in organization theory, Configurational prescriptions tend
to be of value primarily to managers of formal
work organizations in which either (a) no significant intraorganizational conflicts exist, or (b)
power asymmetries are substantial, so that managers can shape the behavior of subordinates
with little or no concern for the reciprocal exercise of power by actors with opposing interests.
The coactivational affinity for invisible hand
explanations limits the prescriptions that can be
derived from it because prescription inevitably
involves intentionality. However, the outlines of
a prescriptive coactivational theory can be
sketched. Any organizational actor, whether
CEO or production worker, has an interest in
discovering how changes in the behavior of other
actors or the environment can be induced by
feasible modifications in that actor's own decision rules. This search for strategies capable of
redirecting organizational events is precisely a
search for previously unrecognized sources of
organizational power. Thus, coactivational prescriptions can help specific actors make their latent power manifest, in order to advance their
interests. The resulting struggle between the invisible hands which have shaped our historically given structures and the visible hands working to transform them provides much of the
drama to be found in the modern world.

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1537-1568,

Gregory K. Dow (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is


Associate Professor of Economics in the Department
of Economics, University of Alberta. Correspondence
regarding this article should be sent to Gregory K.
Dow, 8-26 Tory Building, Department of Economics,
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H4
Canada.
This paper has been improved substantially by comments and criticism from Charles Perrow, Oliver Williamson, and Paul DiMaggio. The author also acknowledges the pervasive influence of Sidney Winter
and Richard Nelson, though these colleagues bear no
responsibility for the unintended consequences of their
remarks.

64