What B would otherwise do: A critique of conceptualizations of 'power' in organizational theory

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The paper presents a critique of organizational theories that is based upon Robert Dahl's famous definition: 'A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do'. This definition highlights the fact that appreciating 'power' often demands knowledge not only about what B does but also about what B would otherwise do. Organizational theorists, it is argued, lacked such knowledge. Instead, they relied upon untested and ideologically biased assumptions concerning what B would otherwise do. Reviewing major conceptualizations of power in organizational theory, the paper unravels and categorizes six underlying assumptions of this sort. Then it goes on to promote an alternative, empirically-grounded and emically-oriented strategy for dealing with this issue. This strategy, it is argued, offers a new and less problematic research path with which to pursue the different theoretical interests in the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)771-800
Number of pages30
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
, in J. Hearn , D. L. Sheppard , P. Tancred-Sherrif and G. Burrell (eds) The Sexuality of Organization , pp. 158 - 177 . London : Sage . Rantalaiho, L. and Heiskanen, T. , eds ( 1997 ) Gendered Practices in Working Life . New York, NY : St. Martin’s Press . Roethlisberger, F. J. and Dickson, W. J. ( 1939 ) Management and the Worker: An Account of a Research Program Conducted by the Western Electric Company, Hawthorne Works, Chicago . Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press . Rothchild, J. and Miethe, T. D. ( 1994 )


  • Organizational theory
  • Power
  • Resistance


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