Critique the Power of Organizations from Weberian

1 January 2017

Legitimate authority within a bureaucratic organization aims to remove the subjectivity and unpredictability of human action thus decisions are made and behaviours implemented in a calculable and measurable way. Persons in authority can manipulate persons’ to act in such a way by commands enshrined by power (Smith 1999). According to Weber’s theory prisons should run efficiently, officials following rules and supervised by officials in a higher office under the enforcement of legal authority.

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Goffman’s research on mental patients in ‘Asylums’ is at the forefront of understanding ‘total institutions’. His research gives us an insight into the world of the inmate, thus gaining an understanding of the ‘structure of the self’ and ‘mortification of the self’ in an institutional setting (1959 Goffman). Goffman identified that individuals ‘perform’ social roles, suggesting we are on stage moving from ‘back stage’ prepare and rehearsal to ‘front stage’, where we present a front and perform a role, using script, props, uniform and cues (1959 in Trevino).

He suggests that we act; as if on stage, scripts emerge, props used, uniform and so on are all part of the performance (Goffman 1959, in Trevino). In 1971 Psychologist Philip Zimbardo undertook an experiment to illustrate that prisoners and guards fall into roles. Twenty four young healthy men were chosen and indiscriminately given roles as prisoner or guard. Prisoners suffered at the hands of the few sadistic guards as they imposed humiliating and degrading punishments. Some prisoners displayed emotional distress.

The inhumane, unethical and undignified conditions was highlighted to Zimbardo by Christina Maslach a graduate student , the experiment was called off after 6 days as Zimbardo then realised it had gone too far (Zimbardo 2009). This paper attempts to elaborate on Weber and Goffman’s theories of power and authority within organizations paying particular attention to the Stanford Prison Experiment. An attempt will be made to critique and establish similarities and differences between their theories.

Weber, Power and Authority Authority can equate to power, if it is abused the consequences to the governed can led to inhumane, mortifying and degrading situations (Weber, 1968). Weber also outlines how “impersonal authority” should be maintained within the scope of legal authority and persons’ in authority exercise control within legal bounds (Morrison 2006). Impersonal authority implies that authority is not imposed on a personal level. While these two theories can contradict themselves they are equally relevant in critiquing the Stanford Prison Experiment.

This was shown by prison guard nick named ‘John Wayne’, in how he used his protected rank and authority to gain a position of social esteem using impersonal authority within the prison. It can be argued that this is a consequence of insufficient supervision from a higher official Superintendent Zimbardo or Warden Jaffe that led to abuse. However Weber’s theory on legal authority and administrative rationality dictates that depersonalization should not have occurred as the rational rules of the organization should have been followed.

A rational bureaucratic system informs people of the rules and guidelines that will govern their behaviour (Morrison, 2006). In Stanford Prison the prisoners were informed of the rules by the Warden at admission. However within this ‘rational system’ Guard Landry adds his personal element (Zimbardo, 2009), therefore internalising rules and depersonalizes his role as guard, thus Weber’s theory on impersonal authority has diminished on the first day.

The admission process into an institution is routinely followed by guidelines and procedures (Morrison, 2006) the guards give orders and the prisoners follow them, however the guards mocked the prisoners through this process thus, removes impersonal authority. Clearly Weber’s theory of a rational system incorporating impersonal authority is not sufficient to explain the events of Stanford Prison. Goffman, Power and Authority A correlation can be made between Goffman’s theory on ‘mortification of the self’ when entering some institutions, and the prisoners entering Stanford Prison.

Goffman identifies; names and titles are lost, institutional uniforms replace personal clothing, personal space is lost or disregarded, personal information discussed inappropriately and constant humiliation (1959 in Smith). The men entering Stanford Prison were fingerprinted, photographed, assigned a number, stripped naked and de-loused, personal items removed and issued with prison clothing, while the men’s’ head were not shaved they had to wear a socking to illustrate shaved head (Zimbardo, 2009).

This was the result of a deliberate policy from the Superintendent to remove any trace of individual identity (Zimbardo, 2009). Thus the power of the organization to remove the prisoner’s sense of self, when he identifies himself by number and not name. Rules were followed by the guards in the admission process as directed by the Superintendent, this correlates with Weber’s theory with senior officials giving orders and direction to lower ranking officials and the rules being followed by the governed (Morrison, 2006). The degrading and humiliating process the prisoners endured can be identified in Goffman’s theory.

As a result prisoners are now falling into their roles as they were compliant in the process of admission. The prisoners accepted this behaviour as the norm as they did not question authority. Goffman further identifies that institutions have a methodical goal to transform the inmates they control (Smith, 1999). Transformation is achieved through officials wishing to attain order as appose to the ethos of the institution. Therefore the power of the organization over inmates on entering the institution is the first reduction of the self (Goffman, 1959).

Persons’ in authority are represented in status by dress and manner. This demeanour is powerful as it demonstrates the authority or power of the person (Goffman 1959, in Branaman and Lemert). Goffman shows why his theory of ‘presentation of self in ever day life’ is relevant to the power of an organization (Goffman 1959, in Trevino). He describe his theory as a theatrical performance, we are all acting guided by settings, appearances and manners, furniture, decor and physical layout including props which guide a performance (Trevino, 2003).

The prisoners found it difficult to remove themselves from their role as they were constantly on stage and always had reminders; uniforms, chain around their ankle, setting (cell) they were constantly reminded of their status this was the implication the authoritarians wanted to inflict on the prisoners. Zimbardo identified people are actors on stage but have to be aware of the situation, taking into account who are the cast, what are the costumes and external factors (2008, Zimabrdo).

Due to no stage direction or in the case of Stanford Prison poor supervision from the ‘director’ that is Superintendent or the Warden, inaccuracies occurred in relation to abuse of power and authority over the prisoners. It can be identified the relevance of a link between Weber (1968) and Goffman (1959, in Branaman and Lemert) in relation to the recruitment of officials, both theorist give reason for officials to be recruited with a minimal qualification, training or skills.

Without the minimum training officials may work outside an impersonal system, work without ethics or conscious thus abusing authority and exercising excessive power. In addition people with a minimum qualification may have a better insight into the needs of a person and work ethically and on an impersonal basis. Conclusion To conclude in a bureaucratic organization officials remove subjective personality and therefore become impersonal by working within rules and ethics.

The guards started out with such definable goals and means however the guards internalised the rules by adding to their own role and therefore depersonalized the workplace. As a result this paper critiques Weber’s theory in that it can be argued that a hierarchal bureaucracy is helpful in explaining one goal of the prison, the subjugation and pacification of the prisoners. However Weber’s theory does not account for the manner in which the guards abandoned the very rules they were meant to uphold in achieving the aims of the organization, they allowed their own personalised subjective roles to play a part and act against the organization.

The guards ruled in a depersonalized manner, furthermore no intervention when their authority was inhumane and degrading. Goffman’s (1959) theory in regards to total institutions identifies removing a sense of self resulting in institutions gaining control over a person. Goffman (1959) identifies why control and loss of autonomy are incorporated into institutional life, it allows for little flexibility for activities, any activities are imposed by officials with depersonalized rules.

These activities are designed to suit the rational plan of the official and not the person, thus an oppressive organization. Parallels can be drawn between Stanford Prison Experiment and Abu Ghraib in 2004. In Abu Ghraib the prisoners were subjected to inhumane, degrading and physical abuse at the hands of the officials. The character we perform and our innate self are described as equate, and can be seen as something housed within (Goffman 1959, in Branaman and Lemert). This implies we are all capable of hurting others, or can we act in opposites and fall into a heroic role.

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