Dr. Emmanuel Lazega – Combinations of Bureaucracy and Collegiality in the Building of Networks to Regulate and Share in Commons

December 12, 2016

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Published in 2016

Emmanuel Lazega is currently a faculty member at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and a member of the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations at SciencePo. His research focuses on organizational and social networks analysis as a means to explain collective action. He holds a PhD in economic and social sciences from the University of Geneva (1988) and has been active academically for at least 30 years.

The field of Sociology of organizations uses network analysis to study organizations. In particular, they take interest in organizations that rely on networks and relationships to manage collective action. These organizations are called collegial organizations. They organize collective action among peers; therefore they need relationships to allow coordination. That’s where networks come in. Dr. Lazega extends this analysis to issues of participation and governance in markets and looks at institutions that allow business to regulate itself, regulate markets, and sometimes regulate society.

When thinking about bureaucracy, it is common to come up with terms such as routine work, impersonal relationships, and hierarchy. On the other end, the concepts associated with the organizational form that collegiality is today are collective responsibility, consensus building, personalized relationships and creativity. Nonetheless, collegiality makes use of personalized relationships as management tools. Dr. Lazega underlines that it’s very important to clarify that collegiality is not necessarily congeniality. Individuals take advantage of the relationships they have built among their peers to promote their interests as collective priorities.

How does your research contribute to the study of the forms of organization today?

My contribution is about analyzing organizations and collective action using network analysis where it’s relevant. It is relevant in many areas, in particular in the management of organizations that are bureaucratic and collegial at the same time, in areas of economic sociology and business where organizations need to participate in collective action in which they’re in a certain position of weakness or strength. For example, I’m interested in the analysis of local or national organizations that try to participate and have a role in global value chains, which is a very difficult thing to do. Many fail, most fail. Why? That is what we try to figure out. These are issues that you deal with when you study networks in the way I study them. Participation among peers, collective action among peers is a topic that you can observe in different fields. So it’s maybe surprising to see comparisons between Catholic dioceses and commercial courts, which is what I do in the paper I’m presenting today. But when you do network analysis, you’re able to create that kind of shortcut. We have 15 case studies. We do this with theoretical questions in mind about how bureaucracy is combined with teams and personal relationships within them, which is why networks are such important structures to look at closely.

In practical terms, how do you explain the importance of that combination and the study of networks?

Today's bureaucracies, especially huge multinational bureaucracies, but also national and local ones, are routinizing and standardizing the world and overexploiting it. The UN proposed to call 2012 the year of the cooperatives. Why? Because people, countries and organizations are looking for ways of managing resources that are more sustainable, otherwise we're in big trouble. The idea of having to manage common-pool resource institutions -this is the word that Elinor Ostrom used to talk about the commons- is an important idea. I think the collegial model that I will be presenting is the organizational model for the managing of cooperatives and commons. Therefore, one way of looking at sustainable development is thinking about what are the conditions for collegial organizations to survive, to grow and to spread and to manage themselves in a sustainable way. Business has been very successful at “participating” in its own regulation because if you are not at the table, you are on the menu; and I look into such skills. I will give the example of commercial courts in France that deal with bankruptcies and contracts. Another example will be the Unified Patent Court in Europe that is just being created now in January 2017. With some colleagues, I carried out a network study of each of these institutions.

Can this type of analysis help us better deal with the issues of development in this hemisphere, particularly in Latin America?

I believe that when you have actors who try to participate in some kind of collective action and they don’t have the skills or the relationships to do this, then you have a problem. Such processes are collegial, and potentially very exclusive. People who work and live in a collegial environment already have this skills and relationships and use them. So maybe it could be helpful to use some of the insights that we produce when we talk about collegiality and commons, to apply them to areas of development, of political change. With this in mind, people who are excluded from collective action -there are many, many of them in all sorts of areas, like the economic and the political areas – could perhaps benefit from thinking about hoy collective action among peers works.

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