15.342J | Fall 2004 | Graduate

Organizations and Environments


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Objectives and Organization

The goal of this doctoral course is to familiarize students with major conceptual frameworks, debates, and developments in contemporary organization theory. This is an inter-disciplinary domain of inquiry drawing primarily from sociology, and secondarily from economics, psychology, anthropology, and political science. The course focuses on inter-organizational processes, and also addresses the economic, institutional and cultural contexts that organizations must face.

This is an introduction to a vast and multifaceted domain of inquiry. Due to time limitations, this course will touch lightly on many important topics, and neglect others entirely; its design resembles more a map than an encyclopedia. Also, given the focus on theoretical matters, methodological issues will move to the background. Empirical material will be used to illustrate how knowledge is produced from a particular standpoint and trying to answer particular questions, leaving the bulk of the discussion on quantitative and qualitative procedures to seminars such as 15.347, 15.348, and the like.

The course is structured in four parts. The first one (classes 1-3) looks at some broad historical and contemporary developments in both organizations and organization theory. The second part (classes 4-7) concentrates on the conceptual frameworks dominant during the last decades, from structural contingency theory to organizational ecology. The third section (classes 8 and 9) examines two issues of organizational life that have been relatively under-explored in contemporary organizational theory: the use of technology and the dynamics of professional work. The fourth part (classes 10 and 11) will be devoted to students’ presentations of their ideas for their term paper projects (see Evaluation, Term paper below).


Class Participation

Note:  This element of the evaluation draws from the section on “Course Culture and Pedagogy” in the syllabus of the class “Organization Theory” taught by Professor Heather Haveman at Columbia University in Spring 2000.

20% of the grade. This course is organized as a seminar; thus your co-operation and willingness to participate actively are critical for creating the best learning environment. Come to class prepared to answer the following questions regarding each of the readings:

  • What is the basic argument, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • If you disagree with the argument, what would it take to convince you?
  • Under what circumstances and for what kinds of organizations is the argument meant to apply?
  • What changes would be necessary to extend the argument to other empirical domains?
  • What are the similarities and differences between this argument and others put forward by readings in the same and in previous weeks? and
  • What, if any, alternative explanations could account for the empirical material?

Learning is a collective enterprise, so everybody will benefit from an engaged, intense, and constructive conversation.

Brief Weekly Memos

Note:  This element of the evaluation draws from the section on “Course Requirements” in the syllabus of the class “Seminar in Organization Theory” taught by Professor Walter Powell at Stanford University in Fall 2000.

40% of the grade. You will be asked to write concise memos relating to the reading for each week (except for the first memo, due one day before week 2, which should discuss readings for weeks 1 and 2). Maximum length of the memos is 700 words; memos exceeding this word limit will be returned for revision. Different formats could be used, but it is useful to include items such as:

  • Ideas and arguments found stimulating,
  • Questions, concerns and disagreements with the main claims of each text, and
  • Connections, similarities and differences among the various texts.

Memos will be due by noon on the Sunday prior to each class. Send them to me via email as both part of the body of the message and as an attachment.

Term Paper

40% of the grade. You will be asked to write a paper discussing at least one of the frameworks or issues addressed during the course. The maximum length of the paper is 6,000 words, including references, figures, tables and notes. Papers exceeding this word limit will be returned for revision. The paper can take any number of formats, including:

  • A literature review of any of the frameworks or issues discussed in the course,
  • A theoretical piece linking two or more of the frameworks and issues,
  • The conceptual part of a research design (for the second-year paper, dissertation proposal, etc.), and
  • An empirical piece examining new material or re-interpreting already collected data.

To help you in the research and writing for this assignment, it will be structured in the following steps:

  • Before lecture 6: Meet with me to discuss possible topics. 
  • Lecture 9: A 2-page outline of the paper is due (send it via email to me as both part of the body of the message and as an attachment).
  • One week after lecture 11: The final paper is due at noon (leave a hard copy in my mailbox, and send me an electronic copy via email attachment).

Note: The weekly memos and the term paper should be prepared in accordance with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association:

American Psychological Association Staff. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association_,_ 1994. ISBN: 1557982414.

In a nutshell, evaluation for the course would be as follows:

Class Participation 20%
Weekly Memos 40%
Term Paper 40%

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2004