Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Musings 194: Revolutions from above or within

Monday Musings 194: Revolutions from above or within

The notion of a revolution is quite a romantic one. The Arab spring, the south East Asian uprisings and closer home the AAP juggernaut appears to be cut from the same cloth - the revolution that was murmuring a while ago but simmered soon, only to erupt one fine day. Across histories the notion of revolution comes along with the narrative of popular discontent reaching a stage where it is difficult for the powers to be to hold on to the status quo any further. 

Dipankar Gupta in his book 'Revolution from above' argues that that "at every historical juncture when democracy made significant advances, it was the citizen elite or the elite of calling who led the charge often going against the grain of popular demands and sentiments". I was just past the preface when it struck me that how does this sociological theory pans out in modern organizations. The notion that the elite, often the beneficiaries of the status quo in a system bring forth reforms that furthers the cause of progress and emancipation in a democratic society is borne out time and again - I am sure I will read about it as I progress in the book. How does it play in organizations?

Does an elite in modern organizations, who hold the seat of power and influence go about furthering their own self interest, reinforce their power structures or do they systematically go about bringing down structures that have outlived their utility, are harmful to the future readiness of an organization, even if it means this will weaken their own turf. Do organizations have such reformist idealism? Do organizations offer space for such reformist zeal? Most critically, do organizations tolerate such reformist initiative?

In the Industrial relations space, puritanically speaking at least, the trade union movement still allowed negotiations to better the system. However in the white collared world, it is the secular forces of systems and processes which are supposed to make the system self correcting. However these systems, non-human as they are, are subject to the usual machinations at the hands of the person who controls it. It that elite wants, it shall reform - however if that elite does not want, then god bless the system. 

Organizations are usually political spaces where competing worldviews, views and interests vie for legitimacy, validation and survival. They are fuelled by intelligence and analysis but are always subject to human failings. Ultimately pure rationality is a myth. There is a lot of premium that is put on judgment of leaders - and who is to say in the extreme short run if a decision is governed by pure objectivity or colored by the person involved. Would reforms be pushed by the elite in modern organizations if at the end the system is strengthened but leaves him without power or the strapping’s of it? Quite unlikely - would be the common responses. 

If this is true, does it mean that sociologically speaking, organizations are far less evolved than society at large in its instinct to better itself - an orangutan amidst Homo sapiens!!


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