Brayden King. Breaking the Machine: Social Movement Disruption and Authority Erosion in Organizations

Monday, October 6, 2014 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall
Breaking the Machine: Social Movement Disruption and Authority Erosion in Organizations
Authority is a key feature of organizations that enables their stability and reproduction, and yet we know surprisingly little about how systems of authority are maintained or erode.  Most conceptualizations of authority are overly-structural and mechanistic and do not allow for the possibility of endogenous disruption to authority. We examine the process through which authority erosion occurs through a historical analysis of the Free Speech Movement that occurred on the University of California, Berkeley campus in the fall of 1964. Using primary and secondary sources about the Berkeley administration’s decision-making around the response to the FSM, we find that the FSM’s disruption of key practices eroded campus authority, making it possible for faculty coalitions to emerge and assert control over university governance and making the university more malleable to radical change.  We find that authority is reproduced through practices that highlight hierarchical consistency, functionality, and appropriateness of the existing hierarchical and rule system. Inasmuch as challengers are able to disrupt those practices, the cognitive authority of the organization - the shared belief among an organization’s constituents in the rightness of an organization’s governance system – is undermined.

Brayden King is an associate professor of Management and Organizations and is also affiliated with the Department of Sociology at Northwestern University. His research focuses on how social movement activists influence corporate social responsibility, organizational change, and legislative policymaking. He received his PhD in sociology from the University of Arizona in 2005.