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Authority’s hidden networks Relations of authority, obligations and roles EPFL-Reading workshop Centre for Social and Organisational Studies Dr Ismael.

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Presentation on theme: "Authority’s hidden networks Relations of authority, obligations and roles EPFL-Reading workshop Centre for Social and Organisational Studies Dr Ismael."— Presentation transcript:

1 Authority’s hidden networks Relations of authority, obligations and roles EPFL-Reading workshop Centre for Social and Organisational Studies Dr Ismael Al-Amoudi University of Reading and EPFL

2 The gist of the argument Central question: what are the relations between authority and social roles and networks? Part I: disambiguating Weber’s conception of authority  Is authority a probability? An attribute? A relation? Part II: How do the concepts of authority, legitimacy and obligation relate? Part III: Authority and social roles: through what processes do they constitute one another? Part IV: Authority’s hidden networks: which social relations should we include in the picture?

3 Weber’s conception(s) of authority Authority defined as legitimate domination (ES: 215) ‘A. “Power” (Macht) is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests. B. “Domination” (Herrschaft) is the probability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons.’ (ES: 53) CONT’D

4 Weber’s conception(s) of authority Legitimacy defined: ‘An order which is adhered to from motives of pure expediency is generally much less stable than one upheld on a purely customary basis through the fact that the corresponding behaviour has become habitual. The latter is much the most common type of subjective attitude. But even this type of order is in turn much less stable than an order which enjoys the prestige of being considered binding, or, as it may be expressed, of “legitimacy”’ (ES: 31) Bullen (1987): Weber distinguishes between Legitimate entities/actions Illegitimate entities/actions Non-legitimate entities/actions

5 Beyond Weber: four theses on authority 1)Authority is a circular relation (of legitimate power) -NOT substance, personal attribute, probability, situation -NOT sheer violence or passivity 2) Legitimacy is a matter of permission -Only indirectly a matter of obligation -The distinction illegitimate vs non-legitimate features is not primitive -What is the ontological relation between legitimacy, permission and obligation? 3) Relation between people personifying social roles -Not merely relation between persons 4) Depends on a non-formalised network of role-models - Whose legitimacy is being sought by agents?

6 Authority is a circular relation (of power) Weber conceives domination (thus authority) as a relation But he downplays its circularity Ontological oscilation: substance, situation, probability Another approach Authority is a relation Any social relation is a relation of power Both parties are subject to the relation of power Unlike sheer violence, social relations of power presuppose the reflexivity of all parties  Authority is a relation of power characterised by its legitimacy for those parties involved –The commander, the doctor, the teacher need the comitment of the soldier, the patient, the student

7 Legitimacy, permission, obligation Example of beer drinking in first Occupy Geneva’s assemblies Weber would say: not legitimate though not illegitimate Contradicts common understanding If legitimacy is a matter of permission How can we express it in terms of obligations? Common understanding: X is legitimate  it is forbidden to forbid X Moreover: X is forbidden  one has an obligation to refrain from X Hence: X is legitimate  forbidding X is not legitimate  refraining from forbidding X is obligatory Conversely: Y is obligatory  refraining from Y is not legitimate  forbidding to refrain from Y is legitimate CONT’D

8 Legitimacy, permission, obligation Implications for our study of authority 1)Authority is a relation of power which participants have an obligation to refrain from negating  This obligation can only be questioned on the basis of other deeper obligations that parties recognise 2) Network features hidden to Weber: social feature X is legitimate for an ego iff there is an alter (real or imagined) who permits X  Central case: people imagine another who judges the legitimacy according to the basic principles of the whole community.  Limit case: the same person does both X and legitimates it (though in turns and through time)

9 The continuity of obligations Obligations are relatively continuous over time Example of promise to meet a friend in the pub every Wednesday Personal realm: stop drinking Social realm: relation with friend gets sour Cultural realm: pubs replaced with Skype In the social realm, obligations are constitutive of social roles Not all obligations are social Interpersonal obligation: concern with my friend’s welfare Social obligation: when my status as friend is threatened

10 The mutual constitution of social obligations and roles Import 1: if roles are excluded from the picture, risk of interpreting normative commitments in terms of personal attributes or position in a network Eg. a professional commitment comes on the way of the pub meeting –not explainable merely in terms of personal integrity or N pub meetings over past 2 years. Import 2: Study morphogenesis of social roles and relations between them Rather than mere re-configurations of relations between individuals  Pbm: ≠ conceptions of roles in the litterature

11 The notion of role in network theory Emphasis on transactions in which actors engage regularly Position: set of actors who have similar relations to all other actors in the network Role: set of those relations (as opposed to individual actors who occupy them) Questions pending Q1: Are positions of the same nature as persons? Q2: Are roles defined exclusively by those transactions they entail? Otherwise, what is missing? Q3: Can there be roles without some form of recognition by those occupying them? Q4: Are roles occupied by the mere fact of transacting with others? (or is it a fragile and incomplete accomplishment)

12 Actors and roles in realist theorising Agents: creative actions within a collectivity Actors: identification with particular roles. Personify rather than animate. Agents become actors through an internal conversation Reflect on past experiences in natural, social and practical realms Picking-up a role Reflect on constraints and opportunities offered by the role in light of their other concerns Answer to Q1: roles ≠ persons, though dialectically related Answer to Q4: occupation of role never immediate fragile result of agents’ attempts at personifying it while taking into account totality of their concerns CONT’D

13 Actors and roles in realist theorising Answer to Q2: roles constituted by bundles of obligations, vested interests, penalties and rewards Regular transactions are not essential to roles… Though usually necessary to the maintenance of roles over time Answer to Q3: social role ≠ social position People may be unaware of their vested interests, obligations, regularities of practice, etc. But can’t ignore whether they’re occupying a certain role Illustration from morphogenesis of educational systems (Archer 2000: 286) Positions: «believer», «nouveau riche», «radical» Roles: teachers, administrators, inspectors, Ministers

14 Rôle-taking, internal conversation and authority Rôle-taking (Mead 1934): ‘assuming the attitude of the other individual as well as calling it out in the other’ Internal conversation implies: ‘I’, ‘Me’ but also a ‘You’ whose plausible reactions are anticipated A person issuing a judgment (of legitimacy) takes into account the reactions of those to whom it is addressed Authority’s hidden network: those ‘Yous’ who are taken into account when people engage in relations of authority Either to justify them or to criticise them

15 Tracing authority’s hidden networks Occupying a role presupposes a network that spans beyond the organisation where it takes place formally Network theorists eminently aware of the difficulties of specifying the boundaries of those networks they analyse A few directions stemming from our ontological investigation 1/ Specific attention must be directed to participants’ belief in legitimacy Attitudes rather than patterns of actions Since relations are complex: examine which aspects +/- legitimate 2/ Specific attention must be dedicated to social roles Interviews exploring roles in which each participant engages Conflicts between roles and their accommodation How much of their personal identity are participants ready to invest in their roles CONT’D

16 Tracing authority’s hidden networks 3/ Contours of the network of authority shall consider rôle-taking Visible network of authority –regular transactions of participants –Roles and internal relations (eg. convenor/member of audience) Hidden network of authority –Rôle-models, real or imaginary… –… Whose attitudes are generalised and transposed by actors 4/ Interrogate participants’ past experiences Socialisation neither immediate nor automatic Empirical question: how did participants learn to interact within those relations of authority they must face in their activity? Seek answers re. past professional experiences; social milieu; university training; childhood experiences of family, friendship, hardship

17 Expected pay-offs and limitations Pay-off of such approach to authority Thick description of relations of authority Maps that may include surprising participants –esp. rôle-models Tracing the morphogenesis of new relations of authority –Rather than mere re-configurations of inter-individual relations Obvious limitations of an approach that focuses on ego networks Impossible to map an entire network exclusively Mathematical crunching unlikely –Researchers have to admit the arbitrariness of boundary settings


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