Göran Ahrne. Photo: Leila Zoubir/Stockholm University
Göran Ahrne. Photo: Leila Zoubir/Stockholm University

– One purpose of the book is to explain why different combinations of organizational elements arise and what dynamics characterize changes in such combinations, says Göran Ahrne, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Stockholm University. He has edited the book together with Nils Brunsson, Uppsala University.

In formal organizations such as companies, political parties or government agencies, all organizational elements occur together. Outside organizations they can also occur individually or in combinations containing only a few organizational elements; thus, partial organization.

For example, there can be membership without rules or hierarchy and there can be monitoring that does not require membership. There can also be sanctions that are not accompanied by membership or monitoring.

– The book includes close to thirty researchers from Sweden, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. In different chapters, they investigate the existence of partial organization in many different contexts and why organizers sometimes prefer partial over formal organization, says Göran Ahrne.

Organization is understood as decisions for others, he explains. Characteristic of such decisions is that they constitute choices between different alternatives and are therefore often also questioned. There is always someone who is responsible for a decision. Decisions for others are attempts to get others to do things in a certain way, but it is not uncommon for such attempts to fail.

Examples of phenomena characterized by partial organization are standardization, prizes (such as the Nobel Prize), certification, markets, but also families are partially organized to varying degrees.

– Social movements are often partially organized and collective action on the Internet is to a large extent partially organized. An example that is analyzed in the book is the movement Anonymous. There is also a chapter that analyzes digital marketplaces online like Lyft and Airbnb, says Göran Ahrne.

Another chapter by Göran Ahrne and Amir Rostami, also from the Department of Sociology, examines how organized crime is often based on partial organization. Networks are often partially organized; in one chapter different forms of partial organization are analyzed in so-called inter-firm networks. Mikaela Sundberg, docent at the Department of Sociology, also contributes with a chapter on brotherhood.

More about the research

Ahrne, Göran, Nils Brunsson, (Eds.). (2019). "Organization outside Organizations: The Abundance of Partial Organization in Social Life." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/9781108604994