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In Annual Review of Sociology, 25 (1999): 271-305.THE DARK SIDE OF ORGANIZATIONS:MISTAKE, MISCONDUCT, AND DISASTERINTRODUCTIONWeber warned that a society dominated by organizations imbued with legal-rational authority would suffer negative consequences. Tracing that historictransformation, Coleman (1974) affirmed Weberian pessimism. He observed thatthis change altered social relations: Individuals not only interacted withindividuals as before, but also they interacted with organizations, andorganizations interacted with other organizations. Coleman's primary insight wasthat this structural transformation produced both perceived and real loss of powerfor individuals. But the rise of formal organizations also wrought new possibilitiesfor adverse societal consequences as a result of mistake, misconduct, and disaster.Surprisingly, these harmful actions and the extensive social costs to the public -the dark side of organizations - are not claimed as central to the domain ofsociologists who define their specialization as Organizations, Occupations, andWork, although prima facie, they would appear to fall within it. Organizationalsociologists have affirmed that formal organizations can deviate from therationalist expectations of the Weberian model; also, the pathologies that harmmembers are part of mainstream organization theory. But only recently havetextbooks included harmful outcomes and organizational pathologies thatadversely affect the public (Perrow 1986, Hall 1996, Scott 1998), and collectionsaddressed failure, crime, and deviance in and by organizations (Anheier 1996,Bamberger & Sonnenstuhl 1998, Hodson & Jensen 1999).Ironically, many organizational sociologists have been working on the dark
side for a long time, as this essay will show. Moreover, scholars in MedicalSociology, Deviance and Social Control, and the Sociology of Science, Technology,and Risk have studied mistake, misconduct, and disaster produced in and byorganizations, as have scholars in other disciplines. The irony here is that welearn much about how things go wrong, but absent the tools of organizationtheory, the full set of socially organized circumstances that produce these harmfuloutcomes remains obscure. Specialization within and between disciplinessegregates knowledge, with four consequences. First, the tensions and affinities inrelevant work are not visible, theoretical matters for debate have not beenidentified, and the dialogue essential to intellectual development is absent.Second, both the social origins and cumulative significance of harmfulorganizational outcomes are masked. Third, the sociological basis for policyimplications - for organizations, the public, and agents of social control - remainsunderdeveloped. Finally, a broader theoretical issue is at stake. This topic movesus away from rational choice assumptions about means-ends oriented social actiontoward explanations of socially patterned variations from that model.

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