|Albert J. Mills and Tony Simmons. Reading Organization Theory: A Critical Approach to the Study of Organizational Behaviour and Structure. Toronto: Garamond Press, 1999, 291 pp. $28.95 paper.
Reading Organizational Theory is structured in an understandable and straight forward manner. First, Mills and Simmons discuss why a self-consciously critical approach to OT might be important. Moreover, they describe just what they mean by a 'critical approach'. Chapter 2 outlines the historical evolution of bureaucracies from pre to post Weberian times. Mills and Simmons give brief but accurate descriptions of a number of problems inherent in bureaucratic organizations, as well as exclusions within the respective literature. The importance of the managerial perspective is elaborated on in Chapter 3. It is here that the strength of the authors arguments show most clearly. The preponderance of management control systems, as well as the dominant focus on the management perspective is characterized and critiqued in this chapter. However, it is a theme that recurs throughout the text.
The social construction of organizational life and its impact on human needs and growth is examined in Chapter 4. Mills and Simmons utilize different lenses as critiques of orthodox OT. In this chapter they examine: (1) the Critical Approach (i.e., The Frankfurt School); (2) the Humanist Tradition (e.g., Chris Argyris, Abraham Maslow); (3) The Marxist Perspective; (4) Post-modern Analysis; (5) Psychoanalysis; (6) the Feminist Perspective; and (7) the Racioethnic Approach.
Chapter 5 focuses on issues of gender within organizations. The power differentials inherent in various characterizations of organizations and common practices in organizational life are examined with specific focus on gender and sexual issues commonly ignored in traditional OT. The last major issues to be discussed by Mills and Simmons are race and ethnicity. The authors provide easily understood characterizations of the differences between the two concepts and illuminate their obvious absence in orthodox OT texts. This, they note, is of particular interest given Canada's purported value of multiculturalism.
The last chapter in Reading Organization Theory ties together the critiques expressed throughout the prior six chapters. The institutionalization of the managerial perspective within orthodox OT is again discussed, and 'a call to arms' is made for a more critical perspective, or more precisely, a more critical theory in organizational theory. They suggest directions that need to be taken in order to accomplish this daunting task. However, they do not provide a foundation for this synergistic and critical responsibility.
As a supplement to orthodox texts, Reading Organization Theory might be useful. Both Mills and Simmons provide helpful lists of key words, exercises, and review questions which enable both upper-level undergraduate and Master's level students to absorb concepts such as hierarchy, bureaucracy, power, and management. These concepts are described in both positive and critical terms, providing a useful counter-point to orthodox texts used in most Business Schools. The lists of further readings for each of the seven chapters, although far from exhaustive, provide useful directions for the inquisitive reader.
However, as a stand alone text in OT, the Mills and Simmons text is wanting. Mills and Simmons raise interesting issues, but often in a style more rhetorical than logical. Unfortunately when they do try to give illustrations, and attempt to use numbers to clarify their points, they are unconvincing. The text is fraught with spelling and grammar errors, which get to be tiresome. Mills and Simmons seem to criticize traditional OT from two perspectives; namely, (1) descriptively (i.e., traditional OT does not describe 'real' organizations well) and (2) normatively (i.e., traditional OT should include a more exhaustive set or issues surrounding power and inequity). The former critique is actually an empirical one. In other words, to what extent does traditional OT explain and predict phenomena more accurately that a critical approach. This question is left unanswered in Reading Organization Theory, although the feeling is that the answer should be "poorly." The normative critique is a question of representativeness: to what extent does traditional OT explain and predict phenomena for all groups? This criticism is the over-arching theme within this text, as Mills and Simmons enumerate which groups should be included. Perhaps the 'new radical organization theory' called for by Mills and Simmons will solve some of the criticisms mentioned; however, we will not know until it gets created.
Dean M. Behrens
Department of Sociology
University of Toronto