Power at a distance: Organizational power across boundaries

Tim Bartley, Matthew Soener, Carl Gershenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Organizational approaches can help to make sense of social phenomena, including inequality, politics, and culture. This is partly because large organizations exercise great power, both over employees and in their external environments. Revising Charles Perrow's classic account of the “society of organizations” in the 20th century, we argue that the organizational landscape has changed. There has been a dis-embedding of individuals from organizations that contrasts with Perrow's idea of individuals being “absorbed” by organizations. Despite this hollowing out, there is a persistence of concentrated economic power or “concentration without centralization.” Organizational power in this landscape is increasingly exercised at a distance, not only geographically but also in the sense of moving across organizational boundaries and through technologies of valuation. Three bodies of research exemplify different types of power at a distance. (a) Research on global production networks shows how power travels across geographic and network distances. (b) Research on financialization and its consequences shows how power is mediated by frames and metrics. (c) Emerging research on big data and Artificial Intelligence shows how power is encoded into seemingly neutral technologies and made to seem inevitable. This work helps to update the sociology of organizations and opens up new research questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12737
JournalSociology Compass
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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