Rafael Wittek, born in Würzburg, Germany, in 1965. Ph.D. from the University of Groningen. Professor of Theoretical Sociology at the University of Groningen.
Fellow (1 September 2001 – 30 June 2002)
My stay at NIAS as a member of the nucleus “The Danger of Community Failure” had two major objectives. The first objective was to elaborate the micro-foundations of a decreasing fit theory of organisational governance. A major step to achieve this goal consisted in the conceptual clarification as well as operationalisation of the notoriously vague concept of ‘informal governance’. Building on the key concept of enforceability, different forms of governance were distinguished according to the degree to which rules or claims are based on legitimate, legally backed rules of a principal, or rooted in non-enforceable demands. I then used a relational signaling (i.e. gift exchange) framework to derive hypotheses about how different forms of formal and informal governance affect solidary behavior in organisations.
Two results are particularly noteworthy. First, using a representative sample of 450 employees of a Dutch gas-supplier, support could be found for the hypothesis that the higher the damage potential and task interdependence of employees in a unit, the more likely punishment centered governance practices will become, and the lower employee commitment as well as trust in management and peers will be. Thus, while punishment centered formal governance is a rational reaction of management to mitigate and prevent damages, the price that has to be paid are lower levels of solidarity. Second, using panel data and sociometric information on 220 employees in five Dutch organisations, it is argued that the degree of oppositional solidarity – i.e. behaviour or attitudes of employees directed against the employer – is contingent upon the type of grievances occurring in the organisation. The analyses support the hypothesis that oppositional solidarity will be less frequent in governances structures that favour the production of myopia related grievances – incidents caused by ad hoc adaptations to situational requirements under time pressure – because these grievances are usually functionally legitimated. On the other hand, oppositional solidarity increases in governance structures producing power related grievances – instances in which norm violations are perceived as power strategies. Based on additional analyses of the socio-metric data, it can be concluded that the emergence of oppositional solidarity is to a large degree contingent upon the type of legitimation of formal authority and the informal network of employees.
The second objective of my stay was to develop the methodological tools for measuring informal governance in organisational surveys. A 60-item measurement instrument was developed to assess informal governance processes in organisations. A pilot study was carried out, and the data are now available for analysis.