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Journal of Management Studies 34:1 January 1997



WILLIAMSON, O. E. (Ed.). Organization Theory: From Chester Barnard to the Present and
Beyond, Expanded Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. pp. 268,
£14.50 pb (Michael Rowlinson).
BOISOT, MAX H. Information Space. A Framework for Learning in Organizations, Institu-
tions and Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1995. pp. 550, ISBN 0-
415-11490-X (Nathalie N. Mitev).
TWEEDALE, GEOFFREY. Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Technology in Sheeld
1743±1993. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. pp. xiv, 436 (Elisabeth Wilson).
JANICE, I. (Eds). Information Technology and Changes in Organizational Work. London:
Chapman Hall, 1996. pp. 443, ISBN 0-412-64010-4 (Richard Hull).
SCRIVENS, ELLIE. Accreditation: Protecting the Professional or the Consumer? Buckingham:
Open University Press (Jenny Lodge).

WILLIAMSON, O. E. (Ed.). Organization Theory: From Chester Barnard to the Present and
Beyond, Expanded Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. pp. 268,
£14.50 pb.

The essays in this collection originate from a seminar series held in 1988 to
commemorate the ®ftieth anniversary of the publication of Chester I. Barnard's
book The Functions of the Executive. There are nine chapters, two by the editor,
Oliver Williamson, who gives a brief introduction, and the rest from acknowl-
edged leading ®gures in their ®elds. Only two chapters have been published
previously: the ®rst chapter, by Barbara Levitt and James G. March, and the last
chapter, by Williamson. The latter is the only additional chapter in this
expanded edition. The book is aimed at readers who are already familiar with
the versions of organization theory that feature in the leading mainstream
American journals such as Administrative Science Quarterly. Each paper stands alone,
but taken together they serve to locate several streams of thought in relation to
each other and to the development of organization theory.
The ®rst four chapters are from organization theorists. Levitt and March give
an overview of theories of organizational learning. W. Richard Scott outlines the
new institutionalist perspective in organization theory and Glenn R. Carroll sets
out organizational ecology. Je€rey Pfe€er might have been expected to set forth
the resource dependence approach to organizations, with which he is identi®ed;
instead he has contributed an interesting discussion of the causes and conse-
quences of wage dispersion in organizations.
The next ®ve chapters are from an anthropologist, Mary Douglas; a political
scientist, Terry Moe; and two economists, Oliver Hart, and Williamson himself.
Douglas is mainly concerned with the relationship between anthropology and the
new institutional economics, primarily Williamson's version of transaction costs.
Douglas is critical of Williamson's methodological individualism and what she
sees as his belief that `®rms vary, but not individuals' (p. 102). She uses Gerald
Mars' ethnographic study of occupational `®ddling' (or `skimming') as an illustra-
# Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1997. Published by Blackwell Publishers, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK
and 238 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.

tion of `the cultural structuring of opportunism' (p. 108), which Williamson

overlooks by taking opportunism as a given in human behaviour.
Moe sets out to develop a theory of public bureaucracy. He draws on the new
institutional economics although he tries to avoid simply applying `the new
economics to politics' (p. 131). This would be dicult because the new
economics, by which he means transaction cost economics, agency theory, and
game theory, has been almost exclusively concerned with business ®rms. He uses
the example of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the USA
to illustrate the point that unlike business organizations, `public bureaucracies are
designed in no small measure by participants who explicitly want them to fail'
(p. 127).
Hart reviews ®ve economic theories of the ®rm. These are: the neoclassical
theory; principal±agent theory; transaction cost economics; the ®rm as a nexus
of contracts; and Hart's own theory of the ®rm as set of property rights. Like
other organizational economists, notably Alchian and Demsetz, Hart is suspicious
of Coase's notion that a ®rm can be de®ned by the authority that an employer
has over employees. Instead he de®nes a ®rm solely in terms of the ownership of
nonhuman assets. He maintains that employees do not do what their employer
tells them to do because of any authority vested in the employer, but because
the boss `controls the assets the worker works with'. This means that although it
is not possible actually to purchase control over the intangible human assets
which constitute organizational capital, `the purchase of physical assets leads to
control over human assets' (pp. 164±5).
There are two major themes running through the book. First, the importance
of Barnard in the development of organization theory, and second, the relation-
ship between sociologically informed organization theory and organizational
economics, otherwise known as the new institutional economics, but not to be
confused with the new institutionalism in organization theory as discussed by
Scott. Several criticisms can be made of the treatment of these themes. Barnard
is credited with much greater signi®cance than many, especially British, organiza-
tion theorists would grant him. Organization theory is presented as if it is derived
from a few classic texts starting with The Functions of the Executive, followed by
Simon's Administrative Behaviour and Selznick's Leadership in Administration. This
clearly re¯ects an American bias. What is more, it obscures the extent of
diversity and dissent within organization theory. As an anthropologist it is not
surprising that Douglas notes Barnard's neglect of Durkheim's work. What seems
more surprising from the point of view of organization theory is that Weber does
not get a single mention in the book reviewed here. Whether this omission
results from Williamson being an economist or an American, it suggests a degree
of insularity in either case.
The in¯uence of Barnard provides a suitable pretext for bringing together the
contributors to this volume to review the current state of organization theory,
but their reverence for Barnard's work and attempts to make connections with it
sometimes seem misplaced. Just in case anyone is tempted to take Scott's (p. 38)
advice to read, or even reread, The Functions of the Executive, it is worth being
reminded that elsewhere Perrow (1986) o€ers a succinct summary and critique of
it. He also warns that reading Barnard `is a chore' (p. 64).
The anity between Barnard and the new institutionalism in organization
# Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1997

theory are well attested, and Scott's assessment that, `Barnard is the father of the
concept of corporate culture' (p. 42) is probably fair. The same goes for the
continuity from Barnard, through Simon, to contemporary theories of organiza-
tional learning that is traced by Levitt and March. Not so organizational
ecology. Carroll might have been well advised to stick to his `®rst thought': that
`little current work in organizational theory seems further a®eld of Barnard's
Functions of the Executive than that of organizational ecology' (p. 56). This would
have allowed him to proceed with an essay on whether organizational ecology is
`antithetical to the study of strategy' (p. 67), which he comes to in his last couple
of pages. He could have relegated Barnard to an endnote. This is what Hart
does with economic theories of organization, which owe more to Coase than to
Barnard. Carroll's chapter only goes to show that it is possible to read almost
anything into a text retrospectively. Pfe€er's approach is to be preferred. He
avoids an exegesis of Barnard's work but o€ers a contemporary treatment of
issues that were central to Barnard, namely, `the fundamental importance of
incentives in organizations and the social character of co-operative systems'
(p. 73).
In the penultimate chapter Williamson uses a discussion of Barnard's in¯uence
as an opportunity to reiterate, as he almost always does, his version of transac-
tion cost economics. He sees this as an `incipient new science of organization'
which subsumes organization theory. This smacks of the economic imperialism
of which many organization theorists and social scientists accuse economists.
However, along the way Williamson does make some valuable points. First,
although Barnard is celebrated in organization theory for recognizing the impor-
tance of informal organization, he has a very di€erent signi®cance for organiza-
tional economists, such as Williamson. Economists have generally worshipped
spontaneous co-operation through the invisible hand of the market. In contrast
Barnard insists on the importance of formal organization, that is, self-conscious
co-operation through organization, which has generally been ignored or deni-
grated by economists. Second, Williamson makes clear his di€erences with
Herbert Simon. Although Williamson borrows the concept of bounded rationality
from Simon, he argues that Simon's attempt to supplant maximizing with satis®-
cing puts Simon in opposition to economics, including transaction cost
economics. Williamson rejects Simon's notion of `satis®cing' preferring `econo-
mizing' (p. 187).
The ®nal chapter is by far the longest, and the ®rst impression is that it is
rambling. In fact what Williamson does is to counter almost every criticism that
has been levelled at transaction cost economics from organization theorists. He
returns to the issue that separates him from radical organization theorists: the
relative importance of power and eciency in explanations for the existence and
form of organizations. The reassertion of his complaint that `the concept of
power is very di€use' (p. 235) and his preference for eciency will come as no
surprise and is unlikely to change anyone's mind. But it is a more re®ned
version of his previous arguments. He does at least pay lip service to the concept
of path dependency, although the discussion which illustrates it, the historical
development of the QWERTY keyboard, is something of a distraction. Of more
interest is Williamson's rejection of the notion that transaction cost economics
cannot be used to analyse East Asian corporations because they are embedded
# Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1997

in a completely di€erent institutional environment to the United States. He sees

no con¯ict between the concepts of embeddedness and transaction costs.
Williamson is engaging with organization theory along an ever wider front. It
is to be hoped that this process will continue, so that Williamson and others
come to recognize the importance of academic sociologists, notably Weber, as
well as management thinkers, such as Barnard, in the development of organiza-
tion theory. On the three issues of power, path dependency and embeddedness,
concepts derived from Weber, such as formal and substantive rationality, are not
only relevant, they might also encourage greater re¯exiveness in organizational
economics, which so far has been sadly lacking.
Williamson is to be congratulated on eliciting original papers of such a high
standard. Of the two themes in the book, the in¯uence of Barnard is given too
much prominence for the liking of this reviewer. It would appear to be a
parochial concern of particular streams in American organization theory. The
more important theme is the ongoing debate between organizational economics
and sociological organization theory. This book not only makes an important
contribution to that debate, it also extends it to two other social sciences, anthro-
pology and political science.


PERROW, C. (1986). Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay, 3rd edn. New York: Random

School of Management and Finance
University of Nottingham

BOISOT, MAX, H. Information Space. A Framework for Learning in Organizations, Institu-

tions and Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1995. pp. 550. ISBN 0-415-

Having presented his Information Space (or I-space) model in a previous book
(Boisot, 1987), Boisot here undertakes an extensive exploration and discussion of
its philosophical, epistemological, anthropological, cultural, political and
economic foundations. His previous book can be seen by some teaching
academics as a useful heuristic and pedagogical tool for introducing information
concepts to, say, MBA students. By contrast, postgraduate students would
probably ®nd this bulky volume laborious reading. I will try to outline Boisot's
objectives and argumentation as well and as brie¯y as possible.
Having recognized the failure of neoclassical economics to `accommodate a
credible theory of information' (p. 14), Boisot's aim is to o€er the outline of a
political economy of information. He does so by drawing on a new information-
based economic paradigm which, according to the author, has provided the basis
for `a New Theory of the Firm, a New Welfare Economics and a New Theory of
Economic Organization' (p. 13) in which information is considered as the main
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focus of economic exchanges, rather than its support. His intended audience is
economists and those in related social science disciplines who, Boisot claims,
need to incorporate information into their theorizing (p. 21). In doing so, he
draws on Daniel Bell's notion of post-industrial economy as well as post-
Newtonian physics with concepts such as data accumulation `substituting itself
for both energy and space-time in a form of economizing that constitutes
learning' (p. 29). Data accumulation and conversion to information represent
factor savings (p. 33) and the task of this book is to study the production and
exchange of information as a phenomenon subject to economizing, which is
`inherent in the order of things' (p. 37) and ultimately driven by fairly general
physical principles (e.g. entropy).
Codi®cation and abstraction of information are examined in great detail by
drawing on neurological and cognitive sciences, perception, connectionism,
symbolic processing, etc. Epistemological issues regarding the selection and storing
of, and relationships between, concrete and abstract objects are discussed, making
use of Popper's three worlds theory (W1 the concrete world, W3 the abstract
world, and W2 the human consciousness world which mediates between the other
two) as well as referring to constructivism, materialism and empiricism. The
author clearly positions himself in the realists' camp by arguing that social
constructivists and the sociology of knowledge, by placing the control of personal
trajectories in the hands of society, `make it hard to understand how new codes or
abstractions could ever emerge as other than purely social phenomena' (p. 85).
This position is developed further with regards to the distribution of
knowledge. Some of the topics covered are communicative eciency and e€ec-
tiveness, transmission of meaning, universalistic versus particularistic exchanges
(Parsons). Here again the author challenges sociological approaches which see
the distribution of information as almost exclusively determined by social organi-
zations and power relationships (p. 121). He argues that how knowledge is
allocated to various social groups is also a€ected by distribution problems related
to the `physical' nature of information as a commodity, e.g. its perishability, the
need to package it for travelling, its shelf-life, its di€usibility and degree of
abstraction, its immediacy and utility, etc. It is argued that a move towards
greater abstraction o€ers the prospects of gains in utility, through wider audience
potential, and that this move may be blocked by the coding `propensities' of a
given group or culture, hindering the accumulation of universal abstract
knowledge (p. 126), for instance in primitive societies (p. 142). Again, the author
objects to the relativists' view that the abstract world can never be objectively
known. He espouses Popper's position, in that progress towards a shared
objective world is possible through greater abstraction (p. 130), a process which
has reached its most advanced stage in western institutionalized societies (p. 134).
Institutions are envisaged as facilitating the transmission of knowledge so as to
minimize information losses, or entropy (p. 140). A three-dimensional model (the
I-space), consisting of the concrete/abstract, undi€used/di€used and uncodi®ed/
codi®ed dimensions, is suggested. Its purpose is to represent the forces that act
upon human information processing and transmission activities of individuals,
groups or larger populations. The notion of `social learning' is introduced as the
capacity of social systems to channel the urge to economize information into the
creation of new knowledge (p. 164).
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Boisot then extends his reasoning to institutions and cultures. He positions

institutions in his 3-D model by categorizing them into ®efs, clans, bureaucracies
and markets, envisaged as four basic types of transactional structures which
produce, and are shaped by, information ¯ows. He contends that perceiving
cultural processes as the structuring and sharing of information reconciles struc-
tural-functional and cognitive theories of culture (p. 295) and that cultures,
together with individuals, organizations and institutions, are an expression of
attempts at economizing. Cultural evolution depends upon adequately re¯ecting
the information environment (p. 304), adapting and learning by activating appro-
priate institutional structures as follows: `Particularistic values and tribal forms of
organization hinder adaptive moves through the social learning cycle [towards
modernization] and the creation of institutions requiring greater codi®cation and
abstraction' (p. 332). Examples of cultures which have adequately reconceptua-
lized their concrete world situation are Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong
(p. 332) in that they can metabolize information more quickly through better
abstraction and codi®cation. According to Popper, objective knowledge is the
product of inter-subjective processes; therefore the knowledge that accumulates
through `out-group' exchanges is less prone to the distortions of social bonding
and groupthink (p. 344). Open or `centrifugal' cultures (of which the USA is the
prime example, p. 345) aim to exploit uncertainty constructively and abstracting
further towards greater objectivity.
Consequently, Boisot states that the real contest is not between the competing
ideologies of markets and hierarchies but between a `centripetal' (closed) and
`centrifugal' cultural ± and hence economic ± order, and has to be seen as a
contest between an ideological and an `evolutionary' order (p. 357). In a centrifu-
gal capitalist economic order there is room for clans and ®efs as well as for
markets and hierarchies. And each institutional form will establish an appropriate
level of governance as a function of the size of the population whose interests are
being served.
Having developed this theoretical framework, Boisot ®nally uses his own
experience of the modernization process in China, and also more generally in
Japan, Central and Eastern Europe, to test its principles. For example, he
observes that Japan displays a growing centrifugal culture, in spite of its core
values still remaining anchored in clans (p. 406). China is absorbing universalis-
tic values but has `more to unlearn since it is stuck in ®efs for ideological
reasons' (pp. 402±6); nevertheless, a large proportion of Chinese economic
output emerges from informal, self-regulating activities in a network of small
local markets (p. 416). The interpretation of these case studies is of interest
since it attempts to classify di€erent types of capitalism as follows: market,
managerial-bureaucratic, ®ef-entrepreneurial and clan-network capitalisms
(pp. 418±19). Boisot also asserts that the new information technologies (e.g. the
fax and videoconferencing) strengthen clans and networks, not markets, through
a `repersonalization of economic exchanges' (p. 422). Japan and China are giving
way to centrifugal cultural orders, or moves towards network capitalism (p. 427),
and more so than western countries, which have overinvested in markets and
bureaucracies. In other words, more diverse forms of capitalism should be
accommodated for to complement markets (p. 429). Boisot's concluding point is
to reassure us that our ability to make use of data and to learn will help us
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circumvent even the new global ecological constraints (p. 432), thereby revealing
what some may view as a rather naõÈve faith in human information processing
Throughout this extremely erudite argumentation, Boisot seeks to support the
New Institutional Economics in its attack on neoclassical economics, by
providing a theory of social learning based on information concepts, which goes
beyond the individual or the ®rm to encompass more complex institutional
settings and cultural processes. This is an ambitious project. Despite his e€orts,
I remain unconvinced that the concept of information, as envisaged in this
book and perhaps in general too, is sophisticated enough to be applicable to
individuals, groups, organizations and cultures and can form the basis of such a
theoretical enterprise. The problem lies primarily with the fact that Boisot
appears to position himself outside, or even above, current epistemological
debates. He does so by de®ning `information ¯ows' and `social learning cycle'
as neutral and objective (even physical) concepts, which he claims enable one to
bypass these debates, and not choose between (p. 222) di€erent epistemological
perspectives such as materialism, idealism, structuralism, constructivism (p. 236
and p. 292). It is doubtful that any model can accommodate all these perspec-
tives and that those debates can be avoided. Despite the author's claims of non-
reductionism (p. 164) it is also clear that many of the assertions he makes are
fundamentally problematic due to his, even if sophisticated, Popperian positivis-
tic stance.
Some examples are the case he makes for a physical and `natural' basis
for information processes and the notion that information is a physical phenom-
enon as well as a sociological phenomenon and that these can be united; his
discussion of cultural `evolution' and the related controversial concepts of
progress and universalism; the problematic notion of modernization and inter-
pretation of the role of new information technologies; the questionable assertions
made about ideologies and the assumption that there can be absence of
But perhaps even more problematic, in my opinion, is Boisot's declaration
that his theory contributes to a political economy of information, when it leads
to such a politically simplistic interpretation of his multi-cultural case study
material. For example the fact that, despite being the third largest economy in
the world (p. 418), the per capita GDP of China's richest regions is 86 times
higher than its poorest areas (Higgins, 1996), points to extremely complex
political issues such as those of democracy, governance, international relations,
globalization, nationalism and war.
Some have already argued that political economy o€ers a reductionist view of
the cultural domain and that it should start from the political rather than the
economic in an e€ort to return to the uni®ed ®eld of politics and economics
(Robins and Webster, 1988). In sheer contrast with this book, Mosco and
Wasko's (1988) collection of papers on the political economy of information,
which is not referred to by Boisot despite his extensive bibliography, represents
such an e€ort as it concentrates on how capitalism incorporates things and
people into the commodity form, to be bought and sold for their exchange (as
opposed to their use) value, and focuses on the international signi®cance of
transforming information into a commodity for developing societies.
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BOISOT, MAX (1987). Information and Organizations. The Manager as Anthropologist. London:
HarperCollins Publishers, 1994. Previously published by Fontana, 1987.
HIGGINS, ANDREW (1996). `The New China. Unity could be loser in the race for prosper-
ity'. The Guardian, 30 May, p. 16.
MOSCO, VINCENT and WASKO, JANET (Eds) (1988). The Political Economy of Information.
Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.
ROBINS, KEVIN and WEBSTER, FRANK (1988). `Cybernetic capitalism: information, technol-
ogy, everyday life'. In Mosco, V. and Wasko, J. (Eds), The Political Economy of Information,

Information Systems Research Centre
Salford University

TWEEDALE, GEOFFREY. Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Technology in Sheeld

1743±1993. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. pp. xiv, 436.

In the 1990s, British consumers are more likely to associate `Sheeld crucible'
with snooker than steelmaking. Yet until the 1960s, as Geo€rey Tweedale's
important book shows, the Sheeld special steels complex was one of the great
successes of British industrial history. Although the British steel industry has
received considerable attention from economic and business historians, the
special steels sector has been unfairly neglected. During the early twentieth
century, Sheeld probably produced only 10±15 per cent of total UK steel
tonnage, but because of the specialized nature of its products, this may have
represented 30±50 per cent of the value of steel produced by the industry.
Moreover, the history of Sheeld casts a quite di€erent light on the generally
accepted picture of industrial decline in steel. In contrast to dominant interpreta-
tions of the history of bulk steel, Sheeld steel was highly innovative, science-
based, entrepreneurially vigorous and internationally competitive until long after
the Second World War. Tweedale's earlier work has opened up the history of
this sector. Now, in a work originating in the city's centenary history project, he
attempts to develop a synthesis of the history of Sheeld steel and to place it in
the wider context of debates on industrial decline.
This is a truly daunting project. The available archival material is now
copious, but few historians have as yet got to work on it, so Tweedale has both
the opportunities and the disadvantages of the pioneer. The weight of new
material could easily have bogged the author down. But Tweedale succeeds in
untangling the structure of Sheeld steel and laying out its intriguing contrasts.
E€ectively, he shows that Sheeld encompassed four parallel and interacting
industries. At one end of the spectrum some of the biggest ®rms in Britain
produced special steels in large volumes and diversi®ed into arms and heavy
engineering. Alongside this sector came a vibrant specialist sector of smaller
special steel ®rms, arguably the motor of innovation in Sheeld. These two steel-
making sectors were complemented by two ®nished goods sectors. The most
famous was the cutlery industry, a tale of prolonged disappointment and failure
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after its mid nineteenth-century glories. Alongside this stood the less noted but
more dynamic tool industry. One of the fascinations of this book is to see how,
within a single city and a single cluster of technologies, stories of success and
failure, dynamism and lethargy, and adaptability and stagnation sit side by side.
The twin steelmaking sectors had common roots. From the eighteenth century,
the crucible steel industry thrived in Sheeld as almost a `precious metal'
industry based on skills and knowledge rather than any clear-cut locational
advantage (most of its crucial raw materials were imported from Sweden).
Sheeld dominated world trade in cutting steels and the landlocked city
dominated the American market in special steels and a multitude of related and
supporting industries by the mid nineteenth century.
The advent of bulk steelmaking in the 1850s and 1860s at ®rst seemed to
threaten Sheeld's position, but in fact provided a platform for a new wave of
growth and innovation. Faced by the challenge of Bessemer steel, some of the
biggest ®rms such as John Brown, Cammell, Vickers or Samuel Fox moved deci-
sively into bulk steelmaking. They took up the new technologies, relocated plant
away from Sheeld to low-cost locations, and diversi®ed into high-quality
complex products, notably arms, where they could link their special steel
expertise to the new mass products. In the 1860s and 1870s these ®rms created
giant enterprises and acquired a stranglehold on the armaments industry. From
the 1890s to the First World War, they competed against each other in an
upward spiral of technological innovation in artillery, armour and shells. Firth's
made the ever larger guns that blasted Had®eld's ever harder shells to penetrate
Vickers', Brown's and Cammell's ever tougher armour-plate. Each new step in
this dance of death triggered more ingenious technical advances and more
lucrative contracts for the arms manufacturers.
The First World War brought huge pro®ts, overcapacity, and a massive
hangover for these giants in the 1920s. But despite stumbling in their diversi®ca-
tion strategies in the interwar period, these ®rms remained well managed and
technically innovative, developing world leadership in stainless steels in the
interwar years, before the rearmament boom of the 1930s returned them to new
peaks of pro®tability. In the 1950s and even 1960s these large ®rms continued to
prosper until being crucially undermined by the demise of their key customer
industries, notably cars, engineering and shipbuilding. Tweedale's account of the
giants, especially in the pre-First World War period breaks new ground and
reveals the science and research base of the armaments industry very clearly. In
the later period, especially as the companies diversi®ed and moved their centres
of operations away from Sheeld, there is some loss of focus and their postwar
weakening is rather shadowy in the later chapters. But it is clear that, in these
cases, Sheeld gave birth to giant, modern, hierarchical, science-based
companies which exhibited great vigour for almost a century.
As the giant ®rms moved upwards and outward, special steelmaking and the
related specialist engineering work within Sheeld increasingly came to be the
province of a host of smaller family-owned specialist ®rms. While the `giants' took
up the new bulk steel in the 1860s and 1870s, the small crucible steel ®rms at ®rst
retreated as bulk steel was substituted for a wide range of crucible steel products.
But as bulk steel opened up a new world of applications, new opportunities for
special steels expanded in tandem with the mass demand. Firms such as Edgar
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Allen, Seebohm, Sandersons, Jessop, Osborn and others thrived on these new
markets. They systematically applied scienti®c research to the development of new
alloys and new qualities of steel and, in close alliance with the engineering sector,
developed new uses in springs, spokes and axles, cutting tools, hardened steels,
wire, and drilling and crushing equipment and swept all before them especially in
the expanding US market. The period from 1860 to 1914 was `a period as revolu-
tionary in its own way as anything associated with bulk steelmaking' (p. 89).
Most notable was the ability of this network of Sheeld ®rms to link the old
practical skills and `rule-of-thumb' practice to new science-based research practices
and entrepreneurial skills in devising and implementing commercial applications
(notably in transport and marine equipment and the infant motor industry). They
pioneered the new hardened steels of the era (manganese and tungsten) and
showed a remarkable ability to respond to challenges from the fast-growing
German and American special steel sectors. In 1900, F. W. Taylor's breakthrough
in the invention of high-speed steel (with the lavish backing of Bethlehem Steel)
seemed to threaten their supremacy. Yet within a few years, the Sheeld
producers had turned the tables on the Americans. They quickly improved on
Taylor's methods and soon recaptured the US market with their own products
sold at premium prices (including pioneering the development of the vanadium
steel that was a crucial input to Henry Ford's design of the Model `T'). This
episode was `a remarkable demonstration of the advantages of a closely clustered
industrial community' (p. 117). The era of innovation culminated in the invention
and commercialization of stainless steel on the eve of the First World War, far
outdistancing the e€orts of big American and German companies in this area.
All of this was achieved through owner-managed ®rms and family dynasties.
Despite their small scale, they were not afraid to tackle ambitious direct invest-
ment in the USA before the First World War in response to US tari€ barriers
and to sell in an enormous range of world markets. This network of ®rms main-
tained world leadership through the `era of discoveries' in the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries, but their competitive superiority began to be
eroded from the 1920s. While they had proved supreme in innovation and
commercialization of new products and processes, this industrial structure
appeared less adept at the process and marketing innovations required to
produce special steels on a larger scale as the product cycle stabilized. They were
also hit hard by the closure of many world markets in the protectionist interwar
years. They necessarily turned more towards the home market, developing a
wide range of electric steel products for the growing automobile and electrical
industries. Even in retreat, the sector remained innovative and creative, although
perhaps excessively individualistic. No one else in this sector did better. In the
USA in the 1920s a huge merger created the Crucible Steel Co. as a `Chand-
lerite' integrated corporation to focus research and marketing e€orts, only for it
to turn into a bloated and inecient loss-maker, and the big German ®rms also
lost much of their innovative edge in the interwar years.
This innovative cluster of small ®rms in special steels persisted through to the
1950s. But by then many of the ®rms had become complacent and the family
dynasties had outlived themselves. In more mature markets they could not turn
themselves from niche innovators into large-scale manufacturers, they neglected
marketing, and they were decimated by the destruction of their key home
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customers, particularly the car industry. Sociology, technology and demand all
seemed arrayed against them and they slipped into decline, to become the
victims of ®nancial predators and deal-makers in the 1980s. A major success
story petered out in disappointing fashion.
Two important ®nishing industries operated alongside the two steelmaking
sectors. The best known was Sheeld's world-famous cutlery industry. Here
Tweedale tells a classic story of business failure. The cutlery industry peaked in
the 1870s, based on superb quality and an enormous range of sophisticated
products. It ¯ourished as an industrial district. Although some substantial ®rms
existed, the core of the trade was a hive of subcontracting and related specialist
small ®rms. But from the late nineteenth century this prestige sector was unable
to respond to the challenges of American and German producers rede®ning the
product (as cheap functional artifacts) and placing the emphasis on large-scale,
low-cost manufacturing and distribution. Both employers and workers resisted
change and clung to the increasingly outdated ethos of `quality', preferring to
criticize their `shortsighted customers' rather than their own practices. Tweedale
is superb on documenting the demise of this industry and an industrial culture
that made switching to cheaper materials and new technologies `almost too
painful to contemplate'. Leading ®rms like Wostenholm or Rodgers could hardly
bring themselves to introduce machine-made knives even when staring commer-
cial death in the eye. The result was that the sector was blown away by Gillette's
razors and Solingen's knives and died a lingering death, retreating into sweating
and exploitation of labour to eke out its existence.
But, lest we think that this sort of fate was an inevitable consequence of
something `in the air' in Sheeld industrial culture and the small family ®rms,
Tweedale also presents the parallel story of the Sheeld tool industry. Here a
very similar network of family ®rms (including Stanley, Neill and Record)
continued to innovate and prosper into the late twentieth century. Here, there
were truly defensible niches for ®rms who could respond to changing customer
needs, and quality remained an important watchword rather than a fetish.
The histories of the four sectors raise many questions. They strongly suggest
the potential dynamism and innovativeness of e€ective industrial clusters in
Britain of the sort that Scranton, Ingham and Piore and Sabel have examined in
the USA and Herrigel and others in Germany. What is less clear is what it is
that can tip these clusters from dynamism into stagnation and decline. Why did
the cutlery sector seize up from the 1870s just as its neighbouring special steels
network turned to new heights of innovation? Why were the tool manufacturers
able to link dynamically with their customers while the cutlers preferred to abuse
them? Tweedale's ®ne book opens up these new and important areas of discus-
sion. It is at its best on the period from 1870 to the Second World War, and
some of the later chapters are relatively undigested. His explanations of postwar
decline are less satisfactory than those of earlier successes. But his book makes a
major contribution to re-focusing analysis of British industrial decline to take
account of di€erent sectors and di€erent patterns of industrial organization.

Centre for Business History
University of Leeds
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JANICE I. (Eds). Information Technology and Changes in Organisational Work. London:
Chapman Hall, 1996. pp. 443, ISBN 0-412-64010-4.

It might seem strange to be reviewing the proceedings of a conference ± there

are, after all, a great many such collections recently, thrown together hastily in
time for research assessment exercises and such like. But this is a signi®cant
book, unlike many other collections, and it deserves detailed attention. It is
distinguished ®rstly by the quality and depth of the individual contributions,
which comprise the 19 papers and three panels selected from submissions, and
the two invited papers from Shoshana Zubo€ and Bruno Latour. Secondly, and
perhaps more importantly, the book presents a useful snapshot of the current
state of research on interactions between IT and changes in organizational work.
This snapshot includes a range of approaches and analyses which suggest more
complex understandings than the `traditional technocentric narratives', to quote
the editors' Introduction. However, it will also be instructive to examine the
frame of this snapshot, the `problematizations' which provide the rationale for
such a collection and, by implication, a large proportion of academic research in
this ®eld.
First, however, the contributions themselves, which are organized in two main
parts. The ®rst contains discussions of the practices surrounding the design,
implementation and use of IT, divided into three sections: New Forms of Work;
Business Process Re-engineering (BPR); and Systems Development. Zubo€
expands her familiar argument into a call for a new `moral leadership' in order
that the `informating' potential of IT can be properly realized at the organiza-
tional level, which she sees as the only route to achieving the full potential of the
`information economy'. The second section, on BPR, covers similar but smaller
ground to other recent collections on BPR (notably the special issue of New Tech-
nology, Work & Employment, September 1995), so won't be discussed further.
The section on Systems Development is the longest, with eight papers, and
also perhaps the most interesting. Three papers stand out, in particular
Westrup's synthesis of recent critical and social constructivist approaches.
Analysing calls within the IS community for `re®ned techniques' for systems
analysis, he argues that there are a number of problems with attempting to
merely incorporate some recent advances in social and organizational theory.
Such attempts generally downplay three features: the intellectual context and
critiques of such `advances'; the diculty of moving from essentially descriptive
methods to prescriptions for organizational change; and the everyday practice of
systems developers in negotiating and constructing representations of the organi-
zation. Vidgen and McMaster, in a richly described case study of IT develop-
ment and implementation, utilize Latour's concept of quasi-objects ± locally
constituted but solidi®ed `collectives' of heterogeneous elements, both human and
non-human, both `social' and `technical', and thus not amenable to analyses
based on prior judgements of the role of social and technical factors. The ®nal
paper of interest in this section, by Kutti, attempts to draw lessons for systems
development from the ethnomethodological and open-ended focus of computer
supported co-operative work (CSCW). In many senses this is pre-empted by
Westrup's critique, but Kutti's paper is noteworthy in describing and stressing
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the need for tools and techniques which allow locally appropriate work practices
to emerge, rather than being prescribed.
The second part of the book is described as `re¯ections on research' and
commences with the invited paper by Latour, which is signi®cant in two respects
(for those unfamiliar with the work of Latour, Michel Callon and the elements of
actor network theory, see Callon, 1992). Developing his attack on both
`modernist' and `postmodernist' theory, each seen to rely on arti®cial distinctions
between Nature and Society, or the social and technical, Latour ®rstly acknowl-
edges that `network' is an inappropriate word for the set of relationships or trans-
lations between heterogeneous elements which together constitute a `discovery',
innovation, organizational change, etc. Secondly and more importantly, he
acknowledges that such heterogeneous networks ± or rather `rhyzomes' ± `become
empty when asked to provide policy, pass judgement or explain stable features' (p.
304). Unfortunately this brave admission is left on the easel with little of substance
to complete the picture, beyond some suggestions about `regimes of delegation'
and a mention of current theoretical developments by Callon, Anne-Marie Mol
and John Law. More substantial attempts to work outwards ± from rhyzomes
towards policy, judgement and explanation of stable features ± are suggested in
three other papers in this section.
Boland and Schultze build on work within critical studies of accounting (e.g.
Miller and O'Leary, 1994) to discuss the rise of activity-based costing as a technol-
ogy with a particular `narrative of progress', the promise to transform the messy
realities of today into a clear and concise new world, a promise which the authors
see as mirroring many of the claims made for IT. Here, then, the rhyzome of
activity-based costing is made mobile and stable through the power of the narrative
to construct some alternative worlds and rule out others. Bowker, Timmermans
and Star, in one of the most thought-provoking papers in the book, investigate the
`quiet politics' involved in building `information infrastructures', in this case a classi-
®cation system for nursing work. Declaring that such infrastructures `fundamentally
change both work practice and knowledge, they inscribe a moral order', the
authors describe in detail some of the ethical, moral, professional and pragmatic
issues involved in the design of such systems. Lastly, Bloom®eld and McLean
examine the e€ects of a particular feature of what we might now call a `narrative of
progress', namely the claims for `empowerment'. Assertions that IT can enable
empowerment are now common, but in the di€erent arena of psychiatry there
have long been calls for more `holistic' and `empowering' forms of care and
treatment. The authors describe a convergence of the claims in the form of recent
moves in the NHS to develop information systems for `care in the community'
which will empower both patients and health professionals. They conclude that,
rather than being `enabled' by IT, empowerment is instead constructed in particu-
lar ways, in this case in ways which demand that both patients and health profes-
sionals participate in new forms of practice and organization.
The last two papers in the book revert to a less critical stance, with a call from
the indomitable campaigner Enid Mumford to `design for freedom in a technical
world', and a detailed and again optimistic analysis by Ciborra et al. of the `new
division of learning' which makes an interesting attempt to utilize the resource-
based theory of the ®rm.
The papers I have chosen to mention are generally those which seem to me to
# Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1997

make some advance in the critical understanding of this ®eld. This is in distinction
to what I might call the `benevolent' approach of Zubo€, Mumford and others
(around half the papers), which assumes that IT will have a `positive', `bene®cial'
impact given the correct tools and analysis techniques, generally systemic and/or
ethnographic. Ranged against this, in this book, are two broad forms of critique ±
®rstly deep suspicion of IT as merely re¯ecting the ills of the modern world, and
secondly deep suspicion from Latour and others of the notion of a `modern' or
even a `post-modern' world, and a concern to develop new forms of description
working outwards from the micro-level. On this basis, the book will be of consid-
erable interest to, and perhaps even essential reading for students and scholars of
a critical disposition, whereas the `benevolent' contributions generally have little
new to say, with the exception of the paper by Ciborra et al.
However, this remains a snapshot with a frame and there are signi®cant
perspectives that are absent from the picture. First, approaches to the di€erent
forms in which IT is gendered (e.g. Green et al., 1993), and secondly the
broadly socioeconomic treatments of, for instance, Mansell (1994). It is these
treatments, especially the latter, which are beginning to reveal a variety of `stable
features' requiring explanation, such as the uneven adoption and di€usion of
ICTs (information and communication technologies) and the high degree of both
variety and interdependence of these technologies, such as between computing
and telephony, and between telecomms infrastructures and information services.
There is thus a serious need to re-examine one of the founding assumptions of
this set of papers ± that there is a distinct entity `information technology'. This
need can clearly be seen in the editorial Introduction, which suggests that the
relationships between IT and changes in organizational work `elude easy charac-
terization and categorization. Perhaps that is how it should be' (p. 9). This
suggestion is either a group-required compromise or a serious error, and could
have been avoided through a greater attention to the variety of ICTs and the
consequent variety of interactions with large-scale organizational change.
What the variety of treatments given in this book does reveal, on the other
hand, is that it is `changes in organizational work' which are currently eluding
forms of analysis that are both accurate and non-invasive ± for there is a de®nite
tendency in many of these papers towards the view that ethnographies of work
are the only valid basis for analysis and subsequent organizational change, which
leads me to suspect the emergence of `ethnographic Taylorism'. Indeed this
tendency has been apparent for many years, if one attends to the evolution of
linkages between social science and computing.
In summary, then, despite these criticisms (and a constant irritation with the
lack of author and subject indexes) I have no hesitation in recommending this
book to those students and scholars who wish to keep up to date with some of
the current developments in this ®eld, as there are at least ®ve papers here
which make signi®cant theoretical and empirical advances.


CALLON, MICHEL (1992). `The dynamics of techno-economic networks'. In Coombs, R.,

Saviotti, P. and Walsh, V. (Eds), Technical Change and Company Strategies. London:
Academic Press, 1992.

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GREEN, E., OWEN, J. and PAIN, D. (Eds) (1993). Gendered by Design? Information Technology in
Oce Systems. London: Taylor & Francis.
MANSELL, ROBIN (Ed.) (1994). Management of Information and Communication Technologies: Emer-
ging Patterns of Control. London: ASLIB, The Association for Information Management.
MILLER, PETER and O'LEARY TED (1994). `Accounting, ``economic citizenship'' and the
spatial reordering of manufacture'. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 19, 1, 15±44.

Manchester School of Management

SCRIVENS, ELLIE. Accreditation: Protecting the Professional or the Consumer? Open Univer-
sity Press.

How can standards of care and practice within the National Health Service best
be monitored? In what form is it appropriate to assess `value for money' in a
health service in which new forms of internal trading and contracting sometimes
sit uneasily with long-established traditions of clinical and professional autonomy?
This volume is a methodical and constructive contribution to debates which have
often been dominated by crude political interventions rather than by reasoned
argument. It is based on research commissioned by the Department of Health;
however, the perspectives are those of the author, rather than arising from DoH
policies or directives. It forms part of the excellent Open University Press State of
Health series, in which other volumes analyse developments such as the imple-
mentation of GP fundholding and the nature of the `planned market' in health
The most obvious strength of this particular volume is Professor Scrivens'
thorough, detailed and lucid account of what people have meant by `accredita-
tion systems' in di€erent health service contexts, and of how these have been
implemented. De®ning accreditation as `the process of evaluating the functioning
of health care organizations', she describes a shift in emphasis from `a voluntary
professional support system' to more of a managerial or political tool `for
communicating success to the outside world' (pp. 11±13). The former originated
principally in the United States, dating from initiatives ®rst taken by doctors in
1910, to track patients' treatments and assess the e€ectiveness of these. These
early initiatives o€ered the North American medical profession a degree of
protection from the risks of practising within very variable environments and
organizations, as well as a way of asserting medical autonomy. Using accredita-
tion as a tool for organizational development (and also marketing) has since
become an increasingly visible strand within a complex and sometimes confusing
tapestry of quality initiatives and movements, in the UK and elsewhere. The
purpose of this volume is partly to assess the future scope and implications of
accreditation systems within the UK health service, in the absence of any central
Department of Health guidance or recommendations about the options available.
The United States, Canada and Australia provide the three historical
examples of accreditation systems discussed here. All have evolved from the
early US model, which was based initially on ®ve main standards (largely
# Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1997

relating to hospital facilities and medical quali®cations), and funded by the US

College of Surgeons from membership subscriptions. Since then, a single organi-
zation or authority has become dominant in each country, representing doctors,
hospitals and (on a variable scale) health service users. In each case, there has
been a shift away from an emphasis on `protection from low standards' towards
optimum standards which could be considered `patient-focused rather than
professionally focused' ± that is, re¯ecting patients' experience of whole hospital
systems, rather than being based on a more fragmented, department-speci®c
view (p. 26). However, the balance of medical, managerial and other interests,
and the relationship between self-regulation and state involvement, both vary
considerably between these three systems. In the United States, where 80 per
cent of hospitals seek accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation
of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), the emphasis is still very much on self-
regulation and medical in¯uence remains very strong; the JCAHO has
minimized the potential threat of competition from state regulation by ensuring
that its own accreditation can exempt hospitals in most states from local regula-
tory processes for participation in Medicare and Medicaid. In Canada and in
Australia, the relative weight of medical in¯uence is somewhat less; the
Canadian Council on Health Facilities Accredication receives more formalized
government support, while the Australian Council on Hospital Standards has
government representatives at board level.
Coming to initiatives and prospects in the UK, Professor Scrivens provides an
excellent guide to the existing `web' of health service accreditation alternatives,
which now range from the very detailed King's Fund Organizational Audit
(covering hospitals and primary care) to emerging initiatives from health service
purchasers and from speci®c professions (including nursing and pathology).
Chapters 3 to 5 both provide in-depth descriptions of speci®c accreditation
processes, and identify some general concerns. These include, for example,
dicult issues concerning sta€ morale in relation to accreditation processes: a
successful outcome can contribute to complacency, while perceived failure (even
in the guise of provisional or short-term accreditation) has demoralized sta€ in a
number of instances. Here, much depends upon the way in which senior
managers introduce and support the accreditation process. Demoralization of a
more intractable kind has been experienced on occasions when accreditation
reports have recommended improvements for which no funding can be identi®ed
(see, for example, pp. 78±9).
Somewhat surprisingly, there is no substantial discussion here of the Investors
in People programme, promoted by the Department of Trade and Industry in
order to foster sta€ training and development. This is currently being pursued
actively by many NHS organizations, with a degree of funding support available
through local Training and Enterprise Councils. A comparison between the
scope of this general initiative, and the much more specialized accreditation
processes discussed above, would have been very informative for health service
managers and for clinicians who are actively involved in IIP or in other forms of
quality initiative. This kind of analysis could also have been a useful contribution
to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of general business models such
as IIP, when transplanted into the health service context.
This discussion would have been especially pertinent in relation to the
# Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1997

concerns raised in the ®nal chapter of the volume. These centre on the relation-
ships between accreditation systems, organizational processes, culturally variable
concepts of quality and patient/user concerns. No research has been able to
establish a ®rm link between `good organizational practices' of the kind
examined in accreditation processes, and the quality of clinical outcomes.
Returning to the question of appropriate developments in the UK health service
context, Professor Scrivens reaches a circumspect conclusion, with the emphasis
on self-regulation:

Perhaps the way forward is to abandon worrying about quality itself and to
concentrate on processes which ensure the correct attitude towards patients
and their treatment. The early views of accreditation as organizational
processes may well suce, supplemented by indicators which demonstrate
clinical performance . . . Notwithstanding the imprecision of the measurement
tools within it, and the fact that it does not necessarily guarantee high-quality
clinical care, accreditation o€ers a way of encouraging interest in quality
within organizations and yet also makes professional decision making more

To conclude, this is very much a volume for the manager, clinician or health
service researcher with an immediate and quite specialized interest in accredita-
tion. Wider issues of accountability, clinical and managerial power and health
service organization are touched on; however, rather than providing a broad
landscape within which to approach the accreditation issue, they play a more
marginal and speci®c role. To that extent, the broader canvas suggested by the
title does not fully emerge. Nevertheless, accreditation is a live and controversial
issue in the health service, as illustrated by periodic correspondence in profes-
sional journals (see, for example, Health Service Journal 7.9.95, 5.10.95 and
12.10.95, focusing on issues of cost, feasibility and appropriate standards). As a
practical guide to current accreditation options, and as a counter to much media
`hype' about standards and processes within health care, this is a comprehensive
and useful volume for the health service professional.

Department of Sociological Studies
University of Sheeld

# Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1997