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William Foote Whyte
June 27, 1914 July 16,
Who is William Foote Whyte?
Whyte, William Foote (27 June 1914-16 July 2000), sociologist, was
born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the only child of John White, a
university professor who taught German, and Isabel Van Sickle.
Young William grew up in the greater New York area and attended
high school in Bronxville, New York. During summer vacations he
often traveled in Europe with his family.
Following graduation from high school in 1931, Whyte lived in
Germany with his father for a year and witnessed the rise of the
Nazi Party, which he wrote about in a weekly column for the
Bronxville Press. In the fall of 1932, with the Great Depression
paralyzing much of the nation, Whyte enrolled at Swarthmore
College, a Quaker institution in suburban Philadelphia. Through
volunteer work with a Quaker settlement house in the city, he
became interested in the plight of the poor and emerged as
something of a social activist.
Upon completion of his three-year fellowship at
Harvard, Whyte decided to pursue further study in
sociology, then a newly emerging academic
discipline in American universities. In 1940 he
enrolled in the graduate social science program
at the University of Chicago and received a Ph.D.
three years later after completing a doctoral
dissertation based on his work in the North End. By
this time Whyte had been teaching for a year as
an assistant professor of sociology at the University
of Oklahoma, and upon completion of his degree
in 1943 he was offered a combined research and
teaching fellowship at Harvard.
Meanwhile Whyte had already transformed his
doctoral dissertation into a book about Boston's
North End, renamed "Cornerville." It was published
in 1943 as Street Corner Society: The Social
Structure of an Italian Slum by the University of
Chicago Press. An innovative and groundbreaking
case study of an Italian-American slum and its
gang culture, it treated its subjects with respect,
demonstrated that the culture had a valid social
structure, identified its roots in culturally enforced
isolation and poverty, and argued for government
aid to ameliorate substandard living and working
During Whyte's four years at Chicago his research
interests grew to focus on labor relations, and in
1948 he published his second book, Human
Relations in the Restaurant Industry, based on
fieldwork he had done among Chicago restaurant
workers. That fall he moved with his family to
Ithaca, New York, to become a full professor at
Cornell University's New York State School of
Industrial and Labor Relations (now the ILR School).
Whyte's affiliation with Cornell continued until his
retirement as professor emeritus in 1979; he served
as director of its Social Science Research Center
from 1956 to 1961.
Beginning in the 1950s Whyte was active as a
researcher in Latin America and Spain as well as
the United States, investigating such areas as
worker cooperatives, employee ownership, and
labor-management relations. His next three books,
published during the 1950s, were academic
studies based on his continuing fieldwork both at
home and abroad: Pattern for Industrial Peace
(1950), Money and Motivation: An Analysis of
Incentives in Industry (1955), and Man and
Organization: Three Problems in Human Relations
in Industry (1959).
The Three Important Problems
in Human Relations in Industry
The Philosophical Problem (part 1)

The Theoretical or Conceptual Problem(part


The Practical Problem(part 3)

The Philosophical Problem
Free will versus Determinism
The researchers had discovered that man is a
human being even in industry. It seemed
that if only this message could be brought
home to supervisors and executives in
industry, the problems of conflict and
misunderstanding could be resolved.
This was indeed a time of great hopes for
human understanding through training
people of skills of interpersonal relations.
Many training programs are still dedicated to
the idea that, if you can get supervisors to
understand their workers a bit better and
communicate with them more smoothly, the
basic human problem of industry will be
Many training programs have been carried
on. In nearly every case, you will find that the
participants enjoy the programs and say they
get a good deal out of them.
Possible conclusions regarding
human relations training
It is nevertheless possible to change human
relations in an organization directly through
training program and that the particular
programs evaluated in the research just did
not to do as effective as might be done.
Even if we accept the possibility of doing a
better training job through methods already
known, the negative or inconclusive results of
research f training suggest that we also must
think our approach to human relations.
Human relations training programs tend,
quite naturally, to focus attention on
interpersonal relations. Perhaps this gives
us too narrow a base f operations. We
must look beyond the immediate
interpersonal situation to study the
environmental factors that are shaping
Discovering the Environment
What aspects of the environment do we
consider in this analysis?

We must consider at least these aspects of the

The work flow
The formal organization of the
We must view the impact of the environment
in comparative terms asking questions that
require us to make comparisons of cases.

Comparative questions:
To what extent do human relations appear
similar in the same industry in different regions
of the world?
To what extent do human relations show
apparently cultural determined differences
from region to region?
Economist Clark Kerr and
Abraham Siegal
These two addressed themselves to the first
question in a very significant and interesting
article on the inter industry propensity to strike.
They show that the degree of harmony
between management and labor in a given
company could hardly interpreted entirely
terms of human relations skills of the people
immediately involved because there are
characteristic labor relation patterns within a
given industry. Furthermore, these patterns
transcend national boundaries.
Inthe coal industry, for example, there
has been a long history of strife in many
countries throughout the world, while in
clothing industry has been relatively free
of strife.

Kerr and Siegal seek to explain these

differences in terms that are essentially
In strife prone industries, they point to the
homogeneity of the workforce and its
separation from other types of people. They
say that if you have large numbers of workers
doing much the same job and experiencing
much the same conditions and, in addition,
living close together and isolated from
management people and other types of
workers, then under these conditions you tend
to get a militant work group in frequent
conflict with management.
Conversely, if the workers in a given plant
(organization) carry on a wide variety of
jobs and live scattered throughout the
community, they tend not to stick
together in militant attacks on
management, and we see relatively little
strife. In effect, they are showing how the
technology, the distribution of jobs, and
the social ecology of the community
affect interpersonal relations on job.
The Impact of Culture
As we consider culturally determined
differences, let us first turn to Latin America as
an example. There was found a pattern of
human relations quite different from that with
which we are familiar in the United States.
Within the management organization,
according to Everett Hagen, we find a much
greater emphasis upon the line f authority
and a lesser development of staff
organizations than we see in comparable
companies in the United States.
In union management relations, the
grievance procedure as we know it is little
in evidence inside Latin American plants.
To a much greater extent than in the
United States, the government becomes
involved in the handling of all kinds of
labor problems. These differences seem to
be clearly related to the culture and
social organization of Latin America.
There we find that society has been much
more rigidly stratified than it has with us. As
a corollary, we find a greater emphasis
upon authority in family and community.
This emphasis upon status differences
makes it difficult for people of different
status levels to express themselves freely
and frankly in discussion and argument.
In the past, the pattern has been for the
man of the lower status to express
deference to his superior in any face to
face contacts. This has been the case
even when everyone knows that the
subordinate dislikes the superior.
The impact of cultural differences does not seem to pass
away before advancing industrialization.
Japan is a highly industrialized nation, and yet, the factories
in this country are organized according to social logic quite
different from ours. Japanese workers are hired for life. They
practically never fired. Promotions go largely by seniority
even at managerial levels. The pay of workers bears no
relation to their productivity.
All management decisions are made on a group basis at
least nominally.

If we could imagine such a system being established in a

certain company, we would definitely predict that it would
not work due to the cultural differences.
Organization Structure
In the early history of human relations research,
little attention was given to formal organization. In
fact, we were all fascinated by the discovery of
the informal organization.
It is stated that, however management set up the
organization, the people in associating together at
work developed a group life which was not
entirely predetermined by formal organization and
in fact shaped behavior in ways quite
unanticipated by those who designed the
organization structure.
It is true that the organization structure
itself does not predetermine all of the
behavior to be observed in the
organization. However, we need to learn
all over again that the formal structure
itself has a very important impact upon
interpersonal relations.
The work flow provides another important influence
upon human relations in the organization.

For an example, a large hotel restaurant where there

was constant friction between the checkers and the
waitressesas often arises between these two
positions. The checker had a post between the
kitchen and the dining room.
All the waitresses had to go by her to have their
checks rung up on the cash register. The checker
also had an inspection responsibility: she could send
the waitresses back to the kitchen if she felt that they
had not organized the orders correctly. At this
particular checker's stand,
there were two lines of girls coming through, serving
two different dining rooms. Furthermore, the checker
had a telephone where she took calls for room service
and wrote down the orders that the customers called in
from upstairs. During the rush hours, the place was in
an uproar.
Only when
such a reorganization had been accomplished would it
be worthwhile to undertake some human relations
trainingand at this point we might find that we have
eliminated the need for it, at least as far as waitresses
and checkers are concerned.
Suppose we were to try to solve this
problem through getting the
people to understand each other
bettertraining the waitresses to
understand the checker's point of
view, training the checker to
understand the waitresses, and so
on. By now it must be obvious that
such an effort would be a waste of
time. As long as the flow of work
Thefirst requirement in this situation was to
reorganize the flow of work so as to avoid
overtaxing the social and technical
capacities of the checker and to minimize
the delays to the waitresses, which so
complicated their relations with both the
customers and the kitchen personnel.
Only when such a reorganization had
been accomplished would it be
worthwhile to undertake some human
relations trainingand at this point we
might find that we have eliminated the
need for it, at least as far as waitresses
and checkers are concerned.
Technology and the Job
Let us consider a case where the technology
and the work process are extremely important
in influencing human relations.

For example , the plants (organization) in

question are located in a bicultural area,
where higher management people speak
one language and workers, general foremen,
foremen speak a different one.
The process in question involved the smelting of
metallic ores. To a layman, this looks like cooking the
ore in large vats, at the same time that chemical
reactions are introduced into the process. The union
in these plants had once been a rather docile
organization, but recently a militant group had taken
over local union leadership.
The key men among the new local union officers had
come out of the smelting division and had taken
over leadership positions there first before rising to the
top level. Furthermore, the smelting division
continued to be the focal point of union-
management conflict, with a high proportion of
grievances and some unauthorized walkouts.
While the foremen and general foremen and
higher management people in this division felt
constantly harassed by their labor problems,
we found relatively little concern with such
matters in the other divisions.

This suggested that there were problems in

the technology and process and nature of
the jobs which tended to create more militant
union activity in this department than
Pawns or Architects?
Are men merely pawns of
the environmental forces
we have been describing?
Or can men exert some
control over their fates in
Topoint out some of these impersonal
forces are subject to the conscious
decision of men. You can change the
formal structure of the organization. As we
learn more about what structures are
appropriate for what types of activities,
we can redesign
organizational structures accordingly.
You can also change the work flow.
In our complex organizational world, we
are dealing with technology, work flow,
organization structure, all of which tend to
set the pattern of human relations we
observe. If we try to change this pattern
without changing any of the forces that
have created it, we can hardly expect to
make much progress.
Furthermore, even when you cannot
change these environmental forces, you
may, if you understand them, be able to
adjust better to the problems they create.
There is a need to develop some kind of
administration of collective problems.
Such a system has not yet been
developed, and I am not at all sure I
could sketch out very clearly how it
should develop.
Suppose we are unable to change the
formal structure of the organization, the
work flow, and the nature of the work the
men do, is there nothing significant that
we can do to change human relations
between workers and management and
union and management?
Even in such a case, the pattern of
human relations is not completely
Ifwe undertake to solve human relations
problems simply through the manipulation of
the direct face-to-face relationship, then we
will find that really major improvements are
beyond our reach.

However, if we learn to deal with the

forces that influence the social system, and
if we learn to change the pattern of
interaction among men, there are
tremendous possibilities for improvement