Course Director: Professor Mikael Holmqvist
Course Coordinator: Helene Olofsson

This course aims to introduce students in the PhD program in fundamental issues and approaches related to the study of organizations. The course aims to give them a thorough understanding of a range of social scientific literature on organizations. The course will not be comprehensive in terms of different theoretical approaches, but will be based on a representative number of themes that have been central to contemporary organizational theorists - and which today forms the basis of the international scientific discussion of organizations. Specifically, the course is organized around three theoretical perspectives that are relevant when studying organizations: (a) organization-sociological perspectives; (b) cultural-sociological perspectives; and (c) cognitive- and social-psychological perspectives on organizations.

The course consists of six seminars. The first seminar introduces the course. Then follows three seminars that are devoted to examining the three theoretical perspectives. These are followed by one seminar devoted to discussing two recent studies of organizations, and how these studies can be understood in the light of the three theoretical perspectives. The last seminar concludes the course by asking students to present their own projects, and how these can be seen with respect to the course’s content and approach.

Participants will be asked to share the responsibility for leading the discussions at the seminars. At the introductory seminar, assignments will be awarded. To lead the discussion involves giving the group a brief overview (20-30 minutes) of the main ideas, strengths, weaknesses, controversies, and the gaps in the reading. All participants are expected to come to the seminars with questions, comments, etc. to be discussed in the group. Seminar participation includes both seminar management as well as active participation. A good seminar is based on an active and analytical dialogue.

All participants should prepare short PMs (about 1,000 words) related to each seminar’s literature. The formats may vary, but include a suggestion of the following: (a) critical ideas, concepts, and arguments; (b) questions, difficulties, problems, disagreements; and (c) connections to other literature, contradictions, and more. N.B.! For seminar 5, students will be asked to analyze the cases by a selection of the literature of seminars 2, 3 and 4. In all, these P M will constitute a summary of the student’s impression of the current literature as well as the questions he or she may have. A copy of the P M is handed in at the seminar.

Final P M. All participants must write a final memo (about 3,000 words) where they provide both an overview of the various approaches that have been raised during the course, and an in-depth analysis of one (or more) of the three theoretical perspectives in which a connection is made to one’s own thesis project. A copy of the final p m is handed in no longer than four weeks after the completion of the course.

Participation at seminars is compulsory.

Course goal
Having completed the course students should be able to think critically and comprehensively about the character and role of organization in contemporary society and be able to use different theoretical ideas in their independent analyses of organized activity.  

Learning outcomes
On successful completion of the course students will be able to demonstrate a solid command of central theoretical ideas, concepts, mechanisms and critical issues of organization in contemporary society. More specifically, students shall be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the development of some central organization theories and their importance in terms of their functions and meaning.
  • Clearly and critically discuss and contrast central theoretical constructs in the relevant literature.
  • Analyze contemporary organizations and institutions from various theoretical perspectives.
  • Reflect upon and evaluate the social significance of organizations in modern societies.

Teaching and Learning Methods

The course consists of a combination of seminars and compulsory assignments.


The course is assessed through active participation in seminars and individual assignments.

The course is graded with accepted or fail. The student needs to attend all seminars and do all written assignments.

Seminar 1. Introduction and presentation of the course.
At the first seminar, the course will be introduced by the teacher and the assignments for each seminar awarded.

Seminar 2. Organization-sociological perspectives on organizations: Herbert Simon and Max Weber
Required readings:
Simon, H (1945/ 1997), Administrative Behavior. (3rd or 4th eds.). New York: The Free Press:
“Decision-Making and Administrative Organization” (1-16)
“The Psychology of Administrative Behavior” (92-117)
“The Equilibrium of the Organization” (140-150)
“The Role of Authority” (177-201)
“Communication” (208-222)
“Loyalties and Organizational Identification” (278-295)

Weber, M, (1978), Economy and Society. Vols. 1 and 2. Edited by G. Roth and C. Wittich. Berkeley: University of California Press:
“The definition of sociology and of social action” (4-24)
“Types of social action” (24-26)
“The concept of social relationship” (26-28)
“Communal and associative relationships” (40-43)
“Open and closed relationships” (43-44)
“The organization” (48-50)
“Consensual and imposed order in organizations” (50-52)
“Enterprise, formal organization, voluntary and compulsory association” (52-53)
“Power and domination” (53-54)
“Domination and legitimacy” (212-215)
“The three types of authority” (215-216)
“Legal authority: the pure type” (217-223)
“Monocratic bureaucracy” (223-226)
“Traditional authority” (226-228)
“Charismatic authority and charismatic community” (241-245)
“The routinization of charisma” (246-254)
“Characteristics of modern bureaucracy” (956-958)
“The position of the official within and outside of bureaucracy” (958-963)
“The technical superiority of bureaucratic organization…” (973-975)
“The concentration of the means of administration” (980-983)
“The leveling of social differences” (983-984)
“The objective and subjective bases of bureaucratic perpetuity” (987-989)
“Types of collegiality and the division of powers” (271-282)
“The functionally specific division of powers” (282-283)
“The relations of the political separation of powers to the economy” (283-284)

Seminar 3. Cultural-sociological perspectives on organizations: Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault

Required readings:
Bourdieu, P. (1984), Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge:
“The habitus and the space of life-styles” (165-222)

Swedberg, R. and M. Granovetter (2001) (Eds.), The Sociology of Economic Life. Boulder, CO: Westview:
Bourdieu, P.: “The forms of capital” (96-111).
Bourdieu, P. (1989), The State Nobility. Stanford: Stanford University Press:
“The production of a nobility” (73-101)
“A rite of institution” (102-115)
“The ambiguities of competence” (116-128)
“Establishment schools and power over the economy” (300-335)

Foucault, M. (1977), Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin.

Seminar 4. Cognitive- and social-psychological perspectives on organizations: James March and Karl E. Weick

Required readings:
Cyert, R & J. March (1963/ 1992), A Behavioral Theory of the Firm. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Blackwell Business:
“Organization goals” (30-51)
“The firm as an adaptive institution” (117-120)
“Standard operating procedure” (120-135)
“Four major relational concepts” (164-174)

March, J & J. Olsen, (1976/ 1979), Ambiguity and Choice. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget:
“Organizational choice under ambiguity” (10-23)
“People, problems, solutions and the ambiguity of relevance” (24-37)
“Attention and the ambiguity of self-interest” (38-53)
“Organizational learning and the ambiguity of the past” (54-68)
“The technology of foolishness” (69-81)

Weick, K (1979), The Social Psychology of Organizing. 2nd ed. McGraw Hill:
“An introduction to organizing” (1-23)
“Tactics for thinking about organizing” (25-64)
“Interlocked behaviors and organizing” (89-118)
“Enactment and organizing” (147-166)

Seminar 5. Studying organizations: the case of Samhall and Djursholm

Required readings:
Holmqvist, M. (2008), The Institutionalization of Social Welfare. A Study of Medicalizing Management.

Holmqvist, M. (forthcoming), Leader Communities. The Consecration of Elites.

Will be distributed by the teacher.


Seminar 6. Presentation of PhD-projects
At the last seminar, each student will be asked to present his or her PhD-project based on the final P M (see above). The seminar is an opportunity for everybody to discuss their individual projects through the perspectives, concepts and ideas as proposed by the course literature, and get feedback on the way they have approached and understood it. This seminar’s purpose is to conclude the course by integrating the literature with each student’s ongoing or future empirical project.


September 4th    09-12 in the Management Room (Room 15:305/bldg. 15, 3 rd floor)

September 25th   09-12 in the Boardroom (bldg. 3)

October 16th      09-12 in the Management Room

November 6th     09-12 in the Management Room

November 27th   09-12 in the Management Room

December 18th   09-12 in the Management Room