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Emmanuel Lazega

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Emmanuel Lazega

The Introduction argues that, in order to navigate the coming transitions democratically and in the interest of the many, contemporary societies need to look at themselves as organizational societies and to redefine organizations. This redefinition requires clarifying the contrast between bureaucracy and collegiality as two orthogonal ideal types helping members activate organized collective action and manage cooperation dilemmas: the first accounts for activation of collective agency made up of routine tasks, with hierarchical coordination and impersonal interactions; the second for innovative tasks, with committee work among peers and personalized relational infrastructures. The book presents social change as the outcome of combination and permanent struggles between the two logics. Understanding these combinations uses a stratigraphic approach, analyses of multilevel networks, and normative controversies. Concepts such as “bottom up collegiality”, “top down collegiality” and “inside-out collegiality” encapsulate key dimensions of these combinations. In these dynamics, combining both logics requires activating multilevel relational infrastructures (such as “vertical linchpins” and “vertical social niches”), that is, creating specific social positions that strengthen agency at several levels simultaneously. The book explores the central role that actors in such positions play in social change, for example in the political economy and in social stratification, but also some consequences of the current digitalization of society for this activation.

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Emmanuel Lazega

Chapter 2 theorizes multilevel activation of collective agency and exemplifies its intraorganizational “stratigraphy” as dynamic superpositions of bureaucratic and collegial strata in various combinations. Empirical examples of how both ideal types complement and co-constitute each other are provided by three organizational network studies among lawyers, among priests and among judges. The first looks at the bureaucratic rotation of peers in a law firm, and its consequences for management of opportunistic behavior. The second at “top-down collegiality”, a form of patronage-based bureaucratic cooptation, by a collegial oligarchy, of “collegial pockets” with different religious orientations, silencing normative controversies in a Catholic diocese. The third at cyclical dynamics – centralization, decentralization, recentralization – of advice networks increasing the social influence of vertical linchpins in normative controversies in a courthouse. Collegial pockets as social niches capable of oppositional solidarity and collective agency in joint regulatory conflicts are identified in executive suites, professional departments and workers’ trade unions at the bottom of the hierarchy. Intermediary, multilevel relational infrastructures are key in this activation when they synchronize activities between organizational strata driving each other’s evolution.

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Emmanuel Lazega

Multilevel activation in this stratigraphy redefines coopetition but is heavily determined by “the environment” of the organization. Chapter 3 revisits the classical theory of the rapport between organization and environment using analyses of multilevel networks reaching across organizational boundaries. These analyses combine interindividual, interorganizational and affiliation networks to model how specific interindividual relational configurations help manage conflicts at interorganizational levels; or where the little fish can catch up with the big fish in the big ponds over time. An empirical example of multilevel networks in science identifies how multilevel relational infrastructures transform cut-throat rivalry into manageable coopetition among peers. Derived concepts such as “dual alters”, “extended opportunity structures” or “multilevel Matthew effects” add to current approaches of competitive advantage and coopetitive success in innovation. This leads to the contextualization of multilevel networks and the study of organized mobility and relational turnover as their social determinants, using the metaphor of the multilevel spinning top (multispin). Issues of unequal distribution of “synchronization costs” in these dynamics also emerge as characterizing multilevel activation in such contexts.

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Emmanuel Lazega

Understanding activation of a stratigraphic combination of bureaucracy and collegiality can be useful to approach the functioning of production markets and issues of policy design and implementation in the political economy. Empirical network studies illustrate, for example, how top-down collegiality and coopetitive collegial oligarchies operate in the construction of markets in various industries (wine, biotech, restaurant, audiovisual, financial, etc.), and in the construction of transnational public institutions, here a transnational collegial oligarchy of committed European judges building, over decades, the European Unified Patent Court, and thus a new European intellectual property regime. The more the political economy depends on such private/public, exclusive, collegial pockets of institutional entrepreneurs operating at several levels simultaneously (vertical linchpins) and aligning heterogeneous cultural conventions and structures, the more stratigraphic activation and its multilevel relational infrastructures are able to manage problems of market and regulatory coopetition. This exposes the multilevel dimension of institutional capture.

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Emmanuel Lazega

Actors in multilevel positions activate the combination of collegiality and bureaucracy to use organizations as ratchets of stratigraphic social stratification. Beyond just locking existing social inequalities in the organizational society, three mechanisms are explored through which activating multilevel relational infrastructures in organizations generates more inequalities. First, organizations help elites self-segregate and hoard opportunities using top-down collegiality: the more open at the bottom, the more closed at the top – closure being based on using the private dimension of relational infrastructures in bunkerized collegial oligarchies. Second, coordination between strata can throw weaker groups carrying out routine tasks into the pitfalls of “participation”. Third, by using violence to reshape multispins of organized mobility and relational turnover, stratigraphic organizations can lower the capacity of weaker groups to build, over time, strong multilevel relational infrastructures for joint regulation, dumping on such groups high synchronization costs in coordination of temporalities across levels.

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Emmanuel Lazega

In contemporary societies, elite self-segregation and socioeconomic inequalities increase with the development of a new kind of bureaucratization of society based on digitalization. This technological change redefines the classical, Weberian link between efficiency and social control by extending the scope of routinization to creative activities. It produces a new stratigraphic organizational combination – “inside-out collegiality” – illustrated here with the use of the multilayer “swarm template” by the military. This trend allows, for example, hegemonic platforms owning and exploiting “big relational data”, to identify and neutralize collegial pockets with oppositional solidarity within and across organizations, to activate or undermine more efficiently multilevel relational infrastructures to steer innovation and institutional entrepreneurship in convenient directions, and eventually to redefine politics in society at large. Platform bureaucracy and new organizational transformation could thus be used to reify multilayer dynamics, to impose totalitarian forms of collective responsibility in all embedded commons, for example in the name of security and adaptation to the current transitions (migratory, climate related, etc.). Promoting unobtrusively this form of multilevel organized collective agency threatens to shape social changes not only by stifling innovation but also without democratic deliberation and accountability.

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Emmanuel Lazega

The book redefines organization using a stratigraphic approach to the co-constitution of bureaucracy and collegiality across levels and across boundaries, thus exploring the central role that actors in multilevel positions play in multilevel activation of multilevel collective agency and social change in the organizational society. To existing analyses of collegiality and innovative work using multiple types of networks (multiplexity), this framework adds a multilevel dimension. It relies on concepts such as vertical linchpin and vertical social niches to improve our understanding of dynamics of multilevel networks as contextualized by stratification, mobility and political/cultural controversies. Without any claim to exhaustivity, it helps revisit some of the issues that have been at the core of contemporary sociology of organizations, economic sociology and political sociology. At least four general areas of urgent further research are identified from the formalism and from the approach of social and institutional change presented here: the redefinitions of the commons and collective responsibility, for example in cooperatives or in more distributed uses of bottom-up platforms; the use of organizations as ratchets of social stratification and social inequalities; the struggle for open science, against social engineering based on monopolized knowledge of multilevel relational infrastructures in society; and a better understanding of dynamics of multilevel networks in joint regulation and the political process. Further exploitation and expansion of this framework is a task that public sociology should not leave to growing privatized sociology.

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Emmanuel Lazega