The Dialogue of Disciplines
- New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Michael Harvey and Ronald E. Riggio
8. Thinking sociologically about leadership Sonia M. Ospina and Margo Hittleman INTRODUCTION Sociologists have an ambivalent relationship with leadership as a social phenomenon worth exploring. On the one hand, a search for “leadership” in contemporary sociology journals yields few entries. Yet a sociological perspective has permeated the study of leadership from the field’s beginnings (Ayman, 2000). Weber’s insights on “charisma”, for example, remain key to leadership studies. And social psychologists, along with scholars in applied fields such as management, education and public administration, draw heavily on sociological organization and management theories. This paradox may arise from the heroic individual-centered approach that dominates the conventional leadership literature with its emphasis on the psychological dynamics of the leader–follower relationship. Sociology is premised on the belief that actors are socially embedded; the idea that meaningful human experience can be understood exclusively from the vantage point of isolated individuals runs counter to sociological thinking. Regardless of researchers’ location in a particular epistemic community or where they fall within the quintessential sociological debate about “agency” versus “structure”, sociology’s goal is to capture how the key features of human agency relate to institutional and structural regularities, as well as the relationships between them. It is, in C. Wright Mills’ words, about using “the sociological imagination” by grasping “history and biography and the relations between the two within society” (Mills,  2000: 5). Leadership scholars who use a “sociological imagination” may or may not be connected to departments of sociology. Nevertheless they consistently frame research questions...
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