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Göran Ahrne and Nils Brunsson

A growing number of organizations are meta-organizations; rather than individuals they have other organizations as their members. This comprehensive book explains, in-depth, the unique way in which meta-organizations function, how they differ from organizations with individual membership, and how they are crucial agents in the process of globalization.
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Chapter 3: Environment, Members, and Meta-organizations

Göran Ahrne and Nils Brunsson


2. Many meta-organizations In this chapter we expand on the definition of meta-organizations we made in the previous chapter. We also demonstrate what we mean by meta-organizations by providing many examples. We give a short historical overview of the development of metaorganizations and present some figures that represent the number of national and international meta-organizations. Finally, we present summaries of nine of our case studies as well as short descriptions of 15 more meta-organizations that appear in the book. ORGANIZATIONS THAT DO NOT KNOW WHO THEY ARE Meta-organizations seem to find it difficult to make up their minds about the type of organization they are. Their leaders and members use myriad terms for describing themselves – association, union, league, club, consortium, federation, confederation, commission, network, round table, and protocol being some of the most common. Politicians, journalists, and researchers seem to find it equally difficult to describe the nature of meta-organizations within an organizational framework. They are often described shortly and sweetly as “umbrella organizations”, a designation that we have been unable to find any meta-organization to be officially using itself. As mentioned in the previous chapter, certain meta-organizations are sometimes described as “international organizations” (Murphy 1994; Archer 2001; Barnett and Finnemore 2004). Yet there are international organizations that are not meta-organizations, and, above all, there are many metaorganizations that are not international; in fact most are not. There 9 10 Meta-organizations are meta-organizations with members solely from the same country (e.g., a national trade association) or even from the same...

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