Determining Organizational Boundaries
A collectivity is a "bounded network of social relations governed by
a normative order applicable to the participants linked by the network"
(Scott p. 181). But it is often extremely difficult to define the boundary
of an organization, as it is both diffuse and dynamic.
Two approaches to boundary definition are the realist and normalist. The
realist approach adopts the boundary definition used by the participants
themselves. Under the nominalist the researcher chooses a boundary
that serves his analytic purposes (Scott p. 182). Within each approach,
researchers can focus either on actors, relations, or activities.
Network theorists often look at interaction frequencies and locate the boundaries
where the interaction frequencies diminish. Resource dependency theorists
(Pfeffer and Salancik 1978) comment that activities also change when one
moves across a boundary. They state that "the organization is the total
set of interstructured activities in which it is engaged at any one time
and over which it has discretion to initiate, maintain, or end behaviors...the
organization ends where its discretion ends and another begins".
Of course, spatial boundaries (company offices, etc.) and temporal boundaries
(office hours, schedules) are other methods for defining the organizational
boundary. Boundary definition by operational activities can become difficult
when organizations are engaged in joint ventures or university collaborations.
Katz and Kahn add that one can determine boundaries by looking at the cycles
of energy and information transactions via inputs, throughput, and output.
Anything lying outside of these cycles is outside the boundary (Katz and
Kahn p. 21).