Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis, Heinemann, 1979, 1-37


In this introduction the authors develop a 2x2 matrix scheme to help classify and understand existing sociological theories based on four major paradigms.


The matrix is based on four main debates in sociology:

The authors coalesce these debates into two fundamental issues that form the axes of the 2x2 matrix:

The four paradigms represented by the quadrants of the matrix are:

Functionalist Paradigm (objective-regulation)

This has been the primary paradigm for organizational study. It assumes rational human action and believes one can understand organizational behavior through hypothesis testing.

Interpretive Paradigm (subjective-regulation)

This paradigm "seeks to explain the stability of behavior from the individual's viewpoint". Researchers in this paradigm try to observe "on-going processes" to better understand individual behavior and the "spiritual nature of the world".

Radical Humanist Paradigm (subjective-radical change)

Theorists in this paradigm are mainly concerned with releasing social constraints that limit human potential. They see the current dominant ideologies as separating people from their "true selves". They use this paradigm to justify desire for revolutionary change. It's largely anti-organization in scope.

Radical Structuralist Paradigm (objective-radical change)

Based on this paradigm, theorists see inherent structural conflicts within society that generate constant change through political and economic crises. This has been the fundamental paradigm of Marx, Engles, and Lenin.


1. Assumptions about the Nature of Social Science

This exerpt focuses more on the basic sociological questions that underlie the various theories of organizations.

The first set of assumptions are ontological -- is reality external from conscious or a product of individual conciousnesses. Is reality given or a product of the mind?

The second set of assumptions is epistemological -- what forms of knowledge can be obtained, how to sort truth from falsehood. Can knowledge be acquired, or must it be experienced?

A third set are assumptions of human nature. Are humans determined by their environment, or do humans create their environment? (Determinism vs voluntarism)

Each of the assumptions have important methodological implications. Two camps are objectivist and subjectivist. Obejectivists examine relationships and regularities between the elements. They search for concepts and universal laws to explain reality. Subjectivists focus on how individuals create, modify, and interpret the world, and see things as more relativistic.

There are four main socio-philisophical debates:


Nominalism vs Realism : The Ontological Debate

Nominalism assumes that social reality is relative, and the social world is mainly names, concepts, and labels that help the individual structure reality. These labels are artificial creations.

Realism assumes that the real world has hard, intangible structures that exist irrespective of our labels. The social world exists separate from the individuals perception of it. The social world exists as strongly as the physical world.


Anti-Positivism - Positivism: The Epistemological Debate

Positivists believe that one can seek to explain and predict what happens in the social world by searching for patterns and relationships between people. They believe one can develop hypotheses and test them, and that knowledge is a cumulative process.

Anti-positivists reject that observing behavior can help one understand it. One must experience it directly. They reject that social science can create true objective knowledge of any kind.


Voluntarism vs Determinism : The Human Nature Debate

Are humans determined by their environment, or do they have "free will"


Ideographic vs Nomothetic Theory: The Methodological Debate

Ideographic inquiry focuses on "getting inside" a subject and exploring their detailed background and life history. They involve themselves with people's normal lives, and look at diaries, biographies, observation.

Nomothetic relies more on the scientific method, and hypothesis testing. They use quantitative tests like surveys, personality tests, and standardized research tools.


Major Assumptions About Social Science


There have been two major intellectual traditions. The first is "sociological positivism", that applies models and methods from the natural sciences to social affairs. The second is "German idealism", which sees reality in the "spirit" or "idea", rejects the scientific methodology to understanding behavior.


2. Assmuptions About the Nature of Society


Order-Conflict Debate

This old debate is around approaches that characterize the stabilizing effects of social order, versus those approaches focused more on change. Now most people see both as embedded in each other.

Traditionally, the prominent sociologists of Durkheim, Weber, and Pareto were concerned with social order, while Marx was concerned with social change.

Dahrendorf sees the order-conflict debate centered around two camps, one emphasizing stability, integration, functional co-ordination, and consensus, and the other emphasizing change, conflict, disintegration, and coercion. In reality this dichotomy is more a continium.

Each of these opposite word-pairs is open to much interpretation, and each is not completely accurate in describing the debate and can cause misinterpretation.

The authors put forth another way of descibing this debate as "regulation" vs "radical change". Regulation theories explore socities unity and cohesiveness. Radical change theories emphasize structural conflict, domination, and structural contradiction. It often focuses on the deprivation of man and potential changes.


3. Two Dimensions: Four Paradigms

The authors then claim that one can understand the range of current sociological debate by mapping theories on a two-dimensional map, with the subjective-objective debate on one axis and the regulation-radical change on th other. Each quadrant corresponds to a particular paradigm in sociology. Most reseachers stay in one paradigm.


Functionalist paradigm (objective - regulation)

This is the dominant paradigm for organizational study. It seeks to provide rational explanations of human affairs. It's pragmatic and deeply rooten in sociological positivism. Relationships are concrete and can be identified studied and measured via science. This paradigm has been mildly influenced by idealist and Marxist thought too.


Interpretive Paradigm (subjective-regulation)

It seeks to explain the stability of behavior from the individual's viewpoint. They are most interested in understanding the subjectively created world "as it is" in terms of ongoing processes. It emphasizes the spiritual nature of the world. Philosophers like Kant formed it's basis, and Weber, Husserl, and Schutz furthered the ideology. This paradigm has'nt generated much organizational theory.


Radical Humanist (subjective-radical change)

In this view the consciousness of man is dominated by the ideological superstructures with which he interacts, and these drive a cognitive wedge between himself and his true consciousness, which prevents human fulfilment. These theorists are mainly concerned with releasing ths social constraints that bind potential. It's philosophers are Kant and Hegel and young Marx. It was carried on int the 20's at the Frankfurt School, and in French existentialism. Most of this paradigm is actually anti-organization.


Radical Structuralist (objective - radical change)

They believe that radical change is built into the nature of societal structures. "Contemporary society is characterized by fundamental conflicts which generate radical change through political and economic crises. It is based on mature Marx, followed by Engles, Lenin and Bukharin. It has recieved little attention in the US outside of conflict theory.