Instructions: Students taking the course must write a 2000 word essay, which counts for 50% of the assessment of this course, on the following topic:
Explain what Weber meant by the distinction between formal rationality and substantive rationality. Using these two concepts, analyze whether Scientific Management and Human Relations Theory are formally rational, substantively rational, both, or neither.
All essays should contain a full list of works referred to (not included in the word count), and must be entirely your own unaided work. Plagiarism – using the words of anyone other than yourself unquoted and without attribution – is checked for using specialist software and will result in a reduced mark (which may be zero) or, in some circumstances, more severe penalties.
A good essay has the following characteristics:
– It demonstrably makes use of readings (not just the textbook) and course material and references them: an essay is not just your opinion but should be based on the existing studies of the topic
– It is not simply a re-hash of lecture notes
– It makes an argument, rather than just being a list of points, and that argument can include, but should not be limited to, your own opinion
– It is structured rather than being a string of haphazard ideas
– It makes best use of the words available: as you write and re-read what you have written, ask yourself whether every word is relevant to the question
Suggested Sources: Grey, C. (2013), A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organizations. London: Sage, 3rd edition
Essential sources: Clegg S., Kornberger M. & Pitsis T. (2012), Managing and Organizations. An Introduction to Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 3rd edition
Formal Rationality and Substantive Rationality
Rationality forms a large part of the works of Max Weber, who believed that the, decision making process was defined by underlying motives. As such, Max developed various modalities of rationality, two of them being formal and substantive rationality, meant to describe the different decision making approaches that individuals embrace in social, economic, and political scenarios. Weber was keen to strike a distinction between formal and substantive rationality, with the two being driven by contrasting factors. Formal rationality, as suggested by Weber, is based on calculations of the outcomes of any actions that may be taken in a decision making process (Grey, 2013, p. 24). On the other hand, Substantive rationality is based on values and ethical considerations that define and individual’s social, economic, and political constructs (Clegg, et al., 2012, p. 412). It is important to note that by clearly understanding the distinction between the two modalities of rationality, one can be able to easily distinguish between the determinants of decisions made by different entities in the society. This paper reviews the differences between the formal and substantive rationality and if these modalities of rationality form basis upon which Human relations Theory and Scientific Management can be explained. The paper starts by separately looking at the formal and substantive theories and then contrasting them before relating them to the Human Relations Theory and the Scientific Management approach.
The distinction between Formal Rationality and Substantive Rationality
Formal rationality goes beyond the epoch-transcending and intercivilization character of the other types of rationality to relate to domination structures and life spheres that acquired delineated and specific boundaries through industrialization. To be specific, bureaucratic domination and the scientific, economic, and legal spheres. Formal rationality grants legitimacy to an approach of rational calculation of the means-end relation with reference to the laws, rules, and regulations that are universally applied (Grey, 2013, p. 24). As such, this modality of rationality allows for the making of decisions without regarding any persons involved, but instead making calculations in view of the applicable abstract rules. Such an approach subjects any distinct personalities, including those that are charismatic, to the same formally rational procedures as any other decisions, with the only acceptable decisions being those that conform to the enacted regulations.
Formal rationality provides a unique and widely applied approach to decision making and problem solving, in which the societal established rules and regulations determine the kind of decisions that are to be made in any case. The factors of the case are only measures in terms of how they relate to the pre-established regulations, with no room created for the mind and personality of individuals to exercise autonomy (Grey, 2013, p. 25). Individuals are not expected to make decisions based on what they consider as right, but based on the pre-established procedural directions. This approach could be equated to that used in most organizations, especially among the low level managers and employees, whereby they are required to enact the established rules and policies of the company without questioning the management. Any decisions made at such a low level of the company are based on an already decision making framework, defined, by company rules, regulations, and policies.
Substantive rationality, just like formal rationality, directly orders patterns out of actions, but not based on means-end calculations when findings solutions to the various problems that individuals or groups are facing, but based on past, present, or potentially postulated values (Clegg, et al., 2012, p. 412). As such, when it comes to substantive rationality, entities make decisions based on a set values that exist within their decisions. Such decisions are made on the basis of ethicality as opposed to consideration of outcomes. It is important to note that a value postulate does not mean that only one value is considered, but different clusters of values varying in internal consistency, comprehensiveness, and content (Grey, 2013, p. 25). This rationality could be termed as a manifestation of the inherent capacity that human beings have for action that is value-rational.
As such, Weber established that the values that could be potentially define substantive rationality range from one group to another, with their numbers extending to infinity. Community based points of views establish these sets of values that each and every member within such communities is expected to conform to and base their decisions on them (Clegg, et al., 2012, p. 412). Case in point, a religious group such as Christianity has a set of values that they uphold, including value for life, showing kindness, care, sharing, and love among others. As such, Christians would employ substantive rationality when making decisions, in which they would consider each of the values that they uphold and determine the decision that would best uphold such values. These values become “rational” as a result of their status as value postulates that are consistent. In the same vein, whatever is considered as “irrational” cannot be said to be intrinsically and fixed “irrational”, but is as a consequence of being ideally and typically incompatible with the constellation of values that are deemed ultimate among a certain community within which the decision is made (Grey, 2013, p. 26).
Similarities and Differences between formal rationality and substantive rationality.
As much as the modalities of rationality may vary in terms of their content, they share the mental processes involved in mastering their reality. One of the major noted similarities between formal and substantive types of rationality is that they are not simply defined as amorphous sociocultural action regulators. Instead, considering the fact that such modalities are configured to facilitate historical and sociological factors, they are both institutionalized as normative action regularities considering certain constructs (Grey, 2013, p. 25). This means that within certain organizations, legitimate orders, rational-legal and traditional domination forms, ethical doctrines, strata, economic structures, and classes, these types of rationality regulate actions.
On the other hand, the major difference between the formal and the substantive types of rationality lies within their abilities to influence the practical rational life. Formal rationality does not succeed in overcoming the practical rational lifestyle. This type of rationality allows professionals including the businessman, the lawyer, the scientist, and the civil servant, among others, to carry out their professional tasks according to the abstract laws and rules that insulate them against the rational confrontations that they have with the problems they face daily (Clegg, et al., 2012, p. 412). Nevertheless, such formal rational patterns do not succeed in characterizing these individual’s actions within their individual relationships, during their leisure, in their parenthood, and even as they choose hobbies. As such, formal rationality’s imprint remains the bureaucrat and circumscribed (Grey, 2013, p. 24). Case in point, such individuals may choose to act in a different manner or practically rational the moment they leave their offices. As such, this type of rationality does not provide a consistent attitude that could be said to give a comprehensive characterization of actions or provide a certain way of life.
However, substantive rationality stands out as the only modality of rationality that holds the potential to create organized ways of life, which overcome the way of life that is practically rational on the basis of interests, reality’s flow of occurrences that are disjointed, and the formal intellectual predilection to rules (Clegg, et al., 2012, p. 413). To be most effective, such a development takes place after rationalization of the values that define a given substantive rationality, via theoretical rationalization, and into values constellations that have been internally unified, which comprehensively order and address all life aspects (Clegg, et al., 2012, p. 413). The content of values of such substantive rationalities that define the direction of the process of value rationalization vary across a broad religious and secular spectrum. The most important aspect to Weber was the fact that substantive rationalities ushered in methodical rational life ways and thus define ethicality in the actions carried out in the world.
Scientific Management and Rationality
Federic Taylor engaged in a study that was aimed at improving the productivity at the workplace. According to Taylor, workers cannot manage themselves and hence productivity can only be realized if the manager, who is more intelligent, offers direction (Grey, 2013, p. 35). As such, the Scientific Management theory takes the responsibility for work planning and design away from the individuals who carry out such work gives it to the managers, who are expected to ensure that they extract each employee’s maximum effort. This theory was developed based on the belief that managers did not emphasize enough on the work process, and instead focused on productivity, an aspect that wasted human effort. Taylor’s theory was based on four major principles. The first principle insisted that the “rule of thumb” or common sense and habit-based style of working should be replaced by scientifically established methods that would establish the most effective way through which different tasks can be performed at the workplace (Grey, 2013, p. 36). Another principle of the theory postulates that workers should not just be assigned to any job, but instead should be matched to jobs that are in congruence with their motivation and capabilities, and that they should be trained to work with maximum efficiency. In addition, the theory suggests that the performance of workers should be monitored, and that supervision and instruction should be provided to ensure that the workers are employing the most effective working approaches. Lastly, Taylor suggested that work should be allocated between workers and managers to ensure that managers plan and train the workers, allowing the latter to carry out their duties and responsibilities efficiently (Grey, 2013, p. 36).
Taylor’s theory of Scientific Management could be categorized as formal rationality considering its conformance to established rules and a structure that is to be followed within the work environment (Searle & Skinner, 2011, p. 45). The theory does not give considerations of the workers as human beings with values or their own mind that would guide them to make decisions. Instead, it establishes a framework, within which all the workers are expected to work and deviation from which would be termed as offensive. Only the decisions that are made within such a framework are considered as rational and hence implemented, however ineffective. This approach fails to realize the uniqueness of every situation and individual in the workplace that they may add value on the work process owing to their own expertise and experience. Instead, it provides an instructional way of management, where the employee is seen as being without a mind and is provided with instructions to carry out each tasks, with which he or she is expected to comply.
Human Relations Theory and Rationality
The Human Relations theory offers a departure from the dehumanized and automated approach of Scientific Management. As Scientific Management focuses on output and technique, the Human Relations theory insists on organizational and individual change through interactions of the human entities within the organization (Clegg, et al., 2012, p. 171). As such, this theory takes a value based approach to the process of management and could be categorized as Substantive Rationality. The developers of the theory placed more value on the individuals within the organization as compared to the techniques used and believed that organizations were socially responsible to their workers. In this case, the manager is not seen as an individual who establishes orders and instructions that are to be strictly followed but as a leader, who promotes harmony at the workplace and ensures that there is proper cooperation among the workers (Searle & Skinner, 2011, p. 45). As such, this approach upholds the individual values of the workers and believes that leadership can help develop values at the workplace that can be adopted by all the workers for their own development and that of the organization. This theory is substantively rational as it encourages the humanization of individuals and heir appreciation as rational beings who can make their own decisions based on what they believe as opposed to set rules (Searle & Skinner, 2011, p. 46). Through leadership, the managers introduce the workers to a rational way of life that would define their success in terms of performance.
is evident that both formal and substantive rationality inform the decision-making
process in the society. Nevertheless it is clear that formal rationality fails
to honor the very process of decision making as it establishes limitation and
crates a boundary within which individuals are expected to make decisions. This
disregards the autonomy of thought that different individuals holds and the unique
value that each person can add to the decision-making process. On the other hand,
the substantive rationality modality allows room for free through, where
persons are valued as independent entities who may have their contributions to
make towards a given decision. This values the reasoning of different persons
and promotes thoughtful engagement of individuals in the process of decision-making
without limiting them to sets of regulations and rules that may hamper the different
angles with which they may view certain aspects of a decision.
Clegg, S. R., Kornberger, M. & Pitsis, T., 2012. Managing and Organizations. An Introduction to Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. London: SAGE Publications.
Grey, C., 2013. A Very Short Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Organizations. 3rd ed. London: SAGE Publications.
Searle, R. & Skinner, D. eds., 2011. Trust and Human Resource Management. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.