Mikael Ottosson, Lund University (Sweden)
Simon Fietze, University of Southern Denmark
Wenzel Matiaske, Helmut-Schmidt-University/University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg (Germany)
Since several decades, researchers are giving more attention to organizational culture – or more precisely the values, rituals, symbols and heroes of the organizations. This is a development that has been accelerated by the trend towards flexible organizations and men in the era of new decentralization. This development is recently reinforced by the digitization of working life. In relation to these concepts, we see a renewed interest in the concept of (industrial) paternalism.
In organizational studies, a frequent interpretation of paternalism is the analysis of the use of different social welfare benefits. This is also a phenomenon with historical roots. In early industrial rural contexts, it was common for workers to have access to corporate-owned housing, food supply, healthcare etc. According to the research, these paternalistic benefits – or management techniques – aimed to stabilize the workforce and create an internal labour market. But many scholars in the field give the term paternalism a significantly broader meaning that includes a moral relationship between the employee and the employer. This position implies that the organization is given a different meaning, in the sense that it is based on a wider social relationship than a strict economic between the employee and the employer. The social conditions of the paternalistic organization are often compared to those in a family. The owner of the company (represented by the director or manager) is analysed in terms of to be the father – or the head – and the employees are like the children – or the body of the organization.
Within the framework of an essentially social-historical discussion, the British historian E. P. Thompson once noted that paternalism is a problematic concept. Central to his criticism was that it is a loose, unclear and descriptive term. Furthermore, he argued that using the concept implies the risk of identifying patterns of consensus rather than patterns of conflict in the social relations of production. This does not mean that researchers should avoid the term in a historical and socio-economic analysis, but rather that the concept is needed to be filled with content and discussed theoretically as well as empirically.
Paternalism, in some contexts termed welfare capitalism, is a term used in various academic disciplines, such as anthropology, history, sociology and economics. The purpose of this seminar and the special issue of management revue – Socio-Economic Studies is to highlight the historical and contemporary relevance of the concept in cross-disciplinary discussions. Some context to discuss in order to clarify the concept of paternalism are listed below:
- paternalism as a historical phenomenon
- moral economy
- management practices
- labour market relations
- the welfare state
- paternalism in an international comparison
These are just some ideas and not an exhaustive list. The seminar welcomes empirical studies as well as theoretical papers and provides sufficient time for discussion and reflection.