Critique the Power of Organizations from Weberian and Goffmanesque Perspective in the Stanford Prison Experiment

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Q 1. Critique the power of organizations from Weberian and Goffmanesque perspectives in the Stanford Prison

This document briefly reviews and critiques the ideas of Weber and Goffman in applying them to the Standard Prison Experiment. Weber identified the significance of bureaucracy within organizations. Within the bureaucratic organization there is a stratification of hierarchy where the legal legitimate authority is invested in individuals who exercise command on the basis of rules and not on the basis of personal authority (Morrison, 2006). Legitimate authority within a bureaucratic organization aims to remove the subjectivity and unpredictability of human action thus decisions are made and behaviours implemented in a calculable and measurable way. Persons in authority can manipulate persons’ to act in such a way by commands enshrined by power (Smith 1999). According to Weber’s theory prisons should run efficiently, officials following rules and supervised by officials in a higher office under the enforcement of legal authority. Goffman’s research on mental patients in ‘Asylums’ is at the forefront of understanding ‘total institutions’. His research gives us an insight into the world of the inmate, thus gaining an understanding of the ‘structure of the self’ and ‘mortification of the self’ in an institutional setting (1959 Goffman). Goffman identified that individuals ‘perform’ social roles, suggesting we are on stage moving from ‘back stage’ prepare and rehearsal to ‘front stage’, where we present a front and perform a role, using script, props, uniform and cues (1959 in Trevino). He suggests that we act; as if on stage, scripts emerge, props used, uniform and so on are all part of the performance (Goffman 1959, in Trevino). In 1971 Psychologist Philip Zimbardo undertook an experiment to illustrate that prisoners and guards fall into roles. Twenty four young healthy men were chosen and indiscriminately given roles as prisoner or guard. Prisoners suffered at the hands of the few sadistic guards as they imposed humiliating and degrading punishments. Some prisoners displayed emotional distress. The inhumane, unethical and undignified conditions was highlighted to Zimbardo by Christina Maslach a graduate student , the experiment was called off after 6 days as Zimbardo then realised it had gone too far (Zimbardo 2009). This paper attempts to elaborate on Weber and Goffman’s theories of power and authority within organizations paying particular attention to the Stanford Prison Experiment. An attempt will be made to critique and establish similarities and differences between their theories. Weber, Power and Authority Authority can equate to power, if it is abused the consequences to the governed can led to inhumane, mortifying and degrading situations (Weber, 1968). Weber also outlines how “impersonal authority” should be maintained within the scope of legal authority and persons’ in authority exercise control within legal bounds (Morrison 2006). Impersonal authority implies that authority is not imposed on a personal level. While these two theories can contradict themselves they are equally relevant in critiquing the Stanford Prison Experiment. This was shown by prison guard nick named ‘John Wayne’, in how he used his protected rank and authority to gain a position of social esteem using impersonal authority within the prison. It can be argued that this is a consequence of insufficient supervision from a higher official Superintendent Zimbardo or Warden Jaffe that led to abuse. However Weber’s theory on legal authority and administrative rationality dictates that depersonalization should not have occurred as the rational rules of the organization should have been followed. A rational bureaucratic system informs people of the rules and guidelines that will govern their behaviour (Morrison, 2006). In Stanford Prison the prisoners were informed of the rules by the Warden at...
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