Critique: System and Change in Industrial Relations Analysis
As a student of industrial relations, I am often bombarded with conflicting theories and reasons for the emergence and importance of this field. Edmond Heery outlines and analyses the justaposition of two different views of modeling this vast and often debated area of industrial relations. His article looks at two types of model building in IR. First, the traditional model of systems-thinking set forth by John Dunlop, one of the pioneers of IR theory. Introduced in 1958, Dunlop’s system theory of IR tries to provide tools to understand the widest possible range of IR activities and explains why particular rules are established in particular contexts. Dunlop argues that IR can be studied as an independent field in an industrial society (much like economics). The systems theory makes use of four related elements: Actors- workers and their institutions, management, government institutions; Contexts- technical characteristics of workplace, budgetary constraints, locus and distribution of power in society; Rules- procedural and substantive; Functional ideology- integration, ie., IR regulates conflict by playing by the rules.
The relationship between these elements is twofold- not only does the IR context influence the IR actors and the rules they creat, the actors’ shared acceptance of the common idealogy (the IR game played by the rules) helps bind the system as a whole.
Heery goes on to outline several criticisms of Dunlop’s rather classic and still widely studied systems theory. A starting criticism of the systems theory is that it views IR as an independent field with an inherent theory. Critics want to push back this boundary and argue that IR was and is deeply connected with and determined by economics, politics, social, domestic, and familial relationships of the time and place in history. Another criticism is that Dunlop has over simplified his description of actors. For example, critics...
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