Enabling and Constraining Properties of Organizational Boundaries

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


In mainstream organization theory the idea of the organization as essentially a boundary maintaining system is widely entertained. The idea stems largely from Parsonian influence in sociology and has influenced many works in various branches of organization studies. Implicit in the idea lies another idea; that of organizations as essentially systems that function in an exchange relationship with the environment, but where the environment is the acting factor and the organization the responding one (Burrell and Morgan 1979, 64). On the whole, the picture is drawn of organizations as relatively passive entities that are shaped in terms of form and activities by expectations in the environment. In this exchange relationship the boundary essentially becomes a device of internal ordering and external protection. Students of organization have in this way provided a somewhat inward looking view of organizations, and the idea of the organizational boundary as an ordering entity of human actions and interactions is what directs our view inwards. The contrary view that organizations act outwards is a perspective rarely taken in social science (although taken frequently in economics). We know relatively little, for example, of the characteristics of organizations that make them more apt at influencing processes in the external environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationManaging Boundaries in Organizations : Multiple Perspectives
EditorsNeil Paulsen, Tor Hernes
Number of pages20
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2003
ISBN (Print)9781349508709
ISBN (Electronic)9780230512559
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Organizational actor
  • Conceptual impetus
  • Physical boundary
  • Boundary characteristic
  • Surveillance Syndrome

Cite this