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Ways of seeing: Topographic and network representations in organization theory

Abstract

Organizations (and social systems more generally) have traditionally been represented topographically-as if they were landscapes. Such an image is limited. A network representation of organizations, redescribing the latter as locales over which constellations of relations are woven, is more appropriate to cope with transformation and change. Topographic representations, however, are not useless. To the extent that social life is carried out in institutions concerned with efficiency; and insofar as power, control, and accountability are inextricable features of social systems, network representations will be limited, and topographic representations will not vanish. Organizational representations tend to oscillate between conceiving organizations as objects vs. sets of relations. Neither of these images alone is sufficient to capture organizational functioning.

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Tsoukas, H. Ways of seeing: Topographic and network representations in organization theory. Systems Practice 5, 441–456 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01059834

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Key words

  • representation
  • organization theory
  • space
  • institutionalization
  • organizational modeling