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From Topic to Problem: Organisational Mechanisms of Constructing Demographic Change

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Abstract

This article aims at revealing the mechanisms by which organisations problematize demographic change. It asks (1) for the structural preconditions making organisations pay attention to demographic change at all. Therefore, the paper starts from the assumption that demographic change does not impose itself on organisations but rather appears to organisations as a non-instructive problem, which is plastic, ambiguous and long-term in character. Consequently, the paper (2) also asks for the concrete constructs organisations develop to grasp the demographic change. Based on the empirical analysis of five organisations I show that demographic change is only problematized by organisations when personal initiatives succeed. However, the topic tends to fade if exclusive responsibilities are not assigned. Concerning the constructs, I show that demographic change is most likely to be connected to established problems but is not yet assessed as an important problem in itself.

Keywords

  • Organisations
  • Demographic change
  • Case study
  • Organisational problems
  • Non-instructive problems

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Fig. 9.1
Fig. 9.2
Fig. 9.3

Notes

  1. 1.

    However, opinions are mixed concerning the impact of demographic change on the labour market and the pension system [see, e.g. the discussion in Kistler (2004, 2006)].

  2. 2.

    For an overview see Carroll and Khessina (2005).

  3. 3.

    In this sense, non-instructive problems share at least some of the features of what Rittel and Webber (1973) describe as “wicked problems” and what Simon (1973) calls “ill-structured problems”.

  4. 4.

    This aspect is comprehensively reflected in the field of organisational demography (Pfeffer 1983, 1985), but is explicitly not addressed in this article.

  5. 5.

    Here, customers are understood in the broad sense, referring also to patients (in the case of hospitals), students (in the case of schools and universities), or elderly people (in the case of retirement homes).

  6. 6.

    Students in one of my research classes at Bielefeld University in 2010–2011 contributed to the data collection. I would like to thank Sammy Beckmann, Frauke Gradert, Sebastian Hoffschneider, Lisa Hunder, Laura Schimanski, Christian Ulbricht, and Mike Wortmann.

  7. 7.

    For a complete list of interviews see Table 9.2 in the appendix.

  8. 8.

    The analysis of the WELFARE CARE case draws heavily on an unpublished case study conducted by students in one of my research classes (Hunder and Ulbricht 2011).

  9. 9.

    The interview citations were translated by Sven Kette and Eva Fenn.

  10. 10.

    Establishing a working group or a project team is a very common way for organizations to deal with non-instructive problems (Kühl 2018).

  11. 11.

    For the effects of assigning responsibilities see Hasse and Japp (1997).

  12. 12.

    Cohen et al. (1972) introduced the term of ‘problem latency’ to refer to the amount of time that a problem is active but not linked to a choice.

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Appendix

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Table 9.2 List of interviews

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Kette, S. (2019). From Topic to Problem: Organisational Mechanisms of Constructing Demographic Change. In: Anson, J., Bartl, W., Kulczycki, A. (eds) Studies in the Sociology of Population. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-94869-0_9

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