Corporate Co-evolution: A Political Perspective



The seminar will draw upon a book on Corporate Co-evolution: A Political Perspective (2008), by Rodrigues and Child. 
How organizations adopt new forms, how they imitate each other and then “re-invent” a whole sector is an issue which scholars have not yet satisfactorily grasped. Though organizational science has built its reputation by arguing that success depends on the organization’s capacity to rationally respond to environmental pressures (Thompson 1967; Lawrence and Lorsch 1967, Hickson et al 1971), we still do not fully understand much about how organizations evolve by interacting with their environments. Contingency theory (Thompson 1967, Pugh et al. 1968, Donaldson 1985) and population ecology (Hannan and Freeman 1989, Aldrich 1999) were early attempts to decipher these interactions, but they have been criticised for attributing change primarily to market forces. The insistence of co-evolutionists that we need to understand the dynamics of mutual interaction between organizations and environments and their recursive effects through the adoption of a longitudinal, multi-level and multi-theory approach (Lewin and Volberda 1999; Volberda  and Lewin 2003), therefore marks an important step forward.This book carries the co-evolutionary critique of conventional theorizing further by arguing that some of the limitations of earlier work stem from its acceptance of an organic view of organizations and a presumption of managerial rationality and benevolent stewardship. The organic view is at variance with contemporary evidence on the self-serving behaviour of top managers as an interest group. The pursuit of sectional interests plays an important part in the development of organizations over time and speaks for the incorporation of a political perspective into the co-evolutionary approach. The book offers such a perspective, and in so doing addresses one of the theoretical challenges besetting the subject of organizational interaction with the environment.  The book begins with a discussion of some limitations in current co-evolutionary thinking, especially the absence of a political dimension.  It goes on to offer a preliminary analytical framework for a political perspective on co-evolution. Inputs from both theory and from a case study of the life history of a major state Brazilian telecommunications company – Telemig – from 1973 to 1998 when it was acquired  by private investors provide the basis for a model of co-evolution that looks into multidimensional changes and explores their connection with articulation of political interests. The seminar will go beyond the book by bringing along some ideas for further research and improvement of theory.
Contact information:
Carolien Heintjes