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In discussing his conceptualization of community and its import for improved civic functioning in the modern state, Hallman traces its antecedents to the thoughts of Rousseau and other theorists concerned with the welfare and rights of the individual in the face of overwhelming state power and authority.4
For our needs, while Hallman’s definition and cognitive history are useful, we need not be so commanding or sweeping in either our formulations or our ultimate objectives. We seek a narrower frame of reference and more limited goals. As we approach the concept of the organization as community, what reference points do we have in our cognitive framework to suggest that this exercise may in fact bear fruit? I offer the following observations on organizational characteristics as potential anchors for such a formulation:
• Most organizations, like proximate neighborhoods, are concentrated. Some organizations may be in one building, some may be in many; some in one town, others in many countries. Still there is, for most, a sense of proximity that in many ways parallels that of the common political and sociological concept of community.
• Organizations tend to comprise relatively homogeneous populations. Certainly there are significant differences in age, experience, race, gender, ethnic background, and many other factors; however, most organizations do not encompass teenagers, those in grade school, or the elderly. Likewise, they usually do not include those severely stricken with mental or physical disabilities, habitual criminals, or persons without some level of formal education or training. Neighborhood communities are much more inclusive.
• Organizations are inherently voluntary associations. People are members of them because they chose to do so. Certainly, there may be powerful economic, sociological, or psychological factors that promote or hinder
membership in a given organization, but for most organizational members, their presence and participation are voluntary.
• Organizations have a sense of mission, while even many communities do not.
We may think of the regular patrons of a park as a community, and in many ways they are. Their sense of mission, however, is much more diffuse. Some come for recreation, others to have a place to walk the dog, many to watch children at play, and so on. While people join organizations for a substantial variety of reasons—from making money to a sense of belonging to a dedication to organizational goals and objectives—there is an overriding sense of mission to most organizations. Even those formed for purely economic reasons usually have, or at least seek to have, a mission, often dressed up in a formal declaration of purpose. To be the best frozen ice cream packaging company east of the Mississippi is a mission.
• For many people, organizations are one of, if not the primary, source of recognition and rewards. These rewards may be financial, psychological, sociological, or represent some other dimension of their being and psyche. Human beings are complex and multifaceted beings and have numerous associations and reward and recognition structures, but their primarily organizational membership will likely always play a significant, if not dominant, role in their reward and recognition matrix.
• To the degree that numerous needs tend to be met by a person’s primary organizational membership, organizations can be important in providing a sense of self. While the days of the 30-year career and the gold watch are apparently gone forever for most of us, even a temporary or transitory employment-oriented organizational membership is still a powerful definer of one’s societal and psychic standing in even larger communities.
• We have seen in the work of other theorists that organizations are inherently about boundaries. That this is so approaches a tautology. To be a member of an organization is to have crossed a boundary, from nonmember or member of the general public to status as an organizational member.
Often, achieving this status may take strenuous clearance of hurdles, be they competitive, educational, professional, or of some other nature. To be a member of an organization is to be set apart from those who are not members, regardless of what other organizations they may be a part of. Certainly, multiple organizational memberships are not only possible, but are likely the norm. Still, one’s primary organizational affiliation sets them apart from those who are not members and, presumably, creates a level of bonding or identification with fellow members.
• To be a member of an organization implies, if not requires, that one adopt, embrace, accept, or at a minimum tolerate, a system of ethical perspective. Each organization, knowingly or implicitly, creates, promotes, nurtures, and
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lives a system of ethical rules and goals. Some of these may be intentional, largely unitary, and, hopefully, operate in a functional manner to advance the interests of the organization and its members in a manner acceptable to the larger society of which it is a part. Others believe they espouse and promote one set of ethical constructs but permit or allow one or more others to operate. Remember, if you will, Leuci’s comments about what he saw and experienced in the NYPD of the 1970s. One need not envision a system of tyrannical psychological lock-step to acknowledge that within most organizations, while there may be differences of opinion and competing schools of thought, there tends to be an overriding ethical flavor that reflects what the organization is, or hopes to be, about.