Loosely Coupled Organizations Revisited

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Over the past two decades organizational analysts have become increasingly intrigued by those complex organizations which, despite appearing to be highly rationalized, paradoxically seem to lack expected levels of internal coordination and control of their productive activities and employees. The resulting body of research has popularized several new labels for such organizations - loosely coupled systems and organized anarchies. This essay evaluates this line of research by focussing on its analysis of schools, which are usually considered to be the epitome of loosely structured organizations. In brief, I disagree with this perspective's conclusions and argue that distinguishing the mode and degree of organizational coupling and control depend on where, by what criteria and how one looks. My contention is that although this debunking perspective ostensibly rejects tidy rational and efficiency models of organization, ironically it unwittingly employs many of the latter's assumptions of organizational behavior. In particular, these analysts adopt, I argue, a framework that precludes the discovery of both the degree and forms of organizational control within schools. Subsequently, by re-examining and re-interpreting the existing research on school organization, this paper identifies and illustrates a range of institutional and organizational mechanisms by which schools and the work of teachers are constrained and circumscribed.

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Research in the Sociology of Organizations
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The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Research in the Sociology of Organizations by Emerald Group Publishing. Recommended Citation: Ingersoll, R., (1993). "Loosely Coupled Organizations Revisited." Research in the Sociology of Organizations 11: 81-112.
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