OMT WebOrganization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management
The words that most come to mind when I think of Mayer Zald is “generative” and “mensch.” With a twinkle in his eye and a couple of questions, Mayer appeared in the doorway of my office in the Sociology Department at the University of Arizona late one afternoon in 1997 during one of his many winters teaching in Tucson. His questions? When can you have lunch and could he borrow a copy of my book, The Executive Way. He also suggested that I read his 1978 “Social Movements in Organizations: Coup d’Etat, Insurgency, and Mass Movements” (co-authored with Michael Berger in the American Journal of Sociology; V. 83, No. 4, pp. 823-861) since we had mutual interests in social conflict. A week or so later at lunch, we first talked about what he found most interesting about my book (a comparative ethnographic study of managerial conflict in large corporations) – the near absence of collective action among managers across the thirteen organizations in the study. He then transitioned the conversation to a sociology-of-knowledge puzzle about his own career: the dramatically different trajectories of his most famous piece, “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory” (co-authored with John McCarthy in the American Sociological Review; V. 82, No. 6, pp. 1212-1241), and “Social Movements in Organizations.” While “Resource Mobilization” became a near-instant classic upon its publication (and continues to enjoy iconic status to the present), “Social Movements in Organizations” as Mayer put it, “fell into an intellectual black hole” and was cited less than a dozen times over the next decade. The puzzle was why?
We came up with several possible explanations that afternoon which built on the infrequency of collective action in organizations; the “internalist” perspective of the 1978 piece that “cut it off” it from how movements typically affected organizations (via laws, regulations, and institutional fields); and the fact that social movement researchers might not recognize collective action in organizations as what they studied (e.g., Where were the tear gas and water hoses of classic street protests?). Much of this critique made it into Mayer’s wonderful 2005 piece, “The Strange Career of an Idea and Its Resurrection: Social Movements in Organizations” (Journal of Management Inquiry; V. 14, No. 2, pp. 157-166). In that piece and elsewhere, he recounted how he resuscitated the social-movements-in-organizations idea by recruiting a younger scholarly generation, including Jerry Davis, Huggy Rao, and myself, into various intellectual adventures with him that ultimately helped grow a booming industry in social movement-organization theory scholarship. By the early 2000s, the intellectual and social context had begun to change. Organizational scholars were searching for new theoretical resources to explain organizational and institutional change, especially in a world of increasingly permeable organizational boundaries, globalization, and non-bureaucratic organizational forms. They found some of those new resources in social movement theory. A new generation of social movement scholars, already steeped in the rationalist organization theory of resource mobilization, began to look to neo-institutional theory as a way to expand their analytic visions beyond “movements” toward the broader social and cultural terrains – especially institutional fields – on which movements emerged and through which they effected change. In retrospect, the timing for the intellectual engagement of social movement and organization theory was ripe, but it would not have been so without Mayer’s own early and later efforts at bridging scholarly traditions, ideas, and fields.
Indeed, Mayer’s ability to connect scholars with each other in generative ways was nothing short of magical. He seemingly read everything in the social sciences (and most of the humanities), knew everyone, and always had an interesting perspective on how it all related to one’s work. For the better part of fifty years, he was a key node of intellectual cross-traffic among multiple social science and humanities disciplines. But it was Mayer’s everyday touch as a true mensch – a man of integrity, honor, generosity, and humor – that truly set him apart and simply drew people into his scholarly endeavors. His ability to connect with scholars, be they the most famous senior scholar or the greenest graduate student, was truly a gift. Mayer is a man I deeply miss whose work will inspire generations and whose legacy as a person will touch all who knew him for as long as they live.
Calvin MorrillProfessor of Law and SociologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyAugust 20, 2012
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