Conclusions: technological change and the (ongoing) importance of organization
Revisiting the rationale The broad thrust of this book is rather simple. Group scholars would benefit from explicitly developing sensitivity to issues and processes of organizational design by interest groups. As such, effort has been expended in the preceding pages to highlight how one might make the group organization the unit of analysis in a meaningful and theoretically rich manner. The timing of this scholarly intervention is important. As I finish this book, there is a detectable resurgence of organizational themes in the corners of the group literature – albeit that it remains diffuse. Yet, at the same moment, others in allied fields, specifically that of political communications, are pondering the demise of organization and the rise of organizing. I come to the latter point in a moment; but for now, the salient point is that having a firm(er) foundation on which to justify and develop an organizational understanding of interest groups is becoming more, not less, of a priority for the field. This organizational (re)turn is, however, against a backdrop of benign neglect of organizational design issues in the group literature, where the focus has been on explaining individual’s behaviour. Researchers became incrementally less interested in the way groups organize themselves: less concerned with questions of design and of change in design. This permeates all aspects of group research. Those concerned with formation ask how do groups overcome collective action problems? Those interested in maintenance puzzle over how these problems remain resolved and what amendments to incentive exchanges are necessitated over time. The population perspective counts the mortality of groups, but does not probe more deeply into how groups within such populations vary in their design. Lastly, the rush to reassess group influence has led scholars away from asking how organizational design facilitates group capabilities which in turn shape their utility to policy makers. Instead they focus on how groups got what they wanted in set-piece policy contests. The chief message of this book is that groups ought to be appreciated as complex and evolving organizations. It is simply hard to imagine that any group organization that has any kind of lengthy career will be able to sustain itself, to survive, by simply maintaining the shape or form it established during formation.
Moreover, it is not plausible that all groups ‘survive the same’: populations of apparently like-groups will likely occupy different organizational configurations at any given moment in time. The basic proposition is that grasping the (changeable) form of a group is crucial to comprehending its policy behaviour and capacities. As straightforward as these propositions may sound, the immediate challenge this sets scholars is to come up with some way of identifying what form or design a group is in at any particular point of time – one that can serve as a basis to track changes in groups over time and communicate variations within populations. How would we know if a group has changed if we could not know how it used to be, and how it is now? How would we know if a population contained diversity if we do not possess a way to identify organizational differences? How do we account for such variation if we don’t have frameworks with which to probe processes of group identity-formation and change? It should be self-evident from the preceding chapters that I am agnostic as to how this might manifest itself in terms of broad approach (feature-or identitybased) theoretical assumptions (ecological, institutional, categorical, etc.), research strategy (comparative case study, population level, single historical case, etc.) and data type (qualitative interviews, documentary analysis, quantitative mapping, etc.). However, the underlying approach is a conviction that group scholars can profit from an engagement with what I call organizational social science. Thus, I go direct to the original scholarly sources in this multidisciplinary field – and admittedly bypass a rich and relevant volume of more applied work, particularly in the social movement field – in order to demonstrate the provenance of concepts such that readers can engage with them and (hopefully) develop them further. In engaging group scholarship with this more general literature, I have developed three main concepts. Chief among these concepts is that of organizational form (and allied concepts like organizational identity). At its broadest, this concept refers to the way groups are put together, their design. But, as is illustrated in Chapter 3, it has many and varied usages, with each underpinned by subtly different conceptualizations of form. The intention here is not to legislate which is better; in fact, the approach I have adopted is to try and point to how each one has its advantages and disadvantages depending on what aspect of organizational design one is most interested in. Indeed, the book utilizes many of these approaches in different chapters, illustrating different modes of working with the concept. For instance, I anticipate the feature-based approach developed in Chapter 4 will be more useful than others to most scholars simply because it gives a language to discuss, code and evaluate group populations. The theoretically derived parameters, and parsimonious nature, means that it might serve as a useful tool to discuss form; much like party scholars have the lexicon of mass, elite and cartel parties. That being said, the area of innovation in the general organizational literature is definitely around identity-based approaches to form. And this is indeed the approach that filters through most chapters. The single-case study