V. A Co-power Reading of Follett and Clegg

Why pair Follett and Clegg? While the similarities are striking, it is the complimentary differences which convince us of the value of pairing these two. Follett's grounded ways of writing help us to decipher what is abstract and hard to access in Clegg's writing. Since we have a unique reading of their work, we use "co-power" to indicate our own assimilative reading. In this section, we will discuss first the complimentarity of Follett's and Clegg's perspectives. Next Table 1 juxtaposes Follett and Clegg around the following five aspects of their theories: reciprocal influencing, power-over vs. power-with, win-win vs. win-lose, reification, and concerted action. Following the table, a discussion of each of the five categories shows what may be gained by pairing Follett and Clegg, both in terms of theory and practice.

Table 1: Complimentarities between Follett and Clegg

Dimension Follett Clegg


  • Power-with is built through mutually-influencing relationships (1941:105)
  1. Techniques of empowerment and disempowerment can also be bearers of domination (1989:215)
Power-over vs.


  • We shall never get rid of power-over, but we can reduce it (1941:106)
  • We must move out of domination mechanisms before we can truly affect power-over
Win-win vs.


  • Avoid compromise and search for "integrative" (win-win) solutions to win-lose situations (1941:40)
Although there are win-win and

win-lose dynamics, the view of the relational field is not limited to

zero-sum conflict (1989:232)

  • Power is not "real" in that it can not be given or taken away
  • Power can become real when it is treated as real, which is its most pervasive mode (1989:207)
Concerted Action
  • Industrial democracy has not been properly implemented; "joint search" and science of the situation can avoid labor-management dualism(1941:82)
  • Empowerment /disempowerment power dynamics are likely to endure unless concerted action can be attempted (1989:222)

While Follett endorses workplace democracy through interpersonal intervention, Clegg sees the necessity of concerted action to influence the systemic effects of the "circuits of power." By bringing together Clegg and Follett, we offer a more complete understanding of power and empowerment in the workplace than either offers alone. And there is something unique about Clegg's approach that is important to grasp. As we shall explore, the circuits of power, and especially the two macro circuits (see Figure One) relate to more macro strategies of organizational development (OD), at the organizational level and beyond.

Follett's views of power-over appear to focus mainly on what Clegg would call the "episodic" circuit of power (see Figure 1). This is the most mundane and immediate experience of organizational power, of A getting B to do what they would not otherwise do. However, for the episodic circuit to function, there must be the machinery of organizing, which constitute the two other circuits of power (Clegg, conversation 4/18/00). While the operation of everyday power may be most visible in the episodic circuit, it is in the other two circuits that Clegg hypothesized empowerment and disempowerment dynamics are rooted.

A change at the micro (episodic circuit) level of process consultation, is insufficient to change macro (dispositional circuit) systems of social construction and systems of work design, innovation, and networks of disciplinary mechanisms (facilitative circuit). While Follett saw the need to change the macro in order to create lasting micro changes in day to day communication and work patterns, Clegg gives us a more multi-layered theory of power with more specific macro implications. And when we look at the power circuits, we can see places where Follett's work can extend Clegg's model. Most important is the way she opens up spaces for joint inquiry and joint action in ways we think allows empowerment to grow while facing up to the need to change the disabling or disempowering mechanisms of control and domination.

We will focus on five dimensions that highlight complementarity between Follett and Clegg.

Reciprocal Influencing - For Follett, power-with is built through mutually-influencing relationships (1941: 105). This occurs in what Clegg (1989: 214) depicts as the facilitative circuit of power, not "power over" rules of practice, but the shifts in techniques of discipline and production. Social change or innovation can transform the "structuring of empowerment and disempowerment" in techniques of discipline and production which can also be "bearers of domination" (p. 215).

Both Follett and Clegg have a focus on reciprocal influencing:

It means that A influences B, and that B, made different by A's influence, influences A, which means that A's own activity enters into the stimulus which is causing his activity In every situation our own activity is part of the cause of our activity. We respond to stimuli which we have helped to make (Follett, 1941: 194).

Here management and worker are viewed as each having a level of influence on the other. In our view Follett is more focused upon balancing social relations in what Clegg refers to as the facilitative circuit of power (the day to day mundane work spaces). Clegg more than Follett, focuses on the differential aspects of reciprocal influence. For example, how management is better equipped to adjust the rules for fixing relations of meaning and membership and to innovate techniques of discipline and production in the dispositional and episodic circuits of power (Figure 1). Workers are able to resist new rules and new techniques of discipline and even alternative technologies of production that erode their power. Empowerment and disempowerment is related to Clegg's theory of power by the creation of new techniques of discipline and technologies of production that can improve or denigrate reciprocal influence. For example, as electronic surveillance enters the workplace, workers may have fewer supervisors, but their time and motions may be even more constrained than when there was direct supervision.

Power-over versus Power-with - Follett noted that while we can never get rid of power over, we can reduce it. Clegg is also concerned with away from domination mechanisms that amplify power-over. For Follett the answer was to focus on power-with, an analysis of the situation of both management and workers. For Clegg this is the dispositional circuit of power where rules fix relationships of meaning and membership in ways that affect social relations in the day-to-day work world. Follett focused instead on a reinterpretation of Scientific Management, that she referred to as the "analysis of the situation." She worked as a consultant to get both parties to a dispute to jointly analyze the situation. Our reading is that this allowed management and labor groups to jointly trace what Clegg calls "passage points." Innovation changes social relations and this affects levels of empowerment and disempowerment. Power-over and power-with are experienced as fields of force in terms of social or system integration. New techniques of HR empowerment pass through the obligatory circuit of social integration where meaning gets enacted in daily activity.

Win-win versus Win-lose - Clegg argues that each circuit of power has a characteristic mode of organization change. An analysis of the situation, to use Follett's words, would show that certain meanings and member categories are privileged. But for Clegg the field of change and action is an organizational one. It is not about perspectives, it is about how those perspectives are fixed and refixed in fields of power. In organization change parlance, the conflicts acted out at an interpersonal level are a manifestation of inter-group phenomenon, ones location in systems of power. To change the relationship, you must change the system. But changing institutional life from a win-lose to a win-win rationality is not so easy. At the episodic level, change occurs by enrolling agencies (units, and other organizations) to form coalitions and to work jointly to transform the fields of force that happen in the day-to-day of social relations (facilitative circuit). In other words, to change social relations in the facilitative circuit means mobilizing change in fields at the dispositional and episodic systemic levels. It means innovating new disciplinary techniques and changing how the work gets done. Spreading change too rapidly pushes the social system beyond its capacity to absorb newness (Clegg, 1989: 226).

Reification - To reify is to take a subjective meaning and forget its subjective history, to treat the subjective as object. Authority and power both have subjective elements. Follett refused, as we have illustrated, to reify dualities. She used concepts such as interpenetrating, to get beyond them versus us and other dichotomies. She was able to get both management and labor to look at how work categories were reified. She asked, why not share the accounting and performance data with labor? In this way traditional boundaries get blurred, and workers learn the numbers that management keeps hidden in its files. It is once again the joint analysis of the situation that has the potential to explore the reification process. For Follett power is not "real." It is a construct. And for Clegg if people treat the subjective as real then the consequences become real.

Concerted Action - In order to create concerted action, the joint search of the situation was Follett's key strategy. Clegg (1989: 222) also argued in favor of concerted action. Yet Clegg, ever the sociologist, notes that concerted action has its limits. It was not possible for concentration camp victims to concertively over power the guards and gain freedom. Indeed, just few guards were needed to keep the fields of force at bay in ways that made the concerted action of inmates all but impossible. In the technical systems of the camp, prisoners were kept in separate dormitories and opportunities for casual organizing resistance were highly restricted. In the routinized circuits of episodic power there were fixed points of obligatory passage, such as roll calls, formations, and inspections that made resistance problematic. Prisons and work organizations have a deadening routine with bouts of tedious labor to keep the day to day humming along, but which also make the possibility of change originated at the individual level of initiative unlikely. Networks are controlled thorough the normative mechanisms of professional practice. Consultants are employed to run "boot camps" to training people in the ritual jargon of TQM and workplace empowerment. The discourse of empowerment, its language and its rules of practice becomes part of the training of the worker and manager and how one relates to the other. As such HR empowerment training is constitutive of empowerment as well as disempowerment in the way it fixes and refixes possibilities for collective action. If the consulting and training of HR empowerment does not address the issues regarding relations of meaning, does not address the fixedness of the discursive sites of management and labor relations, then these efforts will not have an impact on the macro circuits of power. In the macro levels, the rules by which claims and counter-claims get made are constituted in the discourse and disciplinary mechanism, and thus constrain the outcomes.

In sum, for Follett industrial democracy has yet to be properly implemented. A "proper" implementation would entail attention to both empowerment and disempowerment and its embeddedness in circuits of power. Empowerment training can give new legitimacy to claims that power is to be exercised with reciprocal influencing, that power-with replace power-over and that win-win becomes the defining characteristic of the playing field. To get to this new context requires empowerment HR to be more attentive to issues of reification and the possibilities and limits to concerted action. Empowerment HR is an act of disciplinary power, entering as an innocent innovation of discourse practice, but enacted in a relational field of power and resistance. Sometimes out of the day-to-day facilitative circuit it is possible to grow new power, to empower, but the soil, the context of the embedding system must be properly tilled and cultivated for it to take root. In different ways, Follett and Clegg dealt with the systemic limits and opportunities for empowerment and disempowerment.


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This paper proceeds From Title/Abstract  through 7 steps: (1) briefly reviewing the current empowerment-disempowerment debate; (2) contextualizing Mary Parker Follett's work with a review of the democratic workplace movements of Marxist socialism, trade unionism, guilds, cooperatives, and non-union workers' councils; (3) discussing Follett's theory of co-active power circularity, with its roots in Hegel's and Dewey's philosophy; (4) summarizing Clegg's circuits of power theory; (5) combining Follett's power-as-capacity concept with Clegg's circuits of power in an assimilative reading we term "co-power," which can move us beyond today's empowerment-disempowerment duality; (6) drawing implications for organizational development and change practices regarding co-power as a way of linking micro and macro issues; and (7) offering conclusions regarding co-power as a way of increasing the effectiveness of organizational change efforts. (And References).