Conflict around Work and Organisations
NWO - Conflict programme line
Prof. J.M. Barendrecht (Chair)
Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations
Prof. H. Dahles
VU University Amsterdam
Mr J.H. Helmons
Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment
Prof. K.A. Jehn
Prof. J.M.W.G. Lucassen
International Institute of Social History
Prof. A. Nauta
Randstad HR Solutions
Prof. A.M. Riedl
The domain of work and organisation constitutes an arena in which diverging aims and
interests provide an inexhaustible source of conflict at local, national and international levels.
Conflict may emerge between ...view middle of the document...
In order to enhance our understanding of
current patterns of organisational conflict, an interdisciplinary approach is needed based on
comparison in time and space, as well as between different actors and at different levels. This
should be done against the background of both empirical practices and their underlying
philosophical, political and theological ideologies.
This proposal (I) provides an outline of current theoretical approaches in a number of
academic disciplines relevant to organisational conflict, (II) identifies gaps in current research
pertaining to conflict and (III) distinguishes four domains in which innovative research on
organisational conflict should be initiated.
Theorists in disciplines relevant to an understanding of organisations have paid insufficient
attention to the role of organisations in a dynamic and increasingly complex environment.
Transaction cost economics, addressing the role of organisations in an environment
dominated by competitive markets, focuses on the advantages that organisations offer over the
market and often ignore the tension that may arise when different organisational forms
coexist. This challenge is partially taken up by agency theory and by business history. Agency
theory examines organisational conflict emanating from disparate views of principals (e.g.
shareholders) and agents (e.g. management and stakeholders) on how an organisation should
be governed. Business history examines different styles of conflict management through
historical comparison (see the discussions in two major journals, viz. Business History and
Business History Review).
Economic theory has powerful formal tools to analyse the conflict arising from opposing
interests between principals and agents. Principal-agent and contract theory provide important
insights into how contracts should be written such that the most efficient outcomes are
generated in a world of incomplete enforcement and monitoring. Most if not all of the
research focuses on intra-organisational conflicts, however. The same research tools can and
should be applied to conflict arising between organisations. Some organisations have a
hierarchical relationship with one another, which might allow for an extension of principalagent theory from individuals to organisations. Other organisations are equal players, and
should be analysed using non-cooperative and cooperative game theory. A synthesis of
agency theory and game theory will prove useful for the joint analysis of inter- and intraorganisational conflict.
Sociological theory has paid little attention to organisations that cause or face disorder and
decay. This is a reflection of managerial interest in factors promoting social cohesion,
commitment and success. Classical concepts such as organisational legitimacy, charismatic
leadership, normative dignity, and moral community need to be supplemented by a conceptual
framework that does justice...