Theses Doctoral

Bottom-Up Management: Participative Philosophy and Humanistic Psychology in American Organizational Culture, 1930-1970

Alden, Jenna Feltey

This dissertation examines the rise and fall of participative and humanistic management in American organizational culture. In the years surrounding World War II, an influential network of psychologists and human-relations experts successfully promoted the idea that managers' involvement of subordinates in decision-making, along with their cultivation of underlings' authentic self-expression, would boost the effectiveness of organizations, individuals, and the nation as a whole.

Four men proved particularly influential in this endeavor: German social psychologist Kurt Lewin (co-founder of the National Training Laboratories), survey pioneer Rensis Likert (founder of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan), humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (developer of the "hierarchy of needs"), and industrial psychologist Douglas McGregor (author of The Human Side of Enterprise). Each of these men was deeply concerned about the fate of democracy in modern society, which they feared was endangered by both authoritarianism abroad and bureaucratic dehumanization at home. Each insisted that the nurturing of participation and "self-actualization" within organizations could help build an increasingly peaceful order in industry and the world at large. Ultimately, they found their most enthusiastic converts within the corner offices and personnel departments of corporations.

The dissertation argues that for roughly two and a half decades after World War II, this network of anti-fascist, pro-democratic theorists and practitioners injected their idealism into corporate culture and ultimately recast popular expectations for the relationship between organizational work and selfhood. These theorists' ability to make humanistic and participative management palatable to industrial leaders- largely through promises of intertwined psychological and economic growth -offered them significant inroads into mainstream organizational culture and helped shape a humanistic rhetoric of personal growth that still thrives in some corporations today.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Blackmar, Elizabeth S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 27, 2012