What B would otherwise do: A critique of conceptualizations of 'power' in organizational theory

Galit Ailon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The paper presents a critique of organizational theories that is based upon Robert Dahl's famous definition: 'A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do'. This definition highlights the fact that appreciating 'power' often demands knowledge not only about what B does but also about what B would otherwise do. Organizational theorists, it is argued, lacked such knowledge. Instead, they relied upon untested and ideologically biased assumptions concerning what B would otherwise do. Reviewing major conceptualizations of power in organizational theory, the paper unravels and categorizes six underlying assumptions of this sort. Then it goes on to promote an alternative, empirically-grounded and emically-oriented strategy for dealing with this issue. This strategy, it is argued, offers a new and less problematic research path with which to pursue the different theoretical interests in the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)771-800
Number of pages30
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Organizational theory
  • Power
  • Resistance


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