The Amplification of Power Dynamics in Virtual Work

The Amplification of Power Dynamics in Virtual Work

Stephen C. Yungbluth (Northern Kentucky University, USA) and Zachary P. Hart (Northern Kentucky University, USA)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-979-8.ch012


This chapter examines how power dynamics are manifested in virtual work. It starts with a look at how power is demonstrated in traditional decision making, and progresses to an exploration of how some organizations are experimenting with different forms of e-participation. Two cases are presented to illustrate some of the decisions associated with the implementation of information and communication technology (ICT), and the consequences of those choices. The first case looks at President Obama’s platform on technology and how his administration has embraced it to expand his vision of democracy in the information age. The second case portrays a utility company seeking to increase the involvement of its stakeholders through the creation of a blog site for the exclusive use of its community council. Both cases reveal a complex view of how organizations attempting to increase participation can paradoxically find themselves stifling it.
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Power is one of the most frequently studied concepts in the social sciences. Accordingly, there are many different perspectives on how power should be conceptualized. One of the most frequently cited frameworks for understanding the various bases of power was provided by French and Raven (1959). Work on this framework has been sustained for almost 50 years (Raven, 2008) and has led to the development of the Power/Interaction Model of Interpersonal Influence. Tompkins and Cheney (1985) utilize Edwards’ (1981) historic description of the progression in communicative strategies moving from simple control, to technical control, and then bureaucratic control. They then add concertive control to the list to describe how organizational values continue to unobtrusively influence the behavior of organizational members in the absence of any overt controlling mechanism. Despite the recognition of the multiple bases of power held by members across the organizational hierarchy, the concept of power has mostly been viewed as inherently located within the organizational structure, which thereby produces dominant relationships. Tompkins and Cheney (1985) make a distinction between power and control where power is the capacity to achieve a goal and control is the exercise of that capacity. Barker and Cheney (1994) point out that any form of power is “most meaningful, then not as a commodity (though we commonly reify it metaphorically so: “Her power rose yesterday”) but as we exercise it” (p. 22). Mumby (2001) also advocates a more communicative view that conceptualizes power as the situational accomplishment of actors, which allows for a more open view of how organizations are constructed. This view is particularly valuable when thinking about how the work of organizations is accomplished in virtual environments where the “organization” is no longer bound by physical space or the traditional markers of status. Rather, organizations are beginning to be defined by the relationships between the various stakeholders who share interdependent goals. These relationships do not necessarily require the face-to-face contact traditionally encountered between the hours of 9 to 5 on Mondays through Fridays. These relationships are now constructed in a virtual space that can potentially span the globe as a result of various networked technologies.

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