Democracy and worker representation in the management of change: Lessons from Kurt Lewin and the Harwood Studies

John Fitzgerald Desmond, Fiona Wilson

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    4 Citations (Scopus)


    This article revisits the famous Harwood studies overseen by Kurt Lewin to include the neglected union perspective that differs markedly from conventional accounts. We explain this discrepancy as arising from unitarist and pluralist views, which assume very different understandings of organization. The researchers framed the Harwood organization from a unitarist perspective as monolithic, assuming its members are bound by allegiance to a common cause represented by management. This helps explain their relative indifference to unions and framing of concepts in a manner conducive to management that was incomprehensible from a union perspective. From this we contend that the Harwood studies are best understood as a cautionary tale against the assumption of a monolithic view that equates the interest of management with that of the organization. This is especially relevant given the dominance of a unitarist perspective across several fields of organization today, when management are argued to be increasingly authoritarian and union membership in several countries approaches an all-time low. Recognizing that organization is a balance struck between partially conflicting interests represents a more ethical stance to forestall accusations of partisanship and manipulation and to build towards the establishment of a fairer and more sustainable workplace for all.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1805-1830
    JournalHuman Relations
    Issue number11
    Early online date18 Dec 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


    • Harwood
    • Kurt Lewin
    • Managing change
    • Unitarist perspective
    • Resistance to change
    • Manipulation


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