Organizational Change and Administrative Reform

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the number of profit-making enterprises has grown exponentially. These and not-for-profit organizations are key agents in any modern society. From a sociological perspective, this raises two key questions: why do organizations change, and what are the consequences of such change? By now, there is a huge multidisciplinary literature dealing precisely with this dual question of the antecedents and consequences of organizational change. For example, economists have explored corporate governance, psychologists have studied the downsides of downsizing, and sociologists have focused on the institutional forces driving organizational change. Indeed, in business schools, organizational change has been looked at from a wide array of different perspectives: sometimes contradictory, but often complementary. But the sociological rational choice angle is not one of them. Organizational change is a topic that went largely unnoticed in the sociological rational choice tradition. It is not that sociologists are not interested in issues of organizational change—they are. Clear cases in point are the many organizational change analyses in institutional sociology and organizational ecology. The sociological rational choice approach could contribute much to our understanding of the antecedents and consequences of organizational change as well.

The further study of organizational change is promising, and highly needed, also given the largescale organizational changes taking place in the public sector. Since the 1980s, an increasing number of governments around the globe have implemented public administration reforms to improve both efficiency and effectiveness of public services. The goal was to transform public administration structures from a set of overly bu- reaucratized, inward-looking organizations to more open agencies, much more adaptive and responsive to citizens’ needs. In Continental Europe, this trend toward post-bureaucratic reform was reinforced by the convergence criteria of the European Union Treaty of Maastricht. These reforms implied substantial changes in the degree of competition, regulation, and autonomy in the environment of public organizations. I investigate these and related questions together with my colleague Liesbet Heyse.

Selected Publications

Nieto Morales, F., R. Wittek and L. Heyse (2015). Organizational Pathways to Compliant Reform Implementation: Evidence from the Mexican Civil Service Reform. Public Administration 93 (3), 646–662.

Nieto Morales, F., L. Heyse, M. del Carmen Pardo, R. Wittek (2015). Building enforcement capacity: Evidence from the Mexican civil service reform. Public Administration and Development 34, 389–405.

Wittek, R., F. Nieto Morales, P. Mühlau (2014). Evil Tidings: Are Reorganizations more Successful if Employees are Informed Early? Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 66 (1), Supplement, 349-367.

Wittek, R., and A. van Witteloostuijn (2013). Rational Choice and Organizational Change. In: Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research, edited by R. Wittek, T.A.B. Snijders and V. Nee. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Nieto Morales, F., R. Wittek, and L. Heyse (2013). After the Reform: Change in Dutch Public and Private Organizations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 23: 735–754.

Wittek, R. and A. van Witteloostuijn (2004). The Costs and Benefits of Reorganization, Restructuring, and Organizational Change: Flexibility and Inertia Perspectives, and Illustrative Evidence from The Netherlands. The Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences 40 (3), 205- 211. 

Wittek, R., M. van Duijn, and T. Snijders (2003). Frame Decay, Informal Power, and the Escalation of Social Control in a Management Team: A Relational Signaling Perspective. Research in the Sociology of Organizations 20, 355-380.


Department of Sociology
Faculty of Behavioral and Social SciencesUniversity of Groningen
Grote Rozenstraat 31, 9712 TG Groningen, The Netherlands
Phone: +31 50 36 36282

Secretary: Ms. Lije Gong (+31 50 36 36469,