Tuesday November 27, 2012, 13:00-14:15, room B136, Boumangebouw
Hendrik Vollmer (Bielefeld University): The Rationality of Stress
The concept of stress addresses a set of individual responses to conditions of threat, pressure, and disruptiveness, usually emphasizing the affective, disorderly, and irrational aspects of behavior constitutive of or associated with stress. Stress-related responses among organization members, however, can also be associated with rational adjustments to coping with discontinuous demands: on an individual level, such rationality refers to the effectiveness and efficiency with which members learn to cope with variance in the demands placed on performances and contributions; on an organizational level, it refers to the capability of organizations to selectively mobilize a repertoire of routines in adjusting to turbulent environments. In exploring the individual and organizational rationality of stress in terms of its constitutive micro-processes, the orderly, structural, and often contagious aspects of stress can be made subject to a more comprehensive sociological analysis. This analysis is concerned with distinct mechanisms of coordination in episodes of organizational stress, the dynamics of learning among organization members thus brought about, and the specific vulnerabilities incurred through the boundedly rational character of respective adjustments. Against this background, the evident and well-publicized need to regulate the level of organizational stress arises not through some alleged inappropriateness and irrationality of stress-related behavior but by virtue of its very effectiveness in allowing individuals and organizations to economically cope with threats and avoid potential sanctions.
Hendrik Vollmer is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Bielefeld University. He is the managing editor of the “Zeitschrift für Soziologie” (ZfS) and the author of numerous articles in sociological and organizational theory. His research and teaching focus on problems of cooperation and coordination in social situations and organized settings, combining insights and concepts from microsociology, symbolic interactionism, systems theory, organization studies, and game theory. Substantial topics include organizational failure and disaster, social and organizational change, warfare, financialization, accounting and calculative practice. His forthcoming book “The Sociology of Disruption, Disaster and Social Change: Punctuated Cooperation” (Cambridge University Press 2012/3) received the 2012 award of the University Society of Westphalia and Lippe for distinguished postdoctoral achievement.
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