Burrell & Morgan - Sociological Paradigms & Organizational Analysis

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

This model of organizational analysis developed by Burrell and Morgan classifies sociological theories along the two orthogonal dimensions of regulation vs. change and subjectivity vs. objectivity (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). This divides sociology into four fairly distinct paradigm clusters. There is internal consistency under each paradigm, in terms of assumptions about individuals, groups, societies, goals of study and accepted forms of evidence. However, each cluster neglects, excludes or opposes some the insights generated under other paradigms.

Burrell and Morgan’s model was later taken into social work research, where it was used to define four approaches to understanding the problems of social work clients (Whittingham & Holland, 1985). This application of the model is illustrated below.

P – Radical Humanist (Change-Subjective): Social opportunities and ideologies are controlled by large social institutions, often leaving people marginalized, voiceless and disempowered, leading to widespread alienation and the breakdown of communities. Interventions are aimed at concrete individuals and groups, establishing mutual-aid and consciousness-raising networks that will lead to eventual changes in social and economic structures.

A – Functionalist (Regulation-Objective): Societies are the coming together of populations with shared civic values who establish social order which on the whole benefits everybody. Individuals and some identifiable groups may fall into misfortune or maladaptive patterns. The goal of intervention is to help them adapt to existing structures, perhaps making minor institutional adjustments where warranted.

E – Radical Structuralist (Change-Objective): Fundamental underlying contradictions and regularities make our entire way of living unjust and untenable. Distressed individuals and groups can be helped to mollify the impact of structural problems, but lasting change can only be achieved by a complete transformation of the society. Intervention must be integrated across political, regional, community and interpersonal levels.

I – Interpretive (Regulation-Subjective): The meaning of social situations is largely a matter of interpretation. Anyone can feel trapped by their situation, but viewing things in a new light can open up new options and lead to better situations. Intervention focuses on helping people reframe events and adjust the maxims they use to regulate their own behavior.

1. Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (1979). Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis: Elements of the Sociology of Corporate Life. London: Heinemann.
2. Whittingham, C., & Holland, R. (1985). “A framework for theory in social work.” Issues in Social Work Education, 5, 25-50.
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