Structuralist Theory of Administration

We explain what the structuralist theory of administration is and its characteristics. Also, what stages organizations go through.

Customers and employees interact in an organization.Customers and employees interact in an organization.
The structuralist theory offered a broad and comprehensive vision of the administrative fact.

What is the structuralist theory of administration?

The structuralist theory of administration (also known as the structuralist approach to administration) was a form of organizational thinking that allowed us to overcome the classic opposition between traditional theory and human relations theory, through a broader and more comprehensive vision. of the administrative fact.

Its foundation was to understand organizations as a system composed of interacting parts. and they interrelate with each other, and are not totally closed from the outside. This conceptual change was revolutionary at the time and allowed the emergence of the so-called systemic school.

As in many other areas of knowledge, such as psychology and philosophy, structuralism left an important mark in the field of administration, and allowed the overcoming of previous theories, such as bureaucratic theory or the theory of human relations. According to the structuralist point of view, the elements of an organization can at the same time be integrated in a productive way or in a counterproductive way, given that The entire organization is determined from the interrelation of its parts.

In fact, structuralists conceived modern, industrialized society as a “society of organizations,” such that a person can participate simultaneously in several of them and in each one play a specific type of role. This represented the abandonment of the concept of “social groups” in favor of “social organizations,” which already assumed a certain recognizable degree of organizational structure in each one.

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In fact, for structuralists, social organizations would have gone through four fundamental constitutive stages:

  • The stage of nature, in which nature directly provided humanity with the resources necessary for its survival. Gatherers and hunters simply took what they needed in the wild.
  • The work stagein which human effort can be translated into greater and better resources obtained, and the organization of societies begins to depend on the distribution of labor: some produce food for everyone, others are dedicated to defending them from rival peoples, others They are dedicated to governing, etc.
  • The capital stagein which capital and money emerge as a predominant factor in organized life, which allows savings and the accumulation of value to drive different subsequent motivations.
  • The organization stagein which both nature, strength and work are submitted to the organization, that is, to administration and negotiation, with a view to improvement and growth.

The structuralist theory of administration was represented by many important names in the area, such as James D. Thompson (1920-1973), Amitai Etzioni (1929-), Peter Blau (1918-) or Burton Clarke (1921-). The work of philosophers such as Karl Marx (1818-1883) or Max Weber (1864-1920) is also linked to this perspective.

See also: Administration schools

Origin of the structuralist theory of administration

The origins of the structuralist theory of administration They date back to the mid-20th century, when the theory of interpersonal relationships began to lose its popularity. Therefore, a new conceptual scheme became necessary to overcome the opposition between this theory and the so-called “traditional theory”, in a scenario in which The trend of structuralism was rapidly gaining ground in the social sciences..

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Characteristics of the structuralist theory of administration

Broadly speaking, the structuralist theory of administration is characterized by:

  • It merges various aspects of bureaucratic theory and human relations theory. For this he proposes the concept of social organization, from which to understand the administrative field.
  • Understand the organization as an open social systemwhich exchanges information with its environment continuously.
  • The concept of the “organizational man” is proposedwhich combines aspects of the “administrative man” of behaviorism, the “social man” of human relations, and the “economic man” of scientific administration.
  • Try to achieve a balance between the formal aspects of the organization and human resources. For this, staff receive not only material incentives, but also stimuli that give meaning to their efforts.
  • Emphasizes maximum possible resultsunderstood as a consequence of finding the appropriate structure.
  • Understand conflict within the organization as a natural process and valid, which brings to light organizational, professional or whatever difficulties, and allows for their prompt resolution.

Continue with: Classical management theory


  • “Characteristics and principles of structuralist theory” at the National Open and Distance University (Colombia).
  • “Structuralist theory” in (Peru).
  • “Structuralist theory (1947) and Empowerment theory” by Alexis Solano and Siuland Yachi, at the Universidad Seminario Evangélico de Lima (Peru).