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Book Reviews   |    
Social Psychology and Management: Issues for a Changing Society
Reviewed by Eric D. Lister, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2001; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.52.8.1111-a
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by Chris Brotherton; Buckingham, England, Open University Press, 1999, 206 pages, $29.95 softcover

Dr. Brotherton is a professor of social psychology in England who is passionate about building bridges between his academic discipline and the practice of organizational management—which he would describe as the applied version of social psychology. In Social Psychology and Management he explores, in successive chapters, motivation and individual performance at work; groups, leadership, and teams; gender and diversity; social psychology and technology; and the rise of networked organizations. Dr. Brotherton does an impressive job of surveying and integrating the social psychological research of the past half century under these headings.

Although the book does a masterful job of identifying the links between social psychology and management activity, it fails in the author's goal of setting "a dialectic debate between social psychology on the one hand and management on the other." First, it is not clear what point and counterpoint he would like to set against each other in debate. Second, his book is arranged and argued much more like a dissertation than a live discussion or debate of interesting and potentially complementary ideas.

The writing is dense, constantly footnoted, and liberally sprinkled with long quotations from primary sources. The voice of the practicing executive is rarely heard, and the complexities of managing a large organization are never elaborated with the richness or nuance of Dr. Brotherton's exposition of social science theory.

He argues: "If management and social psychology could come closer together in understanding the process of change, perhaps organizations would be less littered with failed innovations." While I would agree with that assertion, the learning process would be better served by a book less unidimensionally anchored in the language of academe. Deutsch and Coleman's Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice might serve as a more successful example; it is worth noting that although they circumscribed their task more narrowly, they took three times the amount of text to do their job.

The book ends, peculiarly, with a three-page section that sounds like an homage to Microsoft. A number of commentators and Microsoft employees are quoted describing Microsoft as an organization of the future, one that fully integrates the principles of social psychology. In the context of all that has preceded it, the lack of rigor, balance, and analysis in this description is striking and seems a bad note on which to end.

If Dr. Brotherton's work is reconsidered as one half of a dialogue, it stands much better. With broad and deep knowledge of social psychology theory and a constant eye toward the value that these theories might have to practitioners, he might be able to achieve his goal in an actual dialogue with practicing managers. As it is, however, he succeeds in offering the manager who is interested in psychology and social psychology a primer on the research and theory of social psychology that may well be germane to practical management but fails to offer an invigorating discussion.

Dr. Lister is managing partner of Ki Associates, an organizational consulting firm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, specializing in work with governing bodies and executive teams of health care organizations.

Deutsch M, Coleman PT: Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2000
 
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References

Deutsch M, Coleman PT: Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2000
 
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