The Aesthetic Imperative of a Rational-Technical Machinery: A Study in Organizational Control Through the Design of Artifacts


  • Robert Witkin


Aesthetics organisations affordance


The development of modern business and administrative organizations that are formally rational and technical in their structures and operations has given rise to the false conclusion that the aesthetic dimension does not figure at all in their making. The present paper argues that the opposite is the case, that the organization as a ‘rational-technical machinery’ gives rise to an aesthetic imperative characterized by those familiar elements of modernist design: the sharpness and simplicity of line, the suppression of color, the smoothness and hardness of tactile values, and the preference for planar forms. By such aesthetic means, modern organizations successfully cultivate, in their members, a presence through which the organization is made and re-made; this presence is characterized by the separation of head from body, of work life from private life, of rationality from sensuous values, of production from consumption, and of organizational function from personal expression. 

Author Biography

Robert Witkin

Robert Witkin is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Sociology & Philosophy, University of Exeter, and Faculty Fellow at the Centre for Cultural Sociology, Yale University. He is an Associate Editor of Sociological Theory. His main areas of research include sociology of the arts, art, agency and social formation, the arts in education, and the aesthetic dimension of organisational cultures. His publications include The Intelligence of Feeling (1974), Art and Social Structure (1995), Adorno on Music (1998), and Adorno and Popular Culture (2002). He is currently completing an historically grounded study on art, agency, and modernity, (to be published by SAGE, TCS Book Series).