Sociologists have long observed the connection between the design of environments and the power relations that determine what goes on there. Whether an office, a factory, or a prison, physical characteristics can tell us who is powerful, who is not; who watches, who is watched; who dictates, who takes dictation.
Even as the nobility and high clergy in feudal Europe, for example, marked their elevated status with their clothing and surroundings, so too twentieth-century culture makes such distinctions. From its beginnings, the office reflected the unequal status of its occupants. Almost anything inside an office can be made bigger, smaller, more expensively, or less expensively than anything else. In the same way, the feudal lord's robes often took hundreds more yards of fabric than the simple garb of the peasant who served him.
Offices reflect status in many ways, including the following:
These are some of the ways in which organizations visually and physically represent the intangible relations of power and authority in the office.
Typical office organization shows three levels of management under the hoard of directors: a chief executive officer, a tier of middle managers, and a tier of supervisors. Actual businesses show great variety in job titles and functions within this basic structure.
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