Reading the Technological Society

Reading the Technological Society to Understand the Mechanization of Values and Its Ontological Consequences


We review Jacques Ellul’s book The Technological Society to highlight ‘technique’ – the book’s central phenomenon – and its theoretical relevance for organizational and institutional theorists. Technique is defined as “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency . . . in every field of human activity” in society (1964: xxv, italics added). More than simply ‘machine technology’, technique involves the rational pursuit of standardized means or practices for attaining predetermined results. What makes Ellul both unique and relevant for organizational and institutional theorists is his historical analysis delineating the characteristics of, and the processes through which, technique has evolved into an autonomic and agentic force. We build on and mobilize Ellul’s analysis to explore two aims in this essay. First, we aim to illuminate the process through which technique transforms values – a process we describe as the mechanization of values in organizations and institutions. Second, we identify the consequences of value mechanization for organizational scholarship. We discuss the wider ramifications of Ellul’s work for management theory, practise, and education.

The article, Reading the Technological Society to Understand the Mechanization of Values and Its Ontological Consequences, co-authored by Vern Glaser is a forthcoming publication on the Academy of Management Review.


Vern Glaser

Vern Glaser is an Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise and the Eric Geddes Professor of Business in the department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Management at the Alberta School of Business. He is currently the Academic Director for the University of Alberta’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise and the Alberta Business Family Institute. Vern earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, his MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and his BA in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles.

Vern studies the question: How do organizations strategically change practices and culture? His research focuses on understanding how organizations use analytics, arguments, and analogies to change routines and to create new capabilities. His research has been published in journals including Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Annals, Journal of Management Studies, MIT Sloan Management Review, Organization Science, Organization Studies, and Organization Theory, among others.

Before entering academia, Vern gained experience in sales, customer service, operations management, business development, merger integration, and management consulting. In 2005, he founded Red Hill Advisors, a niche consulting firm which provides management consulting and software development services for medium-sized businesses in a variety of industries. Additionally, he co-founded Red Hill Technology Solutions, a joint venture software company that utilizes dashboarding technology and mobile devices to provide real-time Business Intelligence solutions for the construction materials industry.