Johan Hvenmark, 2008, Area: Organization and Management
Individual membership is a widespread phenomenon in society. However, despite its well-documented empirical presence, there is a lack of knowledge concerning the meaning of that specific relation between members and their organizations.
This study sets out to analyze how top-level leaders and officials in membership-based and democratically governed federations perceive membership. The federations included are: the Swedish Red Cross, the Swedish Teachers’ Union, the Swedish Union of Tenants, the Swedish Co-operative Union, the Swedish Football Association, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, the Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired, and the International Organization of Good Templars in Sweden. The analysis explores linkages between the interviewees’ perceptions of membership, these federations and their societal context.
The study suggests that the federations can be described as hourglass constructs, involving a hybridization of democracy and bureaucracy. These hybrids, and the societal context, are also discussed in relation to the Swedish notion of folkrörelse. A reconsidered model for membership is developed in order to offer a nuanced picture of how the meaning of membership evolves through the continuous interplay between acting agents, culture, and social structure.
The analysis reveals that the notion of folkrörelse is deeply embedded in the perceptions of membership. Furthermore, membership is an important part of the identity of these organizations, and contributes to the legitimization of their existence. It can be understood as a boundary-defining relation with a gate-keeping function. Moreover, it represents a channel for mobilizing resources, and constitutes a base for specific member roles, such as members as principals and members as customers. The discussion highlights oligarchic tendencies and increased bureaucratization in these federations, as well as a drift towards commercialization, which also seems to propel a gradual commodification of membership.
Publication no 752