Abstract

The paper presents theoretical analysis of meritocracy as a framework for organizational studies. The author’s literature review revealed that meritocratic discourse is used mostly in political science; elite research; studies of social mobility, stratification, and inequality at the societal level. As for organizational studies, it can clearly be argued that meritocracy concept still remains underestimated. The use of the meritocratic discourse in empirical studies of social processes in organizations is limited to the issues of discriminatory practices based on employee gender, age, race, or nationality. The author notes that the analysis of the opposition between meritocratic (achieving) and ascriptive (clannish) management practices has a great deal of potential in organizational studies. In particular, the meritocracy concept is very promising for the study of employee social capital. Three types of companies’ social organization in a continuum between ascriptive and merit-based criteria for employee job placement and rewards are described. These are: 1) ascriptive (domination of “blat”, cronyism, and connections based on kinship and friendly ties); 2) mixed (priority of “professional” social capital, i.e. social connections acquired during one’s professional career); 3) meritocratic (domination of educational degrees, skills and abilities for job placement and performance-based criteria of employee remuneration). The complexity of “professional” social capital is highlighted as it can be built either upon personal loyalty and obedience to bosses, politicking and making friends in organization, or upon professional reputation. It is also noted that ascriptive criteria for job placement and rewarding often lead to favoritism in organizations. The author’s literature review revealed inconsistencies in the results of empirical studies of social connections in job placement. The reasons why these inconsistencies occur, as well as methodological problems of studies of the role of social connections in job placement, employee remuneration and career promotion, are discussed. In the author’s opinion, the meritocratic discourse is very challenging, especially in comparative research of management practices in organizations.

Keywords: meritocracy, ascription, achieving, clan system, social connections, cronyism, job placement, favoritism