The training for the new democracy must be
from the cradle - through nursery, school and play, and on and
on through every activity of our life. Citizenship is not to be
learned in good government classes or current events courses or
lessons in civics. It is to be acquired only through those modes
of living and acting which shall teach us how to grow the social
consciousness. This should be the object of all day school education,
of all night school education, of all our supervised recreation,
of all our family life, of our club life, of our civic life. (Mary
Parker Follett 1918: 363)
Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933)
occupies a very significant place in the development of thinking
and practice around adult and informal education. Her contribution
can be seen in three particular arenas. First, her involvement in,
and advocacy of, community centers
in the first two quarters of the twentieth century did a great deal
to establish them as an important social and educational form. Second,
her theorizing around the notions of community, experience and the
group, and how these related to the individual and to the political
domain broke new ground - and was 'far ahead of her time' (Konopka
1958: 29). It provided a key element in the development of the theorizing
and practice of groupwork and community development
and organization. For
example, her argument that democracy could only work if individuals
organized themselves into neighbourhood groups, and people's needs,
desires and aspirations were attended to was fundamental to the
sorts of thinking that emerged. Last, she was able to help key figures
like Henry Croly and
Eduard Lindeman not only to develop their thinking, but also
to access important sources of financial help.
Today, Mary Parker Follett is better known for her
pioneering work on management - although her contribution was soon
forgotten after her death in 1933 (especially in the USA). She looked
to approach organizations as group networks rather than as hierarchical
structures, and attended to the influence of human relations within
the group. In terms of current debates around management such a
perspective is hardly revolutionary - but then it's radicalism
and 'soft' orientation stood well outside mainstream.
Mary Parker Follett
- her life
Follett was born in 1868 into an affluent Quaker
family in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was educated
at the Thayer Academy but had to take on a significant role within
the family in her teens when her father died (her mother was disabled).
In 1892 she entered Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women
in Cambridge , Massachusetts (later Radcliffe College) where she
graduated in 1898 in economics, government, law and philosophy.
While at Radcliffe she spent a year at Newnham College, Cambridge.
Her research thesis at Radcliffe was published in in 1896 as The
Speaker of the House of Representatives (and quickly became
a standard work).
From 1900 to 1908 Follett became involved in social
work in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston (joining the staff of
Roxbury Neighborhood House). She had an independent income and was
able to throw herself into the work (in much the same way that Jane Addams and others
were able to become immersed in settlement activity). She appears
to have had the classic abilities of the informal educator to engage
with a wide range of people, to listen and explore what they had
to say, and to gain their confidence and esteem.
Roxbury at that point was a diverse neighbourhood
both in terms of class and ethnicity. It had many of the classic
dynamics of the suburbs - a grid-like design with no strong centre,
a relative lack of attachment by its inhabitants and fairly limited
local networks. However, Mary Parker Follett saw considerable possibility
in the diverse nature of the population. Mixed neighbourhoods have
potential, she believed, in that that they can work against the
narrowness and exclusiveness of many, more homogenized, communities.
Instead of shutting out what is different, we
should welcome it because it is different and through its difference
will make a richer content of life... Every difference that is
swept up into a bigger conception feeds and enriches society;
every difference which is ignored feeds on society and
eventually corrupts it. (Follett 1918: 40).
Follett looked to encourage face-to-face encounter
and the development of groups and activities. Diversity became a
key ingredient of her vision of community. She believed that all
human interaction held potential, and that it needed cultivating.
Through such attention creativity and learning could be realized.
From 1908 Mary Parker Follett became involved in
the movement to establish community centers in public schools (as
chairperson of the Women's Municipal League's Committee on Extended
Use of School Buildings). She sought to make 'the centers into institutions
for overcoming civic apathy, further mutual understanding among
groups, and creating a local framework for the integration of churches,
trade associations, lodges and youth groups' (Quandt 1970: 39).
In 1911 the committee was able to open the East Boston High School
Social Center as an experiment for the winter. The success of the
initiative proved to be a catalyst for the development of other
centers. Her experience was to change her view of democracy and
the place of local groups radically - and was a major force behind
her work on the promotion of local networks and democratic forms
in The New State (1918).
Later Mary Park Follett was to serve as a member
of the Massachusetts Minimum Wage Board, and in 1917 she became
vice-president of the National Community Center Association. The
interest in industrial conditions appears to have grown in part
from a concern for vocational guidance in connection with evening
schools. She was also involved in The Inquiry a social reform
movement founded by the Federal Council of Churches in America.
(The main financial backer was Dorothy Straight - who went on to
marry Leonard Elmhurst and to found Dartington Hall in England).
At this time (perhaps through Henry Croly) Follett met Eduard Lindeman and
became deeply impressed with the direction and quality of his thinking.
Lindeman was similarly struck by her 'marvelous mind' (Leonard 1991:
44). Aside from the political direction of her work (her concern
with democracy and local group organization) one of the key things
to strike Lindeman was Mary Parker Follett's interest in, and commitment
to, adult education.
Lindeman and Follett were, according to Stewart
(1987: 147), 'an odd couple' and their collaboration was always
a little wobbly. She proposed that they wrote a book together -
something which Lindeman rejected. However, both acknowledge considerable
debts to each other.
The exacting, sickly, maidenly, and (to judge
from her correspondence with Lindeman) severely neurotic Mary
Follett did not always achieve good personal chemistry with the
volatile, lusty, and often disorganized Eduard Lindeman. Though
her own behaviour could also be erratic, the ethereal Miss Follett
required personal and professional surroundings that were predictable,
built on ground that was solid - very solid. (Stewart 1987: 147)
Her commitment and quick thinking made a last impression
on many that met her (such as Lionel Urwick - who was to later edit
her papers on management and administration). From the early 1920s
Mary Parker Follett devoted a significant amount of attention to
the state of management and administration in industry and public
institutions. Creative Experience followed in 1924. This
book, with its focus on learning, exploration and team, can be seen
as a key predecessor of more recent interest in learning organizations.
Follett became a popular lecturer - and it could
be argued that one of the reasons that her ideas found a significant
response at the time was the passion and charm with which she was
able to communicate her thinking. Her writing was accessible and
her talks full of examples and commonsense connection. Basically,
she took her ideas around community groups and networks and applied
them to public and commercial organizations. With the continuing
rise of scientific management and reaction to the social obligations
that her views placed upon organizations her calls for a more 'human'
approach to administration got less of an audience. After her death
in 1933, according to Peter F. Drucker, 'she gradually became a
non-person. Her ideas were not acceptable in the mainstream
of American management and organization thinking of the 1930s and
1940s. In Britain she had still had a significant following. Her
various speeches and articles around management, for example were
brought together by Henry Metcalf and Lionel Urwick and published
in England in Dynamic Administration (1941). Gradually, a
number of management thinkers and practitioners began to pick up
on her work (especially in Japan in the 1960s) and with the emergence
of discourses around the learning organization she has become recognized,
according to Peter Drucker as a 'prophet of management' quoted by
The New State
The New State Mary Parker Follett argued that group organization
and local networks provided the key to democratic advance. 'The
study of democracy', she wrote, 'has been based largely on the study
of institutions; it should have be based on how men behave together'
(1918: 19). The book was begun as an exploration of community
and social centers and quickly changed into a much wider analysis.
According to Konopka (1958: 28) the
crucial elements were as follows:
(1) Social experience is the basis of state structure.
(2) Sovereignty is relative to the capacity to
rule oneself, to rule a group or a state.
(3) State structure is the expression of elements
of identity in purpose.
(4) The will of a group is not atomic but is the
common expression of individual wills.
(5) Rich experience can only come through actual
experiences in group life. There must be experience in a variety
of groups. Because of the multiplicity of human nature no one
group can exhaust the capacity of the modern citizen.
(6) Individual and group are not antitheses.
(7) The individual is the ultimate unit which
is more diversified than any group can be.
(8) There is no necessary contradiction between
the citizen and the state.
(9) Freedom and determinism are not opposites.
(10) Self and others are not opposites.
groups and experience in this way Mary Parker Follett draws upon
the work of James and others (for example she looks upon the person
as 'a complex of radiating and converging, crossing and recrossing
energies 1918: 75). She is able to place individuality in a social
context and to stress relationship.
is created by the social process and is daily nourished by that
process. There is no such things as a self-made man. What we possess
as individuals is what is stored up from society, is the subsoil
of social life.... Individuality is the capacity for union. The
measure of individuality is the depth and breadth of true relation.
I am an individual not as far as I am apart from, but as far as
I am a part of other men. Evil is non-relation. (Follett 1918:
Given this analysis
it is no surprise that Mary Parker Follett argued for the deepening
of people's capacities for, and commitment to, citizenship through
involvement in groups and associations (in this respect she is an
important advocate of la
vie associative - the educative power of association). 'No one
can give us democracy, we must learn democracy', she wrote.
To be a democrat
is not to decide on a certain form of human association, it is
to learn how to live with other men... The group process contains
the secret of collective life, it is the key to democracy, it
is the master lesson for every individual to learn, it is our
chief hope or the political, the social, the international life
of the future. (Follett 1918: 22-23)
education was, thus, one of the key areas for social intervention,
and the group a central vehicle. Her own experience in Roxbury and
elsewhere had taught her that it was possible for workers to become
involved in local groups and networks and to enhance their capacity
for action and for improving the quality of life of their members.
Group process could be learned and developed by practice. As Konopka
(1958; 29) again notes, she 'realized the dual aspect of the group,
that it was a union of individuals but it also presented an individual
in a larger union'. She argued that progressives and reformers had
been wrong in not using the group process.
Just what all
this meant in educational terms was set out in the appendix to the
for the new democracy'.
training for democracy can never cease while we exercise democracy.
We older ones need it exactly as much as the younger ones. That
education is a continuous process is a truism. It does not end
with graduation day; it does not end when life begins.
Life and education must never be separated. We must have more
life in our universities, more education in our life... We need
education all the time and we all need education. (1918: 369)
according to Stewart (1987: 146) 'one of the earliest of scholarly
writings on adult education in the United States'. It is marked
by many of the concerns around education from everyday living and
lifelong learning that Lindeman was to set out in his Meaning of Adult
Education (1926) and that came to the fore in the famous
Creative Experience (1924) while carrying
forward a number of the themes developed in The New State
(1918) reflects Mary Parker Follett's growing interest in the problems
of industrial relations and the realm of management. She has the
same commitment to democracy and encounter, but the focus is now
on, as the title suggests, the creative use of experience. In this,
David W. Stewart (1987: 145) suggests, her approach was basically
that of a pragmatist, 'though she emphasizedand placed higher
value onthe creative rather than the verifying aspects of
Experience is the power-house where purposes and
will, thought and ideals, are being generated. I am not of course
denying that the main process of life is that of testing, verifying,
comparing. To compare and to select is always the process of education.
. . When you get to a situation it becomes what it was plus you;
you are responding to the situation plus yourself, that is, to
the relation between it and yourself... Life is not a movie for
us; you can never watch life because you are always in
life... [T]he 'progressive integrations,' the ceaseless interweavings
of new specific respondings, is the whole forward moving of existence;
there is no adventure for those who stand at the counters of life
and match samples. (Follett 1924: 133-134)
a philosophy of engagement and encounter. Through thinking about
our experiences, questioning their meaning and truth and looking
to the people we are, it is possible to learn. But there can be
dangers in this process if approached narrowly.
who learn by experience often make great messes of
their lives, that is, if they apply what they have learned from
a past incident to the present, deciding from certain appearances
that the circumstances are the same, forgetting that no two situations
can ever be the same... All that I am, all that life has made
me, every past experience that I have had - woven into the tissue
of my life - I must give to the new experience. That past experience
has indeed not been useless, but its use is not in guiding present
conduct by past situations. We must put everything we can into
each fresh experience, but we shall not get the same things out
which we put in if it is a fruitful experience, if it is part
of our progressing life... We integrate our experience, and then
the richer human being that we are goes into the new experience;
again we give ourself and always by giving rise above the old
self. (Follett 1924: 136-137)
What we have
here is the difference in Follett's terms between a 'mechanical
and creating intelligence' (op. cit.) (which in turn mirrors
the distinction Aristotle makes between technical
and practical reasoning).
Mary Parker Follett on power and management
From the publication of Creative Experience
to her death in 1933 Mary Parker Follett was best known for her
work around the administration and management of organizations.
In 1925, she presented an influential paper, 'The Psychological
Foundations of Business Administration' to executives at the annual
conference of the Bureau of Personnel Administration in New York.
She argued that the ideas she had been developing with regard to
communities could equally be applied to organizations (we have seen
a similar shift in recent years around the notion of social
capital). Organizations, like communities, could be approached
as local social systems involving networks of groups. In this way
Mary Parker Follett was able to advocate the fostering of a 'self-governing
principle' that would facilitate 'the growth of individuals and
of the groups to which they belonged'. By directly interacting with
one another to achieve their common goals, the members of a group
'fulfilled themselves through the process of the group's development'.
Boje and Rosile (2001) suggest that Follett was
seeking to temper scientific management with her own science of
the situation, 'one in which management and workers together cooperated
to define not only productivity but situations of social justice'.
Exploring 'the science of the situation' involved both management
and workers studying the situation at hand together. Boje and Rosile
(2001) argue that she was 'the first advocate of situation-search
models of leadership and cooperation'. This was not to some surface
activity: 'the willingness to search for the real values involved
on both sides and the ability to bring about an interpenetration
of these values' (Follett 1941: 181).
One of the key aspects of Mary Parker Follett's
approach was the 'circular' theory of power she initially developed
in Creative Experience (1924)
with the organization of reflex arcs. Then these are organized
into a system - more power. Then the organization of these systems
comprise the organism - more power. On the level of personality
I gain more and more control over myself as I unite various tendencies.
In social relations power is a centripedial self-developing. Power
is the legitimate, the inevitable, outcome of the life-process.
We can always test the validity of power by asking whether it
is integral to the process of outside the process. (Follett 1924:
In terms of organizations this view of power involved
managers, workers, and other stakeholders influencing each other.
She distinguishes between power-over and power-with. (or co-active
power rather than coercive power).
What is the central problem of social relations?
It is the question of power... But our task is not to learn where
to place power; it is how to develop power. We frequently hear
nowadays of 'transferring power as the panacea for all our ills¼
Genuine power can only be grown, it will slip from every arbitrary
hand that grasps it; for genuine power is not coercive control,
but coactive control. Coercive power is the curse of the universe;
coactive power, the enrichment and advancement of every human
soul. (Follett, 1924: xii-xiii).
Follett suggests that 'power-over' is resorted to
because 'people will not wait for the slower process of education'
(1924: 190). 'Power-with', she argues, 'is what democracy should
mean in politics or industry (ibid.: 187).
While Mary Parker Follett's contribution to management
theory has come to be recognized, relatively little attention has
been given in recent years to her work around the development of
thinking and practice in the field of informal education and lifelong
learning. At one level this is not surprising. Just as her ideas
around management were out of step with the dominant discourses
of the 1930s and 1940s, so her concerns with local democracy, group
process and the educative power of associational life do not find
a ready response within policy debates today. However, it may well
be that her time has come. Recent attention to the decline in civic community,
most notably by Robert Putnam, may well
encourage people to look at what Follett has to offer. Her arguments
for the development of schools as community centres still holds
considerable power; her exploration of the nature of experience
still offers educators insights; and the case for the development
of local groups and networks as the bedrock of democracy (and community)
is as strong as ever. Her finishing thought in The New
State (1918), that the 'Community Centre is the
real continuation school of America, the true university of true
democracy' is something that we would do well to ponder. We need
to extend and deepen associational life.
Further reading and references
At present there is not a full biographical treatment
of Mary Parker Follett, although Joan Tonn at the College of Management,
University of Massachusetts, Boston, is said to be currently working
on one. Perhaps the best starting point for her work is:
Graham, P. (1995) (ed.) Mary Parker Follett:
Prophet of Management, Boston: Harvard Business School Press,
301 pages. The is a useful collection of Follett's writings (with
an emphasis on management). In addition, there are commentaries
reflecting on the continuing relevance of her work by John Child,
Nitin Nohria, Warren Bennis, Henry Mintzberg, Angela Dumas, Tokihiko
Enomoto and Sir Peter Parker, together with a preface by Ros Moss
Kanter, and an epilogue by Paul R Lawrence. Graham provides a useful
assessment in her chapter, 'Mary Parker Follett: a Pioneering Life'.
Her key works are as follows:
Follett, M. P. (1896) The Speaker of the House
of Representatives, New York: Longman Green and Co. 378 pages.
Follett, M. P. (1918) The New State - Group Organization,
the Solution for Popular Government, New York: Longman, Green
and Co. 373 + xxix pages. This classic work by Follett has sections
on the group principle, traditional democracy, group organization
democracy's method, and the dual aspect of the group. The appendix
on training for the new democracy is an important early piece of
writing on adult education method (included in the archives).
The third impression of the book (1920) includes an introduction
by Viscount Haldane. Full text: http://sunsite.utk.edu/FINS/Mary_Parker_Follett/Fins-MPF-01.html
Follett, M. P. (1924) Creative Experience,
New York: Longman Green and Co (reprinted by Peter Owen in 1951).
303 + xix pages. The book is split into two parts: experience as
self-sustaining and self-renewing process; and an experimental attitude
toward experience. Where The New State is largely focused
around the problems of neighbourhood life, Creative Experience
looks more strongly at examples drawn from industry and commerce.
A concern with power and democracy remains
Follett, M. P. (1941) Dynamic Administration:
The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett edited by Henry
Metcalf and Lionel Urwick, London: Pitman. 320 pages. New edition published
in 1971 edited by Elliot M. Fox and Lionel Urwick.
Follett, M. P. (1949) Freedom & Co-ordination:
Lectures in Business Organization edited and with an introduction
by Lionel Urwick, London : Management Publications Trust.
89 pages. This contains 6 lectures: "The Illusion of Final Authority";
"The Giving of Orders"; "The Basis of Authority"; "The Essentials
of Leadership"; "Co-ordination" and "The Process of Control".
Babcock, M. (1998) 'Review - Mary Parker FollettProphet
of Management: A Celebration of Writings from the 1920s', Harmony,
Boje, D. M. and Rosile, G. A. (2001) 'Where's the
Power in Empowerment? Answers from Follett and Clegg', Journal
of Applied Behavioral Science, Vol. 37(1): 90-117. http://cbae.nmsu.edu/~dboje/papers/CleggFollett4_index.html
Horne, J. F. (1997) 'Mary Parker Follett: Visionary
Genius Finds Her Own Time' http://www.auntl.org/mary.htm.
Konopka, G. (1958) Eduard C. Lindeman and Social
Work Philosophy, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Lindeman, E. C. (1926) The Meaning of Adult
Education, New York: New Republic, republished in 1989 by Oklahoma
Research Center for Continuing Professional and Higher Education.
Lindeman Leonard, E. (1991) Friendly Rebel.
A personal and social history of Eduard C. Lindeman, Adamant,
Vermont: Adamant Press.
Quandt, J. B. (1970) From the Small Town to the
Great Community. The social thought of progressive intellectuals,
New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Shapiro, M. 'Sketch Biography of Author Mary Parker
Stewart, D. W. (1987) Adult Learning in America:
Eduard Lindeman and his agenda for lifelong education, Malabar,
Fl.: Robert E. Krieger.
Mary Parker Follett - useful page of resources
maintained by Vigdor Schreibman including the full text of The
New State, http://sunsite.utk.edu/FINS/Mary_Parker_Follett/
To cite this article: Smith, M. K. (2002)
'Mary Parker Follett and informal education', the encyclopedia
of informal education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-foll.htm.
© Mark K. Smith 2002