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Mary Parker Follett: biography of this organizational psychologist

Mary Parker Follett: biography of this organizational psychologist

May 17, 2023

Mary Parker Follet (1868-1933) was a pioneering psychologist in the theories of leadership, negotiation, power and conflict. She also made several works on democracy and is known as the mother of "management" or modern management.

In this article we will see a short biography of Mary Parker Follet , whose life allows us to establish a double break: on the one hand to break the myth that psychology has been done without the participation of women, and on the other, that of industrial relations and political management also made only by men.

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Biography of Mary Parker Follet: pioneer in organizational psychology

Mary Parket Follet was born in 1868 in a Protestant family in Massachusetts, United States. At the age of 12, she began an academic education at the Thayer Academy, a space that had just opened up to women but that had been built with the aim of promoting education primarily of men.

Influenced by her teacher and friend Anna Bouton Thompson, Parker Follet developed a special interest in the study and application of scientific methods in research. At the same time, he built a philosophy of its own about the principles that companies should follow in the social situation of the moment.

Through these principles, he paid special attention to issues such as ensuring the welfare of workers, assessing individual and collective efforts, and encouraging teamwork.

To this day, the latter seems almost obvious, although not always taken into consideration. But, around the rise of Taylorism (the division of tasks in the production process, resulting in the isolation of workers), along with the Fordist chain assemblies applied in organizations (prioritize the specialization of workers and chains of assembly that allowed to produce more to less time), the theories of Mary Parker and the reformulation she made of Taylorism itself They were very innovative.

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Academic training at Radcliffe College

Mary Parker Follet was trained in the "Annex" of Harvard University (later Radcliffe College), which was a space created by the same university and intended for female students, to whom they did not seem so capable of receiving official academic recognition . What they did receive, however, was classes with the same teachers who educated the boys. In this context, Mary Parker met, among other intellectuals, William James, a psychologist and philosopher of great influence for pragmatism and applied psychology.

The latter sought that psychology had a practical application for life and for solving problems , which was especially well received in the business area and in the management of the industries, and served as a great influence for the theories of Mary Parker.

Community intervention and interdisciplinarity

Many women, despite having trained as researchers and scientists, found in applied psychology more and better opportunities for professional development. This was so because the spaces where experimental psychology was conducted were reserved for men, which were also hostile environments for them. Said segregation process had among its consequences that of gradually associate psychology applied to feminine values , later discredited before other disciplines associated with masculine values ​​and considered "more scientific".

From the year 1900, and for 25 years, Mary Parker Follet did community work in social centers in Boston, among other places she participated in the Roxbury Debate Club, a place where political education was given to young people around a context of significant marginalization for the immigrant population .

The thought of Mary PArker Follet had a fundamentally interdisciplinary character, through which she managed to integrate and dialogue with different currents, both in psychology and in sociology and philosophy. From this he was able to develop many innovative works not only as an organizational psychologist, but also in theories about democracy . The latter allowed her to act as an important adviser for social centers as well as economists, politicians and businessmen.However, given the narrowness of the more positivist psychology, this interdisciplinarity also makes it difficult to be considered or recognized as a "psychologist".

Main works

The theories developed by Mary Parker Follet have been fundamental to establish several of the principles of modern management . Among other things his theories differentiated between power "with" and power "over"; participation and influence in groups; and the integrating approach to negotiation, all of which are later taken up by a good part of the organizational theory.

Very roughly, we will develop a small part of the works of Mary Parker Follet.

1. Power and influence in politics

In the same context of the Radcliffe College, Mary Parker Follett was formed in history and political science along with Albert Bushnell Hart, from whom she took great knowledge for the development of scientific research. He graduated with summa cum laude from Radcliffe and did a thesis that was even praised by the former president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, for considering Mary Parker Foller's analysis work valuable. on the rhetorical strategies of the US congress .

In these works he made a meticulous study about the legislative processes and the effective forms of power and influence, through having made records of the sessions, as well as a collection of documents and personal interviews with the presidents of the House of Representatives of the United States. . The fruit of this work is the book entitled The Speaker of the House of Representatives (translated as The speaker of the congress).

2. The integrating process

In another of his books, The New State: Group Organization, which was the fruit of his experience and community work, Parker Follet defended the creation of an "integrating process" that was capable of sustaining democratic government outside of bureaucratic dynamics.

He also defended that the separation between individual and society is nothing more than a fiction, with which we must start to study the "groups" and not the "masses", as well as try to integrate the difference. He held in this way a conception of "the political" that also involves the personal , so it can be considered one of the precursors of the most contemporary feminist political philosophies (Domínguez & García, 2005).

3. The creative experience

Creative Experience, of 1924, is another of its main others. This includes the "creative experience" as the form of participation that puts its effort into creation, where the encounter and confrontation of different interests is also fundamental. Among other things, Follett explains that behavior is not a relation of a "subject" acting on an "object" or visceral (idea that in fact considers necessary to abandon), but rather it is about a set of activities that meet and interrelate .

From there, he analyzed the processes of social influence, and criticized the sharp separation between "think" and "do" applied to the processes of hypothesis verification. Process that is often ignored before the consideration that the hypothesis itself already generates an influence on its verification. He also questioned the linear processes of solving problems proposed by the school of pragmatism.

4. The resolution of conflicts

Domínguez and García (2005) identify two key elements that articulate Follet's discourse on the resolution of conflicts and that represented a new guideline for the world of organizations: on the one hand, an interactionist concept of the conflict, and on the other, a proposal for conflict management through integration .

This is how the processes of integration proposed by Parker Follet, together with the distinction established between "power-with" and "power-over", are two of the most relevant antecedents in different theories applied to the contemporary organizational world, for example, the "win-win" perspective of conflict resolution or the importance of recognizing and valuing diversity.

Bibliographic references:

  • Balaguer, À. (2014). History of Women in Psychology; Mary Parker Follet. University of the Balearic Islands. Retrieved June 21, 2018. Available at //
  • Dominguez, R. & García, S. (2005). Constructive conflict and integration in the work of MAry Parker Follet. Athenea Digital, 7: 1-28.
  • García Dauder, S. (2005). Psychology and Feminism. History of the pioneering women of psychology. Madrid: Narcea

Mary Parker Follett Final 1) (May 2023).

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