Organizational Behaviour Analysis of the Star Trek: Voyager Episode "Parallax" Using the Power and Symbolic Frameworks

Essay by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

The USS Voyager


In the beginning of the series, the USS Voyager, under the command of Captain Janeway, is sent on a mission to find a ship lost in a region of space known as the Badlands. The missing ship is under the command of Chakotay, with B'Elanna Torres as chief engineer. They belong to the Maquis, an association of renegade Federation officers and citizens, who are attempting to undermine a treaty between the Federation and the Cardassians. It is their belief that the treaty with the former enemies of the Federation gave away too much and put Federation citizens near the border in jeopardy. Both Torres and Chakotay were once associated with the Federation, but have turned their backs on it because of their strong beliefs for the Maquis' cause. The USS Voyager is pulled by an unknown force into an uncharted region of space, where they find the missing Maquis ship. During a battle with some resident aliens, Chakotay crashes the Maquis ship into an enemy vessel to save the Voyager, but is able to escape at the last second and transfer his crew to the Voyager. They become integrated with the Voyager crew and the two crews attempt to find their way home.

In "Parallax", Janeway must decide on who to promote to Chief Engineer. The senior officer in Engineering is Carey who would be the logical choice. However, Chakotay, who has been made the first officer by Janeway as a peace offering to the Maquis, suggests Torres for the position. Unfortunately, Torres and Carey do not get along, and this is highlighted by an incident in which Carey's nose is broken by Torres as a result of a disagreement between them over procedures. The Starfleet members of the crew want Torres placed in the brig and brought up on charges and the Maquis members want to mutiny over this incident. However, cooler heads prevail and Janeway authorizes the promotion of Torres to Chief Engineer after she demonstrates her extensive knowledge of engineering during a crisis situation. Unfortunately, many Starfleet members of the crew file grievances over the promotion.

The Power Perspective

The crew of Voyager is divided between two groups, the Starfleet officers and the Maquis, each with their own set of values and beliefs. Each group is fighting over many scarce resources, one of them being promotions. With the Voyager at least 70 years travel from the Federation, the only opportunities for promotion are on the Voyager.

Janeway has many sources of power: coercive (through discipline for insubordination by crew members), resource (in this instance, the handing out of promotions), position (very few crew members can take her place, all aspects of ship operation must go through her, and she is after all, the captain), personal (she is a very empathic and charismatic leader and the crew feel an obligation towards her). Chakotay, within the scope of his first officer position, has the same sources of power. In contrast, Torres has very few sources of power to draw on in her position as Chief Engineer. Having dropped out of Starfleet Academy after her second year, she has no position power being an outsider to Starfleet. Because she belongs to the Maquis and she is on board a Federation ship, she has no networks to draw upon, making the job of Chief Engineer very difficult to do. Because of her half-Klingon nature, she has an abrasive personality and has a very short temper, minimizing any personal power. However, because of her extensive knowledge of engineering, she holds the power of expert authority, which very few crew members can match, which could also provide her with some position power (since her role in engineering meets the conditions of uncertainty, lack of substitutability, and centrality to workflow).

The Symbolic Frame

The Starfleet officers and the Maquis are two separate groups. In terms of their culture, they each espouse differing beliefs on Federation policy and philosophy (the rigid discipline of Starfleet versus the lack of discipline in the Maquis). For example, the Voyager's security officer wants Torres brought up on charges for striking an officer, but Chakotay says that "in the Maquis, sometimes you have to push people around to get things done". However, both groups are role cultures, where each member has a specific function and is governed by preset rules-- even the Maquis are organized into cells with cell leaders and specific tasks for each member of the cell.

The act of promoting Chakotay to first officer is symbolic. Even though Chakotay belongs to a criminal organization, Janeway promotes him to assist in integrating the new Maquis members of the crew and gaining their loyalty to the ship with a Starfleet/Maquis role model-- Chakotay. Another symbolic gesture would be the sacrifice of the Maquis ship to save the Voyager. This act, whether deliberate or not, signifies the ending of the Maquis way-of-life for Chakotay and his crew and an adopting of the Starfleet way-of-life.

Part of the difficulty in integrating the Starfleet officers and the Maquis is the improper learning of culture. The two ways of learning the culture involve being the 'right' kind of person and socialization. Normally crew members are recruited-- a best fit is found between the organization and the newcomer. In the case of the Maquis, they joined the crew of the Voyager as a result of circumstance, not as a result of recruitment. Whereas the Starfleet officers underwent the steady, sequential process of learning the culture of Starfleet, many Maquis members are completely lacking or have incomplete socialization in the ways of Starfleet. This makes it very difficult for the Starfleet officers to work with Maquis who have not been properly socialized and who are their equals or commanding officers.

Though there is a difference in the socialization between the Federation and the Maquis, both organizations seem to use a socialization strategy of investiture, where new recruits are accepted as they are with their special talents, and the organization helps to build on them.

During the course of the crisis in the episode, Janeway works closely with Torres to resolve a problem affecting the ship, and inadvertently mentors Torres, an aspect of the metamorphosis stage of socialization.


Both the power and symbolic frameworks point to the diversity between the Starfleet and Maquis members of the crew as a source of conflict on the Voyager. On one side you have the Starfleet officers, such as Janeway, who have been properly socialized through their time at Starfleet Academy and service aboard the Voyager and who have extensive networks among the crew. On the other, you have Maquis, such as Torres, who have not undergone the all the rituals demanded by Starfleet and who have no networks or position power to draw upon. Both of these groups battle for promotions and an influence in the affairs of the Voyager. Yet despite their diversity, both sets of crew members are from role cultures and they each use investiture as a socialization strategy.

According to the power framework, Janeway is justified in promoting Torres to Chief Engineer because of her extensive knowledge of engineering, providing her with expert authority and position power. In contrast, the symbolic framework suggests that Torres would not be appropriate for Chief Engineer due to her lack of proper socialization which would make it difficult for the Starfleet officers in Engineering to accept her.

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