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International Review of Sociology: Revue Internationale de Sociologie
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Administrative Culture and Metaphor Change
Hindy Lauer Schachter Version of record first published: 21 Jul 2010.

To cite this article: Hindy Lauer Schachter (2002): Administrative Culture and Metaphor Change, International Review of Sociology: Revue Internationale de Sociologie, 12:1, 89-92 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03906700220135354

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change comes slowly. mission. 103). then secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. once told managers to know the cultures of their organizations. not culture’ (Shalala. Even shared values inevitably shift over time. culture is contested territor y. Because culture is held together by symbolic means. No. In other organizations. p. quick change has advantages and disadvantage. The culture of a given organization depends on the legal. change is swift and instantly visible to all participants. One area of verbal contest in contemporary American public administration centers on the metaphor of choice for describing ISSN 0390-6701 print/1489-9273 online/02/030089-04 © 2002 University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ DOI: 10. For Deal and Kennedy (1982. ‘I emphasize cultures. 285). Shifts in metaphors presage changes in behavior. the services they provide. In some organizations. however. p. Only by examining an organization over a 10. 12. different units may have radically different cultures. USA Downloaded by [Central U Library of Bucharest] at 20:43 27 March 2013 Administrative culture can be de ned as ‘a dominant and coherent set of shared values conveyed by such symbolic means as stories. legends. changes in language are key to fostering shifts in administrative culture. Managers often debate whether a given slogan. social. 1998. Writers often conceive of culture as a static property.1080/03906700220135354 . Such change frightens some employees. anecdotes and fair y tales’ (Peters and Waterman. 1982. and their employees’ personalities. legend or metaphor has outlived its usefulness or whether an attempt to change a particular value will cause more trouble than gain. 4) administrative culture is ‘the way we do things around here’. On the other hand. 2002 Administrative Culture and Metaphor Change HINDY LAUER SCHACHTER New Jersey Institute of Technology. Constant. Far from being static. When Donna Shalala. p. Many employees are unaware of shifting values and corresponding shifts in tactics. myths. Vol.International Review of Sociology—Revue Internationale de Sociologie. cultures of different organizations in a single polity can vary depending on such variables as their history. 1. sometimes more slowly than it should. she added. Within a given organization. and economic frameworks within which it is embedded.or 20-year span would observers detect visible shifts that developed through the accretion of small movements. The analytical emphasis is on continuity. This de nition implies that a given organization’s shared values have a history and that this history legitimizes their present and future maintenance. frequent shifts facilitate responsiveness to a changing environment and to a diverse workforce. Culture. slogans. is a dynamic property. It may lead to role ambiguity and prod the organization to excessive use of written rules to enforce conformity with mandates. At the same time.

The owner model emphasizes active citizenship. L. Other writers favor the use of some metaphor derived from business but differ on which private-sector metaphor is applicable. in turn. The Culture of Citizen–Agency Relations Lack of consensus exists in American public administration today about the proper metaphor to describe the relationship of citizens to their government. The NPR envisioned that the customer metaphor would spark a change in administrative culture where agency members would learn to value polite. Downloaded by [Central U Library of Bucharest] at 20:43 27 March 2013 . 1999) argues that the customer metaphor is wrong. I discuss this contest below and how it affects public–agency culture. 2). A better metaphor is to conceptualize citizens as owners of their government who work together to gain greater responsiveness and ef ciency in the public sector. The metaphor of choice prods users to respond to certain aspects of a situation rather than others and this response. Proponents of an owner metaphor hope that this phrase will propel a different shift in administrative culture. p. A change in metaphor accentuates new aspects of the situation and this shift leads administrators to envision different ways as legitimate for their culture. Writers urge the use of a particular metaphor because they believe that the phrase that agency members share will eventually induce a set of emotional consequences.90 H. Clinton through the federal National Performance Review (NPR) project which pledged to ‘treat taxpayers like customers’ (Executive Of ce of the President. Zanetti and Carr (1999) are against the use of any metaphors derived from business. Schachter (1997. Osborne and Gaebler (1992) argue that public agencies should follow private organizations in aiming to delight customers. It emphasizes caring about an entire enterprise rather than one’s own individualistic purchases. Schachter citizen–agency relations. conscientious service to social security recipients or taxpayers with a question about ling dates. they simply consider the public and private sectors to be too disparate for cross-sector borrowing to be effective in describing citizenship. A change in metaphor will prod a shift in administrative values. 1993. Below I sketch an example of an agency whose culture changed as it moved from conceptualizing citizens as customers to conceptualizing them as owners of government. The aim was an administrative culture borrowed from the culture of salespeople. They want administrators to recognize the right of citizens to set public agendas in the same way that owners set the agenda for their enterprises. The NPR project—in a book on putting customers rst—urged federal employees to ‘treat their government customers just as they themselves like to be treated when they are customers of private business’ (Executive Of ce of the President. 1994. leads people to accept a certain way as legitimate for agency operations. The proponents of customer and owner metaphors are not simply arguing over words. p. It offers citizens a passive role and focuses on citizens acting as individuals rather than combined in projects to promote the common good or public interest. 2). The idea of valuing citizens as customers received wide publicity during the tenure of President William J.

pp. No. Executive Of ce of the President (1993) From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less. This strategy had little impact on conservation (Phoenix Water Conservation Of ce. New York. Public Administration Review . T. David and Gaebler. Albany. Hindy Lauer (1995) ‘Reinventing government or reinventing ourselves: two models for improving government performance’. the new assumption was that administrators interact with citizens on the basis of improving the long-range interest of Phoenix. No. Harper & Row. MA. NY.Administrative Culture and Metaphor Change Culture and Metaphors 91 Downloaded by [Central U Library of Bucharest] at 20:43 27 March 2013 The administrative culture of the Phoenix Water Conservation Of ce changed over time as it moved from a strategy of treating citizens as customers to treating them as owners of their government. 1995. That the city’s water will become inadequate without conservation sometime after 2025 can matter to people now! The new culture of the Phoenix Water Conservation Of ce included a value that agency members behave as if citizens care about conservation for public-interest reasons. With the new value in place. and Kennedy. The assumption was no longer made that citizens care only about their own short-term monetar y advantage. US Government Printing Of ce. Passage from the language of ‘customer’ to the language of ‘owner’ had profound implications for administrative culture. Ted (1992) Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial! Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector from Schoolhouse to State House. Arizona water conservation of ce considered citizens its customers. Such a perspective on citizen motivation became part of the shared values of the Phoenix of ce. No. Public Administration Review. 58. MA. 2. 284–289. Phoenix Water Services Department. 1998). 4. Robert (1982) In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s BestRun Companies. Addison-Wesley. Hindy Lauer (1997) Reinventing Government or Reinventing Ourselves: The Role of Citizen Owners in Making a Better Government. Phoenix Water Conservation Of ce (1998) 1998 Water Conservation Plan. Water Conservation Of ce. AZ. A. two discourse styles vied for hegemony. Vol. Hindy Lauer (1999) ‘The use of market metaphors in public participation discourse’. pp. DC. DC. Donna (1998) ‘Are large public organizations manageable?’. administrators began to educate people about the longrange needs of the entire community. Borrowing from business practice. (1982) Corporate Culture: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life. State University of New York Press. Vol. Peters. Schachter. Washington. In Phoenix. City Hall to Pentagon. Thomas and Waterman. Executive Of ce of the President (1994) Putting Customers First: Standards for Serving the American People . Addison-Wesley. 55. Phoenix. Reading. Washington. In the early 1990s the Phoenix. 6. 4. A change of symbols presaged a shift in administrative behavior. After a senior administrator in the of ce read proponents of the owner metaphor (Schachter. Smith and Huntsman. US Government Printing Of ce. 13–22. Schachter. . 1997). 530–537. Reading. the agency tried to conserve water by appealing to individualistic self-interest. Shalala. he worked to get the of ce to accept a shared value that citizens were owners of government. pp. International Review of Public Administration. Vol. Schachter. Administrators reminded people that each time they used less water they had to pay less. References Deal. Osborne.

Carole (1997) Reframing the metaphor of the citizen–government relationship: a value-centered perspective’. No. Downloaded by [Central U Library of Bucharest] at 20:43 27 March 2013 . pp. pp. Schachter Smith. 309–318. L.92 H. Lisa and Carr. Public Administration Review. Administrative Theory and Praxis. Adrian (1999) ‘Postmodernism’s “new individualism” and the detrimental effects on citizenship’. Vol. 2. 205–217. Gerald and Huntsman. Vol. Zanetti. 57. 4. No. 21.

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