Concepts of Culture and Organizational Analysis

Author(s): Linda Smircich
Source: Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3, Organizational Culture (Sep., 1983),
pp. 339-358
Published by: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University
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Concepts of Culture and This paper examines the significance of the concept of
OrganizationalAnalysis culture for organizational analysis. The intersection of cul-
turetheory and organization theory is evident in five current
research themes: comparative management, corporate cul-
Linda Smircich ture, organizational cognition, organizational symbolism,
and unconscious processes and organization. Researchers
pursue these themes for different purposes and their work is
based on different assumptions about the nature of culture
and organization. The task of evaluating the power and
limitations of the concept of culture must be conducted
within this assumptive context. This review demonstrates
that the concept of culture takes organization analysis in
several different and promising directions.

The concept of culture has been linked increasingly with the
study of organizations. With the recognition of the symbolic
aspects of organized settings have come calls for a cultural
perspective on organizations (Turner,1971; Pondy and Mitroff,
1979; Pettigrew, 1979; Louis, 1980; Whorton and Worthley,
1981). Papers have appeared that treat management as sym-
bolic activity (Peters, 1978; Pfeffer, 1981; Smircich and Mor-
gan, 1982); while others have called attention to the power of
organizational symbolism, legends, stories, myths, and cere-
monies (Mitroff and Kilmann, 1976; Dandridge, 1979; Dan-
dridge, Mitroff, and Joyce, 1980; Wilkins and Martin, 1980;
Martinand Powers, 1983; Trice and Beyer, 1983). The idea that
business organizations have a cultural quality was recognized
recently by Business Week (1980) in the cover story, "Corpo-
rate Culture: The hard-to-change values that spell success or
failure." There is even a "Corporate Cultures" section in
Fortune Magazine (e.g., Fortune Magazine, March 22, 1982).
Culture may be an idea whose time has come; but what exactly
does a "culturalperspective" on organizations mean? The
culture concept has been borrowed from anthropology, where
there is no consensus on its meaning. It should be no surprise
that there is also variety in its application to organization studies.
How then may we criticallyevaluate the significance of the
concept of culture for the study of organization?
Such evaluation requires reflection on the ways the culture
concept informs us about organization. What aspects of the
phenomenon are illuminated or more explicitly revealed for
examination? What aspects are less likely to be attended to
because we linkthe terms organization and culture? This
special issue as a whole is concerned with these questions.
? 1983 by Cornell University.
0001 -8392/83/2803-0339/$00.7 5 This paper irnparticulartraces the ways culture has been
developed in organization studies: as a criticalvariable and as a
Earlierversions of this paper were pre- root metaphor. The paper summarizes the research agendas
sented at the InternationalCommunication that each of these perspectives entails. This review demon-
Association/Speech Communication Asso-
ciation Conference on Interpretive Ap- strates that not only have organizational analysts held varying
proaches to Organizational Communica- conceptions of culture, but that these different conceptions
tion, Alta, Utah, July 1981, and the Eastern give rise to different research questions and interests. The
Academy of Management meetings, Bal-
timore, Maryland, May 1982. Iwould like to differences in approach to the organization-culture relationship
express special appreciation to Mike are derived from differences in the basic assumptions that
Pacanowsky and Linda Putnam for organiz-
ing the Interpretive Conference, which
researchers make about both "organization" and "culture."
provided the impetus as well as encour- Thus, the task of evaluating the power and limitations of the
agement for the development of these concept of culture must be conducted within this assumptive
ideas. Thanks also to Gareth Morgan, Linda
Pike, Lou Pondy, and KarlWeick for their context. Toward that end, this paper examines the assumptions
various forms of inspiration. that underlie the different ways the concept of culture has been
339/AdministrativeScience Quarterly,28 (1983): 339-358

1980). 1980. Koch and Deetz. 1981). organization theorists and managers alike have used a variety of metaphors. 1981). that are social." The metaphors of machine and organism have been used most frequently to facilitate understanding and communi- cation about the complex phenomenon of organization (Pondy and Mitroff. Although metaphors from the physical world . Pfeffer. Morgan and Smircich. frame. mechanical imagery undergirds the view of organiza- tions as instruments for task accomplishment. some have argued that all scien- tists create knowledge about the world through the drawing out of implications of different metaphoric insights fortheir subject of study (Pepper. consisting of multiple parts to be designed and meshed into fine-tuned efficiency. have also been used to elaborate aspects of organization (Morgan. This notion underlies systems theory as applied to organizations (Tristand Bamforth. Kaplan. Van de Ven and Astley. and differ- entiate that category of experience referred to as (an) "organi- zation. For instance. In large measure. 1964. and scripts (Goffman. Morgan. Burrelland Morgan. Perception and knowing are linked in an interpretive process that is metaphorically structured. Organizations are studied in terms of the way they manage interdependencies and exchanges across system boundaries. 1967). we see that the culture concept is highly suggestive and promising for many different ends that researchers pursue. For example." Another widely elaborated conception is that of an organization as an organism. 1975. to bound. 1981). Despite these basic differences. 1983) and that organizations are "political arenas" oriented around the pursuit and display of power (Crozier. we know that organizations are "theaters" for performance of roles. 1959. is a fundamental aspect of human thought. Others point out that the metaphoric process. When the literature is regarded in this way. 1951. 1961. other metaphors. 1977.September 1983 . Burns and Stalker. where organizations are conceived as struggling for survival within a changing environ- ment. dramas. 1980). it is how we come to know our world (Lakoff and Johnson. 1980). seeing one thing in terms of another. Researchers who maintain different positions on these questions approach the subject of organization in fundamentally different ways. Such a conception of organizational experience can be found in one department head's desire to "have this department running smoothly like a well-oiled machine. 1980. 1942. 1964. 1979. these authors agree that work in organization theory can be characterized by a range of assumptions about the ontological status of social reality-the objective-subjective question- and a range of assumptions about human nature -the determinist-voluntarist question. however.used in organization studies. 1981). UNDERLYINGASSUMPTIONS AND METAPHORS Several authors have addressed themselves to clarifying the range of assumptions that organization theorists bring to their subject (Ritzer. Throughout the development of administrative theory and practice.organism and machine-are historically dominant. allowing us to understand one domain of experience in terms of another (Koch and Deetz. or images. Each of these metaphoric images focuses attention in selective ways 340/ASQ. 1979. Morgan. Brown. Mangham and Overington. Lawrence and Lorsch.

September 1983 . In fact. what we can aim for is criticalexamination of the ways in which our thinking is shaped and constrained by our choice of metaphors.organizational cognition. in so doing. To the extent that their argument can be read as a reminder for scholars to stay grounded in the experience of organization. Their concern is that. This paper and this special issue are in line with that aim. it is misplaced. orderseems to have been a kindof inescapableand irretrievableempiricalfact.conceptualizationsof socialorganizationhave been a function of the conceptualizationsof the problemof orderand orderliness. Veryearlyin humanexperience. people are bornand they die. incremental achievement of a substantialscientificstance with respect to the universe. following Meadows. it is well directed. To the extent that it seeks to discourage metaphorical thinking. similarly. by discerning the underlying assumptions that are made about the subject." Organizationis a functionof the problemof orderand orderliness. too.forminga backdrop to the dramaof cosmos arisingout of chaos.Concepts of Culture and provides slightly different ways of knowing the phenome- non of organization (Morgan. 1980). but can be inferred from the way the subject of organization is approached. The same argument Meadows made about organization theory can be made about culturalanthropology. It. Meadows (1967: 82) has argued that organization theory is always rooted in the imagery of order and asserts that "the development of theories of organization is a history of the metaphor of orderliness. Inanthropology. and unconscious processes and organiza- 341/ASQ.1967: 78) Given the metaphorical nature of human knowledge. nor made explicit.there had been builtinto man's semiotic of experienceand into his traditional pietiesthe unquestionableassumptionthat this is an orderlyuniverse.organiza- tionalsymbolism. organization scholars will be drawn far afield from that domain of experience they seek to know. 1934). the suggestion that we in organization theory avoid metaphor misdirects our cautionary efforts. the current interest in the concept of culture is no surprise. If. corporateculture. The use of a particular metaphor is often not a conscious choice. Different conceptions of organization and culture underlie research in these content areas: comparative man- agement. Inthe slow. The intersection of organization theory and culture theory is manifest in several "thematic" or content areas that are of interest to organization and management scholars. Recently Pinder and Bourgeois (1982) have cautioned organiza- tion scholars against the borrowing and unconsidered use of metaphors from other disciplines. The sun rises and sets. and there is the procession of the stars. culture is the foundational term through which the orderliness and patterning of much of our life experience is explained (Benedict. The spatialpatterningand temporalityof man'sexperienceestablishedan imageryof order. What we are seeing with the linking of culture and organization is the intersection of two sets of images of order: those associated with organization and those associated with culture. Rather than avoid metaphor.(Meadows. as shown in Figure 1. the term organization itself is a metaphor referring to the experience of collective coordination and order- liness. we see organization theory as domi- nated by the concern for the problem of social order. is inquiryinto the phenomenon of social order. the seasons come and go.

e. organization is varied and rich. Organizational forms and practices are sal unconscious infrastructure. They are much less well developed within organiza- final three. symbolic organization theory Culture is a projection of mind's univer. culture is not a variable at all.1 The variation in the ways the concept of culture is used by researchers interested in these different content areas can be traced directly to their different ways of conceiving "organiza- tion" and "culture.g. Radcliffe-Brown's structural.. transformational organization and theory Figure 1. Each of these five represents fundamental problematic concerns ques... the manifestations of unconscious e.. contingency theory functionalism Culture Culture is a system of shared cognitions.g." Their inquiryis guided by different metaphors and seeks different ends.g. Corporate e.. existing by process of exchange with the viduals into social structures. UnProcesses e. "Organization" rests in the net- means of a finite number of rules.g.. Considered together. Organizations are systems of knowl- The human mind generates culture by edge. work of subjective meanings that or- e. The balance of the paper briefly summarizes five different rent research trends in the organization and programs of research that flow out of linkingthe terms culture management literature and exemplify the and organization and examines their underlying assumptions continued interest of organization theorists in the problem of order. cognitive organization theory Culture is a system of shared symbols Organizations are patterns of symbolic and meanings.t\aguage that facilitate shared meanings e.g. task accomplishment. "Organization" is maintained be interpreted.g.g. It unites indi. read or deciphered in through symbolic modes such as lan- order to be understood. and appear to function in a Cognition rule-like manner. organizational variable. Goodenough's ethnoscience rganizatinal ganization members share to varying Organiztionl degrees. Symbolic action needs to discourse.a. e. Inthe orientation are not shown here. Levi-Strauss' structuralism 7 no . September 1983 . Geertz's symbolic anthropology Organizational and shared realities. 342/ASQ. CONCEPTS OF "CULTURE"FROM THEMES IN ORGANIZATIONAND CONCEPTS OF "ORGANIZATION" ANTHROPOLOGY MANAGEMENT RESEARCH FROM ORGANIZATIONTHEORY Culture is an instrument serving human Organizations are social instruments for biological and psychological needs.g. culture is eitheran independent flow from a Marxist or radical structuralist or dependent. Themes that would and metaphors. Symbolism e..g. they demon- tions of dominance and radical change. external or internal. In this volume.cosprocesses. a viable mode of inquiry.. Intersections of culture theory and organization~theory. Riley's paper on structuration strate thatthe promise of the concept of culture forthe study of is suggestive of that line of research. These themes are representative of cur. classical management theory or Comparative Managemn Culture functions as an adaptive.. Organizations are adaptive organisms regulatory mechanism. e. Inthe firsttwo. Malinowski's functionalism Cross-Cultural e. but is a root metaphor tion and management theory because their for conceptualizing organization. environment. . tion.g..

g. culture is considered to be a background factor (almost synonymous with country).g. Culture is treated as an independent variable. The practicalutilityof such research 343/ASQ. and draw implications for organizational effec- tiveness. 1982). however. The literature can be segmented into that with a macro focus.Inzerilliand Laurent(1979) examined the conceptions of organization structure held by French and American managers. In practice. This literature is extensive and has been subjected to several major reviews and critiques (e. and Porter. 1971). Ghiselli. / s0 0 Cultural (C) (C) Context ( ogo (D( / THE ORGANIZATION Figure 2. Stening. Roberts.Concepts of Culture CULTUREAND COMPARATIVEMANAGEMENT: CULTURE AS INDEPENDENTVARIABLE The field of comparative management is concerned with varia- tion in managerial and employee practices and attitudes across countries (Haire. In comparative management studies. 1970. Some of the research may also have the less obvious intentof promotingparticular values and ideologies(e. most comparative management research leaves the concept of culture undeveloped (Bhagat and McQuaid. 1966). A brief sampling of the research. illustrates the trends in the work.September 1983 . These works share a conception of the organization-culture relationship that is portrayed schematically in Figure 2.. however. Harbison and Myers (1959) were concerned with variation in leadership beliefs.. 1982). an explanatory vari- able (Ajiferuke and Boddewyn. investigating the similarities and differences in attitudes of managers of different cultures (Everett. from authoritarianto participatoryin countries with differing degrees of industrialization. Fayerweather. 1972) influencing the development and reinforcement of beliefs. locate clusters of similarities. Bhagat and McQuaid..S. Its presence is believed to be revealed in the patterns of attitudes and actions of individualorganization members. the research agenda deriving from this view is to chart the differences among cultures.g. Stening. and Sekaran (1981) measured differences in the cognitive structuring of organizationally rele- vant variables of U. For example. and that with a micro focus. 1959). Characterized broadly. and Longton (1982). Slocum. 1959. 1982). and Longton. 1970) or a broad framework (Cummings and Schmidt. with the exception of Everett. examining the relationship be- tween culture and organization structure. and Indian bank employees. it is imported into the organization through the membership (e. Harbi- son and Myers. Culture and comparative management.

Harrison. 1952. 1980). 1980. 1982. and spe- cialized language (Andrews and Hirsch. 1982). Tichy. 1967. Culture is usually defined as social or normative glue that holds an organization together (Siehl and Martin. 1983). Siehl and Martin. and ceremonies. 1982. 1982). Pugh and Hickson. and Rowland. 1982). because of the recognition of global interdepen- dence. and yet. 1965. and. it is concerned with articulating patterns of contingent relationships among collec- tions of variables that appear to figure in organizational survival. Although organizations are them- selves embedded within a wider culturalcontext. 1983). 1972). such as culture. more subjectivist variables. Deal and Kennedy. Of late. this research can be of widespread interest. CORPORATECULTURE: CULTUREAS AN INTERNAL VARIABLE A second majorway that culture and organization are linked is that used by researchers who recognize that organizations are themselves culture-producing phenomena (Louis. 1981) for confirmation. 1976). typical variables considered in this re- search tradition were structure. 344/ASQ. 1981. Tichy. Consistent with the systems theory framework. legends (Wilkinsand Martin. stories (Mitroff and Kilmann. Figure 3 illustrates schematically the relationship between organization and culture portrayed in this literature. size. Some of the earliest references to the concept of culture as an internal organizational variable are found in the literature of Organization Development (Jacques. It expresses the values or social ideals and the beliefs that organization members come to share (Louis. These values or patterns of belief are manifested by symbolic devices such as myths (Boje. The implication is that the symbolic or cultural dimension in some way contributes to the overall systemic balance and effectiveness of an organiza- tion. Fedor. As such. Research with this conception of culture is generally based on a systems theory framework. The environment presents imperatives for behavior that managers may enact in their organizations through symbolic means (Pfeffer. and leader- ship patterns (Woodward. One need only note the popularityof TheoryZ (Ouchi. have been introduced into the systems model. Several recent books argue that organizations with "strong" cultures are indeed apt to be more successful (Deal and Kennedy.would be seen most immediately for multinational organiza- tions.September 1983 . they also produce distinctive cultural artifacts such as rituals. this research conceives of an organization as existing in a largely determinant relationship with its environment. The degree to which researchers are concerned with linkingthese internal qualities to the wider cultural context varies greatly. 1981). Martin and Powers. 1980. legends. Meyer. Heretofore. rituals (Deal and Kennedy. 1981). 1981). 1976). the emphasis of researchers here is on socio-cultural qualities that develop within organizations. technology. 1982. 1981) and TheArtof Japanese Management (Pasquale and Athos. with the recognition that symbolic processes are occurring within or- ganizations (Pfeffer. Organizations are seen as social instru- ments that produce goods and services. 1981. Fiedler. 1981. Peters and Waterman. as a by-product. 1982). Siehl and Martin.

are powerful symbolic means of communication. facilitating the realignment of the total organizational system into a more viable and satisfying configuration. They can be used to build organizational com- mitment. Martin and Powers (1 983) examined the sym- bolic power of information. fulfills several importantfunctions. Schall (1981) studied the impact of the espoused corporate saga on the employees of a midwest- ern department store. Meyer(1981) revealed how managerial ideologies and organizational stories in hospitals served a structuring function. conceived as shared key values and beliefs. OD interventions are often directed at the cultural subsystem to allow for the questioning of values and norms under which people operate (French and Bell. rationalize and legitimate activity. This research has investigated a variety of dimensions of organiza- tional culture. convey a philosophy of management. and it seeks to describe and predict the ways they are related to other out- comes such as turnover. absenteeism. however. motivate personnel. and others. For example. for the most part. This is only a sampling of the research on the various dimen- sions of organizational culture. and facilitate socialization. Culture. Kreps (1981) investigated folklore as a socializing tool. there is some convergence among them. This stream of research acknowledges that subjective interpretive processes that may influence adaptability occur in organized settings. Concepts of Culture / / (/ ~Goals N/I / System / CULTURAL f l CONTEXT / I~~Tech/' ~~~ / I nology \ I and t {(Sociocultural \ \ Structure /System \~~~ \ \/ Production / System / / /00 Figure 3. Practitioners of OD are. and commitment. argue that cultural artifacts.September 1983 . and even the art of management conveys a sense of identity 345/ASQ. however. These re- searchers.First. 1978). Culture and the systems theory framework. These activities then serve to make the culture more receptive to change. research efforts not explicitly concerned with planned change projects have focused on the normative and symbolic aspects of organizations. As the number of studies increases. concerned with enhancing the adaptive mechanisms within organizations. Recently. and Pfeffer (1981) proposed that management be considered as symbolic action.

1980. because the marketing of "corporate culture" is already underway (Salmans. And fourth. The task awaiting individual managers is to find ways to use stories. for organization members (Deal and Kennedy. Third. Meyer. 1983). Despite these questions. Siehl and Martin. 1982). Pfeffer. or even countercultures. Overall. Tichy. 1981. 1982). Research and popular books tend to emphasize that symbolic devices can be used to mobilize and channel the energies of organization members. 1981. Manag- ers will have plenty of assistance in this endeavor. Given the less-then-hoped-for results from the wave of tools for strategic management that appeared in the sixties and seventies (Keichel. the idea of corporate culture is attracting an enthusiastic audience among those researchers and practitioners concerned with strategy formulation and implementation (Business Week. Noel Tichy. Quinn. 1981). 1981. the research agenda arising from the view that culture is an organizational variable is how to mold and shape internal culture in particularways and how to change culture. for their own particularends (Peters. and other forms of symbolism in their unique situations. For practitioners. 1981. legends. we all A public discussion of the question "Can "know" what it means without much explanation (precisely organization culture be managed?" took place at a well-attended session of the why organization scholars should be cautious in using it). 1980. Peters and Waterman. Schwartz and Davis. and organizational behavior and strategic management interests. Some. Tichy. 1982).2 Much of the literature refers toan organization culture. competing to define the nature of situations within organizational boundaries. Peters and Waterman. culture serves as a sense-making device that can guide and shape behavior (Louis. it facilitates the generation of com- mitment to something larger than the self (Schall. 1982. The belief is that firms that have internal cultures supportive of their strategies are more likely to be successful. 1978). even messianic. Salmans. The talk about corporate culture tends to be optimistic. Peter Frost. Second. 2 Perhaps because it is such a common-sense term. The notion of "corporate culture" runs the risk of being as disap- pointing a managerial tool as the more technical and quantita- tive tools that were faddish in the 1970s. about top managers molding cultures to suit their strategic ends. 1981. 1981). Caren Siehl. 1983). it provides a less rationalisticway of under- 346/ASQ. 1980. the idea of corporate culture arouses a great deal of interest among academics and practitioners. This line of research offers a tantalizing prospect -that organization culture may be another critical lever or key by which strategic managers can influence and direct the course of their organizations (Schwartz and Davis. 1982). Craig Lundberg. Panelists were: and macro levels of analysis. Those of a skeptical nature may also question the extent to which the term corpo- rate culture refers to anything more than an ideology cultivated by management for the purpose of control and legitimation of activity. academics. Siehl and Martin. culture provides a conceptual bridge between micro ings in August 1982. 1981. appearing to lose sight of the great likeli- hood that there are multiple organization subcultures. 1982.September 1983 . however. culture enhances social system stability (Louis. consistent with managerial purposes. Kreps. as well as a bridge between Joanne Martin. genuinely question whether organization cul- ture is indeed manageable. 1980. For Academy of Management national meet. William Starbuck.

"culture" is part of the environment and is seen as a determining or imprinting force. In both approaches organizations and cultures are to be known through the study of patterns of relationships across and within boundaries. for example. and the social factist paradigm (Ritzer. There are. manifestations of human consciousness. They leave behind the view that a culture is something an organization has. an undertaking with greater room forambiguity because of culture's nonconcrete status. In the second case. 1971). 3471ASQ. existing within an environment that presents imperatives forbehavior. 1981). Underlying the interests in comparative management and corporate culture is the search for predictable means for organizational control and improved means for organization management. 1975). The use of culture as a root metaphor is quite different from drawing analogies between organizations and machines and organiza- tions and organisms. It represents a shift from comparison with physical objects to comparison with another social phenome- non. many other ways of conceiving of organizations. texts (Ricoeur. and psychic prisons (Morgan. Some theorists advance the view that organizations be under- stood as cultures. Both approaches share the conception of organizations as organisms. but in terms of their expressive. Organizations are understood and analyzed not mainly in eco- nomic or materialterms. 1979). referred to as "variables" (Morgan and Smircich. Inthe first case. CULTUREAS A VARIABLE:A COMPARISON Although the themes of comparative management and corpo- rate culture are distinct. Culture as a root metaphor promotes a view of organizations as expressive forms. they are in fact quite compatible with one another. the issue of causality is of critical importance. the system-structural view (Van de Ven and Astley. 1981).September 1983 . one closer to their lived experience. Culture as a root metaphor for organizations goes beyond the instrumental view of organiza- tions derived from the machine metaphor and beyond the adaptive view derived from the organismic metaphor. They are both consistent with what has been called the functionalist paradigm (Burrelland Morgan. of course. Both assume that the social world expresses itself in terms of general and contingent relationships among its more stable and clear-cut elements. organizational culture is seen as a result of human enactment. They are both derived from similar basic assumptions about the nature of the social world. 1980). of organizations. in favor of the view that a culture is something an organization is (Smircich. CULTUREAS A ROOT METAPHORFOR CONCEPTUALIZ- ING ORGANIZATION The previous two ways the terms culture and organization are linked in the literature are consistent with the image of an organization as an organism. 1959). The desired outcomes of research into these patterns are state- ments of contingent relationships that will have applicabilityfor those trying to manage organizations. and of human nature. 1980).Concepts of Culture standing their organizational worlds. Because both of these research approaches have these basic purposes. as theaters (Goffman.

events. They assume that the master contract has developed out of ongoing interpersonal interaction and that it provides the con- text for further interaction. Their methodology examines the master contract/self-image and the degree of consensus on its constructs. 1979. the research agenda stemming from this perspective is to explore the phenomenon of organization as subjective experi- ence and to investigate the patterns that make organized action possible. or. and symbolic aspects. The task of the anthropologist who follows this perspective is to determine what the rules are. 1980). to find out how the members of a culture see and describe their world. as well as constitutive and regulative rules that organize beliefs and actions in light of the image. within anthropology. drawn from modern anthropology. culture consists of shared knowledge (Goodenough. They propose that an organization culture may be represented as a "master contract" that includes the organization's self-image. things. form the foundations for very different modes of organizational analysis. As noted before. When organization theorists develop a cultural analogy.-They consider an organization as analogous to a culture. The research work stemming from these foundations will be considered below. behavior and emotions" (Goodenough. Agar. 1980: 63). a particularstructure of knowledge for knowing and acting. 1973). quoted in Rossi and O'Higgins.ideational. however. A culture is seen as "a unique system for perceiving and organizing material phenomena. 1982). culture is a man- ifestation and expression of the mind's unconscious operation (Rossi and O'Higgins. 1971. symbolic anthropology. culture is a system of shared cognitions or a system of knowledge and beliefs (Rossi and O'Higgins. they tend to elaborate a view of culture drawn from cognitive anthropology.September 1983 . The work of Harrisand Cronen (1979) is an excellent example of how the rules-theory perspective may be used for analyzing and evaluating organizations. 1980: 63-64). Geertz. assesses co-orientation (the extent to which mem- bers perceive others' construction of the organizational image accurately. 1955. and measures coordination (the extent to which mem- 3481ASQ. In cognitive anthropology. 1980). In the field of communication studies. Characterized very broadly. In symbolic anthropology. Culture is generated by the human mind "by means of a finite number of rules or means of an uncon- scious logic" (Rossi and O'Higgins. These different conceptualizations of culture. to a much lesser extent. culture is concep- tualized in diverse ways. The concept of culture as developed in anthropology serves as an epistemological device in much the same way as the organismic metaphor serves as a basis for the development of the systems theory perspective on organizations. so that they know how their behavior "counts" with others). structural anthropology and psychodynamic theories. 1980). A Cognitive Perspective According to the branch of cognitive anthropology referred to as ethnoscience (Goodenough. this same emphasis on understanding social interac- tion is pursued under the name of "rules theory" (Pearce. And according to structural anthropology and psychodynamics. Shimanoff. 1971). culture is a system of shared meaning (Hallowell.

Harrisand Cronen did offer an approach for generating knowledge that a group may use to alter its own functioning. business strategizing. Wacker(1981) has proposed another methodology for assessing collective cognitive infrastructure based on the constructs organization members use to make sense of aspects of their organizational worlds. but many did not realize their colleagues also believed so. 1979b. Weick. 1979a. Weick. individuals believed their organization was at its ideal state. They revealed widespread misconceptions. structures of MN. Along similar lines. 1981. Wacker. 1979. Argyris and Schon reported using their intervention strategy in different organization settings to generate maps that display the ways assumptions. in that they assess the extent to which there is a shared basis for action or grounds for conflict. Some of these research efforts document how organization members conceive of themselves as a collectivity. or grammar-like manner. and reflec- tion about how they enact their organizational realities. The understanding of organizations as cultures . Wacker suggested that the grid can be used for diagnosis and intervention. For example. She engages organization members in cycles of data collection. Maryan Schall is ployee orientation. and change. We can only speculate about the energy drainthat results from such misconceptions. knowledge. 1983). to an external observer. 1978. Harrisand Cronen (1979) analyzed an academic department and reported significant differences between what members thought their coworkers would perceive as the actual and the ideal states of the organization and what members said was the ideal state. for. University of Minnesota. Shrivastava and Mitroff. 1977.3 Her work is explicitly interventionist. His method is adapted from Kelly's Repertory Grid.or mastercontracts-is 3491ASQ. LittererandYoung. Schall is developing a comprehensive strategy for discerning the normative communication rules in corporate settings. Harrisand Cronen did not say whether they fedback their analyses to the members of the organization for their validation or reaction. appear to function in a rule-like. Ritti. Harrisand Cronen. Schall suggests that uncovering the taken-for-granted rules that guide 3 action could help organizations with employee selection. Their cognitive emphasis leads them to view organizations as networks of subjective meanings or shared frames of refer- ence that organization members share to varying degrees and which. Bougon. Argyrisand Schon (1978) referred to organizations as "cognitive enterprises. cognitiveenterprises. 1981.September 1983 . These researchers may or may not use the term culture in their work. and norms trap people in counterproductive cycles of behavior. A cognitive perspective is increasingly being applied to the study of organizations (Argyrisand Schon." Their diagnostic methodology was a case-building approach in which organization members wrote scenarios that revealed the theories-in-use that guide their interaction. 1982. beliefs. interpretation. at the Department of Speech Communica- instrument designed to elicit key elements in an individual'sworld and to chart the ways they are different from one another. Concepts of Culture bers can organize the knowledge of the abstract image and constitutive rules into regulative rules that will be functional guides for cooperative action). and Binkhorst. 1982. em- Personal communication. Minneapolis. Bougon. in fact. They are also often diagnostic. However.

September 1983 . This is hardlya startling view. A Symbolic Perspective Anthropologists such as Hallowell (1955) and Geertz (1973) treat societies. in their consulting work. Organization members are seen as thinking as well as behaving. as well as by their search for a "grammar" to explain its patterning (e.1983). diagnose. Kuhn. 1962). anthropologists showthe ways symbols are linked in meaning- ful relationship and demonstrate how they are related to the activities of the people in a setting.which they suggest are common in American organizations. and change their social ideational system. is conceived as a pattern of symbolic discourse. 1982). "reading" (Turner. Inother words. When this symbolic perspective is applied to organizational analysis. A common underlying assumption of this work is that thought is linked to action. and yet much organization research ignores the place of the human mind (Pondy and Boje. critique. This is done by regard for the figure-ground relationships they maintain through their pro- cesses of attention. To interpret an organization. tacitly approved or openly prompted. 1981.g. 1945: 198). that orient and stimulate social activity (Opler. declared or implicit. as systems of shared symbols and meanings. Their intervention ap- proach is concerned with developing "managerial reflective skills. They see the anthropologist's task as interpreting the "themes" of culture -those postulates or understandings. Shrivastava and Mitroff. 1980.. 1982. LittererandYoung. paradigms and cultures both refer to world views. Inorderto explain the thematic systems of meaning underlying activity. Shrivastava and Mitroff. 1982. an organization. They identify three ideational patterns or paradigms . The researcher may use several kinds of evidence to piece together 350/ASQ. 1934. a researcher focuses first on the way experience becomes meaningful for those in a setting. the scientific. It thus needs interpreting (Manning. or cultures. Ritti. Some theorists are finding the conceptualization of organizations as paradigms useful for thinking about the pro- cesses of strategic management and organization change (Sheldon. and alter the way an organization is working. 1983c). to change paradigms. or "deciphering" (VanMaanen. 1975). Littererand Young (1981) treat organizations as ideational systems.strikingly similar to the notion of paradigm as it is applied in scientific communities. The major practical consequence of conceiving of organizations as socially sustained cognitive enterprises is the emphasis on mind and thought. Pfeffer. Forexample. Viewing organizations as knowledge systems opens up new avenues for understanding the phenomenon of organized activity. 1979). and other patterns of action. like a culture. Smircich. in a sense. in order to be understood. naming. The cognitive orientation to culture and organization is unified by these theorists' attention to the epistemological basis of social action. Research questions take the form: What are the structures of knowledge in operation here? What are the "rules" or "scripts" that guide action? These questions are of practical concern to those who seek to understand." the abilityof managers to examine. organized patterns of thought with accompanying understanding of what constitutes adequate knowledge and legitimate activity (Benedict.the entrepreneurial. and the humanistic . 1981. 1973).

represent the heart of a symbolic analysis of an organization as culture (Smircich. the very concept of organization is problematic. This interest led him to focus on the process through which neophytes. With this orientation. Culture displays the workings of the unconscious infrastructure. and the studies of police by Pacanowsky and Ander- son (1981) and Van Maanen (1973.g. McSwain and White. for the researcher seeks to examine the basic processes by which groups of people come to share interpretations and meanings for experience that allow the possibility of organized activity. learned the meaning system maintained by their occupational group.Concepts of Culture a multifaceted and complex picture of the various kinds of symbol systems and their associated meanings. expressed in various symbolic modes. Mitroff. Examples of this mode of research are Manning's (1979) study of the world of detectives. 1983b). Smircich and Morgan. 1982. By having this focus of interest. in this case. they can be labeled the "unconscious infrastruc- ture" (Rossi. symbolic organization theorists have much in common with organizational leaders.the purposeof the study 351/ASQ. The research agenda here is to document the creation and maintenance of organization through symbolic action. beliefs. It is also present in the work of organization theorists who are develop- ing psychodynamic approaches to organizational analysis (e. Fromthis perspective. it reveals the form of the unconscious.. Structural and Psychodynamic Perspectives Culture may also be regarded as the expression of unconscious psychological processes. This view of culture forms the foun- dation of the structural anthropology of Levi-Strauss. Walter. The structuralism of Levi-Strauss has had little development in organization theory. The themes. 1982). 1982. It assumes that the human mind has built-in constraints by which it structures psychic and physical content. Theorist and practitioner alike are concerned with such practical matters as how to create and maintain a sense of organization. Some research work derived from this perspective in fact.September 1983 . and how to achieve common interpretations of situations so that coordi- nated action is possible. police academy graduates. Smircich's (1983a) account of the organizational world of the executive staff of an insurance company. 1978. 1982). The focus of this form of organizational analysis is on how individuals interpret and understand their experience and how these interpretations and understandings relate to action. From this point of view. Gemmill. 1982. organizational forms and practices are understood as projections of unconscious pro- cesses and are analyzed with reference to the dynamic inter- play between out-of-awareness processes and their conscious manifestation.1977). The re- searcher is also concerned with articulatingthe recurrent themes that represent the patterns in symbolic discourse and that specify the links among values. Van Maanen was concerned with how people decipher organiza- tions so that they can behave appropriately. More specifically. 1974: 16-18). and action in a setting. Since we are unaware of this set of constraints or structures. offers the view that leadership can best be understood as the management of meaning and the shaping of interpretations (Peters.

1974). the "formal structure" of the organization can be seen as an indigenous theory-a set of norms or rules that participants and researchers use to explain behavior in certain contexts (Turner. Mitroff (1982) draws on Jung's work on archetypes. e.September 1983 .of culture is to reveal the hidden. Structuralism and the psychodynamic models separate the experience of the phenomena from the underlying reality that gives rise to particularforms of social arrangements (Rossi. ideas and categories in the social world. yet he too is concerned with discovering structural patterns that linkthe unconscious human mind with its overt manifestations in social arrangements. one case. and Walter (1982) aim to understand organizational practices in terms of the transformation of unconscious energy into a variety of forms. and legitimized in terms of the formal organization structure." problemswith symbols. This order may be termed 'the structure' "(Turner.g. in fact. The solutionsare arrangementsof kinship categories and rules. The "structures"that Levi-Straussdiscusses typicallysolve "prob- lems. the 'structures' solve problems. For example. McSwain and White (1982). and problemswith the implicationsof the applications.The problem that kinshipstructures" the problemof assuming that women "circulate"intergenerationally throughthe society. Gemmill (1982).problemswith the applicationof these symbols. Thus the organization analyst guided by a structuralist or psychodynamic perspective would need to penetrate beneath the surface level of appearance and experience to uncover the objective foundations of social arrangements. cheating. He or she would not be content to understand the significance of the members' behavior solely in the terms by which they make it accountable to themselves. 1977: 101). What problems are solved by such persistent patterns in organizational arrangement as hierarchy? What do the patterns of organization reveal about the human mind? From this perspective most organizational analysis would be criticized for being too limited in scope. Turner is one who attempts to apply an explicitly Levi-Strauss-type analysis to complex organizations .(Turner. ideas orcategories. According to Levi-Strauss. rationalized.1977: 117) If this approach to culture were applied to the study of organizations we could ask. to diagnos- ing organizational conflicts (1983). Organizationalresearch tends to deal only with the surface level "bits" that are."accordingto Levi-Strauss. But formal structure is a myth. which have limited significance of their own. 1982). in another case. elements of the conscious models shared by organization participants and analysts.. the "native-view" perspective.The patternsthat concern Levi-Straussare patternsin variationsbetween these arrangements. As of yet there are few organization analysts who are pursuing this task. To do so is to rely too heavily on the conscious attitude (McSwain and White. into an intelligible whole. rather than on Levi-Strauss' struc- turalism. The task of structural analysis is "to discover an order of relations that turns a set of bits. universal dimensions of the human mind. 1982) and ratio- nalism (Walter. Behavior is explained. 3521ASQ. 1977). Consider the parallelwith the structural anthropologist who studies a primitive society. to understanding differences between bureaucratic and industrialarrangements (1977) and.

here these are not taken as cultural artifacts. they are all influenced to consider organization as a particularform of human expression. and (the suggestion) that it is in these capacities in which the 'psychic unity of mankind' consists" (Turner. The focus of attention of researchers here is also on language. the social or organizational world exists only as a pattern of symbolic relationships and meanings sustained through the continued processes of human interaction. by using culture as a root metaphor. and rituals. is a mode of thoughtthat sets these perspectives apart from those that treat culture as a variable. This is distinct from the views derived from the machine and organism metaphors. The social world is not assumed to have an objective. stories. even the bureaucratic form. and psychodynamic per- spectives on organization and culture have distinct foci of interest that lead scholars who hold these perspectives to ask different questions and to pursue their research programs in different ways. The organization theorists working from this psychodynamic perspective and contributing to the development of a transformational organiza- tion theory share a concern for reconstituting social science inquiryso that it embraces a more complex vision of human nature. CULTUREAS A ROOT METAPHOR:A COMPARISON The cognitive. the researcher's attention shifts from concerns about what do organizations accomplish and how may they accomplish it more efficiently. 1983). to an external observer. Although there may be different understandings of the specific nature of culture among cognitive. symbols. symbolic. When culture is a root metaphor.1983). independent exis- tence that imposes itself on human beings. however. Instead. Underlying these differences. as in the culture-as- variable perspective-discussed earlier. However. Pondy and Mitroff advocated that organization theory move "beyond open system models of organization" to a "culturalmodel"-a model that would be concernedwith the 353/ASQ. to how is organization accom- plished and what does it mean to be organized? CONCLUSION: TOWARD A CULTURALANALYSIS OF ORGANIZATION In 1979. The mode of thought that underlies culture as a root metaphor gives the social world much less concrete status. some aims for social critique and reformation of social arrangements.September 1983 . conflict. This mode of thought adopts the idea of culture as an epistemological device to frame the study of organization as social phenomenon.Concepts of Culture stealing. which encourage theorists to see organizations as purposeful instruments and adaptive mechanisms. Basic to this work is the belief in "the existence of a deep underlying structure built into the ordering capacities of the mind. structuralist. Some of this work is descriptive and documen- tary. Social action is considered possible because of consensually determined meanings for experience that. or psychodynamic theorists. but instead as generative pro- cesses that yield and shape meanings and that are fundamental to the very existence of organization. one that integrates unconscious processes with the more obvious conscious processes (White and McSwain. symbolic. myths. structural. may have the appear- ance of an independent rule-like existence.

Underlying both these areas of inquiryis the desire for statements of contingent relationships that will have applicabilityfor those managing organizations. Cognitive organization theorists. always open to reinterpretation and renegotiation. Some researchers give high priorityto the princi- ples of prediction. The latter three research interests share a more subjective orientation to the study of organization. Much of the research summarized in this paper and in this special issue stands as evidence that there is a trend in that direction. such as language. causality. consider organizations as systems of thought. for them. not all of the research work mentioning culture refers to culture as a root metaphor. but that now the idea of culture has been incorporated and given prominence as an internal variable as well as an environmental variable. the very concept of organization is problematic. Their aim is to penetrate the surface level of appearance to uncover the workings of unconscious mind. It is also apparent that the open systems analogy continues to be a dominant mode of thought in organization studies. while others are concerned by what appear to them to be more fundamental issues of meaning and the processes by which organizationallife is possible. Comparative management schol- ars seek to chart patterns of beliefs and attitudes. Symbolic organi- zation theorists are concerned with interpreting or deciphering the patterns of symbolic action that create and maintain a sense of organization. Their interest is in charting the understandings or rules by which organization members achieve coordinated action in order to diagnose and intervene in organized settings. such as language and the creation of meaning. generalizability. Instead. the differences in interests and purposes pursued by organization scholars are emphasized. we see that a variety of research agendas flow out of the linkage of different conceptions of culture and organization. They have a common concern for study- ing the interactional dynamics that bring about organization. Organization theorists influenced by structural anthropology or psychodynamics seek to understand the ways in which organi- zation forms and practices manifest unconscious processes. Pondy and Mitroff were suggest- ing that the culture metaphor replace the open systems metaphor as an analytical framework in organization studies. Those who research dimensions of corporate culture seek to delineate the ways these dimensions are interrelated and how they influence criticalorganizational processes and outcomes. These differences are highlighted in the five thematic areas of research representing various intersections of concepts of culture and organization. Thus.September 1983 . on the other hand. as well as managerial practices across countries. 354/ASQ. They recognize that symbolic modes. yet these realities are fleeting. Thus. and control. Thus the significance of culture for organization studies can only be considered against the broader backdrop of basic assumptions and purposes.higher mental functions of human behavior. "Useful for whom and for what purpose?" By considering together all the research efforts stemming from the linking of culture and organization. The insights that emerge from linking the two concepts are a function of the basic conceptions of culture and organization that the researcher brings to the inquiry situation. we need to ask more precisely. When we question whether or not "a cultural framework" is a useful one. facilitate shared realities.

interpretive aspects of organizational life. 355/ASQ. organizations: A review and di- 1970 " 'Culture' and other explana. and Paul M. Academy of Management Journal. Andrews. Hirsch 1934 Patterns of Culture. to illustrate the accompanying research agendas and to bring to the surface the underlying assumptions and purposes con- tained in those agendas. products of a particu- larsociohistorical context and embodying particularvalue commitments." Human Organization. Gareth Morgan. and J. and even organization itself. Pondy. It legitimates attention to the subjective. Complex organization as a cultural form also facilitates environmental destruction and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. view. but that is what a cultural framework for manage- ment and research urges us to do. Journal of Applied Psychology management studies. John A." tory variables in comparative ganizational Symbolism. it is difficult for us. and Thomas Dandridge (eds. Peter McQuaid Ajiferuke. Musbau. Monograph.. Chris. rections for future research. and bringing to the surface underlying values. 1983 "Ambushes. Despite the very real differences in research interest and purpose represented here. September 1983 . Bhagat. with the requirement of examination and critique of one's own assumptions and values. researchers and managers alike. It is difficult. It is difficult to engage in contextual. Because we are of our own culture. and to explore outer space.. CT: JAI Press (forthcoming). Benedict. A cultural framework for analysis encourages us to see that an important role for both those who study and manage organizations is not to celebrate organization as a value. shootouts. MA: Addison-Wesley. Although organization scholars have already conducted much research on the values of individual managers. reflexive management and research. A cultural analysis moves us in the direction of questioning taken-for-granted assumptions. In our present day these values are efficiency. Denhardt in In the Shadowof Organization (1981) noted that organization and administration studies tend to take as their task improving organizational efficiency rather than questioning the "ethic of organization" that has come to dominate modern life. Argyris. 67: 653-685. to eliminate deadly diseases such as polio and smallpox. whether one treats culture as a background factor. and Donald Schon 1978 Organizational Learning. Complex organization as a cultural form has enabled us to provide universal education. or as metaphor for conceptualizing organization. they have devoted much less energyto questioning the values embedded within modern corporate society and to examining the context in which corporate society is meaning- ful. Rabi S." Greenwich. 1982 "Role of subjective culture in Boddewyn Frost. The rational model of organization analysis is largely silent on these matters (Denhardt. to both live in our cultural context and to question it. orderliness. and Houghton Mifflin. 1981). Concepts of Culture This paper has intended to clarify the differences in the ways the concepts of culture and organization have been linked. nonrational qual- ities of the experience of organization. the idea of culture focuses attention on the expressive. REFERENCES Agar.)." In Louis R. Boston: tive anthropology: A partialre. and Sara J. Or. language of corporate take- overs. an organizationalvariable. Michael H. 13: 153-163. A cultural mode of analysis encourages us to recognize that both the practice of organizational inquiryand the practice of corporate management are cultural forms. raising issues of context and meaning. 41 knights of the roundtable: The (Spring): 82-86. Ruth 1982 "Whatever happened to cogni. Read- ing. but to question the ends it serves. Y.

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