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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 2



To provide a historical perspective on the development of organization theory (OT);

To introduce the philosophical foundations of OT;
To outline the main themes and ideas in each of the three perspectives;
To provide a basis for understanding how each of the three perspectives contribute
to knowledge and the design and management of organizations.

Chapter 2 Teaching Notes

This is a long chapter, but important in establishing the diversity of the field and a more in-
depth understanding of the differences between the three perspectives. As stated on
page 25, the ideas can initially be overwhelming, but are reinforced in each chapter and
so students will become more familiar with the overarching themes as they continue

It is helpful to illustrate the three perspectives with videos (see below for examples) and
organizational examples from instructor/student experiences as an employee or customer.
I take in examples of the art suggested in the chapter (Hockney), the work of Cindy
Sherman (photographer), Andy Warhol, plus an example of modernist representative art.

Its also helpful to reinforce the ontological and epistemological differences between the
perspectives when talking about each one.

The work of Classical writers is straightforward, and students also grasp the modernist
influences fairly quickly. Its interesting to note that this early work is oriented around
people rather than ideas or schools of thought mainly because organization theory was
not a distinct discipline. Modernist influences are rooted in the Enlightenment idea that
progress is based on scientific knowledge and rationality (page 36), and can be seen in
three main theories:

- General Systems Theory (pages 29-31): we can explain scientific and social
phenomena by viewing them as systems governed by laws and principles.
- Socio-Technical Systems Theory (pages 31-32): on offshoot of General Systems theory
that includes human behaviour in the system.
- Contingency Theory (pages 32-33): which states there is no one best way to organise,
rather that the most appropriate way in a given situation will depend upon particular
circumstances or contingencies.

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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 2

Symbolic-Interpretive influences might be more challenging, but the key points are:

- Anthropologists began to question whether we could accurately represent the culture of

other people when they interpret observations and data through their own cultural lens.
- They also claimed that to interpret others actions means that we impose our own views.
- There is no one understanding because meanings and social realities are created by
people as they interact (social construction theory, pages 33-34).
- So we need to try to understand how natives (e.g., organizational members) shape
their world and understand it in different ways (multiple interpretations).
- The social/organizational world is not objective but becomes objectified seemingly
real or taken-for-granted as real.
- We enact or construct our world as we act/interact and try to make sense of our
experience (Weicks sensemaking theory, pages 34-35).
- Symbols are part of the process of making meaning (Institutional theory, pages 35-36).
- We need to understand and study how we create our world and meanings and also how
we generate knowledge about our world (reflexivity, pages 38-39).

Explaining the postmodern perspective is often the most challenging part of teaching the
three perspectives. First, it differs from the other two perspectives in that it draws heavily
on a philosophical understanding but this is what makes it so different and exciting!
Second, postmodernists shun simplification. Of course this doesnt help students, but Ive
found that reinforcing the following themes throughout the course can help. And it also
helps to understand the difference between postmodernism and poststructuralism (at least
for the instructor!).

Postmodernists often look either at:

1. Social and cultural conditions (e.g. Baudrillard)

There is no fixed, external social reality but images and
The social is fragmented, valueless, an empty performance.
2. Knowledge and ways of theorizing (e.g., Lyotard)
Knowledge is not rational and universal; it does not lead to enlightened
civilization and progress but to domination and marginalization of groups.
Knowledge is local community agreement on truths or acceptable ways of
talking / doing things.

3. Language and meaning (Derrida, Foucault)

Poststructuralists are concerned with language, discourse, and meaning.
Meanings are not fixed in words, but slip and slide depending on contexts,
usage, circumstances, oppositional plays.

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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 2

We need to deconstruct texts to uncover instabilities and different readings.

Knowledge and power are interrelated.
Knowledge is produced and maintained through historical, cultural, and
discursive codes that influence discursive practices.
Discursive practices are systems of rules that determine the rationality and
legitimacy of particular forms of knowledge. These rules are often
unconscious and constitute both objectivities (social institutions, knowledge)
and subjectivities (who we are, what we say, how we act).
So we need to study how knowledge/discursive practices come to be; how
these repress people; alternative forms of knowledge.

Discussion Questions

1. How is the work of classical theorists such as Taylor and Follett still relevant today?
2. Taking the level of analysis as the organization, select a local organization (or a
hypothetical manufacturer of high quality, all natural ice cream) what are potential
subsystems, inputs, outputs, and feedback mechanisms? (See PowerPoint slide titled
A System).
3. What advantages might a contingency approach have for managers compared to the
classical approach of one best way?
4. What are the differences between the way a modernist manager and a social
constructionist manager might view their role in the organization?
5. How might the language game of the classroom differ from the language game of your
department at work? (Focus of conversation, what can be said/not said, how things
can be said, to whom, and how one may respond).
6. What discursive practices might shape the identity of the student (or the manager)?
(language, cultural and institutional practices
7. Ask students to give organizational examples of simulacra/hyperreality other than
Enron. Why do organizations create simulacra?

Suggested Class Activities

1. Show the first 10 or so minutes of Charlie Chaplins Modern Times (to just after the
demonstration of the feeding machine on Charlie). Ask students how this relates to the
Classical Management theories.

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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 2

2. To help students understand the main premises of symbolic-interpretivism and the idea
of multiple interpretations, I show a video clip (it can be any video - I use Chocolat
started at the point where someone is pouring petrol on the boat, leading to a fire, finishing
where the child and adult emerge from the mist (about halfway through the video).

Ask students to (individually) write the following while watching the video:
a) Select the two main characters in the clip and describe who you think they are,
including a physical description.
b) Briefly describe the event, including where it took place.
c) Why do you think this happened?
d) What do you think will happen next?

Ask students for their thoughts.

Discussion points:

1. How did you decide who were the main characters, what was happening, what will
happen next? Comments often cover:
- experience, observation
- the degree of actor involvement in interaction.
- common sense, (i.e., implicit understandings of events, actions and conversation,
symbols and images)

2. Did we interpret the situation in the same way? Why/why not?

Interpretations differ depending on experience, whether there is a shared history,
prior/local/contextual knowledge. Subjective understandings lead to different
interpretations. Meaning is constructed intersubjectively between the actors (also
between students in class, and between organizational members).

3. Implications for understanding and studying organizations?

- Organizational members understandings and researcher understandings may
vary as each experiences the situation and creates meaning in different ways -
situated perspectives (Clifford).
- Actions, behaviours and meanings in organizations are always emerging and
shifting so researchers may only get a snapshot of a moment in time, unless
one takes an ethnographic approach and gets a more extended period in time.
- Need to uncover: subcultures and multiple interpretations
Maps and images (Weick) - the story line in the video clip.
- This is also a reflexive exercise because students are thinking about how they
create meanings.

4. Show the segment of The Matrix from the point just after all the needles are taken out
of Keanu Reeves, to when hes lying on the bed talking to Laurence Fishburne. Ask
students how the clip relates to social construction/postmodern ideas, particularly ideas
about what is reality (in the film reality is masked), simulacra, everything is text, and

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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 2

scepticism towards metanarratives and what we see. (Note, at the beginning of the film
Neo opens a book and pulls out a computer disc the book is Baudrillards Simulacra and

5. A more in-depth version of the group activity outlined above for Chapter 1.

6. Ask students to draw a picture/image of a modernist view, a symbolic-interpretive view,

and a postmodern view of organizations. Post the drawings and use them as a basis for
discussing the different perspectives and their implications.

Chapter 2 Web Links

1. Karl Marx:

2. Adam Smith:

3. Max Weber:

4. Mary Parker Follett:

5. Lyotard:

6. Michael Foucault:

7. Derrida (website at Stanford University):

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