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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 7


Chapter 7 Objectives
To learn to see organizations as physical structures;
To explore the link between physical structure, social structure, and technology;
To understand the relationship between physical structure, culture and
organizational identity.

Teaching Notes

Physical structure is the most tangible aspect of organization theory and one that students
may have the least difficulty relating to. This chapter can often enliven concepts in
organizational culture especially those relating to symbols and artefacts.

Differences between the three perspectives:

Modernism Physical structure influences efficiency and needs to be

managed to optimise work performance.
Symbolic-interpretive physical structures are cultural artifacts that both create and
are given meanings by occupants. Place has aesthetic
Postmodernism physical structures are material expressions of embedded
power relations

Key points of the chapter:

1. Physical structure is defined by the physical elements of organizations which include:

Organizational - the physical locations in time and space and their interconnections.
Geography Mapping the distribution of these connections shows the geographic
extent of the organization. Its also important to analyze geographic
features (natural resources etc).
Layout - the spatial arrangement of physical objects. Issues of proximity
(distance between work units), openness (lack of physical
boundaries), accessibility (ease of interaction), and privacy (freedom
from intrusion) can influence work-related behaviours and
performance. They are also expression of organization culture
(values, identity etc) e.g. hot desking.
Landscaping - the architecture and decoration of a building and grounds. Also
Design & Dcor may include dress (e.g., Disney). Symbolic-interpretive scholars are
concerned with interpretations and use of physical space, while
postmodernist address the power relations embedded.

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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 7

2. The interrelationship of technology, social, and physical structure:

Modernist - assesses how physical structure influences communication,
information flow, coordination.
Symbolic- - studies the meanings and emotions attributed to, and evoked by,
Interpretivist physical structures, symbols, artifacts, places etc. Structuration
theory offers one way of studying the interrelationship between
structure and agency.
Postmodernist - studies the ideological implications of physical structure and
embedded power relations. Physical structure can be used to
appropriate meaning and maintain power over others.

3. How physical structure relates to organizational culture and identity:

One of the main issues to consider here is the taken-for-granted ways in which our
physical surroundings influence our behaviour and vice versa (symbolic conditioning and
structuration). Consider the old institutional green dcor of hospitals versus the new
creams, pinks, and yellows. My local childrens hospital has brightly coloured characters
and scenes painted on the walls and windows.
The idea of embodied knowledge is particularly relevant, for example, we dont need to
look at the keyboard to type, or watch every step as we walk upstairs. This translates into
a work setting in that there are work activities that carry embodied knowledge, for example
machine operators may not have to watch every movement because the process is so
Spatially-oriented language and metaphor also carry and imbue meaning and values Im
at the head of the table, Im on the ground floor/top floor etc.
Territorial boundaries can be related to individual and group identities.
Organizational identity and corporate image is often tied in with physical space, symbolic
representations, and styles of dress. (See also chapter 10)

Additional Points:
Postmodern notions of physical space are linked with postmodernity the idea that
postmodernism is a new social era with a different cultural logic dominated by a number of
characteristics, among these are:

Time/space compression the need to communicate instantaneously, to reduce

the time taken to do or use things, to speak or work with someone across the
globe, to travel from A to B in the quickest way possible. In other words
everything in our lives has to be done now and we become less able to predict
and control what is happening. The irony is that it is modern science and
technology that has produced the means of communicating and sharing
information so quickly. Hence science creates the conditions under which
science itself becomes less and less useful as a means of prediction and
control, which has been its primary value to modernists all along.

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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 7

Spectacle We live in a society of spectacle where we are driven by a variety of

images (TV, film, magazine, computer games, art and architecture) that
overtake reality and influence what we think our lives should be, and who we
think we are. For example, we dont just buy soup but the image of a warm
glow, a loving family sitting around a fire while it snows outside; we want to be
rock heroes or live our lives as soap opera characters. We cannot determine
what is real and experience depthlessness and a loss of community. Our
identities are comprised of fragments of stories, TV and film characters and
archetypes (e.g., Superwoman) as we passively consume the images of a world
that doesnt exist. (E.g., See Pink Floyds Wearing the Inside Out, on The
Division Bell; Seaside, Florida is a planned community along traditional
American architectural lines with front porches and picket fences, designed to
evoke community values, yet the residents are vacationers and strangers - see
web link below)

Fragmentation or an explosion of values traditional values no longer exist in

this formless, image-driven world where everything is endlessly simulated and
reproduced. We have lost a sense of community and a sense of place; we no
longer value commitment but moving on to the next exciting image; we want
entertainment, disposability, and are driven by short term needs. A fragmented
view of the world resonates with the breakdown of boundaries between nations
and their peoples, and the resulting dispersal and mixture of cultures, politics,
and religions that were kept bounded and well-apart during the industrial era. In
terms of architecture and physical space the aim is disjuncture, shock or
simulation (e.g., Andy Warhols work, the architecture of the Bonaventure Hotel
in LA see web link below).

All of these dispel any sense of rootedness and authenticity, as everything becomes an
act of production and/or consumption as we create, perform and passively experience
these aspects of life. Baudrillards notion of simulacra is also relevant (see Chapter 2), i.e.,
suggests there is no real, only signs and simulations concealing the absence of a reality
and forcing us to live an illusion where we are nostalgic for community values and warmth.
Useful sources:
Frederic Jamesons (1984) Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism, New
Left Review, July-August, 146: 53-
David Harveys The Condition of Postmodernity (1989) Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Discussion Questions

1. How might virtual organizations and teleworking relate to physical structure? Is it still
important for managers in these types of organizations to consider physical space and
why/why not?
2. How are physical structure, organizational identity, and corporate image related?
What are examples of well-known corporate images and how are they constructed?

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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 7

3. What is the relationship between physical structure and power from a modernist and
postmodernist perspective?

Class Activities

1. Ask students to map their organizations organizational geography. Compare maps in

terms of geographic extent and geographic features.
2. Split students into three groups (or multiples of three). Each group has been charged
with the task of analyzing the physical structure of an organization: one group from a
modernist perspective, one from a symbolic, one from a postmodern perspective. Each
group should outline a research design, on a flip chart, for their study, incorporating a
statement of the purpose of their study, research method(s) to be used, and what they will
analyze. Post the flip charts and compare and contrast approaches.
For example, the purposes might vary from: how to maximise organizational efficiency
through physical structure (modernist), the meanings and multiple
interpretations lying within physical structure and their relationship to
organizational culture (symbolic-interpretive), to studying the power relations
embedded within physical structure and their marginalizing effect
3. Ask students to identify aspects of the physical structure of the University and the
relationship to organizational culture and identity. Are there different meanings for
different groups, and what might these be?
4. Ask students to bring examples of architectural designs of companies (available from
the Internet or from annual reports). Discuss in relation to organizational culture and

Chapter 7 Web Links

1. Examples of Physical Structure:

2. Workspace Design (CNN & Harvard Business School article:

3. Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles

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Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 7

Chapter Assignments

Organizational Analysis Physical Structure

This analysis may be carried out in an organization that you work for, or based on
observation of a public sector organization (e.g., a museum, a government building, a
university). Analyse the physical structure of the organization using the concepts from
Chapter 7. What implications do/might these physical elements have on
organizational members, customers, and other people who might come into contact
with the organization? What messages and meanings might they carry for these

Oxford University Press, 2012. All rights reserved.