Studying culture

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Morgan Ch 5: “Creating Social Reality: Organizations as Cultures

Notes by H. Shreter 7/12/00


E. Tylor (1871):

" that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."
Murdock, etc al (1950) : Outline of Cultural Materials
Every element of culture involves, in the first place, a patterned activity i.e. a customary norm of motor, verbal or implicit (covert or ideational) behavior...

Secondly, an activity is normally considered appropriate only under certain circumstances, e.g., of time or place...

In the third place, customary activities are frequently associated with a particular subject, i.e. a culturally defined class of persons, the occupants of a particular status, or the member of a specialized social group...

Fourthly, an activity is commonly directed toward some object, which may be an inanimate thing, and animal, or a person...

In the fifth place, many activities are accomplished by the use of some means external to both the subject and the object, e.g. an artifact or a human assistant...

Sixthly, activities are normally performed with a purpose or goal in mind...

Finally, an activity commonly has some concrete result, affecting either the subject, the object, or both....


Morgan, Chapter 5 questions

1. What is Morgan implying when he suggests that the org. society might cause you to have more in common with someone in Vancouver than in Trenton?

(120-121) In the last paragraph of p. 121, in a discussion that describes industrial culture as widespread and homogenous, Morgan neatly separates office workers from factory workers. We could imply that office workers differ from factory workers more than Canadians (Vancouver) and Northerners (Trenton) differ from Southerners (Tennessee), and so an individual could have more in common with an office worker, in any industrial nation, rather than a factory worker in his hometown.
2. Is possible for a mission statement or expression of corporate values to have a powerful effect on life in an organization? How?

(box p. 123) DISCUSSION: It is possible for values to change behavior. This can happen because culture would be expected to follow the influences in every individual's Likert chain (peer, superior, and inferior influences). However, behavior is not the full life of the individuals in an organization: note the underlying frustrations of the Japanese worker (p. 125) and the "kinder, gentler" organization (p. 129-130).

3. What point is Morgan making about Japanese culture (rice farmers/Samurai) and corporate culture in Japan?

(p. 122-124) Morgan is reporting on Sayle’s thoughts that both the interdependency of rice farmers, and the acceptance of a class hierarchy, has carried over from Japanese history, into Japanese culture, and back into modern industrial Japan. [Subject to argument (how far must one carry his old history? How widespread does it have to be?]

4. What cultural differences relevant to organizations does Morgan point in the cases of Japan, the UK, and the US ?

(p. 126) The differences in national culture affect workers. Specifically:

Japan – feudalism - remnants of the political feudal system

UK – system exploits them – repeating historical exploitation

US – winning - repeating the Revolutionary War (?)

Later (p. 135), Morgan notices that companies like HP and ITT, despite common rooting in America, have very different cultures!

5. How important is winning and losing in our culture?

(p. 126-129) Morgan feels that winning is more important in American culture, and therefore in American businesses, than in any other industrialized nation. It is important because boasting is how Americans drive themselves to action. These self-appreciative behaviors are important to corporation success, so congratulatory events are prominent in American companies, just as singing and deference are prominent in Japanese companies to display cooperation.

6. Comment on the excerpt from Handy (p. 127)

(p. 127) Interesting story – could be a PBS/BBC comedy, as these class sentiments are expressed in some British comedies. One feature that is that there is some homogenizing of society going on: consider that this aunt and this union guy meet over dinner, not by accident on a train or at the races. Also, had the “aunt” been “uncle”, there might have been no discussion at all.

7. What is the essence of what Smireich learned at an American insurance firm?

(p. 129-132) She discovered that there are subcultures that may reflect attitude directly opposite to major culture of the rule-makers. While the workers can state the cultural rules, they actually behave in different ways among different audiences.

8. Comment on the significance of the HP culture.

(p. 132-133) There is an ethos to the culture at HP that colors every business action. The commitment and innovation values are transmitted through stories, and are models for the employees. The “spirit” of HP lives beyond the founders. Significance may be that culture is transmitted and strengthened by repetition.

9. What is your reaction to Geneen’s style at ITT?

(p. 134-135) That ITT could still attract employees is interesting. There may have been more cohesion and more coalitions than is revealed in the Morgan account. If the executives were so busy answering the whim of the chairman, maybe underneath that battleground were actually well-run teams. It is unlikely that the style of managers in the company resemble Geneen, as the Geneen style ties up tremendous manpower to making perfect paperwork rather than focusing on the business and customers.

10. Discuss the case of Roddick and the Body Shop. Do you agree that “traditional female approaches to mgt” might be better suited to organizations of the future? Why or why not?

(p. 135-136) “Intuitive decision-making” is good marketing for customers and employees. A system of “intuitive decision-making” creates an image of easiness that customers would associate with relaxation and low-pressure. Sudnow’s work suggests that all decision-making is intuitive! Sudnow (p. 140) notes that in the legal field, which we’d consider fact-based and not intuitive, rules are mentioned to back up decisions rather than the reverse.

Traditional female approaches to management may succeed in smaller companies, but may never take hold in larger companies. Reason 1: “intuitive decision making” will be difficult to sell to board members.. Reason 2: Many work efforts take lots of planning and long timespans to complete, and are not fun. These facts may run counter to having a workplace that calls for workers to be totally intuitive, love their labor, and not using any management concepts.

  1. What do Garfinkel, Sudnow, and Weick say about the development of culture?

(p. 139, 140-141) From the individual’s point of view, culture is a shared reality: it’s the shared meanings of events and actions. Garfinkel identified many of those shared realities as the social skills that lead to accomplishments: transportation, getting information, eating, etc. If you follow the rules, you will accomplish. And because enough people accomplish, the culture gets retaught and sustained.
Sudnow notes that in some cases, these rules really aren’t followed in expected sequence. They are sometimes invoked afterwards as a way of making an action or a judgement seem sensible to themselves and to outsiders. These rules get associated with those judgements, and new judgements can use those old rules. Since the rules have become useful, they get retaught and sustained.
Weick has the best concept of all: the enactment. Those accomplishments are ways of bringing about realities by using old, shared realities. Events get reenacted to accomplish ends. Plays and movies are enactments of one event and action following another: if it’s “realistic” then it meets the cultural expectations. In ordinary life, a reenactment of a pattern learned in class or a movie, or by observing strangers may be used to accomplish an end. If it’s successful, you may be teaching it to others and perpetuate an element of culture.

  1. Summarize the point of the Picasso story as told by Hampden-Turner.

(p. 141) Picasso’s in the position of complaining that photography isn’t “real” in appearance. The irony of the story is that Picasso is an abstract artist whose work by definition isn’t attempting to reflect real appearance. However, Picasso and all other observers know that Picasso’s painting isn’t reflecting reality. The poor man who showed Picasso the photograph is having a piece of culturally shared convenience revealed to him: the photo isn’t the “real” wife: it’s just a representation. But the word “real” has been culturally overloaded with the rule “unretouched photograph is a representation of true appearance” and is “real”. The problem, of course, is that the photo doesn’t have to be life-sized to fit the cultural definition, but Picasso is insisting that it does, so that he can deflect criticism about abstract art.

  1. What is the relationship between the holographic metaphor, enactment, and corporate culture.

(p. 143) Corporate culture is maintained by holographic metaphor and enactment. The corporate culture, however created, is always going to be replicated in many ways by employees and customers using the corporate culture as a holograph to create expectations about the corporation. Enactment is also a way that culture gets perpetuated by repeating successes. This is a double-edged sword. The factors that help maintain corporate culture may also work to stop progress in changing culture.
14. List and expand on strengths of the culture metaphor.

(p. 146-9) Strength 1: an individual or company can use the symbolism of culture to ensure that all messages are consistent (e.g. neatness everywhere bolsters an impression of an orderly culture). Strength 2: people own some of the tools to actions indirectly through expressing cultural value (e.g. meeting habits can spill over into more informal setting and the reverse). Strength 3: realization that the we socially change our culture to meet the environment: since our thoughts about nature are always cultural then strategic planning has built-in assumptions that can be examined before responding. Strength 4: contributions to understanding corporate cultural change, and resistance to change.

15. List and expand on weaknesses of the culture metaphor.

(p. 150) Weakness 1: assumption that what’s good for the company is good for employees: potential for “values engineering” Weakness 2: Resistance is not planned for when proposing cultural change leaving people feeling manipulated. Weakness 3: The patterns of culture are not the experienced culture (don’t be mislead!).

A. (re #10) What is the approach to management that’s suited to the future? Why would it differ from approaches used in the past? Would the choice differ across industries?

B. Molloy (New Women’s Dress for Success) says: “..when you go to buy a suit, wear the most expensive and best suit you have.” He gives three reasons: easier to attract sales clerks; you are assumed demanding so you get the better tailors; better treatment from the clerks. Question: how much should customers be catered to by your corporate culture?
personal background in anthro

attractive field: lots of good stories

cross-cultural focus: how are the same things done in other places

about the provided definitions


extensions: more laundry on the list

extensions: closer to theoretical “…that are shared..”

Murdock’s 7 points

original is used for classifying cultural writings about societies (Human Relations Area Files)

can use the list to ensure a full description of the culture under study


culture is beliefs, custom is behavior

then there's individual behavior (Japanese workers grumbling)

good points about Morgan’s chapter:

causes of culture

personal contact (dinner example)

recent history (bad bossing)

long-term history (samurai)

national culture (Americans and winning)

displays culture as chicken and egg

culture is how people behave

people behave, result is culture

behavior may not be backed up by feelings

being your own anthropologist

enactment: perfect descriptive definition for what’s culture all about

noticing the exotic – very common pitfall

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