Table of Contents
Last updated February 14, 2001
SPRING 2001 THEORY WORKBOOK
Cultural Approach to Organizations
Explanation of Theory:
Geertz and Pacanowsky describe organizations as having their own culture. This means that any given organization has a particular culture in which the meanings for things are shared between individuals. This symbolic interactionist approach is influenced by the East, and Japanese companies that have moved into the West. The environment that surrounds each company is called the corporate culture and consists of the organization's image, character, and climate. The culture is learned through the use of Stories (or metaphors) used to convey the messages the corporation wants to share with its employees. There are three types of stories told: Corporate stories, information which the management wants to share with the employees; Personal stories, which include personal accounts of themselves that employees share with eachother to help to define who they are within the organization; and Collegial stories, which are stories (positive or negative) that employees within an organization tell about eachother. Using the scientific method of ethnography, we can learn to understand the rituals of a given culture of an organization.
Clifford Geertz &
Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Pacanowsky, M., & O'Donnell-Trujillo, N. (1983). Organizational communication as cultural performance. Communication Monographs 50, 127-147.
This theory clearly comes from a humanistic perspective. It is very interpretive, the use of thick description as a means to understand corporate culture shows us that through symbols, we seek to reach shared meaning throughout our corporate experience. Geertz and Pacanowsky help us to understand the intricacies of any given corporate culture. This culture could also be described as the corporate climate. Their work in describing how a corporate culture often takes on a life of its own is clearly needed for its descriptive quality.
This interpretive approach to looking at organizations is a useful tool for providing "thick description". It has a nice conceptual fit and fulfills Farrell's (1987) criterion for Analytic Consistency. It has been checked out and tested well proving its Methodological Rigor, and makes sense to us in the real world--it is credible. The implications for future research are vast. The cultural approach has spawned many studies.
Ideas and Implications:
This theory has been widely used as interpretive research along with other methods. This theory provides a good base which is useful to triangulate research. The multiple methods approach helps us to discern quantitative as well as qualitative research, and the cultural approach allows that. The life-like origin of this theory reminds us that we are all from the same earth, giving and receiving of it mutually. The cultural approach takes a humanistic look at what goes on inside the workplace.
Just because Lynn has joined a new company does not mean that she has to become one of "them" all of the time. Just as we do interpersonally, Lynn chooses the appropriate time and place and person for her to tell her 'stories' to. Collegial stories among friends, corporate stories among colleagues, and personal stories to friends. Her descriptions of events help us to understand her role in an organization, as well as her perceptions of it.
Lee, M. & Barnett, G. A.(1997). A symbols-
Blyler, N. R.(1996). Narrative and research in professional communication.Journal of Business & Technical Communication, 10 (3), 330-352.
Larkey, L.& Morrill, C. (1995). Organizational commitment as symbolic process.Western Journal of Communication, 59 (3), 193-214.
Wendt, R. F.(1994). Learning to `walk the talk'. Management Communication Quarterly, 8 (1), p5-46.
Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:
Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. N/A.
Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A.
Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 248-58.
Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 273-284.
Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A.
Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A.
West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. 225-240.
Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A.