Culture and Symbolism
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Culture and Symbolism


The 80's saw a massive growth of interest in culture and symbolism in organisations by practitioners as well as academics. Culture and symbolism is about meaning and imagery. They are terms used to highlight the `softer' features of organisation. The patterning of action within organisation is treated as a web of meanings and symbols rather than as a `hard' structure or system (see organisational structure notes). The key to both understanding organisations and to controlling organisations is seen to lie in their analysis as cultures (e.g. values, myths, ceremonies, etc.).

In what follows, the focus is upon culture but this is understood to embrace the study of symbolism (see note 1). A working definition of culture is `a shared system of values, norms and symbols...(it) conveys an entire image, an integrated set of dimensions/ characteristics and the whole beyond the parts'.


The study of culture and symbolism is not new. Many of the classical empirical studies of organisation have much to say about culture. But they didn't focus upon it as a specific topic - it remained implicit in their analysis. Furthermore, they were regarded as `sociology' or `anthropology' rather than having anything serious or significant to say to analysts of organisation who tended to be preoccupied with the measurement of `structural variables', such as specialisation, centralisation, etc.

Arguably, the link between the (objectivistic, scientistic) aspirations of the organisational analysts and the study of culture occurred with the appearance of Silverman's The Theory of Organisations (1970). This study drew heavily upon the work of Berger and Luckmann (see Social Construction of Reality lecture notes). Silverman pressed the case for an `action frame of reference' in which he argued that what happens in organisations cannot be explained in terms of the impact of a combination of subjective and objective factors or variables (e.g. individual needs and environmental contingencies). It is worth quoting what he argued at some length:

`The explanation of why people act as they do may lie not in a combination of "objective" and "subjective" factors, but in a network of meanings which constitute a "world taken for granted" (Schutz, (1964) by the participants. Indeed, "objective" factors, such as technology and market structure, are literally meaningful only in terms of the sense that is attached to them by those who are concerned and the end to which they are related... Organisations do not react to their environment, their members do. People act in terms of their own and not the observer's definition of the situation' (ibid : 37)

In other words, Silverman argued that an adequate analysis of what goes on in organisations can be achieved only by grasping how the actors involved actually interpret their world. It is these meanings which provide the key to understanding why, for example, strategic decisions take the form which they do.

Although Silverman himself was read more widely by sociologists than by organisation analysts, his ideas were taken up and disseminated in an article by Child (1972) who, as a researcher in the Aston studies, had established a reputation amongst organisation analysts. In fact, Child simultaneously harnessed and diluted Silverman's `constructionist' thesis in an effort to explain the variance unaccounted for by contextual and structural variables. Previously unaccountable variance, he suggested, is a product of the `ideological values' which informed the strategic decision-making of powerful actors within organisations.

In this way, Silverman's argument that the focus of analysis should be upon the actor's definition of the situation was converted so as to identify and measure `strategic choice' as a variable which had been overlooked within previous forms of analysis. Describing the ideological values of `the dominant coalition' of decision makers as `political factors', Child (ibid : 16) concludes that `their existence implies that the degree of association which different contextual factors have with structural variables will not conform to any stable mathematical function. Only when these political factors can be adequately measured is greater predictive certainty likely to be achieved'.

Despite its allegiance to a form of analysis committed to the measurement of `"subjective factors"' (which Silverman had rejected, see above), Child's article was influential in developing action as a focal concern of organisation analysis. At the same time, disillusionment with the intellectual coherence as well as the practical value of highly quantitative forms of analysis was growing. Finally, and perhaps of greatest importance, the mediocre performance of American industry in comparison to that of Japan/The Pacific Rim stimulated reflection upon the basic philosophy of (Western) management.

Common to this reflection has been a concern to encourage involvement, trust and commitment amongst staff and, more generally, to pay greater attention to people (see lecture notes on Human Resource Management). Commenting upon the problem and advocating `Theory Z' as a remedy, Ouchi (1981 : 4-5) asserts `we have developed a sense of the value of technology and of a scientific approach to it, but we have meanwhile taken people for granted...The first lesson of Theory Z is trust'. He goes on to argue that capitalism is not necessarily inconsistent with trust and uses both Japanese and American companies to illustrate how this is possible (Marks and Spencer might serve as an equivalent UK example).

Culture as Critical Variable, Culture as Root Metaphor

Our knowledge of culture and symbolism takes two basic forms. Either culture is studied as an object to be controlled or manipulated in the effort to achieve a particular end, such as productivity. This has been the route favoured by academics, consultants and managers who have identified the `strength' of ` corporate culture' as a key to organizational performance. Or culture can be studied as something which an organisation is rather than as something that it has.

In other words, culture may be analysed from the standpoint of the observer who classifies it and seeks to manipulate it. Or it may be analysed by seeking to appreciate how organizational participants render their world meaningful. Smircich (1983) characterises the first approach as treating culture as a `critical variable' whereas the second approach treats it as a `root metaphor' of analysis. She writes :

`When culture is a root metaphor, the researcher's attention shifts from concerns about what do organizations accomplish and how may they accomplish it more efficiently, to how is organization accomplished and what does it mean to be organized?' (ibid : 353).

When culture is viewed as a critical variable (as an object to be controlled and manipulated), there is a tendency to assume or take-for-granted the values upon which modern, complex organisations are founded and take as given the ends that they serve. In contrast, where culture is treated as a root metaphor, organisational practices are more likely to be appreciated as `products of a particular socio-historical context and embodying particular value commitments' (ibid : 355).

Culture as a Critical Variable in Organisational Analysis

Here culture is viewed as an attribute of an organisation that can be shaped and developed to improve organizational performance. Either a population of organisations is understood to be embedded in a distinctive (e.g. national) culture. Or particular organisations are understood to embody distinctive cultures. But, in each case, the concern is to discover how the attributes of culture may be more effectively exploited, manipulated or transformed to enhance performance in terms of profit, growth, productivity, etc.

One of the most influential frameworks for analysing organisation during the 80's was developed by McKinsey and Co., the international firm of management consultants. This framework comprises 7S's : Structure, Strategy, Systems, Skills, Staff, Style and Superordinate goals.


Strategy Plan or course of action leading to the allocation of a firm's scarce resources, over time, to reach identified goals

Structure Characterisation of the organisation chart (i.e. functional, decentralised,etc.)

Systems Proceduralized reports and routinized processes such as meeting formats

Staff "Demographic" description of important personnel categories within the firm (i.e. engineers, entrepreneurs, MBA's, etc.).

Style Characterization of how key managers behave in achieving the organization' goals; also the cultural style of the organization

Skills Distinctive capabilities of key personnel or the firm as a whole

Superordinate Goals The significant meanings or guiding concepts that an organization imbues in its members (Pascale and Athos, 1982 : 81)

The first three are described as `hard'; the remainder as `soft'. Diagrammatically, the first six are arranged in a circle with Superordinate goals at the centre of this circle. The basic message is that best performers are distinguished by the attention given to the `soft' S's, the degree of `fit' between these elements and, crucially, by the central place of Superordinate goals. Summarising the significance of the inclusion of the `soft' Ss within their framework, Peters and Waterman assert that

`In retrospect, what our framework has really done is to remind the world of professional managers that "soft is hard". It has enabled us to say, in effect, "All that stuff you have been dismissing for so long as the intractable, irrational, intuitive, informal organization can be managed'.

In similar fashion, when summarising the results of their investigations, Pascale and Athos (1982 : 204) contrast the population of Japanese and American firms in the following way:

`What we saw was that generally we were very similar to the Japanese on all the "hard-ball" S's - structure, strategy and systems. Our major differences are in the "soft-ball" S's - skills, style, staff, and subordinate goals. Their culture gives them advantages in the "softer" S's because of its approach to ambiguity, uncertainty, and imperfection, and to interdependence as the most approved mode of relationship....Their careful attention to their human resources from the initial recruitment all the way through retirement make us look as wasteful of our people as we have been of our other resources. We saw how the boss-subordinate relationship encourages a degree of effective collaboration that we might envy, and how consensus is used to accomplish smooth implementation, which often eludes us'

At the same time, particular `high performing American companies', such as Hewlett-Packard, are held up as examples of firms where the `synch' among the 7s's is said to be `very good' (ibid : 205). IBM, for instance, is reported to

`pay as much attention to the recruitment and indoctrination of staff and the inculcation of superordinate goals as does Matsushita. Both companies do so in a disciplined, systematic way that is woven into their institutional fabric. This results in staff members who have a high degree of shared understandings and beliefs about the company, about what takes priority, about what is expected of them, and about their high value to the enterprise' (ibid : 205-6).

In In Search of Excellence (1982), Peters and Waterman argue that the best performing organisations are invariably `value-driven' : `Virtually all of the better-performing companies we looked at in the first study had a well-defined set of guiding beliefs' (ibid : 281). It is interesting to note that they refer at length to the work of Selznick (see note 3) in support of the thesis that values are both central and are transmitted by subtle and indirect means, such as through stories, myths, legends, and metaphors. Selznick (quoted in ibid : 282) notes:

`To create an institution you rely on many techniques of infusing day-to-day behaviour with long-run meaning and purpose. One of the most important of these techniques is the elaboration of socially integrating myths...Successful myths are never merely cynical or manipulative...To be effective, the projected myth must not be restricted to holiday speeches or to testimony before legislative committees...The art of creative leadership is the art of institution building, the reworking of human and technological materials to fashion an organism that embodies new and enduring values'.

Peters and Waterman suggest that the content of dominant beliefs in the excellent companies tend to take the following form:

1. A belief in being the "best"

2. A belief in the importance of the details of execution, the nuts and bolts of doing the job well

3. A belief in the importance of people as individuals

4. A belief in superior quality and service

5. A belief that most members of the organization should be innovators, and its corollary, the willingness to support failure

6. A belief in the importance of informality to enhance communication

7. Explicit belief in and recognition of the importance of economic growth and profits (ibid : 285)

These are elements of the shared values, significant meanings and guiding concepts which successful companies are understood to imbue in their members. As both Pascale and Athos and Peters and Waterman both stress, these are not overtly `bottom-line' goals like growing by x percent per year or obtaining a return on investment of y per cent. Rather they are values `that "move men's hearts" and that genuinely knit together individual and organizational purposes' (Pascale and Athos, 1982 : 82) (see Human Resource Management lecture notes). In the conclusion to their book, Pascale and Athos argue that `the best firms link their purposes and ways of realizing them to human values as well as to economic measures like profit and efficiency' (ibid : 206).


When viewed and managed as a critical variable, the significance of culture is that it can either impede or promote the `success' of corporations. Success is deemed to be coincident with the building of `strong' cultures - where strength is defined, of course, in terms of the delivery of `success'. For example, Deal and Kennedy (1982) argue that the success of major American corporations, like General Electric, IBM, Proctor and Gamble, etc., has been based upon ` a corporate culture, a cohesion of values, myths, heroes, and symbols that [came] to mean a great deal to the people who work [in them]...a strong culture has almost always been the driving force behind continuing success in American business' (ibid : 4-5).

From this line of reasoning, it follows that the responsibility of management is to construct a culture which comprises : 1) `a system of informal rules which spells out how people are to behave most of the time' and 2) `enables people to feel better about what they do, so they are more likely to work harder' (ibid : 15-6). In other words, the importance of culture is understood to reside in achieving control through consent and productivity through identification.

Both of these elements are directly related to issues of freedom and insecurity. It is argued that employees actively welcome and support `strong' corporate cultures because they offer a sense of relief from insecurity and the anxieties associated with freedom. Deal and Kennedy are quite explicit about this. Appealing to the work of Herzberg to support their case, they write

`employees today are confused...they feel cheated in their jobs; they allow special interests to take up their time; their life values are uncertain; they are blameful and cynical...Uncertainty is at the core of it all. Yet strong culture companies remove a great deal of that uncertainty because they provide structure and standards and a value system in which to operate. In fact, corporations may be among the last institutions in America that can effectively take on the role of shaping values. We think that workers, managers, and chief executive officers should recognise this and act on it' (ibid : 16).

An alternative way of interpreting this is that the social responsibility of the corporation (or its managers) is defined in terms of indoctrinating them with a set of values and providing them with productive opportunities for comforting their insecure egos. The following example is illustrative:

`When a sales representative can say "I'm with IBM", rather than "I peddle typewriters for a living", he will probably hear in response, " Oh, IBM is a great company, isn't it?" He quickly figures out that he belongs to an outstanding company with a strong identity. For most people, that means a great deal. The next time they have the choice of working an extra half hour or sloughing off, they'll probably work. Overall, this has an impact on productivity too' (ibid : 16).

Omitted from this view of culture as a critical variable to be managed is the question of the conditions (the bankruptcy of cultural values and economic dependence?) that renders individual employees vulnerable to the efforts of corporations to win their (uncritical) allegiance. It is questionable whether `blame and cynicism' are not more authentic responses to the experience of work within modern corporations, and perhaps especially so where their cultures have been deliberately constructed to exploit weaknesses nurtured by the anomic, individualising conditions of modern society.

Culture as Root Metaphor in Organisational Analysis

From this perspective, culture is not an attribute of an organisation which can be measured, manipulated or managed. Rather, organisation is culture : culture is the metaphor used to interpret the reality of organisation as a process in which meanings are sustained and changed through processes of symbolic interaction. It is through cultural processes that social/ organisational realities are constructed, reproduced and transformed (see lecture notes on Social Construction of Reality). In taking a `root metaphor' approach, Smircich (1985) identifies the following features:

1. Focus upon symbols. Because people hold culture in their heads, all that can be studied is representations or symbols. Examine symbols - words, ideas, etc. - that make organisational life possible

2. Relate symbols to power. Symbols are an expression of power and they are also empowering - for example, because they confer status or authority. Many symbols are sexist, for example.

3. Include psychodynamic Draw attention to unconscious appeal of symbols.

4. Deploy holistic metaphors Recognise that culture involves the totality of the person - cognitions, feelings, sensations.

5. Raise awareness of social Appreciate how world is socially construction constructed. Producing accounts of the world is political : `We too are "world makers"...We are already co-producers of the world of organisation. Thus we are not engaged in a neutral activity.

An Example : The Funeral Director

A brief example of this approach to culture is Barley's study of the Funeral in which he explores ho shows how funeral directors contrive, through the skilful use of signs and symbols, to convey meanings which they believe will minimise uncontrolled, expressive outpourings of grief that may otherwise disrupt the smooth operation of funeral arrangements.

At each stage of the proceedings - the removal of the deceased from the place of death, the preparation of the body, and so on - is organized in a way that is intended `to create the appearance of normality or naturalness' (Barley, 1983 : 402). So, for example, when the corpse is laid out for viewing, detailed attention is given to its positioning in the casket, its clothing and the posing of facial features so that a lifelike appearance is simulated.

To this end, Barley describes how the funeral director mobilises commonsense conceptions of rest and sleep when preparing the features of the deceased. This includes such considerations as the abutting of eyelids and interventions to counteract the `rigor mortis' opening of the mouth. In this way, the director draws upon the symbolic codes of peaceful sleep to minimise the intrusion of alternative codes of irreversible death and decay, an impression which is also induced by the softness and comfort of the furnishing of the chapels within the home which bear a much closer resemblance to domestic living rooms than to a church or crematorium.

Commenting upon the tendency of students of organisational culture to focus upon discrete and often exotic features of culture - such as rituals, stories and logos - Barley suggests that these are comparable to candles which hover above both the cake and the icing of culture. He argues that a concentration upon such cultural artifacts tends to distract attention from the way in which `anything can be an expressive sign capable of signification' (ibid : 409). In other words, it is not only possible but commonplace that meaning is attributed to very mundane phenomena, such as chairs or even sunlight. Barley's point is that if we are to understand the subjectively meaningful nature of the social world, it is necessary to consider the most mundane aspects of organisational work in order to grasp the codes that lend it coherence.

In the case of the funeral home, the underlying and taken-for-granted concern to mitigate perceptions of death which they believe might disturb participants. Their practice is understood to cohere around this concern for normality and naturalness, although it may be qualified and subverted by other concerns such as "convenience" and "business". His argument is that if we are to understand why and how work undertaken within the funeral home takes the form it does, it is necessary to appreciate how signs and symbols are arranged in ways which `create subtle illusions of everyday life' that are opposed to those which signify `death and strangeness'. Although an awareness of the codes covering posed features and furnishings might improve the capacity to predict decisions concerned with the conduct of funeral business, its primary contribution is to illuminate the world of funeral directing so as to expand our understanding of its social organisation.


By studying culture as a `root metaphor', the cultural character of all organizational action is potentially revealed. In Barley's study, we come to see how the reality of the funeral home is actively constructed by appealing to commonsense understandings and values of what counts as `normality and naturalness'. Barley's study is particularly useful because it does not focus upon any particular expression of `culture', such as myths or company logos, but instead attempts to reveal the socially, culturally organized quality of mundane organizational work - in his example, the work of the funeral director. What his study does not do, however, is to consider why the work of the funeral director is organized in this way. Why is it that potentially distressing features of the situation are minimised? Why are they distressing?

To answer these questions, it would be relevant to locate the practices of funeral direction in the wider social context in which a taboo about death has been developed. This would involve reflection upon the compatibility of awareness and acceptance of death and Western preoccupations with materialism and consumerism. That is to say, it would be necessary to understand how the taboo about death is historically and culturally constructed. For it is this taboo that lends sense to the funeral director's practices. But, relatedly, we would also have to understand how and why the sense of self is threatened - is rendered insecure - by the disruption of `normal appearances'. Why does the self become attached to this sense of normality? Thus, in addition to the historical dimension of analysis, it is relevant to explore the existential dimension of the funeral director's practices. And, in doing so, we might want to reflect upon the degree to which the organization of funerals reproduces the way death is tabooed.

Culture and Power

Despite Smircich's references to the relationship between culture/ symbolism and power, there has been a marked tendency for power to be `undertheorised' within studies of culture. Culture is closely associated with shared values and little interest has been taken in how consent is manufactured or hegemony secured (see the lecture notes on power). The tendency to overlook (or naturalise) asymmetries of power in organizations is perhaps most transparent amongst writers who have promoted `culture' as the most recent panacea for the managerially defined problems of commitment and competitiveness (see above). But it is also a weakness within studies whose focus is upon what the culture `is', rather than upon how it might be shaped to achieve corporate goals of enhanced competitiveness and profitability. Accounts of organizational culture and symbolism tend to be divorced from any consideration of the historic relations of exploitation and oppression through which cultural realities are constructed and reproduced.

In part, the neglect of the political conditions and consequences of organizational culture and symbolism arises from the exotic banality of many of the favoured topics of cultural research (c.f. Alvesson, 1985a). Of greater importance, perhaps, is the theoretical incapacity of these studies to select, situate and signify their topics in relation to the material and political contexts of organizational life. Instead of situating the study of myth, for example, in this wider context, its analysis is abstracted from the conditions of its emergence and plausibility.

In the context of capitalist work organizations, cultural analysis could be more attentive to the role of symbols and the expression of culture in the reproduction of labour processes (see lecture notes on the labour process). It would then explore the presence and significance of culture in relation to the fundamentally exploitative character of production relations, involving the pumping out of surplus from employees, is routinely secured as it is concealed. To take the example of Barley's study (see above), it would be relevant to appreciate how commercial considerations enter into the organization and control of the funeral home workers.

Schwartz has drawn attention to how few studies of culture have explored how symbols are used, intentionally or otherwise, to produce a totalitarian climate in which `the commission of the psychic act of organisational loyalty is the very self-deception, the obscuration which, from one's own point of view, gives oneself identity, gives the organisation life, and motivates one to entice others, both within the organization and outside it, to do the same'(Schwartz, 1987). Instead of enabling their members to develop their autonomy and responsibility, corporations that develop strong cultures may be seen to act rather like over-protective parents or an authoritarian religion. What Fromm has said of God might equally be applied to the strong cultures advocated by Deal and Kennedy :

`When man has thus projected his own most valuable powers onto God, what of his relationship to his own powers? They have become separated from him and in this process he has become alienated from himself. Everything he has is now God's and nothing is left to him. His only access to himself is through God...The real fall of man is his alienation from himself, his submission to power, his turning against himself even though under the guise of his worship of God'

When examined more critically, the management of culture to encourage devotion to an authoritarian God/ a soulful corporation (see the discussion of Peters and Waterman above) may be interpreted as preying upon a desire for security. Membership of the corporation provides an illusion of certainty and security insofar as it furnishes a socially valued identity. Certainty and security are provided in exchange for the employees devotion to the value (or meaningfulness) of the identity which the corporation offers to its employees - a devotion that depends upon the willingness/ vulnerability of the employee with regard to the psychological rewards offered by membership. Take, for example the case of the Tandem corporation which is held up by Deal and Kennedy as a model of the strong organisation. They write:

`It's no surprise that people at Tandem feel special...they feel special because the company and its product are special=. And their feelings are expressed in an unusual display of loyalty and commitment to the company.

"My goals follow the company's. It's the company and I. I think that's pretty true of everyone. We all want to see it work. You have to have it all or don't have any of it"

Through the medium of a strong corporate culture, employees come to regard work as linked to Tandem's success:

"My job is important, and if I don't do it, Tandem doesn't make a buck"'

Schwartz regards the building of corporate cultures as highly dangerous for humankind because it seeks to equate the freedom and responsibility of the individual exclusively with the discretion and values ascribed to employees by the corporation. In principle, when at work the individual is expected to suspend a sense of moral relationship with members of the wider society. The result, he suggests, is that dedication to the corporation produces results which are socially pathological.

Schwartz illustrates this through the fictional example of Silkwood in which a managerial employee of a nuclear chemical corporation voluntarily retouches the photographs of welds in fuel rods intended for nuclear reactors. This man cannot be dismissed as evil or psychopathic, yet as a devotee of the company, he is prepared to engage in activity which is not only illegal but potentially has consequences too horrific to contemplate.


Clearly, Silkwood is an extreme example, chosen to dramatise the point. But there are innumerable other examples where people `go along with', perhaps grudgingly or even anxiously, something which they could not defend morally. They (we) do this because to do otherwise is too threatening for their (our) identity. To put this another way, it exposes them (us) to attack from those whose identity is more heavily invested in the organisation and who, as a consequence, experience resistance to the corporate culture as a direct threat to themselves. Schwartz adds that `it can even be mere threats to the image of the organisation as perfect. Thus, in a similar fashion, "slander against the state" is (or was!) considered a crime in the Soviet Union'. By binding the individual to the organisation through the building of corporate culture, criticisms are in principle silenced. The corporation can continue to consume both people and material resources without regard for the social and ecological consequences. Yet, it is arguable that to continue along this road is deeply pathological. As Fromm has argued,

`Technocratic fascism must necessarily lead to catastrophe. Dehumanised Man will become so mad that he will not be able to sustain a viable society in the long run...'

This would be a highly depressing picture if it were not for the existence of contradictions within the attempt to create (totalitarian) corporate cultures. A variety of forces, singularly and in combination, serve to disturb the dream of the total integration of the individual and the organisation.

Existentially, the openness of human nature is difficult to close especially in societies which do not tolerate the more powerful techniques of brainwashing. Because human beings are not programmed, the capacity to reflect enables us to maintain a distance, albeit cynical or instrumental, from the demands of the corporation.

Culturally, the emphasis upon individualism is not entirely consistent with what may be regarded as the cloning requirements of corporate culture even though the effort to make every employee feel special can mitigate this tension.

Socially, the identity of individuals is not constructed exclusively within corporations and there is rarely a complete compartmentalisation between social identities although here again the capacity to play roles at a distance may mitigate this contradiction.

Politico-economically, the instability and uncertainty associated with capitalism as a mode of production can place pressures on corporations which lead them to renege on the promises of corporate culture. The effect of cost-cutting exercises may contradict the belief in being the best, in paying attention to detail, of valuing people as individuals, etc.

Ecologically, the exploitation of nature demanded by capital accumulation (and by consumers) confronts its own limits in the form of pollution of vital resources (air, food, water) and global warming. From a critical perspective, the key issue is whether we create cultures which seek to contain and mask these contradictions or which seeks to address them and overcome those which are the product of history rather than nature.

Fromm has argued that the construction of a new, more rational social order requires:

* Education That we become aware of the almost insurmountable difficulties faced in bringing about change

* Discipline That we must exert control over those social forces (e.g. corporations) which threaten our survival and fulfilment

* Awareness That the requirements of the new society must be determined by the requirements of the unalienated, being-oriented individual

* Self-determination That in order for consumption to serve the being-oriented individual, `the right of stockholders and management of big enterprises to determine their production solely on the basis of profit and expansion must be surrendered

* Democracy That to create a being-oriented society, all people must be enabled to participate actively in both economic and political spheres : `our liberation from the having mode of existence is possible only through the full realisation of industrial and political participatory democracy.

As Fromm has argued, a saner society organised to tackle the problems of gross global and national inequality, pollution and meaninglessness requires the development of a new wo/man. And this new wo/man can be created only out of the internal contradictions of the existing society. There are some signs that this is happening - in various social movements, in the break-up of the Soviet Empire and the change of attitude towards holistic ways of thinking and being. However, the key to progressive radical transformation would seem to lie in the re-discovery of meaning and pleasure in activities which do not support (and require little support from) social forces which are needlessly destructive of natural and human resources. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is instructive. If we take the motorcycle as a metaphor for the world, then the following has relevance:

`The dualistic subject-object way of approaching the motorcycle sounds right to us because we're used to it. But it's not right...When traditional rationality divides the world into subjects and objects it shuts out Quality, and when you're really stuck its Quality, not any subjects or objects, that tells you where you ought to go'


If the study of organizational culture and symbolism is restricted to the `strengthening' of corporate culture or an examination of exotic cultural artifacts that abstracts them for their context, its effect will be to reproduce `the subject-object way' of understanding work organization. However, the very attention being given to culture, and the `positive' knowledge that is a consequence of this focus, provides an opportunity for reflecting more critically upon its significance. Out of this reflection may arise a disillusionment with the destructive consequences of conventional wisdom and a search for forms of organization that nurture Quality rather than shut it out.

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This site was constructed by Hugh Willmott and was last updated on 02/10/00