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Organizational Culture Theory and

Critical Theory
Move from systemic and structural issues to . . .

Culture Theory
Understanding organizations through a cultural lens with a
focus on values, attitudes and beliefs of members

Critical Theory
Revealing how social and technological structures within
organizations serve to oppress workers.
Organizational Culture
Changes in Global Marketplace
Intense Competition
Reconsider Traditional Management Practices
Shift from traditional, highly rationale theories to
more fluid and irrational
Societal consciousness-raising regarding oppressive
atmosphere in organizations for workers, women,
and minorities
Inequities and Oppressive Circumstances
Organizational Culture Theory
State University vs. Southern University Case Study
Attempts to explain behavior within organizations
Attempts to account for differences among organizations
Description of how members of a group live and make sense
of their world together
Culture provides a lens through which its members interpret,
interact with, and make sense of reality
Culture helps to explain patterns of behavior and thought that
characterize individuals and the groups with which they are
Organizational Culture Theory
Organizational culture provides
meanings for routine organizational
events, thereby reducing the amount of
cognitive processing and energy
members need to expend throughout the
Misunderstandings and
Organizational Culture
Cultural variations are often the cause of major and minor
misunderstandings as groups come into contact with one
Value of cultural perspective is in illustrating the
misunderstandings that occur within an organization
Culture may hinder organizations from progress in the future
Organizations consist of subcultures
Mergers and International Mergers are also a source of
Two Competing Perspectives
on Organizational Culture
Culture as Variable
Something an organization has
By-product of organizational activities
Stories, rites, rituals, and heroes
Culture is changeable by management
Organizational tool for enhancing organizational effectiveness
In Search of Excellence (Peters and Waterman)
Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life (Deal & Kennedy)
Strong cultures have four key components
Values - basic beliefs and concepts (concrete guidelines for success)
Heroes - personify cultural values
Rites and rituals - public performances that display and enact values
Cultural network - primary carrier of cultural information (stories, myths, legends,
jokes, and gossip)
Criticisms: shortsighted, more than strategy, not just a skill; culture is a complex,
communicative phenomenon rooted in the history of the organizations events.
Two Competing Perspectives
on Organizational Culture
Culture as Root Metaphor
Something an organization is as opposed to something it has
Organizations as expressive forms, manifestations of human consciousness
Culture is the process of sense-making created and sustained through communication
and interactions
Rituals and stories are generative processes the yield and shape meanings
Provides deep understanding of the way members of a particular organization make
sense of the world around them
The essence of an organization is culture
Three Primary Elements
Complex (multi-level construction of values, beliefs and attitudes)
Communicative Construction (constructed and reconstructed through interaction)
Subcultures and Countercultures
Differential interaction
Shared experiences
Similar personal characteristics
Comparisons on page 90.
Comparison of Two Competing
Perspectives on Organizational Culture
Something the
organization has; a
tool, skill, or lever
Inform workplace of
Change occurs through
management directive
and intervention
Something the
organization is;
expressive form
Create sustain and
influence culture
Change occurs through
natural evolution; all
members influence
Definitions of Organizational
Three common characteristics
Culture is SHARED
Frameworks of understanding and interpreting organizational phenomena
Consists of values, assumptions, norms, and frameworks
Construction of human interaction that affects and is affected by the behavior of all
members of the organization
Other characteristics
Communicative creations
Cultures are created, sustained and and influenced by and through human
Cultures emerge and develop over time
Organizational Culture Defined
Organizational culture is a communicatively
constructed, historically based system of
assumptions, values, and interpretive
frameworks that guide and constrain
organizational members as they perform their
organizational roles and confront the challenges
of their environment.
Multi-level Perspective on Culture
Scheins Model of Organizational Culture
Three Interrelated Levels of Culture
Artifacts and Creations
tangible, physical, or hearable things in the environment of the organization
Important to connect artifacts to values
Sense of what ought to be, as distinct from what is
Common basis for operating together
Cognitive constructions
Basic Assumptions - represent the essence of culture
Humanitys relationship to nature
The nature of reality and truth - is truth real or discovered?
The nature of human nature
The nature of human activity
The nature of human relationships
Critical Perspectives on Culture
Critical Perspectives . . .
Reject the notion that organizations are value-free sites
Organizations are sites of struggle between management and workers resulting
in domination and oppression of the powerless by the powerful.
Critical Theory
Karl Marx
Roots in the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt (Frankfurt School)
Knowledge is not objective; tainted by personal interests and the power structure
Involvement in the inner workings of society to reveal contradictions associated
with the imbalance of power
Provide critique that allows for the reversal of oppressive conditions in the future
Research goal: reveal how social and technological structures within the
organization serve to oppress workers
Researchers must engage in consciousness-raising among organizational
Critical Theory
Organization as a Site of Domination
Power, Hegemony, and Concertive Control
Power - the possibility of imposing ones will upon the behavior of other
Hegemony - the predominant influence over others
Concertive Control - based on adherence to socially constructed norms and
values developed by organizational members as they attempt to structure the
Communication and Critical Theory
Habermas - goal to develop a theory of society that aims at the self-
emancipation of people from domination (the ideal speech situation)
The utterances are truthful
There is a legitimate relationship established between the participants
The utterances are sincere
The utterances are comprehensible
Goal of Critical Theorists
Attempt to uncover the communication
practices, whether they be interpersonal, team-
based, or organization-wide, that serve to
promote an unhealthy imbalance in
Critical Theory: Issues and
Creating a more human(e) workplace
Oppressive reality of organizational life does not have to continue
Oppression is not an inherent part of organizational life
Workplace democracy
Critical theory offers a means of identifying elements of constraint and
oppression and prescriptions for improving the situation
The plight of women: Feminist organizational communication
Examine the oppressive circumstances experienced by women in the
Raise our collective consciousness regarding unequal treatment and oppression
Attempts to uncover the assumptions upon which those circumstances are based
Offers a variety of means by which the oppression can be alleviated
Critical Theory: Feminist
Liberal Feminists - advocate working within the existing structure
Radical Feminists - argue for a separation of men and women
Materialist Feminists - gender differences are socially constructed

Goal: Seek to show the centrality of language and interaction to the
circumstances women face in the gendered workplace

Organizational members are able to understand how their communicative
actions and interactions contribute to either the perpetuation or the reversal
of the current oppressive situation (change behavior, affect the behavior of
others, help promote a more equitable and equal workplace for the sexes)
Similarities of Organizational Theory and Critical Theory
Both theories call into question the theories and practices of the past and view
organizations as more than the sum of management practices and task
Communication is central to both theories
Most critical approaches to organizations realize that it is through
communication that oppressive structures come into being and, in turn, restrict
the communication of certain groups
Communication is the way to freedom from those oppressive structures
Intention of both theories do not serve to increase profits -- they excavate the
underlying values and assumptions that guide organizational life and may
serve to oppress certain members
Critical theory is not as popular as organizational culture theory
Most organizations are unwilling to make themselves vulnerable to
disapproval (think about how this applies to your major research project!)