20                                                              Objective                         InterpretiveCHAPTER     ...
262                 GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATION                             workers’ shared cultural value of loyalty t...
CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS                 263                                 The fact that symbolic ...
264                GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATION                                Thick description starts with a state of ...
CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS                265                                 After nine months of stu...
266                GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONCollegial stories              Collegial stories are positive or negative...
CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS                              267                                           ...
268                  GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONRitual                              Pacanowsky agrees with Geertz that ...
CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS              269                                    DILBERT © Scott Adams/D...
270         GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATION                   would regard the quest to alter culture as both inappropriate...
CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS                    271A SECOND LOOK       Recommended resource: Clifford Ge...
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  1. 1. 20 Objective InterpretiveCHAPTER ● Socio-cultural tradition Cultural Approach to Organizations of Clifford Geertz & Michael Pacanowsky Princeton anthropologist Clifford Geertz writes that “man is an animal sus- pended in webs of significance that he himself has spun.”1 He pictures culture as those webs. In order to travel across the strands toward the center of the web, an outsider must discover the common interpretations that hold the web together. Culture is shared meaning, shared understanding, shared sensemaking. Geertz has conducted field research in the islands of Indonesia and on the Moroccan highlands, rural settings remote from industrial activity. His best- known monograph is an in-depth symbolic analysis of the Balinese cockfight. Geertz has never written a treatise on the bottom line, never tried to decipher the significance of the office Christmas party, and never met a payroll—a dis- qualifying sin in the eyes of many business professionals. Despite his silence on the topic of big business, Geertz’ interpretive approach has proved useful in making sense of organizational activity. In the field of communication, former University of Colorado professor Michael Pacanowsky has applied Geertz’ cultural insights to organizational life. He says that if culture consists of webs of meaning that people have spun, and if spun webs imply the act of spinning, “then we need to concern ourselves not only with the structures of cultural webs, but with the process of their spinning as well.”2 That process is communication. It is communication that “creates and constitutes the taken-for-granted reality of the world.”3CULTURE AS A METAPHOR OF ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE The use of culture as a root metaphor was undoubtedly stimulated by Western fascination with the economic success of Japanese corporations in the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, when American business leaders traveled to the Far East to study methods of production, they discovered that the superior quantity and quality of Japan’s industrial output had less to do with technology than with 261
  2. 2. 262 GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATION workers’ shared cultural value of loyalty to each other and to their corporation. Organizations look radically different depending on how people in the host cul- ture structure meaning. Communal face-saving in Japan is foreign to the class antagonism of Great Britain or the we’re-number-one competitive mindset of the United States. Today the term corporate culture means different things to different people. Some observers use the phrase to describe the surrounding environment that constrains a company’s freedom of action. (U.S. workers would scoff at sing- ing a corporate anthem at the start of their working day.) Others use the term to refer to a quality or property of the organization. (Acme Gizmo is a friendly place to work.) They speak of culture as synonymous with image, character, or climate. But Pacanowsky is committed to Geertz’ symbolic approach and thus considers culture as more than a single variable in organizational research: Organizational culture is not just another piece of the puzzle; it is the puzzle. From our point of view, culture is not something an organization has; a culture is some- thing an organization is.4WHAT CULTURE IS; WHAT CULTURE IS NOT Geertz admits that the concept of culture as systems of shared meaning is somewhat vague and difficult to grasp. Unlike popular usage, which equates culture with concerts and art museums, he refuses to use the word to signify less primitive. No modern anthropologist would fall into the trap of classifying people as high- or low-culture.Culture Culture is not whole or undivided. Geertz points out that even close-knitWebs of significance; sys- societies have subcultures and countercultures within their boundaries. Fortems of shared meaning. example, employees in the sales and accounting departments of the same com- pany may eye each other warily—the first group calling the accountants number crunchers and bean counters, the accountants in turn labeling members of the sales force fast talkers and glad-handers. Despite their differences, both groups may regard the blue-collar bowling night of the production workers as a strange ritual compared with their own weekend ritual of a round of golf. For Pacanowsky, the web of organizational culture is the residue of employ- ees’ performances—“those very actions by which members constitute and reveal their culture to themselves and to others.”5 He notes that job performance may play only a minor role in the enactment of corporate culture.Cultural performance People do get the job done, true (though probably not with the singleminded task-Actions by which mem- orientation communication texts would have us believe); but people in organiza-bers constitute and re- tions also gossip, joke, knife one another, initiate romantic involvements, cue newveal their culture to employees to ways of doing the least amount of work that still avoids hassles fromthemselves and others; a supervisor, talk sports, arrange picnics.6an ensemble of texts. Geertz calls these cultural performances “an ensemble of texts . . . which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulder of those to whom they properly belong.”7 The elusive nature of culture prompts Geertz to label its study a soft science. It is “not an experimental science in search of law, but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”8 The corporate observer is one part scientist, one part drama critic.
  3. 3. CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS 263 The fact that symbolic expression requires interpretation is nicely captured in a story about Pablo Picasso recorded by York University (Toronto) professor Gareth Morgan.9 A man commissioned Picasso to paint a portrait of his wife. Startled by the nonrepresentational image on the canvas, the woman’s husband complained, “It isn’t how she really looks.” When asked by the painter how she really looked, the man produced a photograph from his wallet. Picasso’s comment: “Small, isn’t she?”THICK DESCRIPTION: WHAT ETHNOGRAPHERS DO Geertz refers to himself as an ethnographer. You’ll recall that I first introduced his name when I presented ethnography as one of the four main communication research methodologies (see Chapter 3). Just as geographers chart the physicalEthnography territory, ethnographers map out social discourse. They do this “to discover whoMapping out social dis- people think they are, what they think they are doing, and to what end theycourse; discovering who think they are doing it.”10 There’s no shortcut for the months of participantpeople within a culture observation required to collect an exhaustive account of interaction. Without thatthink they are, what they raw material, there would be nothing to interpret.think they are doing, andto what end they think Geertz spent years in Indonesia and Morocco, developing his deep descrip-they are doing it. tion of separate cultures. Pacanowsky initially invested nine months with W. L. Gore & Associates, best known for its Gore-Tex line of sports clothing and equip- ment. Like Geertz, he was completely open about his research goals, and during the last five months of his research he participated fully in problem-solving con- ferences at the company. Later, Pacanowsky spent additional time at the W. L. Gore plants in Delaware as a consultant. In order to become intimately familiar with an organization as members experience it, ethnographers must commit to the long haul. Later, Pacanowsky committed to the long haul of working full time at Gore, this despite his earlier caution against “going native.” He had previously warned that the researcher must maintain a posture of radical naïveté and allow himself or herself to experience organizational life as “strange,” so that he or she will be sure to prompt organiza- tional members for the resources (or knowledge) they are drawing upon which allow them to take for granted those very same organizational experiences.11 The daily written accounts of intensive observation invariably fill the pages of many ethnographic notebooks. The visual image of these journals stacked on top of each other would be sufficient justification for Geertz to refer to ethnography as thick description. The term, however, describes the intertwined layers of commonThick description meaning that underlie what a particular people say and do. Thick descriptions areA record of the inter- powerful reconstructions, not just detailed observations.12 Since Geertz popu-twined layers of common lized the concept, most ethnographers realize that their task is to:meaning that underliewhat a particular people 1. Accurately describe talk and actions and the context in which they occur.say and do. 2. Capture the thoughts, emotions, and web of social interactions. 3. Assign motivation, intention, or purpose to what people say and do. 4. Artfully write this up so readers feel they’ve experienced the events. 5. Interpret what happened; explain what it means within this culture.13 Thick description is tracing the many strands of a cultural web and tracking evolving meaning. No matter how high the stack of an ethnographer’s notes, without interpretation, they would still be thin description.
  4. 4. 264 GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATION Thick description starts with a state of bewilderment. What the devil’s going on? Geertz asks himself as he wades into a new culture. The only way to reduce the puzzlement is to observe as if one were a stranger in a foreign land. This can be difficult for a manager who is already enmeshed in a specific corporate culture. He or she might overlook many of the signs that point to common interpretation. Worse, the manager might assume that office humor or the company grapevine has the same significance for people in this culture as it does for those in a previ- ous place of employment. Geertz says it will always be different. Behaviorists would probably consider employee trips to the office water- cooler or coffee machine of little interest. If they did regard these breaks worth studying, they would tend to note the number of trips and length of stay for each worker. Ethnographers would be more interested in the significance this seemingly mundane activity had for these particular employees. Instead of a neat statistical summary, they’d record pages of dialogue while workers were standing around with a cup in their hands. Pacanowsky fears that a frequency count would only bleach human behavior of the very properties that interest him. Classifying perfor- mances across organizations would yield superficial generalizations at the cost of localized insight. He’d rather find out what makes a particular tribal culture unique. Although Pacanowsky would pay attention to all cultural performances, he would be particularly sensitive to the imaginative language members used, the stories they told, and the nonverbal rites and rituals they practiced. Taken together, these three forms of communication provide helpful access to the unique shared meanings within an organization.METAPHORS: TAKING LANGUAGE SERIOUSLY When used by members throughout an organization (and not just management), metaphors can offer the ethnographer a starting place for accessing the shared meaning of a corporate culture. Pacanowsky records a number of prominent met-Metaphor aphors used at W. L. Gore & Associates, none more significant than the oft-heardClarifies what is unknown reference within the company to Gore as a lattice organization.14 If one tried to graphor confusing by equating the lines of communication at Gore, the map would look like a lattice rather thanit with an image that’s the traditional pyramid-shaped organizational chart. The crosshatched lines wouldmore familiar or vivid. show the importance of one-on-one communication and reflect the fact that no person within the company needs permission to talk to anyone else. Easy access to others is facilitated by an average plant size of 150 employees, with voice mail and paging systems that encourage quick responses. This lack of hierarchical authority within the lattice organization is captured in the egalitarian title of associate given to every worker. People do have differ- ential status at Gore, but it comes from technical expertise, a track record of good judgment, and evidence of follow-through that leads to accomplishment. The company’s stated objective (singular) is “to make money and have fun.”15 The founder, Bill Gore, was famous for popping into associates’ offices and ask- ing, “Did you make any money today? Did you have any fun today?” But work at Gore is not frivolous. The waterline operating principle makes it clear that associates should check with others before making significant decisions: Each of us will consult with appropriate Associates who will share the responsibil- ity of taking any action that has the potential of serious harm to the reputation, success, or survival of the Enterprise. The analogy is that our Enterprise is like a ship that we are all in together. Boring holes above the waterline is not serious, but below the waterline, holes could sink us.16
  5. 5. CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS 265 After nine months of studying communication performances at W. L. Gore & Associates, Pacanowsky floated three different metaphors of his own to describe crucial features of that unique culture.17 He thought of Gore as a cluster of peasant villages in its passion for decentralization and its extraordinary orality. He saw Gore like a large improvisational jazz group because of its attraction for people who love to create something new but still want to fit in with other like-minded players. And he compared the people at Gore to factions in Colonial America inasmuch as the majority of associates thought that the company’s innovative charter was the best thing since the invention of the wheel, yet a significant minority were cynical about the idealistic goals. For both the discovery and the communication of corporate culture, ethnographers find metaphor a valuable tool. When Kevin read about the emphasis that Pacanowsky placed on metaphors, he analyzed their use among fellow computer-savvy student employees at Wheaton: As a student worker at ResNet, the technical support branch of our campus Internet service provider, I have become aware of our corporate culture. One thing I have noticed is we often talk about our department using the metaphor of a fortress wall. Computing Services makes decisions and institutes policy, and it’s our responsibility to handle the waves of students with resulting problems. We talk about “stemming the flow” of students with problems and “manning the phones” or “manning the desk.” We also talk about how we “take the blow” for the decisions of our superiors. This realization later served Kevin and Wheaton students well when, after grad- uation, Kevin was hired to be the manager of the ResNet program. Desiring to change the fortress mentality that had permeated the organization, Kevin in effect “lowered the drawbridge” to give students easy access to computer help. He extended hours into the evening, established help desks in each of the dorms, and did away with the keypad locked door that had prevented face-to-face contact with frustrated users. Two years later, ResNet workers talked about themselves as guiding students on paths through a jungle—a more proactive metaphor that suggests the culture has changed.THE SYMBOLIC INTERPRETATION OF STORY Stories that are told over and over provide a convenient window through which to view corporate webs of significance. Pacanowsky asks, “Has a good story been told that takes you to the heart of the matter?”18 He focuses on the scriptlike qualities of narratives that portray an employee’s part in the company play. Although workers have room to improvise, the anecdotes provide clues as to what it means to perform a task in this particular theater. Stories capture mem- orable performances and pass on the passion the actor felt at the time. Pacanowsky suggests three types of narrative that dramatize organizationalCorporate stories life. Corporate stories carry the ideology of management and reinforce companyTales that carry manage- policy. Every McDonald’s franchisee hears about the late Ray Kroc, who, whenment ideology and rein- he was chairman of the board, picked up trash from the parking lot when he’dforce company policy. visit a store.Personal stories Personal stories are those that company personnel tell about themselves, oftenTales told by employees defining how they would like to be seen within the organization. If you’ve seenthat put them in a favor- NBC’s hit television comedy The Office, you’ve witnessed Dwight Schrute’s inter-able light. views with the camera crew. During these interviews, he talks about his excel- lence as an employee and how he deserves the respect of others in the Dunder Mifflin paper company. These are Dwight’s personal accounts.
  6. 6. 266 GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONCollegial stories Collegial stories are positive or negative anecdotes told about others in thePositive or negative an- organization. When the camera crew interviews Dwight’s colleagues Jim andecdotes about others in Pam, we hear stories of Dwight’s eccentricity and lack of basic social awareness.the organization; de-scriptions of how things These collegial stories describe Dwight as someone who is not to be taken seri-“really work.” ously. Since these tales aren’t usually sanctioned by management, collegial accounts pass on how the organization “really works.” Stories at Dixie Throughout most of my life, I’ve had access to some of the cultural lore of Dixie Communications, a medium-size corporation that operates a newspaper and a television station in a Southern city. Like so many other regional companies, Dixie has been taken over by an out-of-state corporation that has no local ties. The following three narratives are shorthand versions of stories heard again and again throughout the company. Although the original publisher has been dead for many years, old-timers fondly recall how he would spend Christmas Eve with the workers in the press room. Their account is invariably linked with reminders that he initiated health benefits and profit sharing prior to any union demand. (Corporate story) The current comptroller is the highest-ranking “local boy” in the corporation. He often tells the story about the first annual audit he performed long before computers were installed. Puzzled when he ran across a bill for 50 pounds of pigeon feed, he discovered that the company used homing pigeons to send in news copy and circula- tion orders from a town across the bay. The story usually concludes with an editorial comment about pigeons being more reliable than the new machines. His self-presentation reminds listeners that he has always been cost-conscious, yet it also aligns him with the human side of the “warm people versus cold machines” issue. (Personal story) Shortly after the takeover, a department head encouraged the new publisher to meet with his people for a few minutes at the end of the day. The new boss declined the invitation on the grounds of efficiency: “To be quite candid, I don’t want to know about a woman’s sick child or a man’s vacation plans. That kind of information makes it harder to fire a person.” Spoken in a cold, superior tone, the words quite candid are always part of the story. (Collegial story) Both Geertz and Pacanowsky caution against any analysis that says, “This story means. . . .” Narratives contain a mosaic of significance and defy a simplistic, one-on-one translation of symbols. Yet taken as a whole, the three stories reveal an uneasiness with the new management. This interpretation is consistent with repeated metaphorical references to the old Dixie as family and the new Dixie as a faceless computer. Fiction as a Form of Scholarly Discourse Not only has Pacanowsky shown that narratives are a prime source of cultural wisdom for the ethnographer, he has also demonstrated that scholars can use  a  fictional format to convey the results of their research. In the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Pacanowsky published an imaginative account that captures the angst felt within a subculture of academics. In the introduction he claims that “fictional descriptions, by the very nature of their implicitness and impres- sionism can fully capture (can I be so strong?) both the bold outlines and the
  7. 7. CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS 267 Slouching Towards Chicago He and Radner were such different people, and they were not really close friends. But at every convention, they would get together over dinner and appraise their professional careers and personal lives in a surpisingly intimate manner. One year, Radner had side- splitting tales to tell of his affair with the wife of his department chairman. The next year, he cried as he worked his way through the details of his divorce. For his part, Jack was inclined to reflect on the transitions of his life—how strangely happy he was to have gotten married in a church, how being a father brought him to heights of joy and depths of anger he’d never before felt capable of experiencing, how he would become seized by intense physical cold on those occasions when he really thought about his father’s death. “Our lives in review” was the way Jack thought about those dinners with Radner. “You know,” said Radner, “in seven years, I have authored or co-authored 48 conven- tion papers, and published 14 articles in refereed journals, and had 10 chapters invited for various textbooks and readers. . . But you’re a known item in the field. People read your work. They talk about it. They get worked up about it. I mean, I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Nobody really gets worked up about my stuff. But your stuff—” “Hype. I get calls in the night from 24-year-old groundbreakers-to-be who can’t add. ‘I have to put together my prospectus and I don’t want to do a traditional, quantitative study, and I read your article in QJ, and I wondered if you could send me anything else you’ve written that I can use to, you know, develop my position, I mean, everybody here is so traditional, I don’t know if they’ll let me do an interpretive study . . .’ on and on.” “But that’s what I mean. People get excited.” “I don’t. You know what I want? What I want more than 70 articles or people getting excited or calling me up? What I want is to write one good solid book-length piece of interpretive research. No more diddly articles. No more ‘this is what we should be doing.’ Just one solid book. And then I’d get excited.” “Why don’t you then?” “I can’t!” Jack pounded the table with his fist. “I gotta worry about tenure. I gotta worry about building my vita. So I piss away my time on these damned convention papers, on these ‘take-a-potshot-at-the-other-guy’ articles instead of—” “Oh, come on. You’re going to get tenure. Why don’t you stop doing this other shit and work on a book?” It was not a question that Jack had never heard before, not with the frequency with which he would launch into his ‘pissing my life away’ refrain. But maybe it was because it was during “life in review” that the question suddenly hit him with a force and an eerieness that he hadn’t felt before. He was silent for a moment. “Because,” he said finally, shaken with the realization, ”I don’t know if I really have it in me to write a book. And it scares me to think I might find that out.” FIGURE 20–1 Excerpt from “Slouching Towards Chicago” by Michael Pacanowsky crucial nuances of cultural ethos.”19 Figure 20–1 features an excerpt of a fictional conversation between two communication professors during an annual conven- tion. Nick Trujillo, a co-author with Pacanowsky on other organizational culture articles, refers to the piece as a confessional tale.20RITUAL: THIS IS THE WAY IT’S ALWAYS BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE Geertz wrote about the Balinese rite of cockfighting because the contest repre- sented more than a game. “It is only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually it is men.” The cockfight is a dramatization of status. “Its function is interpretive: It is a Balinese reading of Balinese experience, a story they tell them- selves about themselves.”21
  8. 8. 268 GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONRitual Pacanowsky agrees with Geertz that some rituals (like the Balinese cockfight)Texts that articulate mul- are “texts” that articulate multiple aspects of cultural life.22 These rituals are nearlytiple aspects of cultural sacred, and any attempt to change them meets with strong resistance. Althoughlife, often marking rites ofpassage or life transitions. the emphasis on improvisation and novelty reduces the importance of ritual at Gore, organizational rites at more traditional companies weave together many threads of corporate culture. More than a generation ago, workers in the classified advertising department at Dixie created an integrative rite that survives to the present. The department is staffed by more than 50 telephone sales representatives who work out of a large common room. At Dixie, these representatives not only take the “two lines/two days/two dollars” personal ads over the phone, they also initiate callbacks to find out if customers were successful and might want to sell other items. Compared with similar operations at other papers, classified advertising at Dixie is a major profit center with low employee turnover. The department continues to have the family atmosphere of premerger Dixie. Most of the phone representatives are women under the age of 40. They regard Max, the male manager who has held his posi- tion for 35 years, as a father confessor—a warm, nonjudgmental person who has genuine concern for their lives. Whenever a female employee has a baby, Max visits her in the hospital and offers help to those at home preparing for her return. Women announce their pregnancy by taping a dime within a large picture frame on the outer wall of Max’ office, inscribing their name and anticipated day of delivery. This rite of integration serves multiple functions for the women: At a time of potential anxiety, it is an occasion for public affirmation from the larger community. The rite is a point of contact between work and those outside Dixie. Employees often take pride in describing the ritual to customers and friends. Although the dime-on-the-wall practice originated with the workers, the autho- rized chronicle of decades of expected births proclaims a sense of permanence. It says, in effect: “The company doesn’t consider motherhood a liability; your job will be here when you get back.” From the management’s standpoint, the rite ensures that there will be no surprises. Max has plenty of time to schedule the employee’s maternity leave, arrange for another salesperson to cover her accounts, and anticipate stresses that she might be encountering. It is tempting to read economic significance into the fact that employees use dimes to symbolize this major change in their lives. But the women involved refer to the small size of the token rather than its monetary value. Geertz and Pacanowsky would caution that this is their story; we should listen to their interpretation.CAN THE MANAGER BE AN AGENT OF CULTURAL CHANGE? The popularity of the cultural metaphor when it was first introduced to the corporate world in the 1980s was undoubtedly due to business leaders’ desire to shape interpretation within the organization. Symbols are the tools of manage- ment. Executives don’t operate forklifts or produce widgets; they cast vision, state goals, process information, send memos, and engage in other symbolic behavior. If they believe that culture is the key to worker commitment, produc- tivity, and sales, the possibility of changing culture becomes a seductive idea.
  9. 9. CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS 269 DILBERT © Scott Adams/Dist. by United Feature Syndicate, Inc. Creating favorable metaphors, planting organizational stories, and establishing rites would seem an ideal way to create a corporate myth that would serve managerial interests. But once a corporate culture exists, can it be altered by a manager? Geertz regards shared interpretations as naturally emerging from all members of a group rather than consciously engineered by leaders. In The Office, Jim, Pam, Stanley, and Phyllis all play a part in developing their corporate culture. And you’ll notice that, despite his best efforts, manager Michael Scott can’t alter it single-handedly. Man- agers may articulate a new vision in a fresh vocabulary, but it is the workers who smile, sigh, snicker, or scoff. For example, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which will be discussed in Chapter 22, was powerful because he struck a chord that was already vibrating within millions of listeners. Shared meanings are hard to dispel. Symbol watchers within a company quickly discount the words of management if they don’t square with perfor- mance. But even if culture could be changed, there still remains the question of whether it should be. Symbolic anthropologists have traditionally adopted a non- intrusive style appropriate to examining fine crystal—look, admire, but don’t touch. So managers who regard themselves as agents of cultural change create bull-in-a-china-shop fears for ethnographers who have ethical concerns about how their corporate analyses might be used. University of Massachusetts man- agement professor Linda Smircich notes that ethnographers would draw back in horror at the idea of using their data to extend a tribal priest’s control over the population, yet most communication consultants are hired by top management to do just that.23CRITIQUE: IS THE CULTURAL APPROACH USEFUL? The cultural approach adopts and refines the qualitative research methodology of ethnography to gain a new understanding of a specific group of people. A crucial part of that understanding is a clarification of values within the culture under study. Ethnographers are also clear about the value they place on being nonjudgmental in their interpretation. Today, however, there isn’t the excitement about the cultural approach to organizations that there was when interpretive scholars introduced it in the 1980s. Perhaps that’s because many researchers trained in organizational communication are hired as consultants by corporate managers who are looking for change. By now you understand that Geertz
  10. 10. 270 GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATION would regard the quest to alter culture as both inappropriate and virtually impossible. This purist position exposes him and his admirers within our disci- pline to criticism from corporate consultants who not only desire to understand organizational communication but also want to influence it. A different kind of objection comes from critical theorists who fault the cul- tural approach because interpretive scholars like Geertz and Pacanowsky refuse to evaluate the customs that they portray. For example, if Pacanowsky were to discover that female associates at Gore hit a glass ceiling when they try to advance, these advocates insist that he should expose and deplore this injustice rather than merely describe and interpret it for readers.24 For researchers who take a cultural approach to organizational life, both of these objections miss the point of their work. Contrary to the traditional aims of consultants paid by the organizations they study, the purpose of ethnography is  not to change the organization or help managers exert more control. Nor is it to pass moral judgment or reform society. The goal of symbolic analysis is to create a better understanding of what it takes to function effectively within a cul- ture. In most organizations, members are free to decide whether they want to belong. A sensitive cultural analysis could help them make an intelligent choice. There might be another reason why interest in the cultural approach has waned in the last decades. In Chapter 3, I cited aesthetic appeal as one of the criteria for a good interpretive theory. The force of an ethnographic analysis depends in large measure on the prose in which it’s couched. In the Times Literary Supplement (U.K.), T. M. Luhrmann gives testimony to the compelling power of Geertz’ writing: “Rarely has there been a social scientist who has also been so acute a writer; perhaps there has never been one so quotable.”25 Indeed, Geertz’ interpretation of a Balinese cockfight reads like an engrossing novel that the reader can’t put down. Though Pacanowsky writes well, it may not be until a perceptive ethnographer with Geertz’ compelling way with words focuses on organizational life that the cultural approach will spark renewed interest.QUESTIONS TO SHARPEN YOUR FOCUS 1. Based on the concept of organizational culture as a system of shared meaning, how would you describe the culture at your school to a prospective student? 2. Consider Pacanowsky’s “Slouching Towards Chicago” as an ethnographer’s thick description. What can you deduce about Jack and Radner’s subculture from the fragment of narrative in Figure 20–1? 3. Think of your extended family as an organizational culture. What family ritual might you analyze to interpret the webs of significance you share for someone visiting your home? 4. What favorite story do you tell others about your most recent place of employment? Is it a corporate, personal, or collegial narrative?SELF-QUIZ www.mhhe.com/griffin8
  11. 11. CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS 271A SECOND LOOK Recommended resource: Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Books, New York, 1973. (See especially “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” pp. 3–30; and “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” pp. 412–453.) Culture as performance: Michael Pacanowsky and Nick O’Donnell-Trujillo, “Organiza- tional Communication as Cultural Performance,” Communication Monographs, Vol. 50, 1983, pp. 127–147. Nonmanagerial orientation: Michael Pacanowsky and Nick O’Donnell-Trujillo, “Com- munication and Organizational Cultures,” Western Journal of Speech Communication, Vol. 46, 1982, pp. 115–130. Thick description: Joseph G. Ponterotto, “Brief Note on the Origins, Evolution, and Meaning of the Qualitative Research Concept ‘Thick Description,’” The Qualitative Report, Vol. 11, 2006, pp. 538–549. Cultural metaphor: Gareth Morgan, “Creating Social Reality: Organizations as Cul- tures,” in Images of Organization, Sage, Newbury Park, CA, 1986, pp. 111–140. Corporate ethnography: Michael Pacanowsky, “Communication in the Empowering Organization,” in Communication Yearbook 11, James Anderson (ed.), Sage, Newbury Park, CA, 1988, pp. 356–379. Corporate stories: Joanne Martin, Martha Feldman, Mary Jo Hatch, and Sim Sitkin, “The Uniqueness Paradox in Organizational Stories,” Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 28, 1983, pp. 438–453. Rites: Harrison Trice and Janice Beyer, “Studying Organizational Cultures Through Rites and Ceremonials,” Academy of Management Review, Vol. 9, 1984, pp. 653–669. Interpretive vs. objective approach: Linda L. Putnam, “The Interpretive Perspective: An Alternative to Functionalism,” in Communication and Organizations: An Interpretive Approach, Linda L. Putnam and Michael Pacanowsky (eds.), Sage, Newbury Park, CA, 1982, pp. 31–54. Brief autobiography: Clifford Geertz, A Life of Learning (ACLS Occasional Paper No. 45), American Council of Learned Societies, New York, 1999. Webs of shared meaning at the ballpark: Nick Trujillo, “Interpreting (the Work and the Talk of) Baseball: Perspectives on Ballpark Culture,” Western Journal of Communication, Vol. 56, 1992, pp. 350–371. Fiction as scholarship: Michael Pacanowsky, “Slouching Towards Chicago,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 74, 1988, pp. 453–469. Current scholarship: Anat Fafaeli and Monica Worline, “Symbols in Organizational Culture,” in Handbook of Organizational Culture & Climate, Neal Ashkanasy, Celeste P. M. Wilderom, and Mark Peterson (eds.), Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2000, pp. 71–84. Interpretive research: Bryan Taylor and Nick Trujillo, “Qualitative Research Methods,” in The New Handbook of Organizational Communication, Fredric Jablin and Linda L. Putnam (eds.), Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2001, pp. 161–194. Rationale for corporate ethnography: Brigitte Jordan and Brinda Dalal, “Persuasive Encoun- ters: Ethnography in the Corporation,” Field Methods, Vol. 18, No. 4, 2006, pp. 1–24.