Organizational Structure Critically Discuss the Extent to Essay

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Organizational Structure

Critically discuss the extent to which an organisation's structure not only shapes its culture, but also its ability to transform itself

As with structure, culture is methodologically analyzable by virtue of its emergent status. Indeed, like structure, culture has relational, causal properties of its own, which confront actualizing agency in the form of situational logics (Archer 2006: Chapter 7). Cultural analysis is also a multi-level affair, from the doctrinal level, where, for instance, religious doctrine may contradict welfare policy, down to the micro-level. Just as any role within an organization can have contradictory requirements, so can cultural values. However, the problem currently vitiating the literature on 'organizational culture' is precisely how one can examine the relative interplay between society's 'prepositional register' and agency when culture is reduced to, or defined solely in terms of, what goes on at the level of causality. The realist assertion that culture as an emergent product has properties of its own is thrown out of the analytical window; or, following Archer, the S-C level is conflated with the CS level.

The parallel with structuration theory is palpable. Indeed, given the generic nod in the direction of structuration theory, it is hardly surprising to find that at best some will only accord culture an 'analytical' status. It would not be accepted that actors within organizations confront emergent relational causal properties of the CS as stringent obstructions or welcome opportunities, yet for which they are not responsible. Is it not the case that both the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission were set up in response to the social manipulation of racism and sexism (qua CS components) which excluded many women and black people from positions for which they were suitably qualified? According such pernicious ideologies an analytical status is simply not enough, since they are irreducible to their producers. If they were not then we could not examine their relative interplay with structure and agency.

Given that both racism and sexism have social efficacy they must therefore be accorded an ontological status of their own. They pre-exist extant actors and would continue to exist if all were unaware of their existence. People enter into organizations and are consequently differentially able to respond. What is of interest to the practical social theorist is how, for instance, men in organizations respond to the situational logic of a constraining contradiction when they uphold sexist ideology in justifying their exclusion of women from certain positions or turning a blind eye to sexual harassment.

Women can and do reflect upon their existence, observing the contradictions in the way men and women are treated in organizational practices: They can and do resist those contradictions' (Mills 1988:365). Mills correctly argues that gender is a cultural phenomenon. However, he does not accord gender ideology the ontological status it deserves. I would certainly not want to deny that gender ideology is the (revisable) product of ideational development, which is located within a material context. Rather, qua product such ideology immediately remains an inhabitant of World Three and stands in a logical relationship to other World Three denizens.

Against Anthony, then, 'cultures' are not 'owned' by members of organizations (Anthony 2004). Members may indeed internalize specific cultural components or uphold others to further their interests, but they internalize or uphold something which is an irreducible denizen of the CS. Furthermore, given the intransitive nature of the CS, it is untenable to assert, as many currently do, that each and every 'organizational culture' is somehow unique (cf. Martin et al. 2003). To Taylor Cox, for instance, 'organizations may be thought of as having their own distinctive cultures' (Taylor Cox 1993:21).

Organizations Structure

Although one can talk of structures in the plural, this is not permissible for culture, since all cultural components belong to the CS. In fact, my main concern is that to permit talk of discrete or unique cultures is to provide relativists with much-needed ammunition, since the next step has been to disclaim the invariant nature of the law of non-contradiction which is employed to study culture anywhere in the world (Bloor 2005). The salient point, however, is that it is untenable both to assert uniqueness and to talk of 'organizational culture' itself. Asserting the latter is to elide structure and culture. Indeed, pace Newman (2006:23), culture is something apart from human identity and agency: methodological examination would otherwise be impossible.

The ideational elements of culture (CS) are intimately anchored in language. Language presupposes the objective reality of objects, processes and events. As Bhaskar argues, language presupposes referential detachment, which 'establishes at once its existential intransivity and the possibility of another reference to it, a condition of any intelligible discourse at all. Referential detachment is implicit in all language-use' (Bhaskar 1994:257). By existential intransivity Bhaskar is referring to ontology, specifically to the independent existence of events, objects, etc. Cultural emergent properties must logically be about something in order to have any sense. In other words, they have to be grounded in the way things are. Indeed, as Trigg nicely puts it, 'Any account of human activity is liable to lapse into incoherence without such notions as reason, truth and reality. Certainly without them all human belief would lose its point' (Trigg 2005:34).

Furthermore, the current orthodoxy regarding culture does not accord it the relational causal powers to direct agency. Instead, the tendency is to confuse culture with structure or downplay dissensus at the S-C level. Indeed, both Hampden-Turner (2000) and Handy (1993) confuse culture with structure. Handy proffers a typology of four cultures: power, role, task and person. In contradistinction, power is an emergent relational property; roles are constitutive of structure, with tasks being an integral aspect; and finally, personhood is the metaphysical anchorage for the agent and actor. All four are irreducible strata of reality (cf. Archer 2006).

I make no apologies for my brief, critical rejoinder to current orthodox views on culture, since each is ontologically depthless vis-a-vis culture, structure and agency. Conflationary theorizing is a methodological, for analytical dualism is possible only on the basis of real objects of study. If ideologies and structures are efficacious then they are real and thus ontologically distinguishable from their progenitors. The ghost of empiricism still haunts many of the texts on 'organizational culture'. Contrary to Pheysey (1993), social structure may not be visible, but its effects are. One can employ the causal criterion to establish its reality.

This is equally applicable to culture. Culture is quintessentially not something an organization is. Contra Anthony, ideologies are not immune from counter-criticism, though their implications may not be realized for structural reasons. 'Impenetrability' is a myth: 'corporate culture is not bereft of logical protection' (Anthony 2004:36). It can only be 'protected' via S-C containment strategies. And when these fail, structural power is employed often with impunity.

The practical implications of analytical dualism

My reason for reconceptualising structure is not simply to elucidate how conflationary theorizing effectively is transported to the cultural scene in the literature, but to insist that the two cannot be analyzed in isolation. Focusing on culture alone is to vitiate the enterprise of theorizing change vs. stability in organizations. Any approach which accentuates one or the other will prove to be inadequate in the long run. The practical theorist's task is to examine the relative interplay of culture, structure and agency: each interpenetrates the other, but each is nonetheless ontologically (and thus methodologically) distinguishable from the other.

The purpose of this paper has been threefold: (i) to reconceptualise structure and culture as emergent strata; (ii) to maintain their equal necessity for adequate theorizing; and (iii) to argue for the necessity of viewing any organization from both a social- and a system-integration perspective, i.e. As a set of interacting actors and as a configuration of parts or complexes that both differentially enable and constrain actors. Analytical dualism disengages the emergent powers of people from those of the parts of society (structural and cultural), for the emergent properties and powers of the parts and the people are sui generis. S-C dynamics are interrelated in determinate ways, but without one determining the other. Obviously analysis of the S-C level will involve reference to material interests, to power, alliances, and so on, but this merely means that the practical theorist's life is not an easy one!

Agents resist -- some more than others -- and the overriding question for the practical analyst is how this results in a lack of change. For example, the issue of equal opportunities for women in organizations remains firmly on the agenda. Women still lag behind their male counterparts in terms of pay and promotion. Sexism (the CS level) is often employed to justify exclusionary practices (the S-C level). How do culture and structure interpenetrate here? In large part, the key to explication lies in disengaging the emergent powers of people from those of the parts. The job of the practical analyst is to find out whether the emergent structural powers remain unexercised, or exercised but unperceived.

The task,…

Sources Used in Document:


Archer, M.S. 2006 Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Anthony, P. 2004 Managing Culture, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Bloor, D. 2005 Knowledge and Social Imagery, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Bhaskar, R. 1994 Plato Etc.: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution, London: Verso.

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