Organizational Culture: Mapping the Terrain.
Over a decade ago, Joanne Martin published a landmark book aimed at bringing some coherency to the sprawling terrain of organizational culture research. That book, Cultures in Organizations: Three Perspectives (1992), set forth an analytic framework that became the building block for future work in this area. Grounded in the belief that theories construct rather than reflect reality, Martin set forth three perspectives drawn from the research on organizational culture: (1) integration, characterized by homogeneity and a collective-wide consensus of deep-seated beliefs; (2) differentiation, depicted as islands of subcultures often in conflict, harmony, or indifference to each other; and (3) fragmentation, defined by irreconcilable and coexisting tensions, ironies, and paradoxes that create ambiguity in organizational culture. Then using the same case information, she demonstrated how each perspective constructed three radically different views of the same organization's culture.
Now, Martin returns to these three perspectives in Organizational Culture: Mapping the Terrain, but with a renewed understanding of how they work collectively and how they can guide scholars in studying the complexities of organizational research. Her new book is a superb primer for students and scholars unfamiliar with organizational culture work and a provocative text on such topics as the culture wars, issues of neutrality, methodological dilemmas and criteria, and the crisis of representation in organizational studies. This book extends her 1992 book in demonstrating how organizational culture grows out of and contributes to a larger set of struggles in organizational studies, ones rooted in the nature of organizational reality. Unlike her first volume, Martin frames the new book with a dialogue of what organizational culture is and is not, with a deliberation about the types of interests served by cultural research, and with a discussion of the role of fluid and blurred boundaries in the study of organizational cultures.
Even though Martin revisits the three perspectives from her 1992 book, she recounts them through the use of additional research exemplars, a classification of the extant literature, and a conversation (debate) among the three to illustrate the futility of evaluating each from the criteria of the other. This parallels a later chapter in which she responds to positive and negative reviews of published articles to heighten awareness of common pitfalls for conducting research and to illustrate how to justify the theories, methods, and interests of each perspective.
Using case studies of OZCO and the Peace Corps drawn from her previous book, Martin provides explicit guidelines for cultural analysis through applying all three perspectives rather than clinging to only one approach. Organizational Culture extends her earlier work by setting forth a matrix for conducting parallel, sequential, and interplay analyses among the perspectives. Crossing perspectives brings together the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, aids in making broad interpretations, and maintains tensions between contrasts and connections among the three. Her three-perspectives matrix is primarily a tool for deductive theorizing in which the investigator embraces a home perspective, one that "is most accessible in the mind of the researcher or culture member" (p. 121). Her definition of a home perspective, however, clings to the remnants of objective criteria, that is, "resonance or visibility," rather than fully embracing a theoretical or ethical stance for selecting a home position. Thus, the issue of authority for a given perspective remains problematic in this volume as well as in the 1992 volume. But as Martin fully acknowledges, her book can be read as both an enlightenment tale that advocates applying all three perspectives and a postmodern tale of cultural wars among competing viewpoints (pp. 359-360). Thus, reflexively she recognizes the duplicity of these issues.
The last chapter of Martin's book provides a significant addition to prior work on organizational culture. After critiquing traditional approaches to the role that boundaries play in cultural analyses, Martin distinguishes between collectives and culture and casts boundaries as subjectively created products of organizational cultures, ones that are permeable, blurred, and fragile. Organizational culture surfaces as a nexus in which boundaries of occupations, subgroups, organizations, and national culture are nested, overlapping, and blurred. To study culture, then, means to focus on the boundaries of multiple collectives, including the influences of families, society at large, and global cultures.
For readers who believe that organizational culture research is waning, dead, or lost among the fads of the 1980-'90s (Smircich and Calas, 1987), Martin's current book is an inspiration. For Martin, the work on organizational culture is not only conceptually distinct but also has the potential to yield critical insights about global and organizational cultures, the development of new organizational forms, and the fluidity and permeability of organizational boundaries. For the reader, this book moves well beyond its predecessor, tackling difficult issues on the assumptive ground of cultural perspectives and the interfaces among cultures and collectives. Its lucid style, theoretical insights, and compilation of literature make it a must read for scholars in this area.
1992 Cultures in Organizations. New York: Oxford University Press.
Smircich, L., and M. Calas
1987 "Organizational culture: A critical assessment." In F. Jablin, L. Putnam, K. Roberts, and L. Porter (eds.), Handbook of Organizational Communication: 228-263. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Linda L. Putnam
Department of Communication
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-4234
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|Author:||Putnam, Linda L.|
|Publication:||Administrative Science Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2003|
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