Re: Anthropology and organizational culture

David Tobey (
12 May 1995 05:46:45 GMT

Colley Stacy Ann <> wrote:
> David, first of all you will have to get your hands on the june or july
> isssue of Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences. It is still in press,
> but there will be several articles that are directed to your interest.
> I have read two of them and they are excellent, I mean excellent!
> I feel the same way that you do about culture as deriving meaning through
> it's environment and transmitting it between members. Are you familiar
> with Anthropological theories or are you from the organization back
> ground. I'm assuming your the latter so I can recomend some theories to
> look for when focusing on this stuff to weed out your disinterest.
> Symbolic theory is derived from interpreted anth and focuses on just what
> you said, the way in which meaning is assigned to cultural phenomena and
> how it is transmitted between members. It moves beyond shared
> assumptions and focuses on individual experience and meaning.
> Cultural ecology is another theory that would interest you because it is
> sees culture as the responses to external and internal environment which
> includes influences of other sub-cultures.
> One more thing, check out a book by Gareth Morgan called Images of
> Organization. By sage publications 1986. This book is so easy to read
> and is comprised of twelve chapters that explore different metaphors to
> alalyze organization with. This is actually enjoyable quick reading
> too. This helps in seeing all the different ways in looking at them and
> shows what methodological implications follow.
> Until later
> stac

Stacy, it seems we have complementary interests which should make for
"ecological" (everything connected to everything) discussions. You are
correct in assuming my background to be organizational -- management
strategy, operations research, and independent study in organizational
behavior. I have been working on a book to be entitled "Managing Knowledge"
for what seems an eternity (in my not-so-spare time).

Interestingly, an underlying theme of my research is the discovery of
symbolic processes which lay beneath the belief systems of management
and the average worker -- and how these "schema" enable, or disable,
innovation, change and evolution (versus entropy). In fact, my company
produces a software product based upon a technology I have dubbed a
"symbolic processor" which dynamically re-configures workflows,
information flows, and information system design based upon symbolic
representations of the environment (you might say ecology), projects
and artifacts (experience), and purpose (meaning).

You continue to be a wealth of information... I will check out the journal
articles you referenced, and actually have in my library an unread copy
of Morgan's book, which I will move up in my reading list.

BTW, have you ever seen the movie "Mindwalk" (1991). I rented it for
the first time last night and, though it requires more than one viewing,
I felt as though I had entered the nexus of anthro-chaotic-socio thinking.
What an experience... if you can get by the contrived storyline. It is
based on Capra's "The Turning Point," and incorporates much of the
theory of G. Bateson (Steps to the Ecology of Mind), Maturana and
Varela (Tree of Knowledge), and related systems theorists. I came away
thinking that the "structuralists," ala Levi-Strauss, were on the right
track, but got on the wrong train -- structure isn't a thing (object)
it's a process (relation).

>From the "organizational side," I ought to contribute to the recommended
reading list: (three I consider to be classics in "symbolic processing")

Weick, Karl. The Social Psychology of Organizing (Random House 1979)
Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday 1990)
Schank R. & Abelson, R. Scripts, Plans, Goals and Understanding (LEA 1977)

You seem well read, so these may be old-hat.

Keep the references coming on symbolic theory and cultural ecology, and
tell me more about how you have been able to apply them; or in what
context you see their relevance.