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Theory Of Cultural Approach To Organisations

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4261 words Published: 20th Aug 2021

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This report will revisit the culture theory proposed by Clifford Geertz & how Michael Pacanowsky claims the concept is applicable to an organisation. It will use Whitireia Polytechnic as an example for an organistain culture.

When you hear the word ‘culture’ you often associate it with a person’s background, ethnic heritage and race. However, culture is a way of living in an organisation. It is also not limited to a country or city either, even corporate organisations have culture which contain stories, symbols & rituals and within it contain sub cultures.

You may not even know that this is a part of your everyday life without realising it. This report will help you understand what your organisations culture is like, how this applys to you, & whether it can be changed.



This report is based on the Organisational culture and what I have learned about this theory. The foundations of this theory were created by Clifford in which Michael applied Greetz work into his organisational culture theory.

This will help explain (in accordance to the theorists work) what the definition of culture is, what the makings of a culture are and what standards & techniques ethnographers use to describe a culture.


My first insight into this topic was a first look at communication theory book which gave me an idea of what the topic would be about. I then utilised the resources provided by Whitireia polytechnic which was library databases in which I found little success formation. After trying a variety of databases such as Proquest, Gale & proquest etc I found that I could find more sources utilising internet websites.

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The only limitations I found was the little use the databases were to me. I also found it difficult to find information by Michael E Paconowsky who is the co creator of the organisational culture theory. I could only find one source which elaborated more on the organisation culture limiting me to using Geertz as a primary source. I did not know whether to attribute this to my searching methods or whether the availability of information was insufficient.

Research Methods

The databases were of little use to me & my primary sources of information came from Articles & Internet websites using Google. At first finding information was difficult as I used the library database as my primary source for Information. Although I did find some sources, my primary source of information came from a website which contained a large amount of articles. In regards to my topic this site contained more information then my other internet & book sources.

Structure Of Report

  • Title page – Followed by an abstract
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction – Includes purpose, scope, research methods, structure of report & limitations
  • Literature review – A summary of 6 sources which I used to use for my report
  • Findings – What I have discovered about the theory
  • Conclusion – Includes Summary & critique of theory

Literature Review

Doing’ Organizational Culture in the Saturn Corporation Retrieved August 10th, 2009 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4339/is_1_22/ai_75579345/


This includes an in depth look into the organisational culture in the Saturn Corporation. The Authors who researched this topic discovered how they came to their conclusions by poststructural analysis of the video advertisements, examining metaphors along with interaction & interpretation of the organisations culture.. It also gives a chronological description of the significant events concerning the study of organisational culture. It also briefly covers the importance of image & metaphors. However it’s primary focus is on the symbolic meaning of storytelling and the effects it has Saturn on its organisation culture & consumer culture

Accuracy & Validity

All three Authors Terry L. Mills, Craig A. Boylstein, Sandra Lorean are experts in the field of Sociology. Terry L. Mills earned his PHD in Sociology in 1996 at the University of Southern Carolina. He has received many honours & awards and specialises in many topics concerning the age of sociology & organisational organisation. He has conducted a lot of research and has published many of his works in articles, books & journals. Terry L. Mills is currently a Professor in the University of Florida and is also a dean for associate affairs. The combined knowledge of these authors is apparent when they outline the history of the study of organisational using it as a base for their evidence in this subject. The concepts in this article are not new, they are simply a tool to back up their research and explain the organisational culture of the Saturn Corporation.

Turner, L..H., West, R ., (2007) Introducing Communication Theory (3rd Edition)

New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education


This book covers a number of theories including the Organisational Culture Theory covering its main points. It also delves more into the organisational side of culture by providing examples and elaborating on concepts created by Michael Pacanowsky including different types of assumptions, rituals, performances & symbols etc. It also includes information on Clifford Geertz work and provides an explanation on Thick description, a technique important in Ethnography.


This information is accurate because it draws from sources which happen to be some of Geertz & Pacanowsky most prominent work. It gives clear cut examples and all the examples provided are cited from reliable sources.

Geertz, C. (1973) The Interpretation of Culture (2nd ed).

New York: Basic Books


This source of information elaborates on the interpretation of culture theory from the perspective of an ethnographer. Greetz who is an ethnographer himself describes his work as being a thick description, which can be described as Intertwined layers of common meaning that underlie what people say or do. In this chapter Greetz describes his experience of a different culture of a foreign landscape. Often puzzled at the events that occur in this culture, his stance on his interpretive approach is not to just simply document what is happens in the culture. It is to reduce the puzzlement and to have a greater understanding of why it happens in the culture.


Clifford Geertz is a champion of symbolic anthropology. He has made several major publications with his most seminal being Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. His work on interpretive theory has had a major impact in the field of anthropology and his extensive amount ethnographical work in Indonesia & Morocco highlands only solidify the validity of his work. He is also the co creator of the cultural approach of organizations theory.

Geertz, C. (1973) Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” Retrieved August 1, 2009, from http://www.si.umich.edu/~rfrost/courses/MatCult/content/Geertz.pdf


In this source of information Clifford Geertz gives an insight into the balinise cockfighting culture. This does more than what happens in these cockfights he explains the deeper meaning behind the culture. He stresses that it is much more than about money or entertainment it is about social status: The Cocks are simply there to stand in for men who are engaging in these matches. Clifford also describes the social networking and ins & outs of this cockfighting culture.

Accuracy & Validity

This is Clifford Greetz more known works and is essentially one of the core concepts of this topic: Culture. This work is simply an interpretation of a culture and is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why Cultural approach to organisations theory is here today. It is interesting to note that the cockfighting metaphor is applicable to many cultures and everyday life occurrences.

Fafaeli, A., Worline, M. Symbols in Organizational Culture. August 22, 2009, from http://iew3.technion.ac.il/Home/Users/anatr/symbol.html


This source goes into detail about what symbols are and how they apply to organisational culture. It briefly provides four functions that symbols serve in an organisation and how the use of symbols can provide a deeper understanding in a n organisations culture.

Accuracy & Validity

This has also been referenced in a first look at communication. It has also been published in a number of books and draws some of its concepts from Clifford Geertz work. I can also see the similarities & how it relates to the ideas of cultural approach to organisation theory. Both authors have PhDs in their respective fields and have done extensive research on this topic.

Ardichvili, A.,Basten, F.,Daley, B.,Kraemer, T.J.,Kuchinke, K.P.,Morgan, G.,Shindell, T.,Short, D.C.,Willis, V. The Role of Metaphors in (Re)producing Organizational Culture. August 3, 2009, from http://www.orleon.nl/publicaties/metaphor_in_hrd.pdf


This source discusses metaphors and provides a storyline about the NBS organisation. It talks about how metaphors can describe the NBS organisation in a six part storyline written by employees. The author also provides analysis on the metaphors that were used and what they mean.

Accuracy & Validity

These sources concepts are very similar to those created by Geertz & Pacanowsky. Although this source does not reference them there is a clear connection between Pacanowskys idea of metaphorical analysis and this source.


Background Of Theorists

Clifford Geertz was born in San Francisco, California on August 23, 1926. For two years (1943–45) he served time in the U.S Navy during World War II. He would later attend Antioch College & receive his B.A in philosophy. He later studied social anthropology & received his PHD from Harvard University. After he taught a number of schools he would join the anthropology staff of the University of Chicago. Subsequently he became a professor in social science at Harvard University in whicch he would receive several honory doctorate degrees from numerous colleges including Cambridge, Harvard & Chicago University. After his divorce with Hilderd Greetz he would end up marrying Karren Blu who was also an anthropologist. In his later years his decline in health due to heart complications would eventually catch up to him, he died on October 30, 2006.

Outline Of Theories/key Issues

What Culture Is; What Culture Is Not

Clifford Geertz, a champion in anthropology found through his research that culture is a shared meaning, shared understanding & shared sensemaking in “a web of significance that he (man) has spun.” The foundation of this theory especially from an anthropological perspective can be attributed Clifford Greetz who primarily focused on culture itself. In Clifford Geertz eyes no culture is inferior/superior and no culture can be changed.

Thick Description – An Ethnographers Occupation

In order to understand a culture one must become an ethnographer. Ethnographers are researchers who immerse themselves within a culture also meaning they are in it for the long term. Clifford Geertz spent a number of years in Southeast Asia & North Africa studying various cultures which eventually led him to call his extensive material in his journals to be known as thick descriptions. Thin descriptions would simply describe an event; thick descriptions however would describe an event within a context. His primary example in The Interpretation of Cultures theory describes the puzzlement when something simple as a wink can cause when it is not described within a context.

Culture As A Metaphor Of Organisational Life

Michael Pacanowsky found Clifford Geertz work helpful and would use work to give a better understanding of organisational culture. This in turn would help give us a better understanding the behaviour of organisations by understanding the way how groups live and interact with one another. Michael Pacanowsky discovered that not only materials such as paperwork were crucial but also analysing the behaviour of how groups operated was equally as important to understanding an organisations culture. As part of his work he used three components to better understand a culture which were metaphors, stories and rituals.


To understand a shared meaning of a culture Michael Pacanowsky used metaphors to describe the W.L Gore organisation. He used three metaphors to describe this unique culture the first being that Gore was a cluster of peasant villages because of its decentralised environment and focused use of oral communication. This could be attributed to the fact that Gore has an all in this together attitude and though a differential status exists amongst workers, there is a lack of hierarchical authority & everyone checks with other “associates” before making significant decisions.

Other metaphors Michael Pacanowsky used to describe Gore was that he saw it as being an improvisational Jazz band because of its like minded workers who liked to try new things and and compared the workers as being factions in Colonial America because of its innovative approach to work. Using metaphors to describe a culture is a valuable tool for ethnography.

Stories – A Window Through Which To View Corporate Webs Of Significance

Stories are used in to corporate organisations to guide employees to how to function within an organisation. It can also be used as a motivational tool to draw inspiration or to simply give a historical account so that employees may find themselves and become a part of something much bigger than just the corporation. Stories also give ethnographers a way to understand a culture

There are three types of stories: Corporate stories, Personal Stories & Collegial stories.

Corporate Stories

Corporate stories are ones that can be seen in pamphlets, advertisements etc. This is the vision of the upper level and management that they want to reinforce; sometimes to the public eye. An example of this would be how a corporate boss who would spend his Christmas Eve working with his employees and would be the last to leave.

Personal Stories

Personal stories are something that an employee may tell about himself to help identify with other workers or how he would like to be perceived within an organisation. An example of this would be how an elderly worker describing his experience in the workplace prior to the technological dependency and how a pre robot like environment developed more personal interaction and a sense of community amongst workers.

Collegial Stories

Collegial stories can be positive or negative and are used to describe others in an organisation. An example of this would be how a new manager who has taken has a cut throat approach to his employees and that his technological happy approach would result in a loss of jobs in the organisation.

Rather than describe what each story means (doing so is to be done with great caution) it is not the proper way for the ethnographer to dissect each piece and explain every intricate detail, it is to interpret everything as a whole and see the bigger picture.

Rituals – The Rites Of A Culture

Rituals are existent in all forms of culture & the Balinese Cockfight written by Clifford Geertz shows this. Without looking at it without an open mind Balinise cockfighting could be percieved as nothing more than a primitive & shallow form of entertainment. However Clifford Geertz insight into the topic shows it is much more then that; it is the Men who are fighting for status and the cocks are simply just a representation of that.

An example of this in a corporate organisation would be casual Fridays where formal clothing is optional. Or Free lunch Wednesdays where food is catered and provides an opportunity for staff to interact with one another. Where a ritual such Balinese cockfighting would be considered sacred (although it is illegal) changing or removing it completely would meet much opposition. In a corporate environment with a free spirited approach and lack of formality, changes to rituals would in most cases see little opposition.

Application Of Theory

I will use a real life example when applying the cultural approach to organisations. My example is about Whitireia Polytechnic. Clifford Geertz talks about Cultures having subcultures and there are many examples of this in Whitireia.

A broad example would that every sector of Whitireia e.g BIT, CIT, has its

Location can affect cultures an example would be Computer Services & the BIT section of Whitireia. Although in an ideal world both would work together in a fluid manner an observation I made was that many of the services provided by Computer services are not known to BIT. When working for my evaluation & procurement assignment I noticed that something’s were not communicated to one another effectively this is because of the difference between subcultures. Another example I think applies to this theory is the subculture created by Teachers. Although BIT culture as a whole is relatively the same, the subcultures are different. George Tongariro has a relatively informal style of teaching which is very much ‘alive’ & ‘vibrant’. This in turn influences the students especially the ones with who share similar attributes. This type of sub culture would likely clash with another teachers sub culture that has a very reserved & formal approach to teaching. Even students have sub cultures which result in people having different social circles because tend to socialise with people who have similar values.

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Stories are told amongst students and teachers, corporate stories I have read are from pamphlets and websites. However the personal & collegial accounts were told to me orally from both teachers & students. Personal stories I have heard about Whitireia is a student’s experience with a certain teacher, paper, class etc. A collegial story I have heard students express is their dislike of how work intensive a certain class is. An example of a collegial story I was told in class from a staff member was how they disapproved with how BIT section of Whitireia was run and how it ran without ‘order’ and how ‘disorganised’ it was.

If I was to document every story in a journal I could create a thick description that would effectively help an outsider understand whitireia polytechnic culture.

A Ritual in this context would be performing a practical lab I get given every Tuesdays and Wednesdays in which I must complete within a designated time. Another example would be students playing table tennis or pool at the student centre on their break on a regular basis.

You may also notice I used metaphors to help understand the culture present in Whitireia. I have also been at Whitireia Polytechnic for a nearly two years in which (despite the lack of a PHD) adds credibility to how I can apply this organisational culture to this industry. I also tend to hear more positive things about polytechnic and with an increase of students have changed the student sub culture.

Evaluation Of Theory

I will be using the standards from the book ‘A Look Into Coomunication Theory” book by Em riffim

New Understanding Of People

Interpretive scholarship is good when it offers fresh insight into the human condition. Geertz & Pacanowsky do this by interpreting their readings and using techniques to describe a culture within a context. To have an insight human culture is to have a insight to teh human condition.

Clarification Of Values

A good theory brings peoples values into the open. Both Greetz & Pacanowsky where able to define an organisations culture by using thick descriptions, metaphors, stories & rituals.

Aesthetic Appeal

The appeal of Greetz & Pacanowsky theorie is that it used real examples in which they both experienced. The way they convey their research through narratives, stories & metaphors also provides an artistic & interesting insight and makes their material appealing to read. Especially through the use of metaphors which help illustrate & capture the essence of an organisations culture.

A community Of Agreement

Clifford Geertz is considered to be a champion symbolic anthropology and some of his most famous works such as the Balinise cockfight were innovative & ultimately allowed Pacanowsky to apply his ideas into the theory. Although there is some criticism towards organisational culture theory the support is much more apparent within the community.

Reform Of Society

Change in organisational culture is sometimes considered to be ethically challenging. Understanding an organisational culture is becoming more apparent and is now used for a competitive advantage.



In summary Clifford Geertz work e.g description of culture, pioneer of ethnography & inventor of thick descriptions, combined with Michael Pacanowsys interpretation of organisations through use of stories, metaphors and rituals ultimately lead to a theory that is applicable to many organisational cultures. Stories, metaphors & rituals are all practical ways of describing and interpreting a culture. I have also shown a real life example of how applicable it is and though it may not anywhere near the level of Geertz or Pacanowskys work, it should show how this can be used in different types of organisations.

Critique Of The Theory

As you should know by now Clifford Geertz stance on Culture isn’t to change it, it is to understand it. Nor did he wish to interfere or influence culture. Critical theorists however criticise this approach and see a moral obligation to make changes rather then to just describe & interpret it. This is not how a researcher who uses the cultural approach to organisation sees it. An ethnographer does not use his research as a tool for change nor does he use it to pass judgement or criticise the morality of a culture. Ethnography is about providing a better understanding and how to function in a culture through symbolic analysis. It is ultimately up an organisation and its staff to make a change.

Cultural approach is also not as popular as it used to be. Some say that it is because few people if any can match Clifford Geertz writing style. People have described reading his work is like reading an engrossing novel. This in turn may have affected the aesthetic appeal and until someone who can write as well as he can, resurgence in this theory is questionable.

Glossary Of Terms

  • Ethnography: a methodological strategy used to provide descriptions of human societies
  • Ritual: Performaces that reoccur on a regular basis
  • Sub Culture: A Culture within a culture.
  • Thick Description: Explanation of the meaning of layers in a culture



Deep Play: Notes on the Balinise Cockfight Retrieved August 13th, 2009 from


Doing’ Organizational Culture in the Saturn Corporation Retrieved August 10th, 2009 from


http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4339/is_1_22/ai_75579345/?tag=content;col1linise Cockfight


Geertz, C. (1973) The Interpretation of Culture (2nd ed).

New York: Basic Books

Griffim, E. (2006). A First Look at Communication Theory (6th ed.)

New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Turner, L..H., West, R ., (2007) Introducing Communication Theory (3rd Edition)

New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Internet Sources

The Role of Metaphors in (Re)producing Organizational Culture Retrieved August 13th, 2009 from


Fafaeli, A., Worline, M. Symbols in Organizational Culture. Retrieved August 22, 2009,

from http://iew3.technion.ac.il/Home/Users/anatr/symbol.html

ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE Retrieved August 13th, 2009 from


Ardichvili, A.,Basten, F.,Daley, B.,Kraemer, T.J.,Kuchinke, K.P.,Morgan, G.,Shindell, T.,Short, D.C.,Willis, V. The Role of Metaphors in (Re)producing Organizational Culture. August 3, 2009, from http://www.orleon.nl/publicaties/metaphor_in_hrd.pdf


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