The Dynamics of Organizational Culture
Mary Jo Hatch
The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 18, No. 4. (Oct., 1993), pp. 657-693.
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THE DYNAMICS OF ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE
Copenhagen Business School and San Diego State University
Schein's (1985) model of organizational culture as assumptions. values.and artifacts leaves gaps regarding the appreciation of organizationalculture as symbols and processes. This article examinesthese gaps and suggests a new model that combines Schein's theorywith ideas drawn from symbolic-interpretive perspectives. The newmodel. called cultural dynamics. articulates the processes of manifestation.realization. symbolization. and interpretation and providesa framework within which to discuss the dynamism of organizationalcultures. Implications of the cultural dynamics model for collectingand analyzing culture data and for future theoretical development arepresented.
The concept of culture has been central to anthropology and folklorestudies for over a century. Practitioners of these disciplines have producedan enormous body of literature, and during the 1940s and 50s someof their research dealt /directly with the customs and traditions of workorganizations (e.g., Chapple, 1941, 1943; Dalton, 1959; Messenger, 1978;
Roy, 1952, 1954, 1960; Whyte, 1948, 1951, 1961). This trend was paralleledin sociology by Jacques (19511, among others, who wrote about the cultureof the factory. Although organizational culture studies began to appeararound the early 1970s (Clark, 1972; Pettigrew, 1973; Trice, Belasco, &Alutto, 1969; Turner, 19731, it was not until the 1980s that management
scholars widely adopted the culture concept (Deal & Kennedy, 1982;Kilmann, Saxton, Serpa, & Associates, 1985; Ouchi, 1981; Pascale & Athos,1981; Peters & Waterman, 1982; Sathe, 1985). In this regard, Schein (1981,1983, 1984, 1985) was especially influential because he, more than theothers (including anthropologists and folklorists), articulated aconceptual framework for analyzing and intervening in the culture oforganizations.
I want to thank Rudy Alvarez. Finn Borum. Neil Brady. Sraren Christensen, PasqualeGagliardi. Jai Ghorpade, Denny Gioia, Dick Goodman, Michael Owen Jones, KristianKreiner. Scott Lever. Joanne Martin, Jan Molin, Jesper Standgaard Pedersen, Steen Scheuer,
Majken Schultz, Ann Westenholz, Dvora Yanow, and members of the UCLA CIBER Cross-Cultural Colloquium for their encouragement, help, and insightful comments. I also want toacknowledge Ed Schein for the initial inspiration of this work and for his kind words ofencouragement along the way. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annualmeeting of the Academy of Management, Miami, Florida, 1991.
658 Academy of Management Review October
Since the establishment of the organizational culture construct, someorganizational researchers have applied ideas directly from Schein (Pedersen,1991; Pedersen & Sprrensen, 1989; Phillips, 1990; Schultz, In press),
whereas others have challenged his approach. For example, subcultureresearchers have disputed Schein's assumption thatorganizational cultures
are unitary (Barley, 1983; Borum & Pedersen, 1992; Gregory, 1983;
Louis, 1983; Martin & Siehl, 1983; Riley, 1983; Van Maanen & Barley, 1985;
Young, 1989). Other researchers, noting the apparent ambivalence andambiguity found in culture, have contested the idea that the function ofculture is to maintain social structure (Feldman, 1991; Martin, 1992; Meyerson,
1991~11, 991b; Meyerson & Martin, 1987). Still others, working under
the broad label of symbolic-interpretive research, have pursued perspectivethat Schein ignored. The symbolic-interpretivists generally followtraditions established by Berger and Luckmann (1966) or Schutz (19701,focusing on symbolsand symbolic behavior in organizations and interpretingthese phenomena in a variety of ways (e.g., Alvesson, 1987; Alvesson& Berg, 1992; Broms & Gahmberg, 1983; Czarniawska-Joerges, 1988,
1992; Eisenberg & Riley, 1988; Kreiner, 1989; Pettigrew, 1979; Putnam, 1983;Rosen, 1985; Smircich, 1983; Smircich & Morgan, 1983; Turner, 1986;Wilkins, 1978). However, in spite of all these approaches to understanding
organizational culture (for an overview see compendiums edited by Frost,Moore, Louis, Lundberg, & Martin, 1985, 1991; Gagliardi, 1990; Jones,Moore, & Snyder, 1988; Pondy, Frost, Morgan, & Dandridge, 1983; Turner,1990), Schein's formulation remains one of the only conceptual modelsever offered.
Although arguments against conceptual models of organizationalculture have been made on the grounds that they oversimplify complexphenomena, such models serve an important role in guiding empiricalresearch and generating theory. I argue that Schein's model continues tohave relevance, but it would be more useful if it were combined withideas drawn from symbolic-interpretive perspectives. More important, Iintroduce dynamism into organizational culture theory by reformulating
Schein's original model in processual terms. Four processes are examined:
manifestation, realization, symbolization, and interpretation. These
processes are defined and presented in a new model called cultural dynamics.
Two of the processes included in the cultural dynamics model are
widely recognized and have appeared in theories of organization before:
Realization is part of Weick's (1979) enactment theory, and interpretationis a focal concern of symbolic-interpretive research. I will review andextend these ideas to the cultural dynamics model. Manifestation andsymbolization processes, however, are relative newcomers and are proposedhere to further specify organizational cultural theory. In introducingand examining these processes, my intent is to engage in theorybuilding and to invite additional exploration and interpretation with thepotential to redirect empirical research in organizational culture studies.
SCHEIN'S MODEL OF ORGANIZATIONAL CULTUREAccording to Schein, culture exists simultaneously on three levels:
On the surface are artifacts, underneath artifacts lie values, and at thecore are basic assumptions (Figure 1). Assumptions represent taken-forgrantedbeliefs about reality and human nature. Values are social principles,
philosophies, goals, and standards considered to have intrinsicworth. Artifacts are the visible, tangible, and audible results of activitygrounded in values and assumptions. In Schein's (1985: 9) words culture
is[tlhe pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented,discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its
problems of external adaptation and internal integration, andthat have worked well enough to be considered valid, and,therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way toperceive, think, and feel in relation to these problems.
Schein claimed that basic assumptions hold the key to understanding(and changing) a culture. Recently he argued that assumptions are bestexamined using clinical techniques and recommended that a "motivated
group of insiders" raise its own assumptions to consciousness with theaid of a clinically trained helpericonsultant (Schein, 1987, 1991; see alsoFinney & Mitroff, 1986). However, researchers who want to pursue culturebeyond this inner circle may find the clinical approach unworkable.Schein's model has value for nonclinical studies, but the underspecificationof his theory hampers these applications. In particular, the usefulnessof his model depends upon identifying the links among a culture'sartifacts, values, and assumptions-links that Schein has not explainedbut that are the central topic of this article.Although Schein has not discussed cultural dynamics in the termsused here, he has written about dynamics as group learning. He claimedthat a founder's beliefs and values are taught to new members and, ifvalidated by success (e.g., organizational survival instead of failure),undergo cognitive transformation into assumptions (Schein, 1983, 1985,
第一代写网专业代写留学生MBA论文，本文是关于组织文化动态研究的留学生工商管理硕士论文1991). Schein's view of dynamics differs from mine. I believe that underlying
the process of leadership and socialization that Schein discusses,
Schein's (1985) Model
660 Academy of Management Review October
culture is constituted by local processes involving both change and stability.
These processes need to be explained in the mundane terms of
everyday organizational life.
The term cultural dynamics originated in cultural anthropology,
where it refers to such issues as the origins and evolution of cultures,
enculturation processes, and the problem of change versus stability (e.g.,
through diffusion, innovation, cultural conservatism, and resistance to
change). Thus, in borrowing the term cultural dynamics, and extending
Schein's arguments from origins, evolution, and enculturation to the dialectic
of change and stability, I follow the lead of eminent cultural anthropologists
/ as Redfield (1941), Kroeber (1944), Malinowski (1945),
and Herskovits (1948).
THE CULTURAL DYNAMICS OF ORGANIZATIONS
In developing the cultural dynamics perspective, I argue for two fundamental
changes to Schein's model (Figure 1). First, symbols are introduced
as a new element. The introduction of symbols permits the model
to accommodate the influences of both Schein's theory and symbolicinterpretive
perspectives. Second, the elements of culture (assumptions,
values, artifacts, and symbols) are made less central so that the relationships
linking them become focal. This move initiates the shift from static
to dynamic conceptions of culture, whereupon I reformulate Schein's theory
in terms of dynamism by describing the relationships between cultural
elements as processes (see Figure 2).
The advantage of a dynamic version of organizational culture theory
lies in the new questions it poses. Schein's view focuses on what artifacts
and values reveal about basic assumptions. In contrast, the dynamic
perspective asks: How is culture constituted by assumptions, values, artifacts,
symbols, and the processes that link them? Whereas Schein ex-
The Cultural Dynamics Model
1993 Hatch 661
plored how culture changes or can be changed, the dynamic view recognizes
both stability and change as outcomes of the same processes (cf.
Herskovits, 1948). Cultural dynamics does not undermine Schein's interests;
it reaches beyond them toward a more complex, process-based understanding
of organizational culture.
I identified the processes of the cultural dynamics model by considering
how cultural elements are related, that is, by asking what happens
inside the arrows of Figure 1. According to the new model, I propose that
culture is constituted by manifestation, realization, symbolization, and
interpretation processes. Although Schein (1985) used the terms manifest
and realized (often interchangeably), he did not specify the definitions or
the implications of manifestation and realization processes. A broader
view led me to incorporate symbolic-interpretive approaches, which suggested
the inclusion of symbols and the processes of symbolization and
I should briefly explain the circularity of the cultural dynamics model
(Figure 2). I could begin anywhere and move in either a clockwise or a
counterclockwise direction. I will arbitrarily start with manifestation,
considering both the clockwise and the counterclockwise modes of that
process, and then proceed to realization, symbolization, and interpretation.'
Such steps may lead to the conclusion that culture is the product of
rather linear processes. This is not the case. The model in Figure 2 is
much more dynamic: All of the processes co-occur in a continuous production
and reproduction of culture in both its stable and changing forms
and conditions. In other words, numerous instances of the cultural processes
occur and recur more or less continuously throughout the cultural
domain such that many different orders might be claimed, and I could
even argue for simultaneity. Thus, none of the processes can stand on its
own; each needs the perspective provided by discussion of the others to
be fully transparent.
Schein (1985) identified assumptions as the essence of culture, suggested
that assumptions underlie values, and argued that humans infer
their assumptions from known values. However, he did not address the
active role of assumptions in constituting and reconstituting culture; consideration
of the manifestation process provides this dynamic viewpoint.
In general terms, manifestation refers to any process by which an essence
' Also, I have made two minor distinctions in terminology regarding the clockwise and
counterclockwise modes, depending on whether these operate in the top or the bottom half
of the model. In the clockwise direction, top-half modes are called proactive, whereas bottom-
half modes are called prospective: in the counterclockwise direction, top-half modes are
called retroactive, whereas bottom-half modes are called retrospective. Discussion of this
aspect of the model is deferred until the processes have been defined and illustrations have
662 Academy of Management Review October
reveals itself, usually via the senses, but also through cognition and
emotion. In terms of the cultural dynamics framework, manifestation permits
cultural assumptions (the essence of culture in Schein's theory) to
reveal themselves in the perceptions, cognitions, and emotions of organizational
members. That is, manifestation contributes to the constitution
of organizational culture by translating intangible assumptions into recognizable
values. This constitution occurs through the advantage that
manifestation gives to certain ways of seeing, feeling, and knowing
within the organization. The cultural dynamics model suggests that manifestation
occurs in two ways: through those processes that proactively
influence values (the arrow from assumptions to values in Figure 2) and
through those processes that influence assumptions via the retroactive
effects of value recognition (the arrow from values to assumptions in
Proactive manifestation. What organizational members assume to be
true shapes what they value. This shaping occurs through the processes
of proactive manifestation through which assumptions provide expectations
that influence perceptions, thoughts, and feelings about the world
and the organization. These perceptions, thoughts, and feelings are then
experienced as reflecting the world and the organization. Members recognize
among these reflections aspects they both like and dislike, and on
this basis they become conscious of their values (without necessarily
being conscious of the basic assumptions on which their experiences and
values are based).
Consider the assumption that humans are lazy. According to the cultural
dynamics perspective, this assumption produces expectations of
laziness, which lead to perceptions of lazy acts. These perceptions, in
combination with other manifesting assumptions, color thoughts and
feelings about these acts. For instance, in an organization that assumes
that success depends upon sustained effort, laziness is likely to be considered
in a negative light, and perceptions of laziness along with negative
thoughts and feelings about it can easily develop into a value for
controlling laziness. Meanwhile, the laziness assumption also works to
inhibit expectations of industrious acts (because humans are lazy, why
would they act in this way?), and perceptions, thoughts, and feelings
about these acts will be constrained. This inhibition suppresses a value
for autonomy (because giving lazy people autonomy will almost certainly
lead to little or no effort being exerted), which further supports the value
for control by eliminating a potentially competing force from the value
set. That is, although autonomy would be compatible with an assumption
that organizational success depends upon effort, the laziness assumption
interferes with an effortlautonomy value set and supports an efforticontrol
As Schein made clear, the core of culture is a set of assumptions. On
this basis, I argue that multiple assumptions engage in manifestations
simultaneously, and interactively, to reveal values. As illustrated in the
1993 Hatch 663
example, there is not a one-to-one correspondence between particular
assumptions and values, but rather assumptions are revealed in a holistic
way. How then is their manifestation experienced by organizational
members? Are values experienced one by one? Schein claimed that assumptions
are taught to organizational members as "the correct way to
perceive, think, and feel" (Schein, 1985: 9, emphasis added). This claim
could imply that manifestation presents values in a more or less holistic
fashion that partially reflects the gestalt of underlying assumptions.
Such a view is compatible with Schein's (1985: 15) reference to values
as a "sense of what 'ought' to be, as distinct from what is." According to
this definition, members who are under the influence of assumptions will
notice and respond to some aspects of the organizational world more than
other aspects. Their perceptions, thoughts, and feelings reveal a more or
less holistic expectation, not of the organization as experienced, but of
the organization "as it should be." It is important to note that "should be"
can be understood either in the normative sense of "ought," or as general
expectations. That is, values may be based in aspirations, or they may
simply reveal what members assume is normal. In either case, values are
not experienced one by one; they are experienced as a gestalt.
In his discussion of self-fulfilling prophesies as substitutes for strategy,
Weick (1987) helped to clarify the proactive manifestation process
with the idea of presumptions of logic. He defined presumption of logic as
"general expectations about the orderliness of what will occur" (1987: 225).
Weick claimed that order is evoked within chaotic situations by presumptions
of logic that will be assumed to have structured and defined the
situation from the outset. In other words, order is imposed on chaos and
then discovered within it. He argued:
Most managerial situations contain gaps, discontinuities,
loose ties among people and events, indeterminacies, and
uncertainties. These are the gaps that managers have to
bridge. It is the contention of this argument that managers
first think their way across these gaps and then, having tied
the elements together cognitively, actually tie them together
when they act. (1987: 225)
Within cultural dynamics, the process of using general expectations
to tie chaotic elements together prior to action is one aspect of the proactive
manifestation process. The general expectations that make thinking
across the gaps possible are grounded in cultural assumptions (e.g.,
about the nature of reality and the organization) and revealed as values
(e.g., preferred ways of bridging the gaps). In the next step of Weick's
argument, the expectationslvalues direct the action that actually ties the
elements together, which, in the terminology of cultural dynamics, is the
realization process (described in a following section).
Weick's focus is narrower than that of the cultural dynamics model.
He referred only to managers rather than to all organizational members,
664 Academy of Management Review October
discussed decision making but not routine behavior, treated chaotic but
not mundane situations, and considered only cognition, ignoring perception
and emotion. Nonetheless, his characterization captures an important
aspect of proactive manifestation. Cultural assumptions are experienced
as general expectations that provide possible responses to a situation,
responses that reflect and embody cultural values. Proactive
manifestation is the process that generates values and expectations that
are capable of organizing action and experience. The values themselves
are constituted by perceptions, cognitions, and emotions activated by
Retroactive manifestation. The retroactive mode of manifestation addresses
the contribution of values to assumptions (see Figure 2). This
contribution consists of two possibilities: values retroactively maintain or
alter existing assumptions. In retroactive maintenance, values and assumptions
are harmonious, and no further processing is necessary. In this
case, the alignment of assumptions and values reaffirms basic assumptions
as organizational members experience an "all's right with the
world" confirmation of their culture. With respect to retroactive alteration
of assumptions, Schein (1985) argued that assumptions can be altered by
the introduction of new values (usually by top managers) and the experience
of success attributed to them. If new values provide successful
outcomes, Schein argued, then their maintenance over time will lead to
their being taken for granted, at which point they become part of the
culture's core assumptions. What Schein did not discuss is that, in order
for this to happen, the new values must be at odds with existing assumptions
at the start of the process; otherwise no change would occur, and
retroactive manifestation would reaffirm existing assumptions.
In the cultural dynamics perspective, once a value emerges from
basic assumptions, it has a retroactive effect of reaffirming and buttressing
the assumptions from which it emerged. Of course, if a value enters
the cultural domain by another means (e.g., importation from another
culture), culture can absorb the new value via the same retroactive manifestation
processes that would ordinarily reaffirm the culture's preexisting
assumptions. Because assumptions are not phenomena about which
members are normally conscious, organizational members will find it
difficult if not impossible to distinguish culturally based values from
other values once the values have been recognized as (or mistaken for)
values of the culture. The incorporation of new values will proceed as if
they were being reaffirmed, but, instead, the presence of the new values
among the old values will serve to realign the basic assumptions. However,
if new values are not retroactively taken to be part of the culture, the
manifestation process will ignore them.
One question remains. Because values are manifestations of cultural
assumptions, where would values that are not culturally based come
from? Possibilities include contact either with other cultures or with some
force independent of the organizational culture, such as nonsocialized
individuals producing random variation or innovation (Herskovits, 1948;
Kroeber, 1944; Malinowski, 1945). In this case, the access point is not likely
to be values, but artifacts (objects, ideas, or actions realized by others),
which will be discussed in the following section on retroactive realization.
Studying manifestation processes. The study of manifestation processes
calls for the study of how various expectations of "how it should
be" come about in organizations. The proactive question that the manifestation
process puts to culture data is to explain how certain values and
expectations are carved from assumptions by activating perceptions, cognitions,
and emotions. A related question is: What perceptions, thoughts,
and feelings are constrained in the manifestation process? For instance,
Weick (1987) suggested that strategy formulation is one organizational
event in which manifestation processes and their associated expectations
play a significant role. Strategy formulation processes could be studied
using scenarios produced by strategists to reveal the perceptions, cognitions,
and emotions that define values and expectations in this situation.
Other situations (especially those involving nonmanagerial employees)
should be identified and examined from a process perspective, in
order to bring researchers into contact with the full range of proactive
manifestation processes and the expectations that they involve. The retroactive
process explains how culturally manifested values reaffirm basic
assumptions and how values originating outside the culture can realign
basic assumptions. Studies that focus on interventions to manage
organizational culture (e.g., Kunda, 1992) hold promise for revealing the
retroactive manifestation processes.
To summarize, the manifestation process constitutes expectations of
"how it should be" that can be specified as a list of cultural values.
Expectations, specified as values or not, can then be taken up by realization
processes to serve as cultural frameworks for organizational activity
(see Figure 2). Proactive manifestation is an imaginative act in
which an expectation of the situation and its potential is produced via
cognitions, emotions, and perceptions grounded in cultural assumptions.
Retroactive manifestation updates assumptions to align with values that
are actively acknowledged within the culture, a process that feeds into
retrospective interpretation, which is discussed in a following section.
Schein (1985) pointed out that artifacts are the most tangible aspects
of culture. Cultural dynamics claims that realization brings this tangibility
about. In general terms, to realize something means to make it real
(i.e., not pretended or merely imagined), to bring it into being. Williams
(1983: 260) described it as an act of the imagination that serves as "the
means and effect of bringing something vividly to life." In terms of the
cultural dynamics model, proactive realization is responsible for the
transformation of values into artifacts (e.g., rites, rituals, organizational
666 Academy of Management Review October
stories, humor, and various physical objects), whereas retroactive realization
has the potential to transform values and expectations by making
them appear differently than they did prior to their proactive realization
as artifacts. Thus, cultural realization is initially defined as the process of
making values real by transforming expectations into social or material
reality and by maintaining or altering existing values through the production
Proactive realization. Proactive realization is related to Weick's notion
of enactment and to the concept of materialization of ideas discussed
by Czarniawska-Joerges and Joerges (1990). In terms of enactment, Weick
(1987: 225) claimed that "the lesson of self-fulfilling prophecies . . . is that
strong beliefs that single out and intensify consistent action can bring
events into existence." Similarly, Czarniawska-Joerges and Joerges (1990:
Not all ideas are put into action. Obviously, to be put into
action an idea must be supplied by an image of action, a
mental picture of possible action. Ideas that were unrealizable
for centuries slowly acquire an action-image resulting
from the changes in other ideas and in things (technology). But
an image of action is not yet an action. How can it be materialized?
Not by decision as an act of choice. . . . Rather, it is
an act of will, prompted by positive expectations concerning
the process itself . . . its results, or both. . . . The cognitive
process moves, then, prompted by an act of will, towards calibrating
the "image of action" into something more like a
"plan of action" (Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960) and then
into deeds. And this last element is the one that truly deserves
to be called "materialization."
The materialization argument is restricted to cognition, whereas cultural
dynamics considers perceptual and emotional processes as well.
Furthermore, Czarniawska-Joerges and Joerges confined themselves to
discussing ideas as images of action that are capable of materializing in
deeds, whereas realization in the cultural dynamics model focuses on
cultural expectations and values realized through action in artifacts.
Nonetheless, the parallels between the arguments are clear.
Proactive realization occurs through activity that gives substance to
expectations revealed by the manifestation process. That is, realization
follows manifestation only if expectations and their associated values
find their way into activity that has tangible outcomes. Many different
activities can contribute to the realization of expectations; among them
are the production of objects (e.g., company products, official reports,
internal newsletters, buildings); engagement in organizational events
(e.g., meetings, company picnics, award banquets, office parties); participation
in discourse (e.g.. formal speeches, informal conversation, joking);
and importation of objects, events, and language artifacts via imitation
or physical transportation of cultural objects or members of other
1993 Hatch 667
Although activity produces artifacts, behavior itself is not culture. As
Schein (1991: 251) argued, in addition to cultural influences, "overt behavior
is also influenced by local circumstances and immediate events." Not
everything that happens in organizations can be explained by culture
because other forces contribute to the same activities that are open to cultural
influence. Thus, proactive realization is defined as the process wherein
culturally influenced activity produces artifacts such that a given set of
values or expectations receives some degree of representation in tangible
forms (shown by the arrow from values to artifacts in Figure 2). The representation
of the expectation in the artifact will always be imperfect as
a result of noncultural influences on behavior in organizations (e.g.,
genetic, idiosyncratic). Therefore, activity and the artifacts an organization
leaves behind are infused with cultural values but do not unequivocally
indicate them. Thus, the realization process helps to explain the
difficulty of analytically recovering values from a collection of artifacts.
To use the humans-are-lazy example again, an assumption that the
organization is filled with laggards contributes to a value for control that
enhances the likelihood that certain social and material forms will uppear.
For instance, time clocks, daily productivity reports, performance
meetings, and visually accessible offices are acceptable ideas in a culture
that values controlling laziness. Proactive realization is the process
by which manifest expectations are made tangible in artifacts. From this
point of view, artifacts are left in the wake of culturally influenced activity.
Thus, time clocks might be installed, daily activity reports requested
and filed, performance assessed, and visually accessible offices built, all
as partial means of realizing the expectation of "how it should be" in an
organization assumed to be filled with laggards. The time clocks, activity
reports, meetings, and accessible offices are left behind to take their
place amid a pool of previously realized objects, events, and discourses,
the "survivals" of earlier realization processes (Herskovits, 1948; Jones,
1991; Tyler, 195811871).
Retroactive realization. The retroactive mode of realization addresses
the post hoc contribution of artifacts to values and to expectations of "how
things should be." Similar to manifestation, two distinct possibilities
should be examined. In one case, artifacts realized from values and expectations
maintain or reaffirm these values and expectations, whereas
artifacts produced by another culture or by forces not aligned with cultural
values could introduce artifacts that retroactively challenge values
In the latter case, two more possibilities emerge. The artifacts are
ignored or physically ejected (e.g., destroyed or removed) by members of
the organization, or they are accepted and incorporated alongside culturally
produced artifacts to reflect back on the values. If absorbed into the
culture, such artifacts work retroactively to realign values as the culture
adjusts to their presence. To the extent that values are realigned, assumptions
may also be adjusted via retroactive manifestation processes.
Academy of Management Review October
Successful avant-garde works of art provide an extreme example
of retroactive realization processes. At first, a new work of art that
challenges accepted values is resisted or denied its place in the art world,
but over time it comes to be seen in new ways that allow for its acceptance.
Retroactive realization explains this as a process of value realignment
with a novel artifact. The artifact, by challenging established
values, fosters an alteration in the values of at least some viewers, whose
appreciation diffuses until the work is accepted by a wider audience.
Within business organizations, a similar effect can be observed surrounding
the introduction of radical innovations, daring strategic plans, and
visionary reorganizations. As with avant-garde art, these novel artifacts
live or die by their ability to transform established values enough to
permit their acceptance into the culture. What is essential to value
realignment is that a critical mass of appreciation for a new artifact be
built up so that diffusion takes hold within retroactive realization
processes. Of course, grand-scale value realignment on the order of these
examples is rare; retroactive realignment more typically involves less
obvious readjustments. You should also remember that manifestation
and realization processes do not operate in isolation; they are complemented
by symbolization and interpretation processes, which are
explained in following sections.
Studying realization processes. The study of realization processes
calls for the study of how values and expectations are used and maintained
or transformed in the course of constructing behavior that has
tangible outcomes. Studies of the production, reproduction, and transformation
of artifacts through the daily activities of organizations could
be used to examine how values and expectations unfold. For instance,
Barley (1986) used ethnographic observation in a study of the introduction
of new medical diagnostic equipment in two hospital radiology departments.
Following Giddens (19791, Barley examined how everyday activity
produced and reproduced the institutions in which it occurred, as
revealed by the introduction of new technology. Cultural dynamics suggests
interpreting Barley's data as a case of cultural importation of an
artifact and retroactive value adjustment based on activity surrounding
the new object and the events the object occasioned. The importation
itself might be analyzed as a proactive realization of cultural values.
Cultural dynamics focuses observational studies like Barley's on the
artifacts of action as well as activities. For instance, proactive realization
studies might focus on how values and expectations of "how it should be"
penetrate rituals such as quarterly review meetings (e.g., via preparations,
arrangements, and presentations made by participants). Retroactive
realization could be studied by observing how language use forms
a verbal-action field in which cultural expectations and values are
maintained or transformed via contact with organizational artifacts such
as greetings, forms of address, stories, and humor. The field of organizational
folklore (Jones, 1988, 1991; Jones et al., 1988) is rich with examples
1993 Hatch 669
of cultural artifacts used in ways that maintain values via retroactive
realization. For example, see Arora's (1988) study of the uses of proverbial
speech by a university committee. Studies of introductions of artifacts
from other cultures should be particularly revealing of value transformations
via retroactive realization. Cook and Yanow's (1993) report of a flute
manufacturing company that adopted a competitor's innovation provides
In summary, the cultural significance of an artifact is not set for all
time at the moment of its production or importation. True, the artifact at
this moment is infused with the assumptions and values that led to its
proactive realization, but these are localized in the realization processes
of the producing members. Other members, who participated in the production
indirectly, if at all, when exposed to the product may accept,
reject, or ignore it. In any case, the product itself becomes available to a
much broader interpretive process than the one that formed the context of
Those who follow Schein typically consider symbols to be part of the
more comprehensive category of artifacts; thus, all symbols are artifacts.
In contrast, many symbolic-interpretive researchers, such as Tompkins
(1987), claim that every artifact has symbolic significance; therefore, all
artifacts are symbols. Thus, from opposing theoretical points of departure
both traditions draw the same conclusion-the distinction between artifacts
and symbols is unnecessary. However, others have argued that not
all artifacts are symbols (Morgan, Frost, & Pondy, 19831, and I claim that
eliding the distinction between artifacts and symbols buries the process
of symbolization and blurs the boundary between Schein's perspective
and the perspective offered by the symbolic-interpretive approach.
Symbolic-interpretive researchers defined a symbol as anything that
represents a conscious or an unconscious association with some wider,
usually more abstract, concept or meaning (e.g., Chapple & Coon, 1942;
Dandridge, Mitroff, & Joyce, 1980; Gioia, 1986; Morgan, Frost, & Pondy,
1983). Gioia (1986) offered a representative list of organizational symbols:
the corporate logo, slogans, stories, actions and nonactions, visual images,
and metaphors. Eisenberg and Riley (1988) added organization
charts, corporate architecture, rites, and rituals. Because lists of artifacts
offer identical items (e.g., Ott, 1989), it would appear that symbols and
artifacts are indistinguishable, and, in the static sense of their physical
forms, I would agree. However, when attention is turned to the dynamics
of culture, the distinction is clarified. In the dynamic view, focus shifts
from concern with physical forms to the ways in which these forms are
produced and used by organizational members (Ortner, 1973). As Cohen
(1985: 14) argued, symbols "do more than merely stand for or represent
something else . . . they also allow those who employ them to supply part
of their meaning."
Academy of Management Review October
Borrowing Barthes' (1972) example, a bouquet of roses is given, not
only as a bundle of flowers, but also as an expression of appreciation. The
objective form of the symbol (the flowers) has literal meaning associated
with aspects such as its smell, color, texture, and arrangement. Beyond
this objective form and its literal meaning lie, for example, subjective and
figurative associations that add to the bouquet's meaning. These may
include past gift-giving experiences, a person's history with and appreciation
for roses, the significance friends attach to the roses, and perhaps
lines of verse or scenes remembered from a play. Schutz (1970: 108-109)
described this added meaning as "a kind of aura surrounding the nucleus
of the objective meaning."
Prospective symbolization. Ricoeur (1976) recommended comparing
the full meaning of a symbol to its literal meaning and called the difference
the surplus of meaning. The notion of surplus meaning helps explain
symbolization. Once realized, an artifact is an objective form with literal
meaning. Symbolization combines an artifact with meaning that reaches
beyond or surrounds it. Symbolization is thus a prospective response that
links an artifact's objective form and literal meaning to experiences that
lie beyond the literal domain. Cassirer (1946: 8) argued that symbolization
produces reality: "Symbolic forms are not imitations, but organs of reality,
since it is solely by their agency that anything real becomes an object
for intellectual apprehension, and as such is made visible to us." Brown
(1977: 40) built on Cassirer's argument, stating that "symbolic forms give
existence to what, for us [emphasis added], otherwise would not be."
Tompkins (1987) made the same point.
The genesis of symbolic forms is overlooked by arguments such as
Brown's and Tompkins's. The cultural dynamics model suggests that
these forms arise first as artifacts, and through additional cultural processing
they come to be recognized as symbolic forms by organizational
members. The production of the forms that will carry symbolic meaning
occurs in the realm of proactive manifestation and realization. The forms
are made real by culturally influenced action, not by symbolism. Once
realized, however, they become "object[sl for intellectual apprehension"
via the process of symbolization (and interpretation, which is discussed in
a following section). Nothing in Cassirer's argument, however, indicates
that symbolic forms are equivalent to what is "real." It is a mistake to
interpret Cassirer as arguing that there is no reality apart from symbolic
forms; his argument is that the ability to intellectually apprehend reality
is limited by a person's recognition of symbolic forms. The ability to apprehend
reality in other ways, such as through physical contact (e.g.,
bruising your leg on a table or desk), is not limited to symbolic events.
From the cultural dynamics perspective, these ideas suggest that
artifacts must be translated into symbols if they are to be apprehended as
culturally significant objects, events, or discourses. Such apprehension
bestows the status of recognized existence on certain forms within the
1993 Hatch 67 1
culture with the implication that, although all artifacts can be symbolized,
not all will be, at least not at all times and places, for all organizational
members. Berg (1985: 285-286) explained Cassirer's notion of the
"agency of symbolic forms," claiming that symbolization translates physical
or objective reality into symbolic reality:
The symbolic field is not "reality" as it once appeared but the
collective symbolization of that reality. The symbolic field is
essentially the result of an attempt to interpret experiences in
one reality using objects, properties, and symbols from another
reality . . . when we talk about the organization, we
refer to a metaphor of human experience . . . a complex symbolic
construction with links to the physical or objective reality.
The previous discussion suggests that prospective symbolization involves
a shift from the experience of things strictly in terms of their objective
forms and literal meanings to an awareness of things as having
objective form and both literal and surplus meaning. Thus, prospective
symbolization might be defined as a sort of exploitation of artifacts by
symbols via associations that project both the objects of symbolization
and the symbolizors from the literal domain to a domain that includes
surplus meaning as well as literal awareness. From within the symbolic
field, organizational members then retrospectively (re)construct their artifacts
as meaningful on the basis of their symbolic memory.
Retrospective symbolization. The retrospective mode of symbolization
enhances awareness of the literal meaning of symbolized artifacts. The
important point from a cultural dynamics perspective is that not all artifacts
are given equal treatment within the symbolic field. The prospective
symbolization process implies that some artifacts will acquire more significant
associations across more organizational members than will other
artifacts in a given moment and at a particular place. Thus, at each
instant there is a state within the symbolic field that represents that
moment's symbolic configuration of meaning relative to its cultural artifacts.
The artifacts themselves remain as a field of potential symbolic
material, but, on a moment-to-moment basis, only certain parts of the
field are illuminated by the retrospective symbolization process.
The example of a corporate status symbol illustrates the symbolization
process. A large desk is merely a piece of furniture within organizational
cultures for which it has limited or no surplus meaning. When
organizational members do not respond to the symbolic opportunity presented
by such an artifact, the desk remains in the literal realm where it
may be experienced as a surface on which to work, a place to store papers
and supplies, or something on which to bruise a knee. In these circumstances,
prospective symbolization does not take place, at least not in a
culturally interesting way. When organizational members enter the sym672
Academy of Management Review October
bolic realm, however, they engage surplus meaning through prospective
symbolization. This can be observed in the responses members give to
their own desk in relation to the desks of their superiors, subordinates,
and co-workers. In these circumstances, the members' experiences of the
desk as furniture are inscribed within their memories and awareness of
the surplus meaning associated with the artifact. The artifact now embodies
the symbol, and this gives rise to retrospective symbolization in
which the desk stands out among other artifacts by virtue of its enhanced
In summary, prospective symbolization is the process by which cultural
symbols are made from associations between the literal experience
of artifacts and surplus meaning. This process is represented by the arrow
from artifacts to symbols in Figure 2. Aspects of the literal meaning
of the artifact (e.g., large desks offer more convenient work surfaces) may
be made more acute by feedback from the retrospective symbolization
process represented by the arrow from symbols to artifacts. Symbolization
involves an extension of consciousness beyond the literal realm. It translates
some artifacts into symbols and projects those who use an artifact as
a symbol into the symbolic realm. In the symbolic realm, surplus meaning
joins, and at times dominates, members' consciousness of objective
forms and literal meanings, leading some symbolic-interpretive researchers
to claim that the literal domain is not a part of culture (e.g., Tompkins,
1987). The cultural dynamics perspective recognizes both the literal and
the symbolic domains.
Studying symbolization processes. The study of symbolization processes
as conceived in the cultural dynamics framework calls for direct
involvement. One method of achieving this involvement is exemplified
by ethnographers who submerge themselves in the cultural experiences
they want to study and draw on personal meaning derived from these
experiences in creating their ethnographies. For example, Van Maanen's
(1991) study of Disneyland draws heavily on the experiences he had while
working there. His admission that "it may just be possible that I now
derive as much a part of my identity from being fired from Disneyland
as I gained from being employed there in the first place" (1991: 76) attests
to his involvement in prospective symbolization within this culture. Cultural
dynamics also asks for specification of the surplus meaning associated
with various artifacts (Disneyland's assigned jobs, uniforms, etc.).
This is precisely what Van Maanen gives us by referring to his participation
in the Disneyland culture, thus employing retrospective symbolization.
A second possible approach to the study of symbolization requires the
adaptation of aesthetic techniques to the study of organization (e.g.,
Bjorkegren, 1991; Strati, 1990, 1992; Van Maanen, 1988; Witkin, 1990). When
researchers study symbolization processes, they must use methods that
create or simulate first-order experiences, such as aesthetic techniques
1993 Hatch 673
do (e.g., acting, writing, drawing, making photographs). For example,
Witkin's evocative description of a meeting room at Unilever provides
access to the aesthetic experience of this organizational space:
Behind the chairs, at one end of the table, there are two flip
chart boards, white in colour and rectangular in shape. Their
flat vertical planes rise above equally flat-looking metal
frames. They are supported at their base by two pairs of tiny
legs descending from two horizontal bars. The supports only
serve to accentuate the flatness of the boards, a flatness
which is echoed in the strong smooth white plane of the table
and the white planes of the wall. (Witkin, 1990: 333)
Witkin's (1990: 333) interpretation that "it is as though the room has been
purged of the appearance of volumes" practically leaps out of his prospective
symbolization of the room and produces evidence of the retrospective
mode of symbolization; however, the retrospective mode is admittedly
difficult to distinguish from interpretation (which is discussed
next) and is in need of further explication.
Self-reflective use of aesthetic methods could help to explicate the
processes of symbolization and teach researchers to distinguish these
processes from the processes of interpretation. Currently, researchers
who focus on ethnography as a literary genre are making some headway
in this direction (Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Geertz, 1988; Jeffcutt, 1991; Linstead,
1993). In this approach, ethnographers turn the interpretive gaze on
themselves and their ethnographies. The self-reflective technique allows
ethnographers to confront their assumptions, but it could also bring an
awareness of self-as-author caught in the act of writing be., making
symbols). Although the practice of self-reflection can easily shade into
self-interpretation, the technique suggests a developing possibility for
studying retrospective symbolization.
To summarize, organizational members are symbol manipulators,
creating as well as discovering meaning as they explore and produce a
socially constructed reality to express their self-images and to contextualize
their activity and identity. Symbolization refers to culturally contextualized
meaning creation via the prospective use of objects, words, and
actions. The objects, words, and actions are transformed (e.g., through
communication) into symbols, the dynamic constellation of which constitutes
the symbolic field of a culture. The symbolic field then retrospectively
transfigures artifacts by imbuing them with the charms of surplus
Schutz (1970: 320) claimed that "the meaning of an experience is established,
in retrospect, through interpretation." Cohen (1985: 17-18)
674 Academy of Management Review October
added that "by their very nature symbols permit interpretation and provide
scope for interpretive manoeuvre [sic] by those who use them." In
other words, the meaning that interpretation establishes involves the literal
and surplus meanings combined by prospective symbolization processes.
Ricoeur (1976: 55) offers further assistance with this point:
Only for an interpretation are there two levels of significance.
. . . Symbolic signification . . . is so constituted that we can
only attain the secondary signification by way of the primary
signification, where this primary signification is the sole
means of access to the surplus of meaning. The primary signification
gives the secondary signification, in effect, as the
meaning of a meaning.
This passage suggests that interpretation involves a second-order
experience of symbolization. In other words, the meaning that is established
by interpretation is derivative of the direct (first-order) association
of literal and surplus meaning defined as the prospective symbolization
process. However, this second-order experience is not simply a repetition
of the first-order event, as Gioia (1986: 55) explained:
When an organizational event or action with symbolic possibility
is experienced, it is related to existing knowledge to
generate meaning. That is, as a current symbol becomes associated
with symbolic networks, understanding occurs . . .
understanding can only occur if new information can in some
way be related to what is already known.
Gioia (1986) located the "already known" in scripts and schemas held
in memory, but his ideas translate easily into the terms of culture theory.
If assumptions are organized, at least in part, as knowledge structures,
then the content of the scripts and schemas that structure and retain
knowledge should reveal cultural assumptions (Barley, 1986; Martin,
Feldman, Hatch, & Setkin, 1983). Thus, from the culture perspective, assumptions
provide the "already known" of interpretation processes.
This notion brings us back to Schutz's two assertions. First, Schutz
claimed that interpretation is retrospective. This claim implies that interpretation
involves a move from the "already known" of a culture's basic
assumptions to current symbols (retrospective interpretation). Second,
Schutz asserted that interpretation establishes meaning. This assertion
implies that current symbols have a reciprocal influence on basic assumptions
(prospective interpretation). This reciprocity has been the central
theme of the hermeneutic school of interpretation theory, where it is
called the hermeneutic circle.
According to Wilson (1987: 385), the hermeneutic circle "involves successive
revisions of interpretations of social phenomena as each new
1993 Hatch 675
level of understanding calls for revision of the basis on which that understanding
is founded.'' He continued:
We do not build up a pattern of society from descriptions of
single actions . . . but rather develop an account in a hermeneutic
fashion, forming ideas about overall patterns on the
basis of particular events and then using these same ideas to
understand more clearly the particular events that gave rise to
them. Of course, when we are already familiar with a society
because we live in it, this interpretive process can be quite
unselfconscious and implicit, but the basic interdependence
between descriptions of singular events and understandings
of the larger social order remains. (Wilson, 1987: 396)
The hermeneutic perspective suggests that interpretation moves us
back and forth between the already known (basic assumptions) and the
possibility of new understanding (inherent, but often dormant, in symbols).
The possibility for revision of meaning exists throughout this cycle.
Thus, there is potential for two results of interpretation: altered understanding
of symbolic meaning via retrospective interpretation and revisions
to cultural assumptions via prospective interpretation.
Interpretation involves countless engagements of the hermeneutic
circle. Some of this interpretation reflects existing cultural assumptions,
but some of it revises assumptions by establishing new meaning within
the core. In the cultural dynamics view, interpretation reconstructs symbols
and revises basic assumptions in terms of both current experience
and preestablished cultural assumptions.
In summary, cultural dynamics suggests that interpretation contextualizes
current symbolization experiences by evoking a broader
cultural frame as a reference point for constructing an acceptable
meaning. This is shown in Figure 2 as the arrow from assumptions to
symbols. Meanwhile, cultural assumptions, momentarily exposed during
the process of interpretation, are opened to the influence of new symbols.
In this way, the moment of interpretation makes it possible (but not
necessary) for culture to absorb newly symbolized content into its core. In
Figure 2, this is represented by the arrow from symbols to assumptions.
From the cultural dynamics perspective, the prospective mode of interpretation
maintains or challenges basic assumptions, whereas the retrospective
mode reconstructs the meaning of symbols via feedback from
the same interpretive move (as explained by the hermeneutic circle).
Of course, the prospective interpretation process then either meshes or
collides with the retroactive manifestation process discussed previously,
and the explanation has at last come full circle with respect to
Studying interpretation processes. The study of interpretation processes
calls for investigating how symbols mold and are molded by existing
ways of understanding. The results of interpretation processes
676 Academy of Management Review October
have been investigated using a variety of established techniques such as
ethnographic interviews (S~r adl ey1, 979), scripts (Barley, 1986; Martin et
al., 1983), semiotics (Barley, 1983; Fiol, 19911, deconstruction (Calas &
Smircich, 1991; Martin, 1990), and discourse analysis (Coulthard, 1977). At
least two of these techniques-interviews and discourse analysis-can
be used to reveal the interpretation process in action.
Botti and Pipan (1991) used ethnographic interviews to explore interpretations
of the service concept in two public service organizations in
Italy-a registry office and a hospital. They offer rich descriptions of their
subjects' interpretations of the symbols of service. For example, one
users were generally interpreted as unfriendly or threatening. The cultural
dynamics model would ask how the symbol of "the user" participates
in constructing and reconstructing assumptions about everyday life
within the registry office and vice versa. One possibility would be to
present alternative symbols (e.g., a warm and friendly customer on a cold
and rainy day) and ask registry officer personnel to interpret them. The
purpose would be to discover how interviewees respond to new symbols
in the course of their normal interpretive activities. Is this "a user" in their
view, or something else?
Another approach to studying interpretation processes is presented
by Donnellon, Gray, and Bougon (1986). These researchers performed discourse
analysis using a videotape of a group of students who were conducting
an organizational simulation exercise. The taped material
showed the students responding to another group's action that had resulted
in layoffs within their group. Semantic coding of the recorded discourse
allowed the researchers to study shifts in the focal group members'
interpretations and in their inclinations toward proposed actions. They
found that group members used four interpretive mechanisms in coming
to a collective decision to strike: metaphor, logical argument, affect modulation
(e.g., nonverbal behavior, fast pace, emotionally charged language),
and linguistic indirection (e.g., passive voice, use of imprecise
terms). The work of Donnellon and her colleagues could frame studies of
how these interpretive mechanisms mold and are molded by symbols and
assumptions. Furthermore, if their method could be adapted to the demands
of field settings, it might reveal the uses of these as well as other
interpretive mechanisms in organizations.
Although the collision of prospective interpretation and retroactive
manifestation processes will require further development, one avenue of
exploration might be found in studies of spontaneous humor in a management
team (Hatch, In press; Hatch & Ehrlich, In press). The findings
reported in the first study (Hatch. In press) indicate that ironic remarks
(formulated as spontaneous humor) reveal contradictions between organizational
practices and symbolic interpretations. This study suggests
that where retroactive manifestation and prospective interpretation do
not mesh, culture is constructed and interpreted as contradictory.
The preceding discussion maps the theoretical domain of a dynamic
model of organizational culture, called cultural dynamics. Much work
remains to be done to fully develop each of the four major processes
defined by the model, and separate discussions of each process were
aimed at directing future research toward this end. Within these discussions,
a variety of promising methods was also reviewed as a first step
toward developing a methodological repertoire for the empirical study of
cultural dynamics (see Table 1 for a summary). Each method was presented
in relation to empirical examples drawn from the organization
studies literature (additional examples are recommended in Table 1 for
those who wish to pursue these method^).^
APPLYING THE CULTURAL DYNAMICS PERSPECTIVE
Two applications of the cultural dynamics model will be presented in
this section. First, Schein's explanation of a theoretical example will be
compared to an explanation developed within the cultural dynamics perspective.
This will allow the cultural dynamics model to be assessed in
relation to its departure point in Schein. Second, using case data presented
in the organizational studies literature (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991),
the ability of the cultural dynamics model to extend empirical analysis in
informative ways will be demonstrated. Both demonstrations are intended
to show that the cultural dynamics model offers a greater appreciation
of cultural complexity and dynamism than researchers have enjoyed
in the past.
Demonstration #1: Schein (1985)
In the previous presentation of manifestation and realization processes,
I used as a theoretical example the assumption that humans are
lazy. Schein (1985: 18-19) offered a related example that begins with the
assumption that humans are opportunistic:
If we assume . . . that other people will take advantage of us
whenever they have an opportunity, we expect to be taken
advantage of and then interpret the behavior of others in a
way that coincides with those expectations. We observe people
sitting idly at their desk and perceive them as loafing
rather than thinking out an important problem; we perceive
absence from work as shirking rather than doing work at
Most of the methods will require adaptation, and other appropriate methods will
surely emerge from the continuing stream of research focusing on organizational processes.
Furthermore, because the cultural dynamics perspective advocates attention to all four
processes, workable combinations of these methods will need to be developed, perhaps
through the use of traditional ethnography (which is built on multiple methods) as a prototype.
Academy of Management Review October
Some Suggestions for Studying the Four Cultural Processes
(Focal Elements) Methods Added Inspiration
Manifestation Visualization and Gioia & Chittipeddi. 1991
(assumptions-values) scenarios Witkin & Poupart, 1985
Realization Ethnographic observation Riley, 1983
(values-artifacts) Barley, 1986
Cook & Yanow, In press
Symbolization Ethnographic participation Van Maanen, 1991
(artifacts-symbols) Gioia, 1992
Aesthetic techniques Witkin, 1990
Strati, 1990, 1992
Postmodern ethnography Jeffcutt, 1991
Interpretation Ethnographic interviews Botti & Pipan, 1991
(symbols-assumptions) Schultz, In press
Discourse analysis Donnellon, Gray, & Bougon, 1986
Gioia, Thomas, Clark, &
Chittipeddi, In press
In regard to this example, Schein (1985: 18) explained:
When a solution to a problem works repeatedly, it comes to be
taken for granted. What was once a hypothesis, supported by
only a hunch or a value, comes gradually to be treated as a
reality. We come to believe that nature really works this way.
. . . What I am calling basic assumptions are congruent with
what Argyris has identified as "theories-in-use," the implicit
assumptions that actually guide behavior. . . . Basic assumptions,
like theories-in-use, tend to be nonconfrontable and
nondebatable. . . . Clearly, such unconscious assumptions
can distort data.
The passage implies that assumptions are responsible for distorting perceptions
and leading managers to false conclusions such as "hardworking
employees are loafers." Thus, assumptions produce perceptions that
conform to assumptions. This leaves open the question of the origin of
assumptions. Schein argued that assumptions come about when top management
proposes the solution to a problem:
If the solution works, and the group has a shared perception of
that success, the value gradually starts a process of cognitive
transformation into a belief and, ultimately, an assumption. If
this transformation process occurs-and it will occur only if
the proposed solution continues to work, thus implying that it
is in some larger sense "correct" and must reflect an accurate
picture of reality-group members will tend to forget that
originally they were not sure and that the values were therefore
debated and confronted. (Schein, 1985: 16)
In Schein's (1985) explanation there is only a one-way temporal chain
of events. In his view, the possibility for change in assumptions is limited
to "values that are susceptible of physical or social validation" and
thereby "become transformed into assumptions." According to cultural
dynamics, assumptions are open to change on "both ends" (shown in
Figure 2 by the arrows from both values and symbols to assumptions).
That is, change can occur through reaction to alien or novel values (the
retroactive phase of the manifestation process), or it can occur through
ongoing processes of interpretation in which each interpretive event occasions
an opportunity for change in assumptions (the prospective phase
of interpretation). This can be illustrated through a cultural dynamics
explanation for Schein's example:
An assumption that people will take advantage of others proactively
manifests the expectation of workers being prevented
from doing so by management. This expectation influences
managers to be on the lookout for cases of loafing and shirking,
and they find such cases (proactive realization) even
where they do not exist, such as the motionless but thinking
employee or the absent employee working at home. Such employees
may be regarded as idle loafers and shirkers (prospective
symbolization). This labeling conforms to and reconstructs
(within the hermeneutic circle of interpretation) the assumption
that humans are lazy. If, however, employees are
seen in other ways (e.g., as a result of employees' efforts to
influence managers' perceptions), the managers' assumptions
may be challenged via prospective interpretation or through
the retrospectivelretroactive chain ending in a retroactive realignment
of values and assumptions. In the retrospectivel
retroactive mode, the same interpretation process strengthens
(or weakens) the meaning of the symbol of the loaferlshirker
through comparisons with the "already known," which enhances
(or buries) awareness of the artifact via retrospective
symbolization. Renewed awareness of the artifact presents
opportunities for retroactive adjustment of values that can rereaffirm
(or further challenge) the assumption that people will
take advantage of their employers.
In the cultural dynamics explanation, organizational members cycle
back and forth between proactivelprospective and retrospectivel
retroactive influences. The difference between the two explanations illustrates
the greater dynamism of the cultural dynamics model relative to
Schein's theory, which is restricted to an evolutionary or a developmental
680 Academy of Management Review October
view of change. Those ideas that Schein represents are also represented
in the cultural dynamics perspective; however, the cultural dynamics
view goes beyond Schein's model to examine the symbolic-interpretive
processes constituting cultural assumptions. Thus, cultural dynamics
does not invalidate Schein's theory; it articulates the theory and significantly
extends the range and power of its explanation.
Demonstration #2: Gioia and Chittipeddi (1991)
Gioia and Chittipeddi's (1991) empirical study of strategic change
was selected because it focuses on processes and employs ethnography,
a methodology typical of much culture research. This makes the study
ideal for illustrating how the cultural dynamics perspective can extend
the analysis of ethnographic data.
Gioia and Chittipeddi (1991) used ethnography (along with some innovative
methods not described here) to study the initiation of a strategic
change effort at a large American university. The university had just
hired a new president who introduced his vision of a "Top 10 public university"
immediately upon taking up his post. The researchers were able
to recover the techniques the president used to formulate his vision (campus
visits, consultations, interviews with stakeholders, past experience
as chancellor of another university) and to follow its introduction within a
task force that the president appointed to carry his vision forward. During
two years of participant observation, Gioia and Chittipeddi found that the
president used vision and hypothetical scenarios to introduce, support,
and encourage change through a process they label "sensegiving."
Seen from the cultural dynamics perspective, Gioia and Chittipeddi's
vision concept collapses expectations into symbols. In effect, these authors
focus on the manifestation of an expectation (becoming a Top 10
public university) and on interpretation of the symbol they assume that
the expectation became, without considering the process by which this
transformation occurred. Thus, they ignore the domain represented by the
right side of the cultural dynamics model. As a result, their approach
underemphasizes artifacts, realization, and symbolization. This underemphasis
leads to an unanalyzed connection between the president's
vision and the actions of other members of the organization. If the case is
analyzed from the cultural dynamics viewpoint, Gioia and Chittipeddi's
analysis can be extended to offer some suggestions about what was probably
going on, given the cultural dynamics model.
Gioia and Chittipeddi (1991: 445) wrote:
Perhaps the key occurrence in this case was the devising of an
overarching symbolic vision, expressed in evocative images
("aTop-10 public university"). This vision provided an interpretative
framework within which thinking and acting could
be viewed in terms of their consistency with the requirements
for achieving such a vision. The president himself later said
that this symbol "took on a life of its own" and became a more
powerful guiding image than he ever would have imagined.
In this passage, the authors equate the president's vision with an interpretative
framework, whereas the cultural dynamics model suggests that
the vision plays two distinct roles. At least initially, it is used by the
president as an expectation of "how it should be" in terms of his values
and personal aspirations for the organization. Others use the president's
vision as a symbol of his intentions and retrospectively interpret it in
terms of their own assumptions and understandings of how it has ("always")
been. Later, if the vision is adopted by other organizational members,
it may alter assumptions and reorganize cultural understanding. As
an expectation, the vision lies within an action framework rather than an
interpretive framework. It is as a symbol that the vision contributes to
Recognizing the dual role of the president's vision as expectation and
symbol permits us to address how the vision "took on a life of its own."
Cultural dynamics suggests that the president's vision was taken up
through a complex of processes described by the right half of the cultural
dynamics model as understood from the perspective of organizational
members (especially the task force). Accordingly, when the president's
actions were influenced by his expectation/vision, he created the possibility
that the products of his action (e.g., artifacts such as decisions
taken, people hired or fired) would be symbolized and interpreted by
others in a way that would retrospectively portray aspects of his vision
within their symbolization and interpretation processes. However, the
model also indicates that it was the expectations of those others, whether
they reflected the president's vision or not, that guided their actions via
proactive realization processes.
This analysis can be taken a step further if the possible effects of the
lower level members' use of negotiation and resistance to the president's
vision are considered. Gioia and Chittipeddi observed that organizational
members resisted, attempted to change, or ignored the president's
influence attempts. The cultural dynamics model suggests that the product
of these actions then became available as artifacts for prospective
symbolization. For instance, the president could have used the symbols
he made from these responses to form interpretations that altered (or
reinforced) his assumptions, thus absorbing him within the culture along
with his vision for change.
This application of the cultural dynamics model implies that, although
the president was a major player in the initiation of strategic
change, his influence depended heavily on the ways in which others
symbolized and interpreted his efforts. The outcome of the president's
influence ultimately rested on others' interpretations and the effect these
interpretations had on cultural assumptions and expectations. In this
light, it is worthwhile questioning whether the president was as central to
682 Academy of Management Review October
the initiation effort, or the organizational culture, as he at first appeared
to be. At least it seems clear that a "bottom-up" analysis of the strategic
initiation effort is needed to complement Gioia and Chittipeddi's "topdown"
point of view.
Further evidence of the need to question the centrality of the president
comes from the circumstances surrounding the initiation of strategic
change. The decision-making body undoubtedly chose its candidate at
least partly on the basis of their expectations for the university and its
future president. The artifact of their selection decision (the new president)
proactively realized something of their values and expectations. In
the president's words: "I was told in no uncertain terms by the people who
hired me that they wanted strong leadership, and that they wanted the
university to move to another plane" (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991: 439).
Thus, the unending circularity of the cultural dynamics model provides
the stimulus to consider the cultural history of the situation. In this case,
the model suggests that the hiring of the new president was a proactive
realization that led to importing an artifact of another culture (the president)
with the potential to be symbolized and interpreted in an influential
way within the university.
In proposing the cultural dynamics perspective, I advocate a balance
of interest in all of the cultural elements and the processes that link them,
thus pushing for more complete and complex cultural analyses. In the
case of Gioia and Chittipeddi's study, this meant complementing their
rich description with attention to artifacts and to realization and symbolization
processes. This attention brought additional aspects of the case
into view and recognized more complexity in the data than was indicated
by the strategy formulation framework. In the case of Schein's example,
the cultural dynamics model extended the developmental view of change
by acknowledging the fluctuations and indeterminacies that underlie
both stability and change in organizational cultures. The analyses illustrate
the value of the new perspective and suggest that there are data to
support the cultural dynamics model. The Gioia and Chittipeddi demonstration
also indicates the need for studies that consider bottom-up as
well as top-down points of view. These illustrations are given to demonstrate
the logic of the cultural dynamics model and to encourage other
readings using this perspective.
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Some readers have criticized the cultural dynamics perspective on
the grounds that the level of analysis is ambiguous. These readers want
to know whether the processes described by the model occur within individuals
or among them and whether the processes are cognitive or social
in nature. In large measure, it is through culture that a person constructs
the sense of individual and organizational identity and creates
images that are taken for the self and the organization. Within the cul1993
tural dynamics framework I assume that individuals cannot be conceptualized
apart from their cultures and that cognition cannot be separated
from social processes. In other words, the processes of cultural dynamics
are simultaneously cognitive and social (as well as perceptual, emotional,
and in some cases aesthetic), and individuals and their interrelationships
are not usefully distinguished within this frame (see also Berger
& Luckmann, 1966, on the notion of intersubjectivity). Therefore, cultural
dynamics cannot be described in the eitherlor terms presented by such
In order to see these and other implications of the model more clearly,
the following discussion explains cultural dynamics as a contribution to
organization theory. First, the theoretical domain of the model and its
implications for bridging (Gioia & Pitre, 1990) objectivist and subjectivist
perspectives are presented. In this context, the distinction between activity
and reflexivity that separates top- and bottom-half processes is discussed.
This distinction will be combined with the distinction between
objective and subjective theoretical orientations to form a two-by-two matrix
for analyzing the theoretical domain of cultural dynamics. Finally,
some concluding thoughts about the cultural dynamics model and its
implications for further development of organizational culture theory are
The Theoretical Domain of Cultural Dynamics
Cultural dynamics brings together in one model ideas that have traditionally
been kept separate in organization theory. For instance,
whereas Burrell and Morgan (1979) drew barriers between functional and
symbolic theories, cultural dynamics presents opportunities to view and
explain culture from both perspectives. I do not, however, attempt to
integrate these separate theoretical domains; instead I connect, bridge,
and associate them. The cultural dynamics model may be thought of as a
collage of some of the most compelling ideas about organizational culture
found in the literature.
As in a collage, I have placed bits of other works together in a new
(framelwork in which arrangement forms a basis for new insight. I do not
deny that objectivist and subjectivist theories rest on incommensurable
assumptions (Gioia & Pitre, 1990). Instead, I accept both as theoretical
views of reality, acknowledge their differences, juxtapose their contributions,
and examine and draw implications from the result. Thus, cultural
dynamics incorporates both objectivist (some things about culture can be
reasonably discussed as if they exist independent of human observation)
and subjectivist perspectives (some aspects of culture cannot be objectified
and are better theorized in terms of subjective experience).
The matter of the objectivity or subjectivity of organizational culture
itself is undecidable. This is because researchers work within a conceptual
system that constructs the phenomena to which they then assume the
conceptual system refers. Although theorists cannot escape this diffi684
Academy of Management Review October
culty, it is still possible to regard the objectivelsubjective dialectic as a
useful theoretical distinction. Its usefulness lies in the existence of different
appreciations of organizational reality. For example, theories of
environmental determinacy such as resource dependency theory (Pfeffer
& Salancik, 1978) are evidence of objectivist appreciations of organizational
reality, whereas social constructionist theories such as enactment
theory (Weick, 1979) evidence subjectivist appreciations. Thus, even
though researchers cannot know if there are different realities associated
with the objective perspective and subjective experience, they can feel
confident that these are two distinct ways of theorizing about reality (Burrell
& Morgan, 1979; Gioia & Pitre, 1990). Furthermore, it has been the
thesis of this article that both of these ways of theorizing have made
significant contributions to the development of organizational culture theory,
and it is the stated ambition of the cultural dynamics approach to
explicitly acknowledge both views.
An implication of the distinction between objective and subjective
theorizing is that the concepts of values and symbols lie on the border
(Alvesson & Berg, 1992, also make this observation). That is, these concepts
have the capacity to represent the qualities and characteristics of
both domains, and, thus, values and symbols offer transformation1
translation points between these "two worlds." This idea further implies
that the concepts of values and symbols provide the means by which
subjectivist and objectivist orientations can be made to communicate and
coexist. Symbols and values invoke objectivist theorizing because of their
relationship to artifacts experienced as external, and they invoke subjective
theorizing by referring to basic assumptions that have no direct external
referent. The cultural dynamics perspective attempts to move the
discussion beyond the limiting assumptions of these two theoretical orientations
by suggesting that culture can be represented equally well (or
equally poorly) within either perspective, but that bridging them creates
a more satisfying picture than either offers on its own.
In terms of the cultural dynamics model, I place cultural assumptions
in the regions of experience that have been most adequately theorized
from the subjectivist position (see Figure 3). Artifacts, conceived as externalized
aspects of culture, have been better theorized using the objectivist
perspective. The processes constituting assumptions and artifacts are
also explained with reference to these different theoretical domains. Assumptions,
constituted via prospective interpretation and retroactive
manifestation, are theoretically aligned with a subjectivist orientation.
Artifacts, constituted by proactive realization and retrospective symbolization,
are theoretically aligned with an objectivist orientation.
This argument raises the additional question of why researchers
should distinguish either between prospective interpretation and retroactive
manifestation processes or between proactive realization and retrospective
symbolization. I argue that theorizing about interpretation and
symbolization is built around a discourse of reflexivity, whereas theoriz1993
The Domain of Cultural Dynamics Showing Objectivist and Subjectivist
Theoretical Orientations Subdivided by the Discourses of Activity
Subjectifying activity Objective activity
Subjective reflexivity Objectifying reflexivity
ing about manifestation and realization is couched in the discourse of
activity. Values and symbols can be similarly distinguished; values are
associated with an action frame, and symbols generally invoke reflexive
discourse. Both of these discourses add depth to the understanding of
organizational culture, and I offer the cultural dynamics model, which
makes use of this distinction, as evidence of this claim.
To summarize these ideas, Figure 3 shows the domain of the cultural
dynamics model segmented into objectivist and subjectivist theoretical
orientations, subdivided by discourses of activity and reflexivity. As the
figure suggests, I believe that prospective interpretation is a form of subjective
reflexivity, whereas retroactive manifestation is a kind of subjectifying
activity, in other words, activity that creates identity (i.e., a sense
of self and organization as coherent entities). Thus, cultural dynamics
complements the more well-known cultural processes of interpretation
through an appreciation for retroactive manifestation that occurs via the
subjectifying aspects of identity formation, cultural self-maintenance,
and adjustment. Similarly, the more well-known process of proactive realization
of artifacts via objective action is complemented by an appreciation
for retrospective symbolization processes that objectify reflexive
understanding by associating artifacts with the images formed by projecting
symbolic content onto them and taking this projected content for
Academy of Management Review October
In this way, the cultural dynamics model offers a definition of culture
as constituted by continuous cycles of action and meaning-making shadowed
by cycles of image and identity formation. This model introduces a
more dynamic sense of culture than has heretofore been considered, and
it helps to explain my previous refusal to distinguish individuals from
their cultures. Further development of the model to more adequately address
and incorporate the concepts of image and identity is needed.
The Dynamism of Cultural Dynamics
Although the development of the cultural dynamics model pushes
organizational culture theory into new territory, especially with respect to
achieving a new level of complexity, I am not satisfied that a truly dynamic
view of culture has yet been offered. This is because the separate
treatments by which the processes of culture were developed ultimately
interfere with the holistic appreciation of the dynamism of the total
model. For a more truly dynamic view, consider the relationships among
manifestation, realization, symbolization, and interpretation processes.
Dynamism can be approximated if the connections among the processes
of the cultural dynamics model are made focal. Thus, Figure 2 is
seen, not as four separate processes, each with forward and backward
modes of operation, but as two wheels of interconnected processes, one
moving forward and the other backward with reference to the standard
concept of time. Picture the forward (pro) processes forming one wheel
within which a second wheel of backward (retro) processes turns. A truly
dynamic appreciation of culture is found in the counteraction of the two
This image of culture suggests some directions for future theory
building using the cultural dynamics approach. I believe that the forward
turning wheel constructs the physical world insofar as culture rather than
nature influences realization. I conceptualize this wheel in terms of its
creative potential as a producer of human geographies, including the
artifact level of organizational cultures. Similarly, I suggest that retrospective/
retroactive processes produce the historical context from which
organizational members draw the meaning that imbues their lives and
their geographies with significance. Furthermore, the wheels are not
really separate. Their counteraction implies that each process refers to
the others; in effect, they form one wheel that simultaneously spins both
To build organizational culture theory in the direction of this more
dynamic image will require another dramatic shift similar in magnitude
to the shift from elements (assumptions, values, artifacts, symbols) to
cultural processes (manifestation, realization, symbolization, interpretation)
proposed in this article. Based on the implications discussed previously,
I suggest that the new goal be an explanation of organizational
culture as the dynamic construction and reconstruction of cultural geography
and history as contexts for taking action, making meaning, con1993
structing images, and forming identities (Figure 3). At present, cultural
dynamics only points in this direction.
Schein's (1985) model of organizational culture as assumptions, values,
and artifacts leaves gaps regarding the appreciation of organizational
culture as symbols and processes. This article has attempted to fill
in these gaps and to suggest a dynamic model of this important organizational
phenomenon. The proposed cultural dynamics perspective reformulates
Schein's model by making a place for symbols alongside
assumptions, values, and artifacts; by articulating the arrows linking
assumptions, values, and artifacts; and by defining these links as processes
having both forward (proactive/prospective) and backward (retrospective/
retroactive) temporal modes of operation. It was further suggested
that the proactive/retroactive modes represent the role of activity
in culture, whereas the prospective and retrospective modes represent the
possibility of reflexivity and cultural consciousness.
Because it represents culture as a wheel, the cultural dynamics
model can be entered at any point on Figure 2-at least in principle. In
practice, the point of entry for a particular analysis will be determined by
the research question and the method of study. Nonetheless, the cultural
dynamics model is intended for use in its entirety, and an analytical
framework for doing this was offered via two demonstrations. The framework
and suggested methods were proposed as starting points for researchers
wishing to pioneer the cultural dynamics approach using empirical
studies. Future directions were also suggested for theorists wishing
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Mary Jo Hatch received her Ph.D, in Organizational Behavior from Stanford University.
She is an associate professor in the Department of Management at the College
of Business Administration, San Diego State University, and was a visiting associate
professor at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, when this paper was
written. Her current research examines narrative and rhetoric in organization theory
and explores links among organizational humor, paradox, and contradiction.
You have printed the following article:
The Dynamics of Organizational Culture
Mary Jo Hatch
The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 18, No. 4. (Oct., 1993), pp. 657-693.
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