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Hum an Relations, Vol. 50, No. 9, 1997

Review Article

Wh atever Hap p en ed to Or gan ization al An th r op ology? A Rev iew of th e Fi eld of Or gan ization al Eth n ogr ap h y an d An th r op ological Stu d i es

S. P. Bate 1,2

An organization the orist frie nd of mine told me how she had recently

paid a frie ndly visit to an anthropological mee ting, only to find e ve ryone

so the re might

be some chance of her following what they were saying. It was as though

she were a 4-ye ar-old with le arning difficultie s, she said. I be gin with this

ane cdote because it highlights the divide that curre ntly exists betwe en or-

ganization behavior (OB) and anthropology. 3 Although change s are afoot, most notice ably in the U.S., the situation today is generally characte rized by O B pe ople who know and care little about anthropology, and anthro- pologists who take possibly eve n le ss inte re st in organizations. It has not always bee n like this. O B, as Baba (1986) and More y and Morey (1994) point out, is a comparative ly young fie ld which, surprisingly

the re insisting on speaking to he r v-e-r-y, v-e -r-y, s-l-o-w-l-y,

1 School of Management , Unive rsity of Bath, Clave rton Down BA2 7AY, U.K. 2 Re quests for reprints should be addressed to S. P. Bate, School of Management, Unive rsity of Bath, Claverton Down BA2 7AY, U.K.

in this article mainly as equivalent

to e thnography. Although this is inexact, the subtleties of the difference need not greatly concern us in a broad revie w like this. In any case, imprecision has always gone with the territory: The term e thnographyis not clearly defined in common usage, writes Ham- mersle y (1990, p. 1) , and there is some disagree me nt about what count and do not count as e xamples of it.Howe ver, for the purposes of this article I take Hammersley and Atkin-

son s definition as my starting point: In its

the e thnog-

rapher participating, ove rtly or covertly, in people s daily live s for an extende d period of time, watching what happe ns, listening to what is said, asking questions in fact, collecting

whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of the research (1995, p. 1) . For a specific definition of organizational e thnography and a rece nt re view of

rece nt collection

the field see Mouly and Sankaran s re cent book (1995, Chap. 1). Another

by Linstead et al. (1996) also deals with the neglecte d topic of the social anthropology of

managem ent.

3 Following Ge ertz (1988) , the term anthropology is use d

most characteristic form it involve s


0018-7267/97/0900-1147 $12.50/1 Ó

1997 The Tavistock Institute



to many pe rhaps, was originally create d by anthropologists by way of the pione ering Hawthorne studie s. It was the y who also gave OB its first journal (Hum an Organization ), and it was a social anthropologi st, W. F. Whyte (1969) , who wrote the first textbook in organizational be havior. Some whe re along the way, howe ve r, the two fie lds got se parate d, and organization stud- ie s gradually lost touch with the e sse ntial qualitie s of anthropology. The purpose of the article is to speculate on the nature of the e th- nographic que st,and on what might be gaine d from trying to put organi- zation studie s and anthropo logy back toge the r again in some form or othe r. 4 Some at le ast are in no doubt on this score:

Organization theory has an important topic; anthropology has a promising method.

the re sult

would help us unde rstand what we experience during the major part of our adult

live s. (Czarniawska-Joe rges, 1992, p. 4)

If the two can be put together more systematically and consistently, maybe

Can social anthropology contribute to O B and manage ment rese arch, and in what way might it offer it some ne w e ne rgie s and directions for the field? The que stion is de libe rate ly one -sided. I am not assuming that all is rosy in the anthropology garde n, inde e d it has bee n receiving its own share

of criticism in re ce nt time s ( cf. Hamme rsle y, 1992) , but to conside r it the othe r way round would require a diffe rent kind of article . Unlike Czarniawska-Joe rge s ( 1992), who did a similar e xe rcise to this one but in a full-le ngth book, I have chose n not to se e the proble m in te rms of a Robert Johnson-like journe y back to the crossroads whe re an- thropolo gy and organ ization the ory par te d company so man y ye ars

be en brilliantly

ago this would be be yond the scope of this article and has

done by her anyway. If there is a journe y in this article , it is not so much

one of history as of perspective, for as Marcel Proust obse rve d, The re al

voyage of discove ry be gins not with visiting ne w place s

but in see ing familiar

landscape s with ne w eye s.


After so many years of separation, the prospe ct of a possible reconciliation

be tween O B and anthropology is arousing considerable inte rest. In the Unite d State s, course s on organizational anthropology have be en springing up every-

whe re,

studie s of organizations has grown

dramatically in recent years (cf. Editors introduction to Schwartzman, 1993).

unconfirmed sightings of anthropologists (ap- around in organizations, e ve n eme rging from

There have also be en nume rous parently quite happily) grubbing

and the numbe r of ethnographic

4 I am not the only one to consider the prospects of a re unification of the fields of anthropology and organization studies. See also Rose n (1991) , Czarniawska-Joe rges (1992), and most re- ce ntly Linstead ( 1997). Significant, but clearly not a critical mass as ye t!

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


time to time to press the case for more consulting on organizational culture (Kogod, 1994) and more of an anthropological approach to managing organi- zations (Jordan, 1994). The busine ss anthropologist, it would seem, is now firmly in residence in corporate America.

to tango, and organization re searche rs, for the ir own frie ndly ge sture s toward anthropology, with

incre asingly frequent forays into e thnographic-type methodologie s and lan-

guage . They have a new journal, Stu dies of Cultures, Organizations and Socie- ties, which provide s a forum for debate on the culture and symbolism of

eve ryday

life in organizations ethnographic in inte ntion, if not ye t in de ed,

and have eve n be gun to sugge st the possibility of not just acade mics but also

practitioners be nefiting from

a gre ate r e thnographic consciousne ss in their

work (Linstead, 1997). One of the more gene rous gestures in recent times has bee n the ir adoption of a 25-ye ar-old anthropology book (The Interpreta- tion of Cultures) as their bible . So for Gideon now read Geertz.

As the y say, it take s two part, have be en making the ir

And ye t it is e asy to ge t carrie d away by all this, to se e the summe r in


single swallow. Truth

is that the re are fe w signs

of a similar ressurge nce in


urope or Scandinavia. With the e xce ption of Watson (1994) , Collinson

(1992) , and Wright (1994) and I

middle one strictly qualify Britain has not seen a field-base d organizational

anthropology book since Jaque s (1951) and Turner (1971) . What is surprising

is that it was British anthropologists whose outstanding ethnographie sled

the whole field for half a century up to this time (D Andrade , 1995, p. 5;

Stocking, 1983) . E ve n in the wide r

anthropology continue s to remain on the outskirts of research on organi-

zations ( Schwartzman, 1993, p. 2), and it still has the stigma of be ing labe le d

the forgotte n science of behavioral studie s

And we have after all see n false dawns be fore. For example , many fe lt

that when the be st selling busine ss write rs got hold of culture in the early 1980s ( Pascale & Athos, 1981; Deal & Kenne dy, 1982; Pe te rs & Wate rman, 1982; Kanter, 1983) , O B was in the proce ss of be ing born again as An- thropology. The y were to be disappointe d. While the god was the same ,

O B s conce pt of culture was ve ry diffe re nt ( cf. Alve sson, 1993, Chap. 2 for

details of the contrasts), altoge the r more corpore al and profit-drive n than the sylphe n, will-o -the-wisp characte r glimpse d in the jungle s of anthro- pology. The final blow came in the 1990s, with the culture e vange lists turn- ing against their god and be nefactor, and spurning him in a remarkable display of public hypocrisy. The Billy Graham s of busine ss de nie d him thrice . Tom Pe te rs, for e xample , the man who 15 ye ars be fore had de clare d that culture was the e sse ntial quality (1982, p. 75) of excellent compa- nie s, was now saying: We didn t know what culture was the n, and sure as hell we don t know what it is now, adding for the benefit of those who

inte rnational conte xt, pe ople acce pt that

have doubts about whethe r any but the

(More y & Luthans, 1987) .



like it in hard figure s: About 90 percent of the training and consulting mone y that has be e n spe nt on culture change and custome r care pro- gramme s has bee n thrown down the drain (BBC vide o, 1995) . As we now

look back on this pe riod, what is pe rhaps most striking is that all the man-

age ment work that went into promoting the culture conce pt, so far as we can te ll, did nothing to promote the discipline that had inve nted it. E ve n the incre ase in the numbe r of publications may not be as he althy as it appe ars, because now, for the first time, there are probably more pe o- ple writing about organizational ethnography than actually doing it. More- ove r, it is all too e asy to wrongly e quate qualitative re search (which is on the increase ) with anthropological or ethnographic research (which or-

ganizationally speaking is not). Almost tative but the re ve rse rare ly se e ms to

be clear about is that e thnographic re search is

tative re se arch ( Wolcott, 1995, p. 82) se lf-imme rse d, longitudinal, re fle x- ive , participan t obse rvational, e tc. and it is not be ing practice d in an

organizational conte xt anything like as fre que ntly as pe ople are claiming it to be . Q uasi-anthropologica l may be a bette r word to describe the rathe r

half-he arte d e thnographic studie s that have be e n eme rging in re cent ye ars. 5 That is to say, the re is actually less to organizational e thnography than mee ts the eye . O n close r examination thick de scription invariably turns out to be quick description (Wolcott, 1995, p. 90) , yet anothe r busine ss case study or company history, a pale refle ction of the expe rie ntially rich social science e nvisaged by early write rs like Agar (1980, p. 6). Prolonge d contact with the fie ld means a serie s of flying visits rathe r than a long-te rm stay (jet-plane ethnography) . O rganization anthropologists rare ly take a tooth- brush with them the se days. A journe y into the organizational bush is ofte n little more than a safe and close ly chape rone d form of anthropological tour- ism. O rganizational ofte n turns out to be ye t anothe r marginal group: foot- ball hooligans, Gree nham Common prote stors, divorce court pe rsonne l,

fune ral dire ctors, girl

cocktail waitresses, O lympic organizing committees,

practice . What we have to a particular form of quali-

all anthropological re se arch is quali-

apply in

scouts, dance companie s, or LA punks; I mean where are the ethnographie s of the he alth service , or modern ethnographie s of the shop floor? 6 This may

5 There are some

and crime, and me dical and he althcare anthropology (cf. Atkinson, 1981, 1990; Fox, 1992;

& Sankaran, 1995; Young, 1991, for exte nsive bibliographies of

these fields). 6 It would be unfair not to mention some important exce ptions to the rule: D. Collinsons (1992) Managing the shop floor; see also Young s (1989) and Parke r s (1995) shorter shopfloor studies. See also Linstead s (1985) earlie r e thnographic vigne ttes of workplace sabotage. For a review of U.S. shop floor and occupational culture studies see Schwartzman (1993, Chap. 4) . Molstad (1986, 1988, 1996) has also done some very interesting ethnographic re search among industrial brewery workers in Los Angele s which is ve ry re minisce nt of Roy and Burowoy.

of e ducational anthropology, policing

e xce ptions he re , notably the rich fields

Hammersley, 1990; Mouly

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


sound harsh, but it is drive n by the present author s frustration with ethno- graphic pastiche . The reasons for the above are not hard to find. Anthropology is a haz-

ardous sport. It take s time, it is not journal friendly ( too long ), and it take s you away from the scene of the action ( When did we last see that bloke ? ).

O ne full-le ngth publishe d e thnography e ve ry 3 ye ars (which is quite good

going) is not like ly to satisfy the ratings merchants or one s head of school; and sabbaticals that use d to permit a full-time period in the field are no longe r available to the majority. In the present climate, Rule 1 for aspiring

organization re se arche rs sure ly has to

fie ldwork take s too long! Many are inde ed coming round to this: witness the

re ce nt spate of publications of the As discusse d by a group of cle ve r frie nds

bre ak in the confe re nce or O ve rhe ard in a

ove r a

Palo Alto bar varie ty. Since anthropology is a field sport (no fieldwork, no anthropology), the re is not the same range of short cuts that othe r kinds of

O B re search may be able to offe r. So pe rhaps it is a case of Put up or shut

up, or at be st some kind of mild prote st like a T-shirt Anthropology can seriously damage your caree r.

be : ke ep away from organizations;

Danish pastry during a

be aring the words


Ethnography can be de fine d in a varie ty of differe nt ways: as a par- ticular type of method or fieldwork activity (the doing of ethnography) ,

a kind of intellectual effort or paradigm (the thinking ), and a narrative

or rhe torical style (the writing ). In all three , the re are ne w ideas that

O B might wish to conside r if it were to take an anthropological turn.

Eth n ogr ap h y as Meth od

Ethnography is about doing fieldwork, an activity that involve s pitching in and ge tting one s hands dirty(Hobbs & May, 1993, p. xviii). The broad methodological challe nge is to pe ne trate anothe r form of life (some fee l to be penetrated by is more accurate ), to capture the richne ss of local cultural worlds, and above all to grasp the native s point of view.A varie ty of methods may be e mploye d to this e nd, including in-de pth inter-

vie wing, atte nding and re cording mee tings, docume ntary inve stigation of records, and participant obse rvation. The latte r is the inve ntion of anthro- pologists and involve s holding the role of participant and obse rve r,in-

sider and outside r, in

see what is going on, but not so close as to miss the wood for the tre es.

The role has be en variously describe d as

sional strange r,” “ self-re liant

te nsion

so as to e nsure that one is close e nough to

the marginal native , ” “ profe s-

lone r, and detache d participant (cf. Ham-



me rsle y, 1990 for a bibliographical ove rvie w and critique of e thnographic me thod) . We can pass rapidly ove r this particular conce ption of e thnogra-

phy, because it is not this that distinguishe s it from the broade r fie ld of qualitative re search. The methods it use s are basically the same, and offe r

few ne w ide as If the re is


books, e thnographe rs are much le ss fussy, pre fe rring instead to suck it and see ,keeping the ir plans roomy and adaptive , perhaps occasionally of- fering the odd aphorism or pie ce of advice to would-be rese archers like :

I sugge st you buy a note book and pencil (Kroeber to graduate stude nt), Get yourse lf a decent hampe r from Fortnum and Mason s and kee p away from the native women (Evans-Pritchard), and Make your will, buy your- self some shorts with locust-proof pocke t flaps, and be sure you have a good stock of nail varnish for the local dandie s( Barle y) ! O bviously, the desire to preserve some of the mystique of anthropology is a factor in this, but the main point he re ( and ve ry un-O B) is that many e thnographe rs be - lie ve the re are no rule s as such, and the only way to do e thnography is to just get out and do it.


tative rese archers see m to have an insatiable

or dire ctions for the field.

any diffe re nce , howe ve r, it is one of attitude: whe re as quali-

appe tite for how to

Ethnography is not so much method in the madne ss, as madne ss

the method, the re ality be ing four thousand page s of hurrie d fieldnote s and vast stockpile s of scattered memory(Gee rtz, 1995, p. 88) . Hardly a me thod at all re ally. Howe ve r, qualitative re se arche rs and write rs might still do well to conside r this alte rnative , and ask what may be learne d from

it. Robert Merton says somewhere that finding the right que stion to ask is more difficult than answering it, and certainly the view of e thnographe rs is that the place to find the right que stion is not in a textbook but out

in the fie ld, by following your nose . Ge e rtz s advice afte r ye ars of doing

Pe rhaps

fie ldwork is simple but powe rful: I le arn by going ( Ibid, p. 133) .

what qualitative rese arch in ge ne ral ne eds at this time are fewer detaile d methods and more broad strategems. If the ide a of grounde d research is so popular, how about the notion of grounde d methodology?

Eth n ogr ap h y as Paradigm

Whe n all is said and done ,write s Czarniawska-Joe rges, anthropol- ogy might, afte r all, be se en as a frame of mind (1992, p. 195) . It is not so much about doing and technique as about thinking, about looking at the world and one self in a particular kind of way; in short a paradigm (Sanday, 1979) . The core notion is one of culture -as-text, in which the pri- mary tool of unde rstanding is an inte rpre tive reading of that te xt ( Ge e rtz, 1973; Schne ider, 1987) .

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


The key to the e thnographic frame of mind is to learn to think cul-

turally about a socie ty or organization, and this, I would argue , re ve als


things that prese nt approache s, especially the manage mentce ntric

one s,

are missing: that culture s cannot be create d by leade rs, that as-

sumptions about strong culture sand a consensus of meanings are fatally flawe d, that organizations are not pyramids but multicultural milie ux that have little re spe ct for traditional concepts of hie rarchy and authority, and many more (Bate, 1994; Parke r, 1995) . Perhaps the greate st contribution the e thnographic paradigm can make to organization and manage ment

studie s is to challe nge the highly influe ntial KISS ( Kee p it simple stupid) paradigm found in the best-selling busine ss books. Cultural analysis runs counte r to the preference for simplification that is prevale nt in social sci- ence rese arch (LeVine, 1984); it stubbornly denies the obviousne ss of the

obvious, and it is de eply suspicious about whe the r common se nse is, as

be st se lle rs love to te ll us, always good se nse . In short, it pede stal upon which the popular busine ss te xts have bee n

challe nge s e ve ry constructe d, and

to this e xtent offe rs manage ment studie s a radical perspective, and inde ed perhaps the radical perspective that the field curre ntly lacks. Ce ntral to ethnography is criticality (Golde n-Biddle & Locke , 1993) : the way in which

authors challe nge their reade rs to grante d be lie fs. Contrast this with

always claiming that what the y say is so simple , so obvious, and so com-

monse nsical that it is be yond que stion.


que stion and re-examine the ir take n-for-

the best-selling

busine ss authors who are

Eth n ogr ap h y as a Way of Wr itin g

Ethnography is art, scie nce, and craft rolle d into one . As artists we

see k to capture e xpe riences in image s and re pre sentations which

reality; in this re gard, expre ssion is more important than precision. As sci-


analyze it, and forge it into testable hypothe ses and theories. And as crafts- men and women we are write rs who write ; issue s of style and a pride in good writing are paramount, not be cause of any misplace d lite rary ambi-

are words, phrase s,

and sentences. Forms of theory and forms of discourse are inseparable . O r as Van Maane n puts it: Theory is a matter of words not worlds; of maps not territorie s; or representations not re alitie s (1995b, p. 134) . With regard to the last point, a lot of OB writing is just plain bad! This is not surprising in a discipline where writing is se en as a secondary

tion, but be cause the ve ry mate rials of the ory making


we are data hunte r ¯ gathe rers who go out and colle ct information,

or mop-up activity. Ethnography, on the othe r hand, puts lite rary qualitie s

and ambitions back on the age nda,

take s the te xtuality of theories more

seriously, explore s the terra incognita of lite rary practice s (ibid) , and be gins



to think of the author as a performer within the the atre of language . As

the comic says, it really is how you te ll e m ” — how you re count your field- work, your narrative style that determine s whe ther people smile, are en-

gage d or

much an issue of style as of conte nt.

O B, as ethnography, has to be conside red as performance , as a form

a discipline whose theories

and concepts are as much create d by the writing as by the reality itself,

that create s and constitute s the re ality of organizations as much as it cap- ture s it. O f course, not all anthropology is good writing; it is the commit- me nt to it that is important. That commitment must also stre tch to

of interte xtual and polyvocal re pre se ntation, as

persuade d by what the y hear. Proof, ” “ truth, ” “ validity are as

O B might gain the re has be en

an explosion of style s, and a richne ss and varie ty that pe rhaps no othe r

expe rime ntation with diffe re nt styles. This again is whe re from taking a look at ethnography, since in re cent ye ars


scie nce can match: fictional, poe tic, critical, co-constructe d, multicul-


fe minist, autobiographical, and postmode rn. The influe nce of


structuralism and deconstructionism has be en particularly marke d,

the ir

diffe re nt genres of

writing: betwee n those of writers and critics, betwe en fiction and nonfic- tion, inde e d be tween lite rary and technical writing generally (Clifford, 1988; Hammersle y & Atkinson, 1995, p. 14) .

What e thnography offers OB is the prospe ct of casting off some of

the bonds of realism and positivism in which it has bee n wrappe d for so

long, of e xpanding the re alms of scie ntific This is Paul Atkinson s (1990) conce pt of

which approache s social re se arch and writing

lite rary critic, and puts the exciting idea of a poe tics of organizations firmly onto the age nda. The proce ss may already be quite advance d in some quarte rs: Rose (1990) , for example , sugge sts that the nove l is invading and transforming the scie ntific monograph, not through the use of fiction par- ticularly, but through the de scriptive se tting of the scene, the narration of the local pe ople s own storie s, the use of dialogue , and the notation by the author of e motions, subje ctive re actions, and involve ment in ongoing ac- tivitie s. Watson (1995) claims this is an exagge ration, but, farfe tche d or not, it cannot be ignore d. OB must not get left behind.

main role being to unde rmine the distinctions betwee n

discourse into literary discourse . the ethnographic imagination,

almost in the manne r of the


Anothe r way to look at the contrasts be tween anthropology and O B is in te rms of broad te xture and we ave . Howe ve r, any ge ne ralization he re will ne ed to be made with some caution, since anthropology is a coat of many colors, and pride s itself upon its rich mix of the traditional with the

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


avant-garde , and the middle of the road with the faddish e ve n at time s outlandish. It also embraces a wealth of diffe rent style s: ethnographic re-

alism, confe ssional ethnography, dramatic ethnography, critical ethnogra- phy, se lf- or auto-e thnography, sociopoe tics, re fle xive e thnography, and many more (Ellis & Bochne r, 1996; Van Maane n, 1995a) .

attacks re se arch on or-

ganization the ory and be havior for be ing ahistorical, aconte xtual, and aproce ssual in its approach and outlook (1985, p. xix, Chap. 2; re pe ated 1995, p. 93) . He is probably right on all three counts. Anthropology, on the othe r hand, is ve ry much the opposite in e ach of the se re spe cts, and to this e xtent presents manage ment re search with some re al alternative s for future de ve lopme nt.

In his

book, The Awakenin g G ian t, Pe ttigre w

His tor ical

Manage me nt scie nce s do not on the whole te nd to be historicall y- minde d, hence the ir prefere nce for forward-looking conce pts such as vi-

sion, ” “ fore cast,” “ plan, and so on. Anthropology puts the past back on to the age nda, giving it the weight conve ntional organizational and manageme nt mode ls lack ( Bate, 1994). The reason is that the pre sent (and future ) only be come s me aningful whe n it is se t in the conte xt of its past re membe r Rabi-

now s observation (cite d in

more and nothing le ss than a historically locatable set of practice s.

The anthropologists intere st is not in the past as such, but in the liv- ing history (Malinowski, 1945) of the society or organization, the ways of thinking and be havior that continue to live on in, and mould and shape , the pre sent in othe r words, culture . An e xample of this would be the isms or cultural schema that I found in my own 4-ye ar study of British Rail. The se habits of thought, many of them more than a century old

but still ve ry much

with its day-to-day manage ment proce sse s. It was these mentalitie s that lay behind the decline and stagnation of the organization (Bate , 1990) . Other

re se arch conducte d in manufacturing ing cultural hangove rs from the past

Linstead, 1997, p. 90) that thought is nothing

alive and kicking in the organization, we re playing havoc

companie s re ve ale d similar de bilitat- (Bate, 1984) .

A re cent e xample of good historical conte xtualization is Georgina

of IRCAM (Institut de Recherche e t de Coor-

dination Acoustique /Musique ), Pierre Boule z s compute r music re se arch

and production institute ve als how long-standing

Born s (1995) e thnography

in Paris, which skillfully (and at great le ngth!) re- contradictions be twe en mode rnism and postmod-

ernism in music, mediate d by Boule z up until his retirement in 1992 and subse quently by his succe ssors, found constant e xpre ssion in IRCAM s liv-



ing culture and the e ve ryday proce sse s through which me anings we re gotiate d and renegotiate d by the membe rs. History should not actually be studie d historically, howe ve r. It is in the

eve ryday that the anthropologist se arche s for the past, in such things as rite s and rituals, myths, storie s and sagas, ballads, and ane cdote s. This kind of activity is one which a small number of organization writers have picke d up

on, albe it at time s te diously

Martin, 1982; Tomme rup & Loubier, 1996; Trice & Be ye r, 1991; Young, 1989; the latte r be ing an intere sting analysis of the significance to a group of shop floor girls in a Northe rn British rainwe ar factory of wearing a St. George s Day lape l rose). The function of such myths and rituals has be en to bring the past forward, and ensure its continue d contemporary relevance .

de constructive ly (Boje , 1995; Boje e t al., 1982;

ne -

Con textu al

O ne of the root notions of anthropology is that thought and be havior

prope rly unde rstood outside the conte xt in which the y are situ-

cannot be ate d; it is

te mporal ( Ge ll, 1992) , physical, or institutional conte xt

(Dennis, Henrique s, & Slaughte r, 1956) . For e xample , a recent ethnography of a hospital conducte d by my colle ague s and myse lf (Bate e t al., 1997) re ve ale d how the proble ms of the hospital weake sse s in the top te am, failings in the clinical dire ctorate structure , low morale , stress, IT proble ms, and poor re lationships betwee n the manage ment and se nior clinicians far from be ing e xclusive ly local ( as many be lie ve d), we re the re sult of the comple x interplay of diffe rent organizational, profe ssional, Trust, NHS, and political conte xts within which they were embedde d. A diffe rent conception of conte xt in he alth care is found in Glase r and Strauss s ( 1967) study of the aware ness conte xts of dying, which range d from departments whe re patie nts aware ness of death was high (cancer wards) to those whe re it was low to none xiste nt (premature baby service and neurology) . O ne of the stre ngths of anthropology is that it involve s putting the indi- vidual back in his social setting, back into the contexts in which the action take s place, and obse rving him in his daily activities. By establishing links be- twe en the individual and the social, the micro and the macro, it reache s, or at least claims that it can reach, parts other discipline s cannot reach:

he re can re fe r to

knowle dge of conte xt that re nde rs the m inte lligible . Conte xt

O ur the ory is our stre ngth. Manage me nt the ory is drive n by sociology and psychology and has difficulty bridging the gap betwe en the macro and micro levels of behaviour. We have the ability to bridge that gap. We can see patte rns. We see ways to understand the be haviour of the individuals as part of the patte rn of behaviour as a whole. (Jordan, 1994, p. 9)

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


It is ne ve rthe le ss be coming abundantly cle ar as time goe s on that anthro- pologists are coming unde r increasing pressure to radically revise their con- cept of whole s and conte xts to take account of the postmode rn age and the growth and emergence of the new globally-e ngage d, postindustrial organization. As Hatch and Schultz e xplain:

Studying culture in a postindustrial context demands that we leave behind the notion of isolated, socialize d, organizational tribes. In postindustrial times, tribes become fragmented, their cohere nce shatte red and re placed by multiplicity and the pluralism of meaning and interpretation. In this framing of culture, meaning is carried by

than tribes and these texts trave l through electronic space where they

are ope n to num e rous re ad ings by lim itless ano nym ous inte rpre te rs whose interpretations produce other te xts in an endless and open-e nde d herme ne utic. (1995, pp. 2 ¯ 3)

texts rather

Pe ople are saying it is time for anthropologists to stop se e ing whole s that are not there, to che ck out of the Grand Hotel (Collins, 1989) , whe re

eve rything was, as

te xts and the concept of organizations in hype rspace . It is time , they say,

to stop talking about in the round and to re place it with a conce pt of the great wide ope n, not so much holistic as boundaryle ss and infinite . This is part of a wide r trend in anthropology, in which the e arlie r em-

phasis on stability, whole ne

pus ) is incre asingly giving way to the conce pt of culture as contested, fragmented, temporal, and emergent (Clifford, 1986, p. 19) ; as a loose ly- couple d, pluralistic syste m, consisting of a multiplicity of human commu- nitie s, of a mix of similarity and diffe rence, conve rgence and dive rge nce (Bate, 1994, p. 71; Geertz, 1984; Paul, Mille r, & Paul, 1994) . Corporate

culture write rs need to take note : the ir conce pt of culture is, and always

has be en, ve ry diffe re nt

emphasis on similarity, conve rgence, share dne ss, and normative consensus (Parke r, 1995). As Parke r showed, in one of the fe w organization studie s on this issue (a medium-size d manufacturin g company calle d Vulcan ), the se write rs have got it se riously wrong. E ve n a single occupational culture

within an organization, in this case the manage ment culture , is charac-

te rize d by fragme ntation of outlook and perspective, a fe eling of family, ye t at othe r time s a fe e ling of nonfamily. Young s study ( 1989) is anothe r example , similar in many ways to Parke rs.

and re de fine conte xt

is part of an eve n bigge r issue of de vising ne w syste ms of discourse in an-

thropology (a challe nge that must apply equally to organization studie s) that can ke ep up, more or le ss, with what is going on in the world out the re .Geertz is far from clear what the se may be, but is convince d (as I am) that they will have to be more ad hoc and imperfect than anything we have see n be fore:

from that of the anthropologist, with much more

ss, harmony, and continuity (the unifie d cor-

it we re , unde r the one roof, and to e mbrace virtual con-

This de bate

and the atte mpt to re conce ptualize



One works ad hoc and ad interim, piecing toge ther thousand-ye ar histories with

three -week massacr e s,

economics of rice or olives, the politics of ethnicity or religion, the workings of

language or war, must, to some e xte nt, be soldered into the

The result, inevitably, is unsatisfactory, lumbering, shaky, and badly formed: a

grand contraption. (Geertz, 1995, p. 20)

The othe r thing Geertz is sure about is that anthropology will have to be- come e ve n more proce ss-orie nte d than it has be en in the past, and it is to this issue that we now turn.

international conflicts with municipal e cologie s.

final construction


Proces su al

Organizations are formal in the sense of having explicit tasks to accomplish and

membe rs continually negotiate with one another

in the interpretation and carrying out of such tasks. The promise of e thnography is the pre sentation of the work culture that emerges from the interplay betwe en these so-called formal and informal aspe cts of organizational life. (V an Maane n et al., in Schwartzman, 1993, p. vii)

informal in the sense of the way

While be ing care ful to maintain this dual emphasis, anthropology s main contribution lies on the informal side of the e quation. This is not

surprising: anthropology did afte r all inve nt the conce pt of the informal system and the informal organization. Hawthorne and the Bank Wiring O bse rvation Room was about informality and informal relationships, as was

Roys ( 1952, 1954, 1959) , and 30 ye ars late r, B urowoy s ( 1979) classic re -

se arch in a Chicago machine

similar ve in was Me lville Dalton s ( 1959) participant obse rve r study of the schisms and ties betwee n official and unofficial action among manage rs in four companie s.

Studying the informal proce ss is ve ry much a que stion of focusing on the conteste d te rrain upon which diffe rent subculture s or native vie w paradigms (Gregory, 1983) fight it out and establish the terms of the ir frag-

ile coexiste nce. Gouldne r (1954) coine d the term indulge ncy patte rn to describe the informal, and always taut and dynamic, give -and-take system betwe en manage ment and worker which functione d as a cushion or lubri- cant to the re lationship. This involve d manage rs re fraining from enforcing obe die nce obligations in return for worke r coope ration, for e xample,

waiving the formal rule

equipme nt, which exte nded

allow worke rs to borrow company tools and to letting the m take dynamite home for use

whe n the y we nt fishing in the local lake . Ve ry e ffe ctive ! It was Gouldne r and Burowoys studie s that first drew atte ntion to the wide range of game s worke rs playe d, by no means all of them hostile to

manage ment inte rests. In fact, the intere sting dynamic was that of collu sion

in the mainte nance of the game worke rs

betwe en manage rs and worke rs

playe d games with manage ment not always again st it; playing the game e s-

shop (quota re strictions, goldbricking) . In


Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


tablishe d a common inte re st. Industrial relations was therefore not just about conflict, it was also about subtle forms of collaboration, in which

te rms of inte rde pe nde nce were agre ed be tween the partie s on the

agre ed informal rule s. (See also Morey & Luthans, 1991, in this journal,

for a discussion of dyadic alliance s in informal organizations.) The game was always unstable , with each side always pushing for that little bit more. The anthropologists view of culture is therefore diffe re nt again, alto-

ge ther more dynamic than that of the corporate culture write rs in man-

age ment and organization studie s. As we have alre ady said, culture , to the m, is not the static or fixed entity conce ived by the latte r (and give n

away by their constant refere nce to the culture of the organization) , but


constantly being conte ste d in rough-and-tumble fashion, rene gotiate d, and

redefined by the partie s (Wolf, 1982, p. 387) . The task is to track, describe , and e xplain that proce ss. The re is the re fore a good deal more to proce ss than studying infor- mality, in fact it sugge sts a wholly differe nt outlook on organization, one

picks up the social, non job-re late d aspe cts of

a proce ssessentially a political process in which e xisting meanings

basis of

which is wider and which organizational life :

The jum ping off point for this [informal, expressive ] approach is the mundane

observation that more things are going on in organizations than ge tting the job

done. People do ge t the job done

knife one another, initiate romantic involve ments, cue new employees on ways of doing the least amount of work that still avoids hassle s from a supervisor, talk sports and arrange picnics. Now it se ems to us quite a presumption that work activities should have some kind of ascendant hold on our attention, whereas picnic arranging

should not. (Pacanowsky & O Donnell-Trujillo,

but pe ople in organizations also gossip, joke,

1982, pp. 116-117)

It has to be said that O B is still a long way off giving picnics the weight

the y de se rve ! It also ne e ds ge ne rally to ge t be tte r at unde rstanding

a single line or parade that can be watche d as it passe s

(Geertz, 1995, p. 4), but as swirls, confluxions, and inconstant conne ctions;

large r and smalle r stre ams, twisting

and turning and now and then crossing, running toge the r, separating again

the conne ctedne ssof things that

happe n. Clearly the traditional conce pt of informality, and the interplay of formal and informal, doe s not have all the answe rs to change , but it doe s have some of them.

(p. 2). Anything, in

clouds colle cting, clouds dispe rsing

change ,not as

fact, that capture s

Anthropology diffe rs fundame ntally from O B in one more important


spe ct not allude d to in Pe ttigre w s phrase , nam e ly that it is actor-ce n-


re d,inside r-out rathe r than outside r-in in its approach. Arguably, this

is an are a that offe rs O B the gre ate st scope for moving in some ne w dire ctions.


Actor -Cen tered


Anthropology s central task is represe nting the live s of othe rs, and in

particular conve ying a flavor of what it looks and fee ls like from the

native s point

here? ” “ Why is it this way? ” “ What happe ns, or does not happe n, because of this? (Jone s, Moore , & Snyde r, 1988, p. 45) are the que stions from

which one pie ces

(Gre gory, 1983, p. 366) . Although a numbe r of disciplin e s have since

adopte d the actor-ce ntere d approach, it should not be forgotte n that it was anthropology that first inve nted it. The new infle ction it put on re- search was subtle but profound: Inste ad of asking, What do I se e the se people doing? we must ask, What do the se people see themselves doing? ’” (Spradle y & McCurdy, 1972, p. 9) . And also e xtre mely challe nging. For what is obvious and commonse nse to the native s ofte n pre se nts itse lf

defiantly as no se nse or nonse

gist s proble m is to discove r how othe r people create orde r out of what appe ars to him to be utte r chaos (Tyle r, 1969 quote d in Spradle y & McCurdy) . Some prefer to regard actor-ce ntere d as an ambition rathe r than some thing actually attainable a que st, eve n an he roic ge sture . After all, the cautionarie s argue , we may get close to the native s point of view but ultimate ly we have to reconstruct it through our own frame of re fe r-

e nce . The story will ne ve r be a te lling but a re te lling, ne ve r a transcription but a translation. The re really is no such thing as inside r out, only an ambition to get close r to the native s, and a commitme nt to learn ing some- thing about the ir world and what they make of it all.

actor-cente red

of vie w( Malinowski, 1922) — “ What is it like to work

toge the r how participants made sense of it the mselve s

nse to the researcher: The anthropolo-

The re are othe r reasons for the shortage of genuine ly

studie s available . Nige l B arle y, The Innoce nt A nthropologist, jokingly (but part-truthfully) informs us that most anthropologists do not go out on fieldwork to hear about othe r people s proble ms perish the thought but more often to find a way of working through their own pe rsonal proble ms, be the y a broke n marriage or a lack of promotion back home . Fieldwork will give you something else to worry about, he counse ls. Remember also,

he adds, that many ne ve r acce pte d this part of the ir cre do in the first place , always believing that they had a faculty of shrewd insight far supe rior to

that of the native s the mselve s!

Anothe r proble m is that today, in the overstudie d world of organiza-

tions, it is actually quite difficult to find a real native among the swirling hoards of cosmopolitans and intellectual half-casts (part-time MBAs, O pen Unive rsity stude nts, etc.), as I found to my cost whe n I was doing my doc- toral rese arch in the London docks. Being close to so many unive rsities,

the docks were always te eming

with rese archers, all fighting among them-

(1989, p. 9).

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


fieldwork sentence. Afte r chasing around the docks like a madman for se ve ral we eks I finally got my first volunte er.He sat down in the caravan (which served as the ste wards office ) and I produce d my questionnaire . He looke d down at it, and then up at me: Christ, not Herzberg again, is it? Afte r that I had difficulty be lie ving the re was any such thing as the native s point of vie w.If the re are all the se difficultie s, the question must be aske d, why

bothe r? The answe r can only be found by re ading those e thnographie s that have actually succe e de d in bre aking through into the native s world:

Gamst s ( 1980) study of hogge rs,in which he use s his 6.5 ye ars of railroad engine se rvice employme nt to de ve lop an e thnography of the rail world, from the perspe ctive of the engine man on the Ce ntral City and Urbana

railroad; Kathle

e n Gregory s (1983) inve stigation into the native vie w

paradigms of compute r technical profe ssionals in Silicon Valle y

compute r

companie s; and Christine McCourt Pe rring s ( 1994) ethnography

of mental

patie nts moving from hospital into the community (cited late r). The words rich and re al-life come to mind, but there is more to it than this. In so many of the se studie s there is a powe rful and exciting se nse of genuine and ofte n surprising discove ry, of a way of life, paradigm or world view that the outside r-cente red approach would surely have missed. Such studie s le nd support to my own pe rsonal aphorism that insight always comes from the inside . Although most manage ment and organizational rese arch is qualitative ,

ve ry little of it is in fact anthropologically actor-ce nte re d. Harvard-type case studie s abound, inde e d are the preferred form for research and teaching, but only a small proportion of them se t out to te ll the story from the inside , as it is live d by those who live it.


obvious advantage of actor-cente red re se arch is that it re duce s the

risk of your ge tting it wrong, of mistaking or substituting your own mean- ings for those of the pe ople actually involve d. We know how e asy it is to do this. Take Jean-Pie rre Brun s wonde rful study (1995) of the line men of Q ue be c. The se are the pe ople who daily ope rate many fe et above the ground on high voltage cable s carrying anything betwe en 120 and 34,500 volts. The appare nt image to the outside r is of a group of high-wire , macho dare de vils flagrantly taking risks with their own live s:

The y do not bother to install all the protective device s require d by safety standards,


such as these contrave ne the safety code and are conde mned by manage ment, which accuse s employees of being reckless, incompe tent and offhand in the face of danger. (p. 7)

and some e lectrified equipment remains e xpose d and unprotecte d

Howe ve r, the re ality vie wed through the eye s of the line me n could not have be en more differe nt:



The y explained that cove ring every possible risk of accidental contact is not


best solution. The working environmen t become s too cluttered and cramped;


numbe r of actions, ge sture s and movements increase s tenfold, which le ngthens production time and cre ates an added risk of accidental contact when the protective

If you re too protected, you end up

not seeing what you re doing. It s like wearing three pairs of safety goggle s because the thing might explode! In fact, it s worse, be cause with three pairs of goggle s you can t see at all and so the thing will almost certainly explode ! [lineman] . (p. 8)

de vices are being installed or remove d

What is inte resting here is not just the behavioral split be twee n the formal syste m and the informal syste m (se e earlie r), but the se paration at

a de e pe r cognitive and cultural le ve l of the expe rt the oryfrom the folk

the ory. This fundame ntal distinction has come to form the backbone of the re lative ly ne w fie ld of cognitive anthropology (cf. Bate , 1997; D An-

drade , 1995; Holland & Q uinn, 1987) , but it doe s not, howe ve r, appe ar in any frame works of O B the ory, not e ve n organizational cognition. This is a pity, since not only is this re se arch be ginning to re ve al many ne w things

about the relationship be tween mind, culture , and action, it is also ge tting to grips with the most important the ory of all: the the ory that drive s e ve - ryday behavior, the mundane the ory, the theory in use that we still know precious little about.

of actor-ce ntere d

and repre sentation? In a recent te le vision interview, Michae l Buerk, the

BBC re porte r

shocke d world some 15 ye ars ago, was aske d what he thought would be the diffe re nce s if that same e ve nt we re re porte d today. He re plie d that the native s would, inde e d must, be give n much gre ater opportunity to speak for themselves, inste ad of having to stand there pathe tically, as a sile nt

backdrop to the ir own trage dy. Just as he felt incre asing une ase with all

forms of mediate d re pre se ntation, so too are anthropologists having similar feelings. As Geertz has so e loque ntly put it, Depiction is power. The re p-

rese ntation of othe rs is not e asily se parable from the manipulation

(1995, p. 130) . Anthropology carries the taint of what Dele uze has calle d the indig- nity of spe aking for othe rs (cite d in Khan, 1996, p. 3), and although this may be a bit e xtre me , most pe ople now acce pt that the te xt can no longe r spe ak with an unque stione d and automatic authority for an othe r defined

of the m

who first broke the ne ws of the Ethiopian famine to a

And what of the future ge ne rally for the concepts

unable to speak for itse lf (ibid) . The se arch in future must the re fore be for more direct to came ra ways of getting at the native s point of vie w, more native anthropology for example ( Be rnard & Pe draza, 1989) ,


and more e quivale nts of the home movie .to think about substituting de le gation for

re pre se ntation, and abandoning at le ast some of the exce sse s of ve ntrilo-


Social scie ntists must be gin

in-culture re searche rs,

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology



I should now like to focus on what I see as the distinctive qualitie s

that might conce ivably add to organization

of e thnographic re search,


rese arch if they were to be more wide ly adopte d.

Th e

Bein g Th ere Qu ality

Good e thnography is about communicating the impre ssion of having truly be e n the re , of having had close -in contact with far-out live s (Geertz, 1988, p. 6), while at the same time making the re ade r fe el he or

she has been the re too. 7 We can fe e l it, taste it, sme ll it. It is e xpe rie nce -

near (Geertz, 1984) . Like all

finds in a poem by Lorca or Wilfre d Owen, a pie ce of simple prose by


example of the blurring of the real and imaginary one now finds in post- mode rn ethnography) , a piece of trave l writing by Gerald Brenan, Henry Swinburne , or Some rset Maugham.

there is about conve ying qualitie s of intense familiarity with and the ir ways, of knowing, of having a stree t cred of which

eve n the native s the mselve s would approve . The succe ssful account drips

with authe nticity and plausibility (Golde n-Biddle & Locke, 1993), and it

le aves one in no doubt that one is ge tting it straight and in the raw as the

result of the authors le ngthy pe rsonal contact with the people they are

writing about. In


It is art that has the monopoly of the being-the re quality, not anthro- pology, and as in art the truth-value of the te xt is more important than its fact-value .As an account it is not good because it has discove red the facts, but because it has succe eded in creating its own truth: it has e xpre ssive powe r re gardle ss of its factual accuracy, and stands inde -

to be moved

by someone like Macbe th, you do not have to ask whe the r the re re ally was

a man like that. Some things move us whether or not the y are actually

real. The create d illusion substitute s for, ultimate ly be comes more powe rful

pende ntly of its factual conte nt. As Gee rtz (1984, p. 10) states,

Be ing the subje cts

Azorin, an exotic nove l by Ben Okri (The Fam ished Road be ing a

art it has an e xpre ssive

quality, such as one

the ve ry be st of e thnographic accounts, the te xt be come s

window rathe r than a page .

than, reality itself (Bate, 1994, p. 248) . No wonde r scie ntists ge t uncom- fortable with anthropology! And so the y should: anthropology was, after

against scie nce (Schwe der, 1984) ,

all, born out

of the romantic rebe llion

7 As Hobbs and May (1993, p. ix) observe we may in fact be talking about two qualities not one, namely be ing there and being here : the author is able to write the re port because he has bee n there ; we are able to read it because he is he re .To be an e thnographer is to be in two places at the same time.



and the conviction that one could know the world through things othe r than evide nce and re ason, most notably the senses and the imagination.

for le sse r mortals, the be st guide to be ing the re is still the

photograp he r s aphorism , If you re not good e nough, you re not close enough. For e xample , only a really close-in anthropologist would know that you can tell the plainclothe s unde rcover police from the thousands of or- dinary football fans by the fact that they wear ear-muffs with collars up to conceal the e ar-pie ces and radio wire (Armstrong, 1993, p. 4). Now that is close up, so close in fact that there is something approaching comple te re- moval of the me-anthropologist ¯ you-native frame work, and a major blur- ring of roles. Thus, John Van Maane n (1988) becom es, for a time at least, a sort of police officer with the Los Ange les Police Department, and Arm- strong (1993) a sort of football hooligan with She ffield United supporte rs. As to the reade rs, we are also sort of the re with the m, in the thick of it, in the back se at of a police car, or running wild with the mob.

Some of my favorite be ing there s range from the tragic to the comic:

Nicky Jame s s (1993) moving account of the exquisite emotional control of a young cance r patie nt and his family; our own boy scientists encounte r with Big Harold in the So I like being a monke yincide nt in a che mical plant (Bate & Mangham, 1981, pp. 20-21) ; the frighte ning journe y into the he art of darkne ssof a London police station (Chesshyre , 1989) ; Nige l

Barleys ble eding chunks of raw re ality as he e ncounte rs malaria, drunke n missionarie s and chiefs, devious informants, and proble ms with the lan- guage of the Dowayos of Came roon ( Excuse me,I said, I am cooking some meat. At least that was what I had intende d to say; owing to tonal error I declare d to an astonishe d audie nce , Excuse me. I am copulating with the blacksmith (1986, p. 57) , but (talking of ble eding chunks of raw reality) thankfully he missed the circumcision ceremony (1987); Kunda s

cree py

Ninetie s(1992, pp. 95-106) ; and Tracy Kidde rs (1982) gripping story of

the making of the 32-bit mini-compute r Eagle (his Prologue offers a dra-

be en writte n

matic sample r), brilliantly summed up by Playboy as having

with a re porte r s e ye , a nove list s he art and a te chnician s unde rstanding.

Pe rhaps that is the se cret to Being The re and the re ason why the re are so fe w works that succe ed in capturing this glitte ring, but elusive , quality.

Howe ve r,

account of Dave Carpe nter s pre se ntation Tech s Strate gy for the

Mu n d an eity an d Ever yd ayn es s

Detail, meticulous detail. (Gardner & Moore, 1964, p. 96)

Anthropology is zation, the eve ryday

eve ryday live s. If O B eve r ne ede d a mode l for a phe nome nology of or-

course of the ir

about the e ve ryday expe rie nce of a socie ty or organi-

things that pe ople ge t





Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


ganizations this would sure ly be it, because the whole thrust of anthro- pology is towards accessing mundane systems of reason and behaviour (Pollne r, 1987) , and penetrating the intimacy of life (Latour & Woolgar, 1979, p. 17) . But why would anyone want to ge t intimate in this way? The first answer is that the re is no othe r way to study process and change :

it is pre cisely at this leve l of the eve ryday, at the level of the detailed social

proce sses informing relationships be twee n organizational interests, that the content


mundane ity of the everyday is an illusion, for it is within these details that the dynamics of organizational culture come into be ing and use. (Young, 1989, p. 201)

of organizational culture is continuously formed and re affirmed

The second answe r is that it produce s a quality in a research account

that no other method give s, and provide s a unique way of illustrating and e xplaining the ore tical issue s in e ve ryday, e xpe rie ntial te rms. Se e , for e xample , Putnam and Mumbys (1993) account of the real-life stresses of having to work in and follow the e motional rules of a strong culture organization. The quality in que stion is not easy to define, but has something to do with telling it like it is, unre constructe d, and naturalistically. Material that would othe rwise e nd up as out-take s on the cutting room floor is re taine d, so as to ground the study, and give it vé rit é or ve risimilitude . For e xam- ple, Dubinskas s (1988) book of re adings on high-te chnology organizations is bursting with de tail about particle accelerators, switchyards and de te c- tors, polarize d e le ctron beam sources, and spe cialize d machine s and proc-


esse s. The re is a meticulous attention to detail: the re are maps,

and minute -by-minute activity charts. B ut to what e nd? The answe r is to re ve al things we did not know

alre ady, that surprise , eve n stun us. O n the mild surprise end of the scale is the re ve lation that scie ntific laboratorie s are not at all like most of us

like a particle acce l-

imagine the m to be . E ve n in high risk e nvironme nts,

erator laboratory, life is conducte d in a re laxe d, e ve n sloppy way, much as one might find in any old run-down manufacturing plant producing fe rtil- ize rs or blotting pape r. For e xample , after reading Trawee ks (1988, pp.

is unlike ly eve r again

46-47) de scription of the re se arch yard

to se e scie nce in te rms of little men in white coats sile ntly working in sterile

white e nvironme nts.

at SLAC, one

E ve n more surprising discove rie s come whe n we dig de e pe r into the

the scie ntist. Mundane naturalistic re se arch has re ve ale d

that scientific method is large ly a myth! The proce sse s through which scie ntists build the factity of their real world are in the fundame ntals no

se minal, 2-ye ar study

by Bruno Latour and Ste ve Woolgar ( 1979) in the Roge r Guille min labo- ratory at the Salk Institute , in which the y examine d the eve ryday scie ntific

diffe re nt from anyone else s. I am drawing here on the

eve ryday life of



work involve d in establishing a fact.What they found was that fact was constructe d from talk, and that is basically what scientists did all day:

the y talke d. (The doing of scie nce was le ft to the technicians.) From the ir analysis of the microproce sse s in laboratory conve rsations and eve ryday ac- tivitie s the authors showe d that hard data, pure ly scientific and te chnical conside rations, and obje ctivity were only part of the story of scie ntific dis- cove ryand the winning of Nobe l prize s! The re mainde r was provide d by

a kind of social knowle dge and subje ctivity one would have thought un- acceptable to scie nce.

of mine that capture the mundane quality of

organizational life are Gary Fine s (1988) study of the daily ups and downs of kitche n restaurant workers, and Ste phe n Barle ys (1983) study of the

eve ryday live s ( and de aths! ) of

O the r pe rsonal favorite s

fune ral dire ctors.

Polyp h on y an d Rich Des cr ip tion

Polyphony is all the talk in anthropology at the moment (though sadly


again we find a lot more talk than action in the

organizational are na) .


if not polyphony

the n multivocality (Martin,

1992, 1995) , polyvo-

cality(Clifford, 1986, p. 104) , and the plurality of subje ctivitie s (Collin- son, 1992, p. 44) , all ve ry similar so far as one can te ll, and all re lating

back to the linguistic and rhe torical ve rsion of social constructionism found in the dialogical work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Volosinov (Clifford, 1983, 1986; Shotte r, 1993, p. 14) . So what is this magic ingre dient? At a simple


ve l,

polyphony is about pe ople spe aking

for the mse lve s ( Kante r, 1977,


5) the polyphony, though more usually cacophony, of voice s. It

is a

way by exte nsive ver-

batim quotation and close scripting and reportage of eve ryday eve nts. At a more comple x le ve l it conce rns the whole nature of the re lationship be -

twe en author and te xt ( author-ity) , and sugge sts a rhe torical or writing strat- egy (scrapbook, collage ) for e stablishing authorial presence and te xtual authority.

has partly come about as the re sult of e thnog-

m ethod of representation,

usually capture d in some

Inte rest in polyphony

raphe rs growing conce rn about spe aking for othe rs (see Michae l Bue rk earlie r), and the de sire to find some way round this:

The developing critical turn within the discipline has thrown into que stion the assumption that the e thnographer can translate or converge upon the reality of

The ethnographic account is seen instead as a mediation of voices

through the text: a translation that does not translate. And having re jecte d the idea of speaking for,the issue instead becomes one of polyphony, of voices in the text, of deve loping a cultural poetics that is an interplay of voices and positioned utterances (Clifford, 1986) , a writing that is driven by the re cognition, rather than

he r subjects

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


Polyphony is ide ally suite d to organizations, which are by the ir ve ry

nature pluralistic and multivocal, and made up of a rich dive rsity of inter-

se cting diale cts,

Theirs is a world riven by multiculturality and de structive tribalism, paradox and contradiction, competing value s and contests of meaning (Alvesson & Sandkull, 1988; Bate e t al., 1997; Darme r, 1991; Dent, 1990; Duenas, 1991;


Q uinn & McGrath, 1985; Young, 1989) . What

idiom s and profe ssional jargons ( the he te roglossia ).

bette r way, then, of

this quality than through the medium of the polyphonic nove l:

a utopian te xtual

space where discursive comp lexity, the dialogical interplay of voice s, can be accommo date d. In the nove ls of Dostoye vsky or Dicke ns he [ Clifford] values precisely their re sistance to totality, and his ide al novelist is a ve ntriloquistin

The polyphonic nove l is

a carnivalesque are na of diversity

ninetee nth-century parlance a polyphonist. He do the police in different voice s,

a liste ne r exclaims admiringly of the boy Sloppy, who reads publicly from the

ne wspaper in Our Mutual Friend. (Rabinow, 1986, pp. 246-247, summarizing the vie ws of James Clifford)

Hence, we have Sloppy

Kante r (1977) doing the men and women

of the corporation in differe nt voice s, as we have Sloppy Martin (1992)

doing the voice s of O Z CO e mploye e s in a quotations (1995, p. 231) , and all jolly good

unde rline , howe ve r, is the fact that lots of quotations and enormous chunks of organizational reality, ne at, are not the be all and e nd all of polyphonic ethnography. The main issue is where the author choose s to position himself or herself in re lation to the actors, text, and audie nce. Czarniawska-Joe rges (1992) is in no doubt that this is where Kante r s work (and I would add a lot of qualitative work in general) falls down:

rathe r unbe autiful mosaic of stuff, too. What both studie s

The book is constituted like a tele vision programme with Kanter as hostess, giving air now to the people of the corporation,then to the re searche rs. The re is nothing wrong with this kind of formula, in fact, it is ve ry popular and highly le gitimate. Still, it goes against the feeling of how the life is over there produced by thick

de scription; it is a projection of slides rather than a film. (p. 101)

Hostess is cle arly not polyphonist: polyphonist is back room boy not principal actor, orche strator not conductor. The quality of polyphony is achie ve d by actually we ake ning the author role , by standing back, and spre ading authorship around (Martin, 1995, p. 231) . The ne xt ste p is taking the middle man, the author, out comple te ly. This is virtually what we did in our e thnography of a pharmace uticals com- pany (Bate & Mangham, 1981), whe re for a lot of the time we le ft it to re al life and the native s to speak it for the mselve s. Se e in particular Chapte r 7: the dreade d microwave affair! This must be done care fully, howe ve r, as the re are limits to which authorship can be abandone d to free market polyphony (note how a lot of mode rn music has lost touch with the liste ne r) . The fact is that data doe s not



always speak for itse lf. Anything does not go. Reality in the raw can be a pretty formless and meaningle ss thing: there will always be the nee d for an inte rlocutor, some one prepare d to take on the job of constructing the rough

asse mblage into what Frank Ke rmode (1967) has calle d fictions of re lation, the proce ss where by puzzling eve nts are wove n into a broader fabric that make s sense of them as some kind of whole . The re is a ne ed to ste er some

kind of middle ground be tween ove rstaging it and copping out What is certain, howe ve r, is that polyphony will take on a

more expe rimental form in the future , as postmode rnists press for more interte xtual practice in anthropology and attempt to transce nd the limita- tions of any one kind of discourse . For example , whereas in the past it has bee n limite d to real pe ople and real situations, polyphony will involve more juxtaposition of re al and fictitious eve nts, such as in Foxs ( 1995) work, whe re a re al fie ldwork study of an orthope dic surgical e ve nt was com-

bine d with Douglas s narrative fiction Bleeders Come First, in orde r to e voke aspe cts of the expe rie nce that might have bee n misse d if only the true eve nt had be e n re counte d. ( The fictional patie nt had a cardiac arre st on the ope rating table , whe re as Foxs did not.) A polyphony of the real and the imaginary actually se rve s to e nhance the realne ss of the real the blood, the smells, and the trage dy of individual case s that some times go badly. Anthropologists are also beginning to move in anothe r dire ction, from looking at the polyphony between people to the polyphony within pe o- ple, their fragme nted cognitions and dive rge nt sche ma, and the ongoing

(Strauss & Quinn,

inne r struggle s be twe e n the ir various multiple se lves

forthcoming 1997) . Whe re ve r it e nds up, polyphony se e ms de stine d to be -

come more polyphonic in the

e ntirely. much wide r,

future !


Poin t an d a Pu n ch Lin e

And so we come to the message in the bottle , that some thing that makes one fe el the long journe y and the discomfort were really worth it. The point about anthropology is it is not just storyte lling we should leave

that to the profe ssional storyte lle rsnor is it just a travalogue of what I saw and did that is the job of the trave l write r. Escapism and e ntertain- ment may come into it, but the best e thnographie s must offe r some thing

or form of insight, what Lange r (1953, p. 50)

more , be it a the ory, mode l,

refers to as a a ne w sort of truth, a re framing in today s parlance . Ham- mersle y take s a similar vie w: he use s the te rm insightful de scriptions,

stating that the aim of ethnographic de sciption is to present phe nome na

in ne w and

Me, I prefer the notion of a point and a punch line , a metaphor that links well with the notion of ethnography as te xt and the conce pt of the

re ve aling ways ( 1992, p. 13) .

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


theatre of language . A good punch line in ethnography is like a good tune , one that you can t stop humming once you ve he ard it ( and whe n did you last fee l that about an Academ y of Managem ent Jou rnal article ? !)

The punch line give s the rese arch a point, but it also synthe sizes, synopsize s, or simplifie s a comple x story, and e ffe cts some kind of closure for the

time s. The be st

punch line s are often the one s that come out of the blue , that surprise us or challe nge our take n for grante d, commonse nsical view of the world. This is Lange r s significant form (1953), an ide a or image which through sym- bols e nable s pe ople to realize something that was pre viously unre alize d, and comprehend something that was pre viously not comprehende d. The following are some organizational example s of ethnography which of-

fer the reader a particularly noteworthy insightful description or punch line:

John Brewer and Kathle e n Mage e s (1991) e thnography of the Royal

Ulste r Constabulary ( RUC)

erate conditions of extreme personal dange r and stre ss by using diffe rent

kinds of discourse : the skills discourse focuse d on survival skills, e.g., hang

do it. The fa-

talism discourse took the line that If the yre going to ge t you, the yre

going to get you, and If you were to worry about it, you d be a ne rvous wreck.The rou tinization discou rsehighlighte d the eve rydayne ss of the

risks: You ge t use d to it, ” “ It s a way of life for us (pp. 163-168) . It was

the y were able to normalize

the thre at of dange r and thus re duce stre ss le ve ls. Still on the subje ct of language , McCourt Pe rring s ( 1994) study of the impact of care in the community le gislation on me ntal he alth patie nts showe d that the transfe r of these pe ople from hospital to group homes resulted in some improve ment in their live s, but the overall success of the proje ct was significantly reduced as a result of the m etaph ors chose n for social re lations in the new organization. For e xample , the use of the term familyhomes, intende d to evoke an image of caring, actually also implie d hierarchy, by gende r and age , and through the use of this metaphor the disempowerment and infantalization of clie nts were in fact maintaine d. Gideon Kunda s ethnography of a large American high-te ch organiza- tion revisits that age -old O B conce pt of burnout. One of the ne w insights it provide d was that burnout actually had a positive side to it. The study from the actor s view showed that it was a way of communicatin g one s commitment to the company:

Displaying symptoms of burnout is one way of se nding signals to one s superiors.

through the use of such standard scripts that

around kids, buy the m ice pops — “ If it ke eps me alive , I ll

re ve ale d that RUC office rs we re able to tol-

re ade r, which can be de e ply satisfying, eve n be witching at

It is a sign that one is he avily invested in work, proof that one is allowing one s

experience to be dominated by the requireme nts of the member role, evidence of

commitmen t and se lf-sacrifice, and

a declaration that one has become a casualty. (1992, pp. 202-203)

from this perspective, a call for some respe ct,



It was of course de meaning but it could be uplifting, too. Many mem-

bers fe el some pride in surviving burnout or living with its threat. It is a

battle scar, a purple heart

place (p. Clark

ers in Los Ange les re sonate s with Kunda. He showe d that fee lings of al- ie nation and powerlessness are lesse ned as the re sult of worke rs taking pride and satisfaction in the ir ability to e ndure hardship the pride of endurance .This pride give s them back some of the self-confide nce the y lose when e ncounte ring situations which the y cannot control. Like the early Christians being fe d to the lions, the se workers pre sume their suffe r- ing counts for something (1996, p. 1). And finally, anothe r police study by Malcolm Young (1991) looke d at the differe nt ways pe ople were treate d by the police whe n they were take n

into custody. The re appe ared to be two distinct type s of tre atme nt: some pe ople were subje ct to hard enforce me nt, like aggre ssive ve rbal dire ctive s and no blanke ts for sle eping on. The gaole rs would go down to fe ed and

water the m, as the y how awful, was too

of socie ty.Othe r pe ople , some of whom had committe d much more se-

rious crimes, were subje ct to a much softe

on Young s part was that the re appe ared to be a constant pressure within the police culture to pull all clients into a black and white binary, and the decision one way or the othe r was like ly to be made without consciously setting out to do so, usually within twenty seconds of arrival! This is an exe mplification of a bigge r human issue around social labe ling:

The polarities and oppositions reve aled in this case study e xemplify the logic of basic police mode s of thought, e choing the L é vi-Straussian conte ntion that a universalistic me taphoric concern in man is to use his own cultural identity and se t it auspiciously against the others, who are to be de spised and cast with inhuman or animal qualities. (p. 150)

an indication that one s he art is in the right

brewery work-

204) . Molstad s e thnographic research among industrial

would a zoo animal; any kind of bre akfast, no matter good for them,the scum, the dross, the dregs

r r égime. The significant insight

punch line should e voke an inte lle ctual or e motional re sponse .

The whole point and punch line about anthropology itse lf, which I have tried to conve y in this review article , is that it is research from the mind and the heart, which re lies upon the practice of both refle xivity and subje ctivity to

of e ithe r. The whole endeavor smacks of the child trying to capture bubbles before they disappear for

guard against the exce sse s rushing frene tically around

e ve r into the e ther, random, opportunistic, partial and unsyste matic, and prob- ably, to scientists at le ast, quite pathe tic. But why? For what re ason? Simply

be cause these bubble scontain

the e sse nce of human life as it is expe rie nce d.

And in a world of decaffeinate d coffe e, fat-fre e foods, alcohol-fre e lage r, and

A good

Wh atever Hap pen ed to Organ ization al An th ropology


pain-fre e video games, surely it can t be bad that the re is one subje ct at le ast

that is le aving

it in rathe r than taking it out.


I am grate ful to my colle ague Raza Khan for contributing some of the ideas to this pape r and helping with the lite rature search.


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PAUL BATE is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Manage ment at the University of Bath,

working primarily on the theory and practice of change within public and private sector or- ganizations. He was until re cently the Director of the Centre for the Study of Organizational Change (C-SOC), which is internationally known for its anthropological and qualitative studies

of the manage ment process. He has e xtensive re search

organizations in Britain and abroad, and has published widely in the field of cultural change. His late st book, Strategies for Cultural Change (1994), was shortlisted for the MCA Be st Man-

agement Book of the Year award. He also lectures widely in the U.S., Far E ast, Scandinavia, and Europe and has recently been international gue st speaker at a number of acade mic con- ferences. He is currently immersed in an ethnographic study of a hospital which is attempting to fundame ntally reconfigure its culture in order to provide a different and better kind of patient focused care for the future. Paul holds a PhD from the London School of Economics.

and consulting e xperience with major