Thursday, May 22, 2008

If everything is culture, what isn't?

So, by now everyone knows about the structure-agency debate in organizatoins. You don't? Wikipedia to the rescue. Although I trust Brayden King of OrgTheory on this more, for obvious reasons.

But I've been reading lots about culture, and can't figure out if culture is epiphenomenal or if it derives from structure, and whether agency does anything to define culture. I mean, Bordieuian (sp?) habitus does determine who has the symbolic power to affect action/change within an organization, and culture is more than just the articulated values--it is what is done and how people mediate/negotiate the social/organizational space. And which direction is the arrow--does structure affect culture, or vice versa? Is structure distinct from culture, really? Arrrrgh.

All very confusing. If the structure-agency debate is interminable, adding a confounder like "culture" is just making it worse for this newbie. I am trying to wrap my head around it, but so far it's all a muddle. I feel like I have to go back and re-read the structure/agency literature and then try to figure out where all the culture literature fits in, and does it? Would it be easier to clear up the fog in my head if I was better trained in sociology and OB/IR? Probably, but then again, since this debate is unresolved and interminable, I don't feel too bad about not being able to figure it out and decide what's what.

This is not unlike approaching one of the big questions/problems in constitutional law (or any type of law, really). If the best and brightest of all the generations that have ever come before you or after you will not have resolved the problem, then I am content that if I make any sort of contribution to the debate (and not even towards its "resolution"), I will be a happy scholar. It's all in how you define contribution. If I can apply it to some interesting part of employment discrimination law or say something new about a belabored legal doctrine/statutory interpretation, that'll feel pretty good. I don't have to resolve the greatest debates in org theory (or con law), or fix the intractable problem of organizational compliance with this and that EEO law. If I keep telling myself this, I will feel better about my work, and probably be a happier, more productive scholar.

So, thus far, I'm thinking I like the idea of culture being epiphenomenal. I may change my mind though. My dissertation is theory-generating, after all.