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Topics: Organizational studies, Sociology, Organization Pages: 13 (6026 words) Published: April 25, 2014
Culture: The Missing
Concept in
Organization Studies
Edgar H. Schein
Massachusetts Institute of

Inattention to social systems in organizations has led
researchers to underestimate the importance of
culture—shared norms, values, and assumptions—in
how organizations function. Concepts for understanding
culture in organizations have value only when they
derive from observation of real behavior in
organizations, when they make sense of organizational
data, and when they are definable enough to generate
further study. The attempt to explain what happened to
"brainwashed" American prisoners of war in the Korean
conflict points up the need to take both individual traits
and culture into account to understand organizational
phenomena. For example, the failure of organizational
learning can be understood more readily by examining
the typical responses to change by members of several
broad occupational cultures in an organization. The
implication is that culture needs to be observed, more
than measured, if organization studies is to advance.
The purpose of this brief essay is to note that organizational psychology is slowly evolving from an individualistic point of view toward a more integrated view based on social
psychology, sociology, and anthropology. In this evolution
we have absorbed some of the more important concepts
from these fields such as role, norm, and network, but we
have not yet sufficiently understood the impact of culture.
Even though I have worked on culture as a variable for over
10 years, I keep being surprised by how little I understand
its profound influence in situation after situation. I believe our failure to take culture seriously enough stems from our
methods of inquiry, which put a greater premium on
abstractions that can be measured than on careful
ethnographic or clinical observation of organizational
phenomena. I will begin historically and then give a couple of examples of where culture comes into play in the
explanation of phenomena that have not been sufficiently
understood. This will put more focus on occupational
cultures that are global and raise the possibility that
organizations are not the right unit of study for certain
purposes. In the end, I also hope that we as researchers will come to recognize how much our own methods and
concepts are a product of our own culture.

© 1996 by Cornell University.

The concept of organizational psychology was introduced in
the early 1960s by Hal Leavitt and Bernie Bass in an article for the Annual Review of Psychology (Leavitt and Bass,
1964) and by Bernie Bass and me in textbooks with that title (Bass, 1965; Schein, 1965). The important issue at that time was to separate out from a fairly well-developed industrial
psychology those elements of social psychology and
sociology that dealt specifically with group and organizational phenomena. A number of new concepts were introduced
into the field but, as 1 look back on it, most of them dealt with properties of the individual and were clearly derivative from psychology. Though we paid lip service to and
reviewed the work of organizational sociologists in our
229/Administrative Science Quarterly, 41 (1996): 229-240

books, I have a feeling we did not then and maybe do not
even now take them very seriously.
Most of the business schools that adopted this field hired
industrial or social psychologists and called it "organization behavior," a label with which I was never comfortable
because it struck me as a kind of conceptual oxymoron.
Either we were anthropomorphizing the legal entity called
the corporation, or we were loosely adopting a kind of
behaviorist model that derived much more from
individualistic psychology than organizational reality. At the MIT Sloan School I remember insisting that we call our
newly formed group "Organization...

References: Biderman, Albert D,
1963 March to Calumny: The Story
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