What is "Culture"? LO20013

AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Fri, 27 Nov 1998 16:20:17 +0200

Replying to LO19973 --

Dear Organlearners,

Sabine Bach <Sabine.Bach@SU.SIEMENS.DE> writes:

>My name is Sabine Bach and I am relatively new to this list.

Welcome Sabine.

By now I have read already many replies to your request. The next step in
our dialogue would be to answer on those replies, replying to those
answers, etceterra, until the thread dies out. There are certainly some
replies which I would have loved to take further along the course of

But my thoughts keep on going back to your very request itself. You wrote:

>I am working as an inhouse management consultant with
>a big german Electrics and electronics company

Your email address shows that it is Siemens, an international corporation
of which the headquaters is in Germany. This makes me aware that your
request involves far more than that which is covered by handbooks on
organisational culture. Perhaps you already have studied such handbooks.
In such a case it means that you are looking for something which these
handbooks do not cover. Perhaps you have not yet studied these handbooks
yet and first want our dialogue to draw a rich picture for you. Perhaps
you have been educated in anthropology (where culture is a key concept)
far more than the usual and now want to practise the theory. Whatever the
case, the thread "What is a culture" is very important to a LO and its
five disciplines.

Your request is:
>I figure that the project's impact would be lasting longer,
>if a consultant would be able to address soft facts as well.
>Soft facts could be the organization's culture.
>Hence, I am addressing culure in my thoughts. What is
>culture? how could you define culture. What do I have to
>address in order to change culture? I am looking for
>dimensions to define culture.
>So this is what I am asking: Is anybody here able to help
>me concerning dimensions of organizational culture?
>I would appreciate your help. Thanks.

I am going to draw the picture as rich as possible from my side. I will
address you, but I also want to include fellow learners who have walked a
much longer path with me on the list.

In our university's library there are books which connect culture to
subjects such as the following: theology, philosophy, anthropology,
language, arts, law, education, economics, politics, psychology, history,
management, sociology, natural science, agriculture and communication.
With the help from books on organisational culture (look for authors like
Robert F. Allen or Ralph H. Kilmann), these sixteen topics can help you to
refine the major dimensions which will apply to your organisation.

But in your first question "What is culture?" I sense something much more
encompassing than merely organisational culture. I sense a universal
question, one that has been asked by hundreds of thousands of thinkers
over many centuries trying to understand culture. Whether they are working
on a subject such as one of the sixteen mentioned above or with a topic
closer to workings of the human mind such as cognition, conciousness,
faith, morality, personality or learning, sooner or later they get to this
universal question "What is culture?"

Why do they ask this question? When we travel from point A to point B on a
course which we thus call a "specific culture" (such as "organisational
culture", "community culture" or "farming culture") we have to navigate
from A to B by using a map which we may call the "whole culture" (culture
in general). If we do not acknowledge the "whole culture", how will we
ever know a "specific culture". How will we ever arrive at point B from
point A?

But how will we acknowledge the "whole culture"? Is there a book about
"whole culture" which we then could consult as a map? No -- and this is
why I used the word "acknowledge" rather than "know". Why not? If we would
consider all material ever printed such as books (fiction and academical),
journals, periodicals and pamphlets, lumped into one gigantic heap, this
is but a feeble documentation of what culture amounts to. Is it possible
for anyone of us to work through this gigantic heap so that we can "know"
what "whole culture" is? No, never. Thus we will have to "acknowledge"
rather than to "know". It means that we will have to honour that which is
essential to learning and its outcome knowing.

One thing essential to learning and knowing is wholeness. And as I have
written in another recent contribution, wholeness has some important
facets. Two of them are complementarity and associativity. If "culture"
is part of a complimentarity, what are the other parts which make up the
whole? As I see it, we have a dual complementarity called Creation and
consisting of nature and culture. Creation itself is part of a yet more
encompassing dual complementarity called Reality and consisting of Creator
and Creation.

Let us think about the dual complementarity nature+culture. Physically,
we are completely part of nature. But spiritually, we are not part of
nature since we have emerged into another world where we can make contact
with God Who is also spirit. Should we honour the wholeness between our
phsyical and spiritual nature, we are not merely subjects of nature, but
also subjects of culture. The etymology of the word culture (Latin:
"cultus"=worship) describe our position nicely -- we are the bridge
(mediator or umlomo) between nature on the one hand and God on the other
hand. Again we see how "associativity", another facet of wholeness have
entered the picture.

I am fully aware of some other possibilities. For example, God can be
denied on the grounds of fictuous perceptions. Hence the complementarity
nature+culture becomes the most encompassing one. Furthermore, wholeness
can also be denied on the grounds of fictuous perceptions. Hence the
complementarity nature+culture will degenerate into a naturalism.

How will we distinguish between the complementary duals nature and
culture? The best way is to say that whenever a thinking human was
involved with anything, then it is culture. The rest is nature. For
example, all our domesticated crops and animals are part of culture and
not nature. Consequently the human neurological system (from which the
abstract mind emerges) is the very system which control the reaction
between nature and culture. This system has developed a culture which is
very rich (powerful) in converting nature into culture.

But that same culture is very poor (powerless) in converting culture into
nature. A simple example is when I walk in the desert, I sometimes observe
tracks made by 4x4 vehicles more than a decade ago. Whether I walk in the
desert or travel in a 4x4 in the desert, both are culture because a human
is involved. But in the one case (walk) I become part of nature while in
the other case (drive) I force culture upon nature. The hot question now
is: Can humankind force culture on nature? Humans certainly do not like it
when nature forces itself upon their culture through events like
earthquakes or hurricanes.

When we think of organisational culture, we must look at the same thing --
conflicts in what should have been a harmonious complementarity. An
organisation can have a fantastic culture which pleases most, if not all,
its members. But the organisation is part of a much more diverse cultural
environment. Will that culture of the organisation also pleases members of
other organisational cultures? Or will that organisational culture merely
entail: to hell with them because they should care for themselves? In
other words, how much are we going to allow for a "culture of hurt" in our
organisations? Is it really possible to keep hurting counter reactions
under control?

Sabine, by these last few paragraphs I wanted to stress that not only the
STRUCTURE of culture is important (like the 8 or so dimensions of
organisational culture which you had in mind), but also the PROCESS of
culture. In other words, not only is your first question "What is
culture?", but also your third question "What do I have to address in
order to change culture?". All your questions are intimately related to
the relationship between culture and creativity.

Since you are a newcomer to the list, you may not be aware of a series
which I am bussy with on the list. With respect to wholeness, you can
have a look at:
Essentiality - "associativity-monadicity" (wholeness) LO18276
With respect to the relationship between structure and process, you
can have a look at:
Essentiality - "becoming-being" (liveness) LO17651
My last contribution in the series was
Essentialities - "connect-beget" (fruitfulness) LO18750

Best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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