1st Edition

Rethinking Culture
Embodied Cognition and the Origin of Culture in Organizations

ISBN 9780367242893
Published June 6, 2019 by Routledge
298 Pages 39 B/W Illustrations

USD $49.95

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Book Description

Organizational or corporate ‘culture’ is the most overused and least understood word in business, if not society. While the topic has been an object of keen academic interest for nearly half a century, theorists and practitioners still struggle with the most basic questions: What is organizational culture? Can it be measured? Is it a dependent or independent variable? Is it causal in organizational performance, and, if so, how? Paradoxically, managers and practitioners ascribe cultural explanations for much of what constitutes organizational behavior in organizations, and, moreover, believe culture can be engineered to their own designs for positive business outcomes. What explains this divide between research and practice?

While much academic research on culture is challenged by ontological, epistemic and ethical difficulties, there is little empirical evidence to show culture can be deliberately shaped beyond espoused values. The gap between research and practice can be explained by one simple reason: the science and practice of culture has yet to catch up to managerial intuition.Managers are correct in suspecting culture is a powerful normative force, but, until now, current theory and research is not able to adequately account for cultural behavior in organizations.

Rethinking Culture describes and presents evidence for a new framework of organizational culture based on the cognitive science of the so-called cultural mind. It will be of relevance to academics and researchers with an interest in business and management, organizational culture, and organizational change, as well as cognitive and cultural anthropologists and sociologists interested in applications of theory in organizational and institutional settings.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Functionally Embodied Culture

1. What’s Wrong with Organizational Culture?

2. The Nature of Grounding: Embodied Cognition, Schemas and Analogical Transfer

3.  Motivated Meaning: Cultural Schemas and Hierarchies

4.Functionally Embodied Culture: The Professional and Strategic Grounding of Organizational Culture

Part 2: Cultural Schemas in a Diversified Industrial Manufacturer

5. Investigating Schemas: Contexts, Methods and Challenges

6. Seeing Schemas: Research at IMCO

7. Where Culture Comes From: Functional Grounding and its Affordances

8. Functionally Embodied Culture: Possible Limits, or Limitless Possibilities?

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David G. White, Jr., Ph.D. is a cognitive anthropologist who has spent his career working in large organizations as well as entrepreneurial start ups. He is a co-founder of and principal in ONTOS Global, a boutique consulting firm in the alignment of business strategy, change and organizational culture.


"David G. White, Jr. maps out a provocative journey into the multidisciplinary possibility of holding an integral understanding that finds new meanings in useful theories. Supported by an extremely thought-provoking framework, White insists on a more up-to-date and unified approach to culture and change. This exciting and well-researched book steps beyond the thought boundaries within which organizational culture and cognition are usually confined. He is not willing to accept today’s challenges and conflicts as intractable. And he doesn’t want us to accept them either."

—Brenda B Jones, Co-editor, NTL Handbook for Organization Development and Change; recipient of the OD Network’s Lifetime Achievement Award



"Imagine an anthropologist studied your culture through the eyes of your employees and asked them to describe the purpose and workings of your organization. David J. White Jr. did just that, and he shows how those descriptions reveal that many "cultures" exist in every organization, and they may not be as "manageable" as you think. His scholarly argument suggests evidence that culture emerges from the logic models or "schemas" that help people make sense of the organization and their place in it. For example, is your organization a "machine" or an "organism?" Is something "true" only when experienced, or can truth emerge from extrapolation? This perspective on culture has profound implications for whether and how culture can be shaped and directed, and takes you beyond the hype that culture can be everything and anything."

—Dr. John W. Boudreau, Professor and Research Director,

Center for Effective Organizations, University of Southern California



"David G. White, Jr. charges into the crowded morass of organizational culture with a keen eye and a sharp machete in hand. This thorough and provocative book offers no easy answers or quick fixes. Rather it challenges the reader to explore the terrain of cognition, practice and language, which are the most perceivable and visible instantiations of true (not espoused) organizational culture. Like Gideon Kunda, White seeks out the deeper structures of culture and thus presents a very innovative and compelling perspective on this most impactful dimension of organizational life."

—Eric Rait, Principal, Honeycomb Development



"David G. White Jr.’s thoughtful, hard-working and intelligent treatise sounds a cautionary note to current thinking about ‘organizational culture,’ and opens up a fresh, provocative perspective on this popular topic."

—Robert Kegan, Meehan Research Professor of Adult Learning,

Harvard University Graduate School of Education,

and Co-author, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization