The Perspectives on Organizational Theory


Theories about the tools that may help to explain a given subject. Various kinds of theories are set to different kinds of studies such as understanding the power and culture in an organization. It is important to analyze organization theory because it helps structure the activities and create an organizational strategy for the better.

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This paper aims to discuss how the three perspectives on organizational theory; modernist, symbolic- interpretative, and post-modern relate to the power and culture in an organization. A comparison and contrast will then be discussed concerning how these perspectives significantly act individually for influencing power and culture within an organization. The three perspectives will be applied in discussing the power and culture in an organization such as elaborating how symbolic- interpretative and post-modern perspectives related with culture in an organization, excluding the modernism perspective though. An expression of all the three perspectives in consideration of the theories about power and culture in an organization is then the main point of the paper.


Organizational Culture

The culture of an organization describes its personality as it makes up the norms, values, and perceptions of the members including their behaviors. The members of an organization come to the realization of a specific culture within their organization as to how they sense it. Although it is difficult to represent a culture, every member of the organization can sense which and what culture they belong to (Crowther and Green, 2004).

As such, the organizational culture of a hospital is different from how the culture of a restaurant. A culture can be characterized through the visualization and representation of the whole organization just like how the setting appears, how the employees act or work, and important details like that. However, according to Joanne Martin (2001), organizational culture should be seen in the sense of having an enormous agreement of skepticism.

An organization’s culture varies according to the system of how it is managed by the leaders. Corporate culture is more of depicting a structure. The idea of culture is vital for managing an organization and making changes to it (Santos and Eisendhardt, 2005). There has been a lot of literature when it comes to organizational change and how the theories affect the changes that are possible for the organization. Understanding the role of the theories in an organizational culture should be emphasized to have a clearer view of how it relates to one another and thus influence.

Theoretical Perspectives

The three theoretical perspectives; Modern, symbolic-interpretative, and post-modernism can be used to explain the relationship between power and culture. According to Hatch and Cunliffe (2006), these perspectives are important to have a good grasp of what the hierarchy and the set of beliefs or trends are present in an organization.

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Organization power and culture can be explained by these three theoretical perspectives through understanding the ontology and epistemology for the perspective of symbolic- interpretative. Ontology is all about the perception of people regarding real life-like setting an objective or perhaps becoming subjective and just relying on the mindsets. Epistemology on the other hand caters to knowledge. It determines how knowledge is acquired, what best describes a real-life where power is involved or what describes good knowledge (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006).

In an organization, power and culture can be looked into the views of being objective or subjective, positivism and interpretivism. A modernist perspective adheres to the objectivist ontology and positivist epistemology. It means that organizations occur in real life and goals are set to have a system. Rational entities are recognized and standardized procedures are emphasized. In this view, corporate culture is set to the organization as it seeks for universal laws that cover the behavior and balanced structures within the organization. This may appear to be vague because modernism is not suitable for answering the questions about the culture in an organization.

Symbolic- interpretative perspective caters to the subjective ontology and the interpretative epistemology. Culture in an organization is determined through how people make and give interpretations to what they have experienced in the organization. Knowledge is based on the mind of the people through learning from the previous experiences that they have (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006).

Explaining the relationship of symbolic-interpretative and Postmodernism perspectives on the culture within organizations is like saying that culture can be looked into a two-way view. The other one is based on the standard procedures that the people focus on and it is more independent as it sets its own rules, while the other one is based on the knowledge acquired from the experiences of being in the organization (Scott, 2003). This may apply to various organizations today for example in hospitals.

The postmodern perspective accounts for the standard operating procedures that the physicians should comprehend to like wearing proper uniforms, strictly following rules to show rationality although the physicians are considered for superiority or whatever valid reasons may appear to have. In contrast to that, the culture can be largely affected by the symbolic-interpretative perspective where physicians in the hospitals tend to rely on what they have been doing in the past regardless of the new standard procedures that the organization has. Just a simple example of a scenario in an organization though. Also, the post-modernism perspective holds its strong ideologies in a culture where justice and morality are strongly emphasized (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006).

Power in Organizations

Usually, power in an organization is described in a hierarchy where leaders dominate in an organization followed by the subordinates. Effective managers in an organization are seen to be in power. There are instances where personal power is regarded as a source and can be attained from a specific source. Accessing power from one source to another source suggests flexibility of how power circulates within an organization. This means that at some point, managers tend to acquire power from one source to another source which is like a give-and-take process. Recognition of powers or positions among the managers is a good description of hierarchy in an organization.

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Theoretical Perspectives

More often, the definition of power is central to the ability of a person to influence other people through its behavior. In an organization, power can be distinguished through the social relationships of the people. As in symbolic- interpretative perspective, power can be like how it is exercised with the techniques and practices from the interpretation of the experiences. Interaction among the people within an organization determines power though because symbolic- interpretative perspective relies on the social processes as it has no well-developed theories of power. Instead, power is characterized by control which makes it vital for explaining how the symbolic- interpretative perspective relates to the power and control within an organization. Social interaction needs control or power and this adapts to how a person controls the behavior of others in an interaction (Shafritz, Ott and Jang, 2004).

This is done to get the information concerning how to control the ideas of one’s self. The symbolic-interpretative perspective suggests interpreting the actions of other people through social interaction to attain the information needed in controlling or attaining power. However, some interpretivists are into the shape and norms of being involved in social interaction. Power and control are not the main focus of other people for social interaction, but to observe how other people act.

Symbolic- interpretative perspective does answers the issues relating to power and control though as what is said earlier, the perspective does not have a concrete theory for power. Thus, the insufficiency of a well-developed theory for the perspective of symbolic- Interactive in explaining power will not support the social interactions in an organization. Focusing more on the Modernism and Postmodernism perspectives is more accurate.

For the modernist approach, power can be sensed as how it is being distributed in an organization. It focuses on how the power is being used by the authorities in supervising and managing the conflicts within the organization. Also, it takes note of how to control the authority of other authorities to avoid unjust distribution of power. The main reason why this has to be done is to develop a more effective organization and be successful in reaching the objectives of the organization. Authorities in an organization should be able to possess a good way of exercising power as a modernist approach suggests science be a way of how to inform the authorities of their responsibilities. Identification of the processes on how one controls the position is necessary (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006).

To efficiently identify the process of controlling the organization, a hierarchy should be established to come up with a structure of how to manage the work activities in an organization. Positions in the organization are treated significantly because it shows the power and who manages the workforce. Technical controls should be put on a highlight to manage the responsibilities at work properly. For example, in most industries today, technology has been very significant for production and it almost replaced the manpower as a laborer. Thus, machines are now taking charge of the production unit but people are still needed to control the machines.

Managers should still look for the machines to assure that everything is going well and in its proper working activity. Time also is included in the sense of attaining a faster production if science will be able to use it for a heavier task. It will be easier for the organization to develop quickly if time will be saved through the effort of managing the machines accordingly. Power affects how this area of the organization is managed and thus makes science and technology involved in the modern perspective. However, in a modernist perspective, the main objective though is to eliminate the control of the trained individuals (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006).

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However, rules are then posted for the critical studies when it comes to the power and control. There are corresponding policies that are set to define the grounds on the topic regarding the power in organizations. Fairness should be maintained to have a good grasp of a good organization.

In a post-modern view, power can be described as a fact that affects an individual’s sense of identity and how an individual socializes with other people in an organization. It should be viewed broadly because divisions are not involved in this perspective. Power cannot be divided into class, collectivity, and the like. Generally, power is viewed for the whole organizational relations. It does not act according to the rational system (Hatch, 1997). Also, in the post-modern view, power is indefinite wherein it does not limit its occurrence in a particular area, instead, it has extensions where power can be sensed to have confrontations (Hatch, 1997). However, these confrontations do not suggest domination because the social relations are considered to be power relations (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006).

The main goals of the post-modern perspective are to determine how the people in an organization are being influenced by power relations through their self-identities and the way they interact within an organization (Hatch, 1997). The process of surveillance is somehow an instrument of organizations to manage its members. This can be done through videos, trying to monitor the use of computers, and implementing a compulsory journal (Hatch, 1997). As a result of the surveillance, members of an organization are expected to be more disciplined in following rules and for the fear of being inspected. However, this instance can lead to consequences like being turned down by the members of the organization due to sometimes feeling dehumanized by those who are in power (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006).


Organizational culture can simply be understood through the theories of perspectives such as what is being discussed in the above context. Modern, symbolic- interpretative, and post-modern perspectives have different roles in explaining power and culture within an organization. Organizational culture can be managed through interpretations of the experiences that individuals have gone through the routines and practices (Kingshuk and Van de Ven, 2005).

Science can also be involved in explaining power in an organization through the use of machines. That is, machines should still be manipulated by the managers and thus power is needed in an organization though it is intended only for technology. Culture on the other hand is more about how an organization is built through the interpretative perspective and the post-modern approach while modernism and post-modernism perspectives affect power.

Indeed an organizational culture involves a complicated way of understanding vital areas involved especially its power and culture. The three perspectives used in viewing the organizational culture depict the system of the organization and how much is managed by the managers as well the people. It is said that these perspectives are controversial because they sometimes harmonize the comprehension of culture but sometimes it appears to be vague because of the arguments being held (Martin, 2001). It is difficult to study organizational culture in reality and it requires a thorough understanding of the literature about it, especially the power and culture.


Crowther, D. and Green, M. 2004. Organisational Theory. London , Chartered Institute of Personnel Development.

Hatch, Mary Jo. (1997). “Organization Theory: A postmodern perspective”. London: Oxford University Press.

Hatch, M.J. and Cunliffe, A. (2006). Organization Theory: Modern, symbolic and postmodern perspectives. Oxford University Press.

Kingshuk, S. and Van de Ven, A. (2005). Designing work within and between organizations. Organization Science, 16, 389-408.

Martin, J. (2001). “Organizational Culture: Mapping the Terrain”, 5th Ed. SAGE Publishing House.

Santos, F. and Eisendhardt, K. (2005). Organizational boundaries and theories of organization. Organization Science, 16, 491-508.

Scott, W. Richard. (2003). Organizations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems (5th ed.). New York: Prentice-Hall.

Shafritz, J., Ott, J., and Jang, Y. (2004). Classics of organization theory. Wadsworth publishing.

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