The Power of Organizational Song: An Organizational Discourse and Aesthetic Expression of Organizational Culture

Article excerpt


In this research, the authors examine organizational songs, referring to songs that are created and sung by members of an organization as an aesthetic expression of organizational culture. Specifically, the study examines the organizational songs of the Maytag Company (USA-based manufacturer of home appliances) sales organization, and is historically situated during the invention and development of the washing machine technology (the early 1900s). The research considers organizational songs as a relatively unexamined form of organizational discourse. More critically, the research considers organizational songs as an organizational discourse and aesthetic expression of organizational culture - with "power to" shape the identity and actions of the Maytag sales organization, as well as "power over" consumer and employee behavior.


Grant, Keenoy, and Oswick (1998) assert that organization "is articulated by and through the deployment of discursive resources" (p. 12). With the emergence of social semiotics and postmodern semiotics, it has been argued that the definition of "text" can be broadened even further, to include cultural artifacts such as art, architecture, and music (Hodge & Kress, 1988; Kress & van Leeuwen, 1990; Gottdiener, 1995). We assert that organizational songs, similar to novels (e.g., Brawer, 1998; Czarniawska-- Joerges & Guillet de Monthoux, 1994), poetry (e.g., Windle, 1994) and plays (e.g., Taylor, 2000) can be considered as a form of organizational discourse.

Also, Barry and Elmes (1997) assert that while much of organizational discourse ends up as some form of print, that which is communicated verbally is often overlooked. We would extend this assertion, to say, that the verbal - sung - discourse is nearly ignored in organizational studies, aside from the emerging works that explore the organization-music relationship (e.g., Clegg, 2000; Nissley, 2002). To better understand this unique form of organizational discourse, we turn to the organizational aesthetics literature.

First, we assert that the text of organizational song is rich with social meaning and can be analyzed in terms of what it reveals about a social context (e.g., the organizing of the invention and development of the washing machine within the Maytag Company). This idea is most evident when one considers the lyrics of organizational songs that readily express memories, histories, emotions, and ideologies - thus, making organizational discourse theory appropriate as a means for analysis. However, as Mattern (1998) points out, "music provides a communicative medium that is not simply an alternative way to say the same things that humans say through speech. Music, like other art forms, can express meanings that are not accessible through words or express them in ways that give listeners more immediate access to emotions" (p. 17). Similarly, Booth (1976, p. 242) asserts, "The words that go with music in songs live a life different from that of words written down for printed poetry". Booth suggests that song lyrics are an oral art, thus making organizational aesthetics the most appropriate place from which to analyze what the organizational songs tell us about the social organization.

Strati (1996) describes the history of aesthetic epistemology and the development of organizational aesthetics, noting that the German philosopher, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten developed the field of inquiry we refer to as aesthetics, during the mid-18th century, in response to the emphasis on rationality and intellectual knowledge extending back to Descartes. Strati notes:

Baumgarten conceived of aesthetics as one of the two components of the theory of knowledge or gnoseology: on the one hand, logic, which investigates intellectual knowledge; on the other, aesthetics, as both the theory of the beautiful and of the arts, which investigate sense knowledge. …