Anthropology of Organizations

Anthropology of Organizations

Anthropology of Organizations

Anthropology of Organizations


The 1980s and 1990s have been a time of change for organizations, with a preoccupation for changing 'organizational culture', a concept attributed to anthropology. These changes have been accompanied by questions about different styles of organizing. In both public and private sector organizations and in the first and third worlds, there is now a concern to understand how organizational change can be achieved, how indigenous practices can be incorporated to maximum effect, and how opportunities can be improved for disadvantaged groups, particularly women.
The Anthropology of Organizationsquestions 'organizational culture' as a tool of management and presents and analyses the latest anthropological work on the management of organizations and their development, demonstrating the use of recent theory and examining the practical problems which anthropology can help to solve.


David Marsden

In the Third World, as in the West, there has been a restructuring of capital and of the role of the state. In both contexts there has been a 'contracting out' of services formerly dealt with by the public sector and an increased reliance on voluntary or non-governmental organizations and on 'local initiative' (on the assumption that greater efficiency and effectiveness of programmes will follow). In the Third World there is an additional concern to enhance the use of indigenous management styles and of local understandings of 'organization' and 'development' as appropriate foundations for intervention efforts. So far this concern seems not to have been raised in contexts of development in the West, perhaps because it is assumed that differences between 'professional' and 'indigenous' ideas about organization and management are not so great. However, there may be lessons to be learned from the much more advanced Third World development debates about the establishment of trans-cultural measurements of quality and of evaluations of the performance of individuals, organizations and development projects, as against the recognition of particular cultural traditions as the basis for development strategies.

The current aims of many development agencies are, inter alia, to build more effective partnerships between 'donors' and 'beneficiaries' and between government and people, and thereby to enhance the possibilities for successful interventions made in the name of 'development'. The emphasis is on appropriateness and sustainability. But appropriate to whom and sustainable in what contexts?

Central to these issues is a fundamental concern with the problem of cultural relativity and the 'space' to be given to the elaboration of local development strategies, in the face of trans-cultural preoccupations which suggest that certain sets of values are not negotiable-for example, the values that underpin conditions for structural adjustment, environmental sustainability, enhancement of the role of women, participation, and 'good governance'.

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