Engineering Culture: Control and Commitment in a High-Tech Corporation

Engineering Culture: Control and Commitment in a High-Tech Corporation

Engineering Culture: Control and Commitment in a High-Tech Corporation

Engineering Culture: Control and Commitment in a High-Tech Corporation

Synopsis

Engineering Culture is an award-winning ethnography of the engineering division of a large American high-tech corporation. Now, this influential book-which has been translated into Japanese, Italian and Hebrew-has been revised to bring it up to date. In Engineering Culture, Gideon Kunda offers a critical analysis of an American company's well-known and widely emulated "corporate culture." Kunda uses detailed descriptions of everyday interactions and rituals in which the culture is brought to life, excerpts from in-depth interviews and a wide variety of corporate texts to vividly portray managerial attempts to design and impose the culture and the ways in which it is experienced by members of the organization. The company's management, Kunda reveals, uses a variety of methods to promulgate what it claims is a non-authoritarian, informal, and flexible work environment that enhances and rewards individual commitment, initiative, and creativity while promoting personal growth. The author demonstrates, however, that these pervasive efforts mask an elaborate and subtle form of normative control in which the members' minds and hearts become the target of corporate influence. Kunda carefully dissects the impact this form of control has on employees' work behavior and on their sense of self. In the conclusion written especially for this edition, Kunda reviews the company's fortunes in the years that followed publication of the first edition, reevaluates the arguments in the book, and explores the relevance of corporate culture and its management today.

Excerpt

This book is a report of an ethnographic voyage—an effort to understand a distant and esoteric way of life through extended immersion and close observation. Unlike many voyages of this sort, however, it did not take me to the peripheries of empires or the edges of civilization, nor even to the marginal “others” closer to home, but in the opposite direction—to the metropolis, to the center, to the heart of the American empire, and to one of the sources of its power: the engineering division of a large, successful, and well-known high-tech corporation.

In retrospect, there were good reasons to undertake this journey, and there are, I hope, good reasons to read a book about it. the significance of the ways high-tech managers and workers conduct their lives reaches far beyond the limited, highly specialized arenas in which they work. the world of high-tech has come to be seen, in popular culture no less than among academic observers, as something of a microcosm in which the complex, changing cultural realities of work in general—and particularly professional and knowledge-based work—are reflected. in this view, found in the densely linked and pervasive discourses on “the postindustrial revolution,” “globalization,” “the new economy,” and “the knowledge society,” the high-tech sector and its workers are one of the quintessential manifestations of, driving forces behind, and models for the dramatic changes that have transformed the world during the second half of the twentieth century. the high-tech industry’s role in this revolution, it is argued, is not limited only to the inexorable stream of innovative computing and communications products that have provided its necessary material conditions; high-tech is also the source of widely diffused ideas that shape our worldview and the way we live: beliefs about what work means, templates for how to best organize and manage it, images of who we are—or might become—when we do so.

It was these ideas—their source, their everyday expression, their impact— that I set out to explore. As Chapter 1 shows, a massive outpouring of promises were made in the name of the high-tech way of life—of a new era, new work organizations, a new man and woman; of huge profits, futuristic innovation, humane working environments, and happy, productive workers. in the face of this relentless rhetoric, I felt that a more sober, balanced, and skeptical view was called for: what, I wanted to know, was really going on . . .

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