People often talk about the culture of their particular organisation in terms of 'the way things are done around here'. In requesting an itemisation of such 'things', one would anticipate a heterogeneous list of factors, ranging from the extent and depth of emotional attachments among staff, to generic work practices and the shared values that underpin them. In fact, some might go as far as to suggest that their culture is unique - not to be found in other organisations. Such heterogeneity is equally evident in organisation theory. The problem with such a heterogeneous conception of culture is that we gain limited explanatory purchase on, inter alia, the reasons why people share (or do not share) values and beliefs, whether such 'sharing' is imposed, and how values and beliefs change and their interplay with social structure. In fact, on the whole, distinct irreducible levels are so tightly compacted that any workable entrée into organisational reality is precluded. This chapter will argue that (a) a substantial increase in explanatory power is gained by a focus on the propositional components of culture, i.e. beliefs, theories, arguments, values, which (b) possess irreducible properties and powers among their relations that predispose their upholders to respond in specifically conditioned ways.
For Hays (1994), theorising about culture per se and its relationship vis-à-vis structure and agency is a 'sticky problem'. Superficially, the notion of stickiness is attractive, for it refers not only to culture's contested nature but also to its tendency to remain ontologically elusive. In other words, upon picking up culture, it becomes like a sweet that has fallen on to a child's hands: each time an attempt is made to put it back into the mouth, the sweet gets stuck on its fingers. It is the sticky residue that the child wants to avoid once the sweet is finally placed into the mouth. I want to argue that culture, like the child's sweet, is a human product, but, qua product, is irreducible to its human makers. One of the principal differences here, of course, is that the child's sweet is sucked and digested. Culture, however, is never digested in this manner: this is an ontological impossibility. It is ready-made for us at birth, constraining/enabling our actions in distinctive ways. Hays argues that
…social structure consists of two central interconnected elements: systems of social relations and systems of meaning. Systems of social relations consist of patterns of roles, relationships, and forms of domination according to which