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Through the cultural metaphor, we endeavor to see organizations through the cultural values they espouse. Investigators and scholars typically associate culture, through assessment, and approach. Prescriptive approaches descriptive approaches see the metaphor through different styles and types of evidence. In turn, we will address each and offer a baseline of knowledge for the application of the cultural metaphor.

The Cultural Metaphor

Wisely we turn to the pedagogy of Morgan for an understanding of the cultural metaphor as Morgan was a metaphorical thinker. The cultural view of the organization was derived from the word cultivate, suggesting the agricultural undertones inherent to the theory’s overarching construct (Morgan, 1997, p. 116).

Miller considers two distinct, overarching, approaches to studying organizational communication from a cultural perspective, yet both attempt to determine the “qualities that make an organization what it is,” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 71).

Prescriptive and descriptive approaches organize the theoretical constructs taken by scholars in their study of organizational culture by how they apply the cultural metaphor to assess evidence of culture within the organization (pp. 71-75). The prescriptive approach tends to analyze culture as an inherent component of the organization(p. 71) whereas descriptive approaches tend to see culture as an emergent component of the organization (p. 74). A helpful way of seeing this dichotomy is through the analysis of the ire that leaders are born not made.

Prescriptive Approaches

This approach investigates culture within organizational communication as something the organization inherently has (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 71). The organization was born with it. Deal and Kennedy (1982) expanded upon the idea that organizations can possess strong cultures (p. 72). This theoretical position reveals, in part, its limitations: Organizations classified as having strong cultures imply the narrow view that the “right kind of culture can make or break an organization” as evidenced in our previous analysis, that prescriptive approaches see culture as inherent (p. 71). This logic implies only one way of doing things.

Having the right kind of culture can make or break an organization; therefore, the organization cannot achieve its goals without culture. This limited view was the initiating perspective of the study of culture within the context of organizational communication for nearly three decades (p. 71).

However, its logic seems intact from the standpoint of “shared understanding,” as denoted by our lecturer (Lamb, 2024).Values and beliefs are held, heroes exemplify the organization’s values, rites and rituals cement these principles, and communication networks institute and reinforce the strength of the culture (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 72). Microsoft, accordingly, was born as a child of Bill Gates, and its culture was also born at inception.

Pacanowsky and O’Donnell-Trujillo’s (1983) assertion that “each organization has its own way of doing what it does, and its own way of talking about what it is doing” (cited in Miller, p. 71). This construct seems parallel to Deal and Kennedy’s. Further, this positioning sees culture as static, seemingly set by the organization, presumably upon creation, and fixed. Indeed, Deal and Kennedy argue that a strong culture is “the only route to success in the business world” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 73).

In this context, Apple would have created its culture, set the overarching strategy, and left the rest, seemingly for chance. This perspective would not consider the multitude of factors that, over time, grew to enhance the perception of Apple’s organization. It would only see these innovations as statically set at inception.

This thinking “falls short” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 74). First, it moves away from communication being seen as fluid and adopts a “single cultural formula.” In other words, while Deal et al. saw culture as the organization’s way of doing things, they implied that communication was fixed. Interwoven within the same logical framework, it further sees culture as a “thing” the organization has. It further serves to “de-emphasize” the evolved processes we understand to create and sustain culture.

Descriptive Approaches

Contemporary scholars view culture in the context of communication as “the emerging and sometimes fragmented values, practices, narratives, and artifacts that make a particular organization what it is” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 74). In choice, this seems preferential and the most productive view to study organizational communications. From this descriptive perspective, Miller explains culture as a phenomenon “socially created through the interaction of organizational members” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 75).

This logic is inherently more flexible, allowing for further investigation into how culture, through communication, shapes and transforms the organization through it. This perspective sees culture evidenced through communication, understanding that complex communication cycles exist, are non-unitarian, can be ambiguous, and can be emergent (Miller & Barbour, 2020, pp. 74–76).

Most profoundly, Miller reinforces his overarching definition of organizational culture through Pacanowsky and O’Donnell-Trujillo’s (1983) work that sees communication as “constitutive of culture” (p. 75). The constitutive nature of their view reveals how culture can be seen within patterns of communication that are interactional, contextual, episodic, and improvisational (p. 75).

Considering Apple once more, from the descriptive approach, we may find that certain organizational cultures are emergent. Considering our Apple analogy, one could posit that culture was created over time through communication. This approach could consider how organizational subcultures (the programming department) exist, and within their existence, they have particular rituals and behaviors that manifest their culture (p. 75).

From this perspective, we would discover the strength of opposing propositions. Miller’s advocacy for descriptive approaches seems to afford scholars greater latitude to explain communication within the organizational container and further make micro and macro-level analyses to understand the evolving nature of culture more clearly from a communication standpoint.

How Communication Mediates Our Creation of Shared Realities

The constitutive nature of communication, studied from the descriptive approach, may offer a foundation to explore the relationship between culture and the concept of shared reality. Shared reality concerns how “each stakeholder in the conversation shares what is meaningful to them” (Lamb, 2024). This framework allows us to consider what makes sense within the information environment, further connecting how subjectively we interpret information within the information environment from a retrospective standpoint (Lamb, 2024).

Communication mediates our creation of shared realities, not only by the vehicle it provides but through the interpretative nature of communication itself. Through interactions, values and ideas are exchanged. Collectively, stakeholders attach meaning and understanding, thereby creating a social reality. Under our framework, organizational subcultures may exist, whether in harmony or not (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 75).

Morgan holds the belief that culture is emergent. “Shared values, shared beliefs, shared meaning, shared understanding, and shared sense making all define culture” (Morgan, 1997, p. 134). Effective management considers these “socially constructed realities” as transformative vehicles evolved by communication through shaping “mindsets, visions, paradigms, images, metaphors, beliefs, and shared meanings that sustain existing business realities” (p. 138).

Reinforcing the thesis made early in this essay, Morgan considers the interplay with experiences and interactions across contexts when attempting to see the cultural metaphor at work. This implies flexibility rather than fixed views. The study of organizational communication, according to its interplay with “knowledge, ideology, values, laws, and day-to-day rituals…” provides a focal point to understand how shared realities are shaped by or mediated through communicative interactions (p. 138). Miller adopts a similar position, considering the transformative properties of communication can shape an organization’s culture. Further, culture and can be seen as emergent through how communication impacts “values, practices, narratives, and artifacts” that continually seem to evolve to make organizations what they are (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 74).

Culture is maintained or modified, otherwise mediated through communication and can be seen as emergent. The information environment is a living, interacting, and changing space. The rules and structure of the organization give a sense of “context” or perhaps a starting point for studying how culture is shaped through collective realities. Culture is emergent and lives in a state of evolution, as shared meanings can differ from interpretations of interactions. Morgan further reinforces that extrinsic, societal factors can influence or shape an organization’s culture. Morgan so eloquently demonstrates this notion by finding that “organizations end up being what they think and say, as their ideas and visions realize themselves.” This should reflect the constitutive nature of the organization from the cultural perspective.

The emergent nature of culture is apparent within our same study considering Apple. Across departments, each serves a similar goal set by the organization, but the overarching culture may have emerged from the contributions of subcultures. The shared reality could be seen as one of the perks received at hiring: let us say, a 500-share interest in the company’s common stock. This shared reality that we are all shareholders was projected by the organization as a policy or artifact referencing their commitment to their culture but grounded within the human resources department, a unique subculture. The human resources department exists as a subculture, which created an idea through communication that contributed to Apple’s culture.


Working from a slightly different perspective on this week’s work might reveal a new view of how to apply the theoretical constructs of this class. It seems that culture is highly emergent to the degree that emergence can be quantified in a high/low fashion. This essay’s focal point rests on the idea that culture seems to be best studied from a descriptive lens. Miller seems to have developed the best overall definition of culture in a working sense, as he rests his view on how both prescriptive and descriptive approaches to the study of culture reveal its true inner workings. Morgan reiterates the idea that social realities are constructed through communication. Further, culture is not a context that can be imposed, but rather, something that develops, mediated by communication. This further demonstrates the degree to which culture can be emergent; it can divide or unite humans and, further, can create implicit definitions of humans (Morgan, 1997, p. 133). If a metaphor is so powerful it can be described to define an entire sociological construct, it would seem fitting, that many contemporary researchers place great value on the study of organizational communication from the cultural standpoint and Morgan’s central theme that contemplates organizations as cultures (Morgan, 1997).


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