The similarity between your institution and my own is striking: both utilise organisational culture to regulate the ethical conduct of staff; there is a significant effect of national customs impacting on managerial responsibilities; and the fear of being the one that upsets the status quo restricts more open debate. Although, there are also critical differences, I’d like to investigate the mediating role of organisational culture in empowering and restricting action because this is something of importance to both of our workplaces.
One potentially interesting theory for researching this effect is the theory of social control (Chriss, 2013). Chriss describes a typology of three kinds of social control: informal, medical and legal (2013, p. 69). Within legal control fall the institution’s statutes, regulations and rules as well as the wider society’s legal structure. Medical control is unlikely to be helpful in our cases as it refers to medical interventions that normalise aberrant behaviours such as ADHD. But informal social control (ISC) is enforced through the mechanics of “secondary group … instrumental” (p. 107) socialisation and is of direct impact in helping us understand how organisational culture limits personal agency. ISC allows a description of why functional theories of social control are limited in their explanatory power. Stating that a norm enables a society to function well fails to recognise that individuals will also publicly support norms they feel to be wrong for fear of the social consequences (p. 132). As much as this appears straightforward, it is an under-researched field. Cialdini (2007) describes the current understanding of the role of social norms in the control of behaviour as “underappreciated” (p. 263).
Hadley (2015) discusses commercialism in UK, US and Japanese universities as shown in the recently created new role of manager of English-for-academic-purposes (EAP) courses in universities that occupy a kind of limbo status between academic and administrative staff. These managers are not considered faculty, neither is their function purely administrative because they are employed by the university to recruit and manage non-academic EAP tutors in the ‘third space’. Hadley (2015) defines three kinds of manager; sinking, transactional, or upwardly mobile (p. 50). An individual may be any one of these, but the point I wish to make is that Hadley describes in quite some detail in his grounded study how the motivations interact with the organisational structures to create the three types of manager. A discussion of social control is not addressed directly, but this theme underpins Hadley’s exploration.
My current thinking is that I’m not sure if social control as it impacts on organisation culture is rightfully a sociological issue or a social psychological one. Arguments can be made for either, and how those questions are framed will delimitate the types of evidence needed and the kinds of explanations that can arise. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Chriss, J. J. (2013). Social control: An introduction (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.
Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Descriptive social norms as underappreciated sources of social control. Psychometrika, 72(2), 263–268. doi:10.1007/s11336-005-1495-y
Hadley, G. (2015). English for academic purposes in neoliberal universities: A critical grounded theory. System (Vol. 51). Cham: Springer. doi:10.1016/j.system.2015.04.010