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The magical power of reciprocity: or, towards an understanding of cultural integration across the division of labor in a cross-functional automotive design organization via a theory of processual culture
Date of Award
Modern organizations typically have a diversity of labor specialization organized through a bureaucracy, a social structure of departments, each charged with developing and maintaining a particular specialization. A hierarchy of power invested in formal office holders and a corpus of explicit policies are maintained to achieve any necessary coordination and cooperation across the bureaucracy's departments. However, such collaboration within the bureaucratic form is undercut by the diverse rationales and varied assumptions that are an outgrowth of the manifold cultures that develop within a bureaucracy's communities of labor specialization. Alternatively, a cross-functional organization, attempts to re-focus an organization's efforts on the holistic work process through the use of multidisciplinary work teams. The key to success depends upon an informal redefinition of worker identities from that of their parochial specializations to more cosmopolitan, multidisciplinary group identities that support a holistic focus by defining away much of the politics and conflict associated with the bureaucratic form. Through ethnographic investigation, following cross group linkages in two cross-functional automotive design organizations; I, firstly, seek to understand how the informal redefinition of social categories that allows greater cooperation and coordination either comes about or not. Secondly, I aim to grasp what such a process of cultural integration reflects about the concept of culture. I find that cultural integration is the result of a redefinition of categories of selfhood, preceded and enabled by a discourse of positive reciprocity that produces its effect via a complex interplay of tropes. This is an interplay founded on metonymy's capacity to seem more "real" to humans. Cross-functional organizations do not resolve all conflict and coordination issues, however; rather they only offer the potential for cultural integration. Ultimately, it seems that achieving this potential is somewhat dependent on how managers within the vehicle design organizations wield their power. Lastly, I find that traditionally conceptions of culture are lacking in the explanatory power necessary to grapple with cultural integration. Thus, I devise an alternative "processual culture" founded upon the anthropological construct of reciprocity, which I believe offers just the interaction and relationship focus required for making processual culture a practical project.
Trainor, Bradley Jay, "The magical power of reciprocity: or, towards an understanding of cultural integration across the division of labor in a cross-functional automotive design organization via a theory of processual culture" (2003). Wayne State University Dissertations. 3308.