Issues in Cultural and Cross-Cultural Analysis in Education
- Les BellLes BellUniversity of Lincoln (Emeritus)
There are several difficulties encountered when researching organizational culture with particular reference to educational institutions. The first attempts to articulate a softer, people-oriented strategy for improving performance arose from disaffection with rationalizing approaches to business management. The notion that successful companies had strong cohesive cultures linked with the notion of schools and colleges needing to become more business-like. This in turn led to acceptance of the culture of educational organizations as being an important factor in their effective management. Cultural models emphasize both the informal aspects of educational organizations and the dissatisfaction with traditional models.
The concept of culture and its effects on educational leadership and management is a relatively underdeveloped field of study, and studies of non-Western institutions are rare, indeed. However, those studies that have been undertaken tend to be fraught with difficulties that initially stem from a series of definitional complexities that lead to flawed conceptualizations of organizational culture. Several studies have argued that common dimensions are necessary to compare and contrast cultures. These dimensions tend to be presented as polar types, although their original formulation also tended to present these dimensions as a continuum.
The study of societal culture is important in understanding differences in school management practices between societies. However, the basic techniques of analysis in the models that tend to be used for this are based on concepts that are derived either from Western philosophy and sociology or from Western approaches to understanding a wide range of relationships. Such conceptualizations fail to consider any variations in the understanding of organizational culture that might be derived from an analysis of institutions in societies in other parts of the world.
A more productive way to pursue a cross-cultural model of organizational culture might be to explore the metaphors attached to organizations and to recognize what those metaphors might reveal about organizational culture in different societies. Western-based models tend to reify key features of organizations and treat them as elements to be manipulated by leaders and managers within organizations. Metaphors, on the other hand, facilitate the exploration of shared interpretive schema of members of organizations, implying that culture cannot be observed directly but can only exist in the minds of members of that culture.