Interpretive Perspective in Organization Studies

Traditionally, organization studies were focused on the research of meaning, understanding and interpretation. However, the evolution of view on organizations and organization studies was a long-run process which changed views of specialists on organizations and organizations studies. In this respect, it is important to underline that the development of organization studies in the first half and middle of the 20th century did not incorporate an interpretive approach. In fact, interpretive philosophical ideas were developed by Weber, who was one of a few specialists who attempted to apply his interpretive ideas to organization studies, while the dominant trends in organization studies ignored interpretive approach.

It was only in the 1970s when the interpretive ideas were widely applied to organization studies, while in the decades to follow this trend grew even stronger and by the late 20th century the interpretive approach to organization studies became one of the dominant approaches.

On the other hand, the application of the interpretive perspectives to organization studies accelerated the development of in-depth analysis of functioning of organizations. As a result, organization studies became a very important field in the contemporary sociology, which focuses on three major areas: studies of organizational culture, symbolism and aesthetics; processed-based theorizing about interpretation; and analyses of writing and storytelling in “narrating” organizational realities. In such a way, under the impact of interpretive approach, organization studies evolved into a complex field, which researches various aspects of the functioning of organizations and their essence.


The existence of organizational culture is an undeniable fact and modern scholars do not practically argue whether organizational culture exists or not, instead, they attempt to understand what the organizational culture actually is, what it means to people and society at large and how it functions influencing its members. In this respect, it is important to underline the fact that scholars used various approach to the study of organizational culture, but they understand that organizational culture can have multiple meanings and it can be perceived in different ways depending on peculiarities of an individual’s perception of the organization and his or her role in the organization. Obviously, organization is a complex structure with complex relationships between people and naturally the meaning of the organization can differ on different levels of the organizational structure.

In all probability, all these difference stimulate the development of various theoretical approaches to the understanding of the organizational culture and symbolism. One of the dominant views on the organizational culture was a positivist view, according to which the organization should be viewed as a complex social institution performing functions which serve to interests and needs of people or groups of people. In addition, scholars developed an interpretive approach to the organization culture which focused on the understanding of the meaning of organizational functions, structure and culture. Supporters of an interpretive approach attempted to understand the meaning of organizational culture to its members and what effects organizational culture produced on people.

At the same time, in spite of the progress of the research of organizational culture, symbolism and aesthetics, researchers still failed to develop a universal approach or methodology with the help of which they could study organizational culture. Today, there is still no universal approach to the organizational culture studies, but the late 20th century was marked by the emergence of post-modernist approach to organizational culture, which can become a mainstream approach in the nearest future.

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