van Wyk, Berte (2009)

Chapters in Books

This chapter attempts to conceptualise institutional culture by posing a critical question: Are universities institutions or organisations? The question arises due to ambiguities in the literature: several authors describe universities as institutions rather than organisations, while others use the notions of ‘organisation’ and ‘institution’ interchangeably. In agreement with Hoffman (1999) that it would be critically important to consider how and in what ways concepts of culture can enhance – or impede – understanding, research and action in education, I explore the culture debate. There seem to be complex conceptual issues associated with some of the baseline debates on the nature of culture and, following from this, the nature of institutional cultures. The literature suggests that institutional culture as a social construct is embedded in a very definite historical context and purpose (Louw and Finchilescu 2003), and this historical context becomes very useful in an analysis of what constitutes institutional culture at Stellenbosch University. The discussion on two meanings of institutional culture (perceptions, and the language issue) indicates that culture is dynamic, and highlights how meanings change over time. The essay suggests that there is no easy definition of ‘institutional culture’, as there is no one single characteristic of an institution that can be cited to define this culture. I conclude that the usefulness of institutional culture is that it connects people and should be used for a purpose; it is not just something to have, which is where the discussion of the concept usually focuses (Toma, Dubrow and Hartley 2005).

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