Abstract: Corporate Culture: Cold War Management Theory and the Revaluation of the White-Collar Workplace

Anna J. Murphy


A history of management thought, this paper asks: how and why is it that corporations—and, more broadly, organizations—came to be thought of as spaces of culture? What does "corporate culture" mean? What distinguished it from other ways of thinking about management? And why did this interpretive framework rise to prominence at the time that it did in the early 1980s? The corporate form came under scrutiny in the 1950s, pinpointed by critics as the source of conformity, the destruction of individuality, the spread of empty consumer culture, and the dissolution of structures of value in American society. In the context of this crisis, behavioral scientists, social psychologists, and organizational theorists came together at places like MIT's Sloan School and the National Training Laboratories and started developing new conceptions of the organization that resolved some of these anxieties. I argue that "corporate culture" can be understood as an idiom that was developed in a way that would refashion the corporation into a positive, generative space: one that produced values, artifacts, and culture-marked subjects.