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Organization Culture Of The FBI Via The Film "The Silence Of The Lambs"

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The main purpose of this paper is to reveal how the organizational culture of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is embedded in the dialogue between the characters of Clarice Starling and her mentor, Jack Crawford, during the first minutes of the movie the “Silence of the Lambs”. This analysis relies on the Edgar Schein's organizational culture model and the three levels of culture he identifies.

According to this author “Culture is an abstraction, yet the forces that are created in social and organizational situations that derive from culture are powerful” but also invisible and only reachable with “cultural lenses”. The three levels the author mentions refers to “the degree to which the cultural phenomenon is visible to the observer” and range from a very tangible manifestation to the basic assumptions that are, according to Schein, the essence of culture.

At the surface is the level of artifacts, recognizable elements, processes and structures but difficult to decipher. According to Schein, “It is especially dangerous to try to infer the deeper assumptions from artifacts alone, because one’s interpretations will inevitably be projections of one’s own feelings and reactions”.  Therefore, considering the analysis caution, these artifacts were the starting point in an attempt to reveal the deeper assumptions that work in the culture configuration if the FBI. The process of analysis started by identifying and examining these artifacts, then by carful observation and listening, the underlying assumptions were indicated and finally related to the first level of the cultural phenomenon. This procedure implied the obvious consideration of Schein´s second level of Espoused Beliefs and Values between artifacts and underlying assumptions.

In his book Organizational Change and Leadership, Schein explains “that changes in the environment often create disequilibria that force more transformational change” and it would be fair to consider that the scene is contextualized within a process of change of the FBI´s organizational culture due to external demand: the need of diversity among the force to preserve effectiveness. In this particular example is worth to mention that the first female agent was incorporated in 1972, before that they were not allowed. So, it is possible to infer that assignment of the “interesting errand”, as called during the conversation, to a female trainee is related to unsuccessful previous attempts to solve the case, based on the display of evidence and analysis in the offices Mrs. Starling accesses to, but also to what Schein calls a Culture Change Mechanism. At this point, since the FBI can be considered to be in a midlife organizational stage, the mechanism could be indicated as what Schein describes as Systematic promotion from selected subcultures but with some characteristics of what he indicates as the Promotion of hybrids within the culture. This last one implies “the gradual and incremental change is the systematic promotion of insiders whose own assumptions are better adapted to the new external realities” so as insiders they accept much of the cultural but also, because of their backgrounds can move the organization gradually into new ways of thinking and acting. It appears to be quite evident that women are not expected to be efficient but they “have to be able to say we (the FBI manager) tried”

On other hand, the FBI in general could be considered a bureaucratic organization therefore, many of the identified assumptions are related to Weber`s principles of bureaucracy and to what this author considered to be the central cognitive orientation of modern societies: rationality. These principles underpin significantly the content of this report since in their conception there was considerable attention to the cultural values and modes of thought, and they fit this case of analysis.

Finally, also relying on Schein`s work over the effects on early leaders on the organization´s culture, it is possible to say that the influence of John Edgar Hoover, first successful leader of the bureau who transformed it from a bad reputed organization to one of the most powerful law enforcement governmental office, it is evident in the scene as an attempt to portray the FBI cultural organization. The author postulate a model of cultural embedding that suggest that founders “create” the organizational culture by fixing their major postulations and dispositions into their organizations and most of the underlying assumptions identified in this report are based on a research of Mr. Hoover`s personal assumptions and vision for the FBI.

The first assumption considered, related specifically Weber`s description of modern bureaucratic organization, is that the principles this author described operate in the FBI´s culture and are embodied in the dialogue. Therefore, a formal hierarchical structure is evident, with centralized planning and decision making. In this configuration each level controls the level below, and is controlled by the level above and those decisions made in the higher levels are executed by the lowers one, as stated in the Management by rules principle. According to this conception, and also well reflected in the movie is that superiors are not to be questioned. This stays clear as there is not room for Mrs. Starling to decline the assignment and even when she makes room for questions these are not answered by Mr. Crawford. Also, following the theory, the organization is structured by functional specialty. At a more evident degree it is possible to see these assumptions in the formal and strictly professional relations between personal belonging to different levels and functions in the structure, much more informal between people from the same level and occupation. Specifically in the dialogue scene, the posture and relaxed attitude, even when professional and distant, of Mr. Crawford contrast the stressed, aware manner of Mrs. Starling who will not even seat down until her boss allowed her to. In the manner of addressing and the language are also evident these assumptions and one can see that when he address her by the last name and she refers him as Sr. while having an informal casual greet with another woman from her same “level”. The language that is used in an organization is often created by the people at the top of the hierarchy and everyone who is part of the organization or attempt to, is expected to adapt to the common shared language; this also expected in the silent/unspoken language. Another artifact that these assumptions are manifested is in the dress code, based on which one is able to clearly distinguish the different hierarchical levels and functions (agents, trainees, staff members, among others). The dress codes are indeed organizational symbols, enabling employees to navigate throughout the organization infrastructure,


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