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Dominant, emergent, and residual culture: the dynamics of organizational change

Jane Bryson (Victoria Management School, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 15 October 2008




The purpose of this paper is to introduce a practical conceptual tool for analysing the dynamics of cultural change in organizations. In so doing it seeks to address two concerns in the organization culture literature: issues of time and perspective which underlie the contested nature of culture; and limitations of existing analytical frameworks to cater for differing perspectives in a manner which is accessible to academics and practitioners.


Williams' notion of culture as a constant negotiation between the dominant, the emergent, and the residual cultures mediated by the processes of selective tradition and incorporation is discussed. For illustrative purposes this model is then used to analyse material collected in a case study of a growing IT organization.


The analysis framework identifies the paradoxes and potential tensions in the ongoing development of this organization. As a result it promotes questioning, and clarifies where choices are to be made.

Research limitations/implications

The paper shows how this framework can be used to assist investigation. Although the usual limitations of case study research apply, the framework facilitates a wider view of change over time.

Practical implications

The paper provides an accessible reflective framework that affords a more dynamic, contextual, evolutionary, and nuanced view of organizations. It accommodates multiple perspectives within an organization and facilitates their exploration.


The paper introduces the ideas of Raymond Williams to a wider organizational audience, and demonstrates how they can be adapted to make complex accounts of culture and organization more accessible.



Bryson, J. (2008), "Dominant, emergent, and residual culture: the dynamics of organizational change", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 743-757.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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