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Studying organizations from a cultural perspective

Multiple perspectives, first-hand

The Culture, Organization and Management (COM) master’s programme at VU Amsterdam is like no other. During this truly multi-disciplinary programme, you’ll combine insights from different social science disciplines such as organization studies, psychology, anthropology, and sociology to understand organizational and management issues. We teach you to look behind the scenes, zooming in on both individuals’ lived experiences and zooming out to place these experiences in their wider organizational and societal context.

There are no pre-set models that dictate how to make sense of an issue – you’ll need to come up with your own solutions based on thorough knowledge of the situation and the people involved. For example, a student can conduct fieldwork and write a thesis on employee theft in companies. To address employee theft, management needs much more than facts and figures, but to understand why their employees are stealing in the first place. Bringing this kind of insight is where a COM student truly shines.

What’s more, this is an international programme, covering global issues that affect people transnationally, as well as locally at the level of individuals, groups, and organizations. One of our students looked at the cultural differences between Dutch and Chinese employees in a multinational organization. In addressing serious communication issues, she discovered how identity conflict, cultural dynamics and power structures at play were the main sources of miscommunication.

Whatever the topic of research, our approach has several distinguishing features. We employ multiple perspectives to address complex issues, adopt a critical attitude that considers both the internal organization and external stakeholders, maintain a self-reflexive mindset that is attuned to cultural biases, and apply an effective and engaged style of communication. Teaching students to develop a practice-based understanding of complex issues ‘from within’ and at the same time provide straightforward analysis and critical advice, the knowledge and insights gained throughout the COM programme provide graduates with solid career opportunities in both public and private sectors.

The start date of Culture, Organization and Management is September 1st.

Facts and figures

The Master's programme

Core Modules:
Organization and Power
– A course about the complexity of power structures and their concrete impact on organizational processes.
Sensemaking in Organizations – A course about how humans and other sentient beings make meaning of organizational issues through all their senses.
From Fascination to Fieldwork – A research lab course designed to prepare you with the research skills to go into the field and conduct your own research.
From Fieldwork to Future – A research seminar dedicated to helping you make sense of your research results and present them to academic and non-academic audiences.

Master’s thesis in Culture, Organization and Management allows you to develop a solid research project on a topic of your own choosing, and write a theoretically informed report that presents the findings to an academic audience as well as interested professionals.

Changing Organizational Culture
– A course delving into the complexities of transforming organizational culture, investigating the challenges posed by cultural patterns and social dynamics that constrain effective change management.
Culture and Identity in Organizations – A course exploring the pervasive influences of taken-for-granted norms on diverse cultures and identities in organizations to understand their impact on careers and power structures.
Transnational Organizations in a Global World – A course analysing the influence and impact of globalization from socio-economic, political, cultural, environmental and organizational perspectives.

Please consult the Study Guide from Culture, Organization and Management for more information.

Possible thesis themes

Below are possible themes that we consider important in the field of organization sciences, and that you can choose from in developing your Master’s thesis project.

Crisis, Vulnerability & Resilience in Organizations

How can organizations ground us in times of adversity? And what can we learn from periods of crisis? Our students focus on complex societal issues and develop innovative approaches to think about solutions. Research projects analysing natural disasters, wars and other (global) threats reveal how we can approach such wicked problems and how we can make societies, organizations, and individuals more resilient. Students ask questions such as how to effectively communicate risks in organizations, or how NGOs can coordinate and organize themselves in response to the climate change crisis.

Employment Relations & Organizational Control

Organizations use control mechanisms to ensure that their goals and aims are met. Employee relations and control-resistance dynamics play a significant role in every organization. Managing workplace conflicts, negotiating contracts, and maintaining a positive workplace culture are the tip of the iceberg. Our students are encouraged to look at what happens when organizations exercise control or introduce changes that employees perceive as threatening to their work environment, job security or well-being. For example, what is the effect of employee monitoring in the age of hybrid working, or what role do HR professionals or Chief Happiness Officers play in organizational control?

New Ways of Working & Organizing Technology

For over a century, business was associated with shareholder firms, hierarchical management, and employment relations. Today’s economy is more about innovation, experiences, and information than products. Recent technologies have made work more mobile, collaborative, and networked. At COM, we look at new forms of organizing such as in coworking spaces, or among freelancers and creators. For example, how can we organize digital technology while avoiding an ‘always-on’ attitude, or how can we foster social security and equality in an economy fuelled by freelancing? The world of work is rapidly changing and requiring healthy human and planetary boundaries.

Professional & Organizational Identities

‘What do you do?’, a standard question we all ask without a second thought. In other words, ‘the work we do’ and ‘the organization we work for’ become part of our personal and professional identities. Not only employees but organizations can have a particular ‘identity’ that relates to the organization’s image and culture, making one organization supposedly distinct from others. At COM, we look at how professional and organizational identities are socially created, and how they are influenced by what others think and do. We look at organizational paradoxes, such as how job applicants must communicate their ‘uniqueness’ and willingness to ‘blend in’ as good team players at the same time. We ask questions such as: how do organizations establish what an ‘ideal’ professional or organizational identity looks like? And how do organizations use these ‘ideals’ for their own (commercial) goals?

Managing Organizational & Cultural Change

Many organizational change studies are based on traditional ‘top-down’ perspectives or ‘planned’ approaches to managing change, often overlooking social and cultural issues and the (un)intended consequences of change, such as power struggles or resistance. Our students are urged to approach change from a critical perspective, viewing change as a dynamic and cultural process happening at multiple levels within the organization. Students focus on real life cases and connect theories to concrete practices of change work, asking questions such as: how do construction workers make sense of their new role as part of the transition to circular construction? Or how do start-ups use culture to deal with scale-up related organizational change?

Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Organizations

Entrepreneurship is about coming up with new and innovative ideas to respond to the needs of consumers and society, and about putting these ideas into practice. At COM, we are interested in what motivates entrepreneurs, how they identify and create opportunities, and how they view their role in communities and societies. Our students research everyday entrepreneurship in various environments, going beyond stereotypical images of entrepreneurship as high-tech, venture capital-backed, profit-oriented, and Silicon Valley-like. We ask, for example: how do social entrepreneurs combine commercial and impact-oriented activities to address social or environmental problems? Or how do migrant entrepreneurs use their cross-border network to establish businesses?

Organizing Sustainability & Multispecies Relations

Sustainability is often approached from a human perspective, ignoring the connections between human and other than human species. However, our current climate crisis is detrimental to all interconnected life on Earth. We encourage our students to think about sustainability from multiple perspectives and investigate the role organizations play in this sustainability transformation. We question the status quo, examining the webs between human and other than human relations in our education, work, consumption, and healthcare, asking questions such as: why are pets not allowed to enter university premises, while other animals are used in medical research labs? Or how are animals treated in our food chains and how does this relate to how we privately think of them?

Diversity & Gender in Organizations

In an age of talking about diversity, whether that be in terms of culture, class, gender, LGBTQ+, bodyism or otherwise, we confront contradictory, often paradoxical processes of inclusion and exclusion in organizations. Students explore the increasing demand for equality measures and cultural recognition while critiquing a growing trend of exclusionary practices in organizations. By looking at these issues from an intersectional perspective, which recognizes that people have multiple overlapping identities that may simultaneously play a role, students explore areas such as: how can organizations manage diversity? Or how can higher education institutions adapt to meet the demands of a diverse student population?

Organizing Mobility & Migration

Migration remains an urgent topic in our society, triggering hot debates from border control and access to the labour market, to the legal recognition of refugees. Our students address the organization of mobility and migration control, and the processes leading to the inclusion or exclusion of migrants from host societies. We tackle topics such as access to the labour market, deportation measures, and inclusion/exclusion of vulnerable and/or racialised migrants. Students ask questions such as: who is welcomed or rejected from Europe and why? How do pressures to ‘integrate’ into a host society affect migrants, and how can private and public organizations respond, adapt and change their own (organizational) culture to become more inclusive in an era of mass mobility and globalization?

Change your future with the Culture, Organization and Management programme

Change your future with the Culture, Organization and Management programme

After completing the Master’s programme Culture, Organization and Management, you can opt for a PhD or start working as a policymaker or advisor for a knowledge institute, private-sector company, international organisation or NGO.

Explore your future prospects