Volume 23, 2012
Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Annual Meeting
A Cultural Analysis of Sustainability and Human Organizations
What can we learn from pre-industrial societies and organizations to achieve a sustainable development? As the pressure on organizations for a more sustainable world is increasing, some suggest that pre-industrial societies have lessons to teach. Organizations studies have borrowed very little from anthropology studies and have therefore not benefited from the cultural analysis they provide. This paper digs into this untapped reservoir of knowledge, and suggests a twofold discussion. The first part presents counterintuitive results that dismiss common assumptions: indigenous organizations are not more conservationist than modern organizations, their dependence upon nature has translated into cultural practices which were hastily interpreted as forms of respect, their interest for the natural environment being rather guided by survival and cultural autonomy. Whereas tribal groups are dependent upon natural resources and cycles, modern societies and organizations have used technology to exploit the natural world. Yet, modern societies and organizations can benefit from knowledge withheld by indigenous cultural groups. I conclude on the idea that a sustainable model is yet to be found, and that a new paradigm of individual and group behavior has to emerge to confront environmental degradation and scarcity of natural resources.