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3.2 Mythology in Companies

Our research subject is companies. A company is a functional group and interest community as well as a sort of culture community and livelihood community. Such a trend is strong especially in Japan. The former is the main premise in economics, while anthropology of administration has been focusing on the latter. Anthropology has been interested in the fateful part which is distinct from profit-and-loss calculation and scientific management. This is the reason why our research targets have been company museums and company ceremonies. Anthropological methods such as participant observation and interviewing were used. Metaphors including a shrine and a regicide were also applied.

In this chapter, the metaphor of “myth” is used to describe company stories. Furthermore, emphasis is not on a company as an interest community, but as a liveli-hood community. When people tell how the livelihood community is formed and exists in the world, a mythological system seems to be used.

Myths are normally told by ethnic groups or nations and constitute the basis of the perspective of the world that is shared by those ethnic groups or nations. Myths such as the Greek mythology and Japanese mythology can be understood as the worldview and historical view of the ancient Greek or Japanese people. However, not only ethnic groups or nations but more subordinate communities also have their own myths. They do not describe the formation of the entire world, as in a creation myth, but rather describe the formation of each community, show how it differs from other communities, and thus become a statement of the community's social mission. As in territorially connected communities and blood relative communities, companies also have an aspect of company-related community. Toshinao Yoneyama presents a concept of sodality or associational tie which is contrasted with territorially connected communities and blood relative communities. Sodality or associational tie means association relationship, forms an association though the secondary group, and has a community character if part of its life transpires through shared time and space (Yoneyama 1981). This is not limited to companies. Human groups with a community character are also formed in military forces and schools. Various statements are made in these communities, which can be treated as a special kind of myth.

Based on this sort of myth, this chapter will question how mythical statements function in the human groups known as companies. As efficiency is more highly regarded in companies than in any other communities, no full-scale research on the company mythology has been conducted before. [1] From an overall view, it is surely connected to Roland Barthes' “Modern Mythology." [2]

It is common knowledge that human relationships exist in corporate organizations, apart from functional relations. Weber's bureaucracy theory points out that human relationships in a bureaucracy are functional if the bureaucracy follows a rational design, but it is also known that informal human relationships exist within the same structure. Furthermore, in regard to Weber's bureaucracy theory, Merton's theory is that Weber's rational design may fall into dysfunction as the result of some members' unexpected behaviors which are different from the designer's intention (Merton 1949). This dysfunction theory is based on the fact that the standard of rationality is different between an organization and its members and that the members' rational behaviors cause irrationality for the organization. This kind of gap is likely to be present and persist because an organization has a self-forming aspect as a social group.

Separately from the rational design, the company mythology arises out of the interplay within a group. Myths are characterized by their unfathomable mystery. They cannot be rationally explained, but are not necessarily contradictory to the rational design because they are naturally occurring statements resulting from the interplay among participating members. Myths, for example, as Eliade repeatedly says, aim at identifying what is fundamentally “sacred.” They demonstrate the leadership's legitimacy as well as evidence of its power through the perspective of the world of ethnic peoples. Similarly, company mythology explains what kind of power and authority a company has by tracing back to its start of business. Thus, it explains that its governance is fair and valid and reliably serves its function.

In this sense, it is obvious that the concept of myths is applicable to companies in the present day and that it can be a subject of research analysis. By discussing company mythology, we will be able to clarify some aspects of a company as a human group or as a company-related community, which has not been previously addressed.

Where does the company mythology exist? What initially comes to mind are a company's history, its founder's biography, novels about the business enterprise, treatises on the company, the company museum, holy places of the company, TV commercials, and websites. It can also be found in the workplace. Next, what shape or form does it have? A typical example is a founding myth. There are many myths in various categories, including brand myth, success myth, hero myth, and myth of security. Who are they created by? As an author of a myth, a founder will be at the top of the list, followed by an editing office of the company history, labor union, professional writer, copywriter, and a researcher who might have a hand in this. Considering all of these various contributors, the company mythology surely provides an abundant field for mythology research.

  • [1] Earlier studies on company mythology have rarely been conducted, but various myths of modern Japan were once taken up at the National Museum of Ethnology. It was at the fifth symposium of the special research on “The Traditions and Changes in Modern Japanese Culture” (1989). The theme was “'Mythology' of Modern Japan” (Nakamaki 1989). Discussed in the symposium were various “myths” of family/home, society, economy, nation, education, health, religion, informatization, and “myths” in the study of Japan. The gap between the broad recognition and reality was recognized. However, company mythology itself was not reported, and sociologist Chizuko Ueno pointed out the necessity to discuss, for example, the collapse of the myth of the seniority and lifetime employment systems in Japan (Nakamaki 1989: 242). This special research was followed by another special research on “The Traditions and Changes of the Various Ethnic People's Cultures in the 20th Century.” In its fifth symposium entitled “Community in the Twentieth Century” (1996), Hioki reported about “Company Related Community Now.” He didn't refer to the idea of myths, but discussed the peculiar aspects of Japanese companies (Hioki 1998: 206–220).
  • [2] Roland Barthes' Mythologies (Barthes 1967) and Modern Mythology (1957a, b) have played a pioneering role in the study of modern mythology. However, Barthes has been ignored for a long time, because he poked fun at and analyzed the subconscious ideology observed in the daily life of petite bourgeoisie (Matsumura 2010: 30).
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