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History of Organizational Communication

CHARLES CONRAD
Texas A&M University–College Station, USA

MICHAEL SOLLITTO
Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, USA

The analysis of communication in organizations started with the first organizations.


Among the oldest examples of written communication are the cuneiform balance
sheets used by ancient Sumerians to make the parties involved in economic transac-
tions responsible and accountable (cuneiform is a system of wedge-shaped symbols
pressed into clay tablets). The Chinese emperors Yao and Shun sought ways to open
communication channels between themselves and their constituents, as did Alexander
the Great with his soldiers; and Pharaoh Ptah-Hotep recognized the important role
that emotions and emotional appeals play in leadership. Indeed, by the beginning of
the common or Christian era (CE), many of the key concepts of contemporary organi-
zational communication theory had been suggested by Hellenistic and Asian scholars.
Centuries later the industrial revolution led to much larger organizations, creating
more complex problems of control and coordination, and making communication
even more important. Each of these concepts is an important topic of research and
theory in the early 21st century. In this entry we will examine in detail only a small
part of that history, the era between the mid-1960s and the present (for a more detailed
history of the field covering earlier periods, see Redding & Tompkins, 1988). Even
during that relatively short period of time, the study of organizational communication
has changed in many ways, with some topics capturing the attention of scholars and
practitioners alike for a time, only to move to the background as other topics became
more pressing or popular, eventually to return to a more central place. Similarly, the
relative salience of the various theoretical perspectives that have been developed by
organizational communication researchers and theorists, or borrowed from other
academic disciplines and adapted, have ebbed and flowed.
These transformations result from three processes and their interrelationships.
First, communication both represents and enacts every element of organizational life,
and it is through communication that organizational actors are linked to the social,
cultural, and economic contexts within which their organizations operate. When those
contexts change, organizational actors confront new exigencies, opportunities, and
constraints that they must accept, resist, or attempt to modify. Organizational com-
munication scholars are influenced by these changes. Scholars are also embedded in
communication networks that link them to other scholars, both within their academic
discipline and in other fields (e.g., industrial-organizational and social psychology,
management, organizational sociology, critical economics, and sociology). Through
The International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication. Craig R. Scott and Laurie Lewis (Editors-in-Chief),
James R. Barker, Joann Keyton, Timothy Kuhn, and Paaige K. Turner (Associate Editors).
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
DOI: 10.1002/9781118955567.wbieoc097
2 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

these connections, organizational communication scholars have been exposed to and


adopted a wide range of theoretical perspectives, even as they sought to develop a
distinctively communicative conception of organizations and symbolic action with
them. Finally, the theory and research perspectives that constitute an academic field
or subfield develop along individual trajectories – what Thomas Kuhn called “normal
science.” But, these developmental processes are neither simple nor linear, as research
findings aggregate in ways that lead scholars to refine their assumptions, ask new and
different questions, and so on. Dialogue among researchers who are working within
one paradigm transforms it, as does dialogue among scholars developing different
paradigms within the same field of inquiry.
Consequently, even as organizational communication has grown and matured as a
distinctive field of study, it has been replete with tensions and contradictions, funda-
mental differences among scholars about the appropriate goals or ends of research,
the interests (social, economic, and identity related) that it should serve, the value and
limitations of different methodological approaches, and the nature of communication
itself. The general trend has been toward viewing communication as processes through
which organizations are created, constructed, and transformed. Today, organizational
communication scholars adopt a wide and eclectic range of conceptual and method-
ological frameworks, as they simultaneously construct a field of study that has its own,
unique identity and maintain important ties to other academic disciplines and subdis-
ciplines. But, it has taken a half-century to reach this point. Between the mid-1960s and
the mid-2010s lies a complex history, a long and winding road during which scholars
have attempted to develop shared understandings of organizations and organizational
communication while maintaining distinctive and often competing perspectives.

Origins: The 1960s and 1970s

The 1960s and 1970s were an era of rapid economic growth and substantial social dis-
ruption and change in all of the developed Western democracies, but especially in the
United States. Issues related to individual voice and the representation of sectional inter-
ests – economic class, race/ethnicity, and gender – dominated political discourse, at
the same time that issues of participation in decision making (PDM) and organiza-
tional democracy captured the attention of organizational scholars and practitioners.
While the latter topic was a core interest of organizational sociologists and some man-
agement scholars during the late 1970s, mainstream organizational communication
research focused on the former, with an emphasis on finding ways to increase the effi-
ciency and effectiveness of rapidly growing organizations. Organizations themselves
were conceptualized as ever-changing, complex systems of interpersonal interaction in
which communication functioned to motivate and inspire members toward efficiently
achieving organizational goals. Organizational structures were viewed as emerging via
long-term communicative processes. However, researchers treated structures as being
sufficiently stable and independent of immediate interactions to guide and constrain
communication but not be influenced by it during the short term. Message contents
and flows were central to organizational effectiveness, so communication, as Chester
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Barnard had argued 30 years earlier, played a central role. Most organizational com-
munication research attempted to apply findings and theories from interpersonal and
small group communication, which had largely been developed in laboratory settings.
However, even in 1965, some observers were cautioning that extrapolating these results
to the complex contexts of organizations might be inappropriate. For example, in “real”
organizations messages are often “sent” by multiple “sources” to multiple “receivers”
over long “distances,” defined in terms of both physical separation and the number of
links in communication chains.
Organizational actors’ interpretations of messages were viewed as being influenced
by the timing of message exchanges, employees’ task and role requirements, their level
in the organizational hierarchy, and the totality of messages they received at a given
point in time. Each of these factors could produce “errors” of interpretation (defined as
deviations from the meanings intended by senders) or errors of transmission, that is,
forwarding messages to inappropriate receivers or not forwarding them to appropriate
ones. Especially complex or ambiguous messages increase the likelihood of these
errors, even though all messages “carry” multiple levels of meaning. Unfiltered for-
warding of messages can lead to information overload. Withholding messages can rob
decision makers of the information they need to make boundedly rational decisions.
(Herbert Simon’s notion of “bounded rationality” says that, except in very simple
decisions, most people lack the information, time, energy, and/or cognitive capacity to
make strictly rational decisions; instead, we “satisfice,” or make decisions that are good
enough, given the realities that we face.) Employees also may err by using the wrong
message form: oral messages have fundamentally different effects than either written
messages addressed to a specific audience at a specific point in time, or organizational
“documents” which are addressed to a larger, potentially more diverse audience at
some time in the future. The primary theoretical frameworks employed in this research
were Shannon and Weaver’s linear source–message–channel–receiver (SMCR) model
of machine–human communication, and Katz’s model of “two-step flows” – the theory
that most people are influenced by opinion leaders, who are themselves influenced
by the media and other sources. Of course, there are cases in which withholding or
distorting messages is officially sanctioned by organizational power holders, but in
general personality attributes (e.g., mobility aspirations, mistrust, or other emotions)
or characteristics of interpersonal relationships (e.g., distrust) are responsible.
Eventually message flows become regularized, creating expectations which parallel
the effects of customs on larger cultures. Occupying a central role in these networks
gives employees power, which attracts more communication; communicating strategi-
cally enhances individuals’ power, especially if doing so establishes shared interpretive
frames and/or sets unit or organizational agendas. Formal communication networks
(those that carry official messages to and from upper management) and informal com-
munication networks interact with one another in complicated ways, and both influence
and are influenced by organizational or unit size. Key elements of control and coordina-
tion – maintaining authority relationships, developing task expertise, socializing mem-
bers to organizational and subcultural norms, and managing status differences – rely on
communication networks. As a result, a great deal of research at this time focused on
“rumors” (information of interest to employees but whose distribution is not officially
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sanctioned or controlled by upper management) and their impact. Because this research
consistently supported the conclusion that “rumors” function in much the same way as
formal messages, and have comparable accuracy, little related research was conducted
after the end of the 1970s.
In an important way, organizational communication research and theory during the
subsequent decade continued close ties to work in organizational theory and behavior.
This was no small undertaking because the late 1960s and the 1970s were a highly pro-
ductive era for those disciplines, and a number of concepts and models emerged and
attracted the attention of organizational communication scholars. These included Jack
Gibb’s distinction between “supportive” and “defensive” managerial communication;
Douglas McGregor’s distinction between “theory X” and “theory Y” managerial mind-
sets; Rensis Likert’s “system 4”; Edwin A. Fleishman’s distinction between managerial
actions that offer “consideration” and those that “initiate structure”; “management by
objective” systems; contingency theories of organization–environment relationships;
research on “groupthink,” that is, trust formation, maintenance, and destruction and its
relationship to supervisory communicative “openness”; and the (rather heated) debate
between advocates of “human relations” models and converts to “human resources”
perspectives such as Robert Blake and Jane Mouton with their “managerial grid” or
“situational leadership.” However, at least three perspectives were articulated that
focused attention on organizational communication.
One perspective offered a communication centered version of the structural-
functional model then dominant in social psychology (see, e.g., Katz & Kahn, 1978).
“Functionalist” versions of social science assume that there is a “reality” that exists
external to individuals, their perceptions, and their actions. Functionalists viewed
organizations as unified, cooperative systems that pursue a shared goal or set of goals.
If members have different goals, or disagree with existing methods of pursing shared
goals, it is a sign of weakness or flaws, either in the deviant or in the organization’s
motivation and control system. Usually, functionalist perspectives are biased in favor
of managers and their interests, and in maintaining the status quo. Functionalist views
of organizational communication treat messages as “chunks” of information that flow
through stable, unchanging channels within organizational containers which have
relatively impermeable boundaries. The dominant version combined functionalism
with open systems theory, which treated members of organizations as parts of an
interdependent system, not as a group of individuals. The primary goal of structural-
functional research was to delineate the implications that popular organizational
theories held for communication more than to chart the implications that commu-
nication theories held for organizational theories. Communication theories were
developed in order to explain important organizational practices: the socialization of
newcomers; the development of communication rules and roles; the development, use,
and transformation of communication networks as well as the complex relationship
between formal and informal networks; decision making; and leadership, which
inherently involved managing communication.
A second emerging perspective placed “interpreters” (not “receivers”) at the forefront
of organizational communication theorizing. Like structural-functional views, this
began by defining “organizations” as ever-changing “open” systems composed of people
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who occupy positions defined by related role specifications that are arranged in a hierar-
chy designed to provide coordination and control. “Communication” was defined as the
creation of meaning by human agents whose interpretive processes are influenced by
myriad factors. Central to actors’ interpretations of their roles, positions, and behavioral
options is their location in complex networks of communication – literally, “networks
of networks” that link “groups of groups.” Networks emerge through communication,
mediate organizational power relationships, and structure as well as being structured by
coalitional politics. Although this perspective maintained the depictions of “messages”
and “information flow” that were developed during the 1960s, it also introduced the
concept of “communication climate.” Early definitions grounded “climate” in patterns of
managerial communication, but as the concept developed it became more interactional
in focus. One of the primary advocates of this perspective was W. Charles Redding,
whose graduate students at Purdue University conducted dozens of related studies.
In addition to foregrounding the perceptions and sensemaking processes of organiza-
tional actors, Redding developed a prescient set of predictions about the impact that
rapidly changing external pressures would have on organizations and their managers.
Bureaucratic strategies of organizing will become progressively less effective, he argued,
forcing managers to increasingly deal with a tension between stability and change,
eventually leading to the development of postbureaucratic forms. The managerial role
will increasingly become that of coordinating small groups of specialists operating in
multiple networks superimposed on one another, rather than as distant power figures
issuing commands. Horizontal communication will become increasingly impor-
tant; organizational relationships will become increasingly transient and fluid; and
coalitional politics will become increasingly important to organizational functioning.
A third, more radical direction foregrounded the concept of “process” in organiza-
tional communication analysis. Based largely on Weick’s (1979) analysis of the social
psychology of organizing and James March and his associates’ research on nonrational
aspects of individual and organizational decision making, this perspective asserted
that organizations are created, sustained, and changed through communication while
retaining a modified version of structural functionalism. The essence of organizing is
the coordination of action, which relies on the presence of shared meaning systems
(labeled “organizational intelligence” in some process models) and consensual expecta-
tions (often labeled “integration”). Thus, organizations depend on communication, and
organizational theory is, or should be, developed from communication theory. Like the
climate orientation, process models located meanings in the cognitions of individual
actors, and posited that a wide variety of types of communicative interactions function
to bridge the gap between aggregations of individuals and collectivities. Early process
models retained the concept of a stable organizational structure, but cast it as a
communicative creation, which in turn functions as a “metamessage” about the nature
of the interpersonal relationships that exist among actors and the expected patterns of
action (a concept that encompassed the social-psychological concepts of roles, rules,
norms, motives, and intentions). Operant theories of organizing (models of leadership
espoused and/or enacted by management, core organizational values and the tensions
and contradictions among them, and characteristic modes of decision making) guided
and constrained organizational actors’ choices and communication while creating a
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public image of the organization. Because structures and some communicative forms
(e.g., documents and physical symbols) transcend immediate interactions, strategic
communication requires interactants to consider relational and organizational histories
and to anticipate the impact that their choices might have on the future.
In sum, by the end of the 1970s, organizational communication research and theory
was dominated by a perspective that was very much like the disciplines to which it had
strong network ties – organizational behavior, organizational theory, and mainstream
social psychology. Alternative perspectives were being developed and many of the con-
cepts that would be central to an imminent transformation of the field were in place: a
recognition of the central role that receivers’ interpretations of messages play in the cre-
ation of meanings, which are multilevel and contextual; conceptions of decision making
as “nonrational” processes embedded in societal and organizational meaning systems;
and motivation, power, and control as communicative constructions that make sense
within stable but changing organizational climates.
By the end of the 1970s, the context surrounding organizational research was
also changing. The rapid economic growth of the late 1960s slowed substantially
after the OPEC oil embargoes of the 1970s, and influential social movements – civil
rights, feminism, and environmentalism – demanded that organizations and their
leaders focus on values other than efficiency and effectiveness. Suddenly, a series
of theoretical frameworks were articulated that captured the interest of scholars
throughout organizational studies: in 1979, there appeared a second, expanded edition
of Weick’s Social Psychology of Organizing, which had been central to the development
of process models of organizational communication; and a group of sociological
works placed power at the center of organizational analysis and reinvigorated critical
theories of organizations. Among these were Lukes (1974), Benson (1977), and Clegg
and Dunkerly (1979). Kanter (1977) raised complex questions about the relationship
among gender, organizational structures, and societal and organizational attitudes and
ideologies, and encouraged the development of research related to the gendering of
organizations. Meyer and Rowan (1977) helped elevate organizational symbolism to a
central role and initiated the development of institutional theory. In addition, Giddens’s
(1979) introduction of an early version of structuration theory and Ranson, Hinings,
and Greenwood’s (1980) introduction of Giddens’s work to a US audience, along with
the ideas of Foucault (1977, 1980), provided theoretical constructs that would attract
organizational communication scholars for decades. All that was needed to initiate
a fundamental paradigm shift in organizational communication was a catalyst and a
communication network that would sustain the new perspective over time.

Transformation 1: Interpretive and critical turns, 1980–99

As the 1980s began, the United States was reeling from the effects of a stagnant economy
and rising inflation. American workers suddenly experienced the highest unemploy-
ment of the post-World War II years and a decline in real incomes that would last for
decades; American consumers expressed concern about their decreased buying power.
In addition to concerns about immediate economic conditions, fears were growing
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about a longer-term decline in American industrial excellence. American ingenuity had


driven the economy since the conclusion of World War II, but there was increasing evi-
dence that US superiority was eroding. Japanese manufacturing companies in particular
had found ways to produce goods in a more efficient manner than American manufac-
turers, which led many scholars and practitioners to explore the reasons. Additionally,
new communication technologies made globalization possible and allowed organiza-
tions to conduct business throughout the world much more easily than they ever had in
the past. Just as the 1980s represented a period of change and transition for the Western
economies, the decade also represented a period of major transition for the organiza-
tional communication discipline.

Interpretive turns
Several major events occurring during the 1980s advanced the discipline and helped
establish its identity. First, an interpretive turn ushered in a new paradigm of orga-
nizational communication theory and research. Second, scholars began focusing on
understanding organizational cultures and the meanings behind organizational life for
employees, including processes of identity construction, organizational identification,
and unobtrusive and concertive control. Third, two handbooks of organizational com-
munication were published that functioned to provide coherent structure to the vast
array of scholarship produced in the discipline.
The first major event of the 1980s occurred when a group of scholars began question-
ing the accepted (post-)positivist view of organizations and communication. Logical
positivism, as the philosophical base of functionalism, asserted that the human sci-
ences should be modeled after the physical sciences in an effort to discover universal
laws (i.e., causal relationships) among phenomena through the objective (value-free)
analysis of observable processes and outcomes. Scholars of organizational communica-
tion, by this time, had become disenchanted with the trajectory of the discipline and
its dominant ideology of organizations as containers within which communication and
human behavior took place, and communication as the transfer of information through
closed channels. This perspective created an incomplete picture of organizations, privi-
leging managerial behavior, which was viewed as the primary determinant of employee
thoughts and actions in a direct causal relationship. Interpretive scholars aimed to make
scholarship more inclusive of all organizational members as a way to shed the manage-
rial bias that had pervaded scholarship through that time period by focusing attention
on employees as active, thinking, perceiving, and creating actors.
A new wave of thinking about organizations had begun in sociology and parts of
social psychology and management about what constituted the fundamental compo-
nents of organizations, how to theorize about organizations, and the best methods and
techniques for studying them. The first Alta Conference held in 1981 emerged as a
definitive moment when organizational communication scholars joined like-minded
researchers from other disciplines to solidify their arguments for new theorizing about
organizations and communication. Two influential publications emerged out of that
conference: a 1982 special issue of the Western Journal of Speech Communication and
a collection of essays edited by Putnam and Pacanowsky (1983). Both publications
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encouraged organizational communication scholars with various levels of experience,


differing backgrounds, and varied methodological training to rally around the central
theme that organizations are best studied through interpretive lenses that encompass
the unique voices and experiences of all organizational actors without privileging one
group over the others.
A second major trend emerged when scholars in multiple disciplines also began
exploring the notion of organizational culture. Two distinctly different conceptualiza-
tions quickly emerged. Conceptual battles contrasted (1) a perspective that was quickly
becoming prominent in the popular management press which viewed organizations as
entities that “have” cultures (which can be readily created and manipulated by managers
through mastery of a set of symbolic strategies); and (2) a more anthropological or
sociological perspective that viewed organizations “as” cultures – complex processes
through which members of organizations constructed shared values, assumptions,
and modes of thinking, which were represented in and through distinctive language,
rituals, and symbolic forms and actions. From this perspective, organizational cultures
are dynamic entities that gradually change and evolve over time based upon how
organizational members interacted, made meanings, and communicated. A second
issue involved the extent to which organizational cultures could or should be treated
as homogeneous collectives or as heterogeneous composites of various subcultures
(which would allow different groups to develop distinctive identities and exercise
relatively independent voices). By the turn of the century, the “organizations have cul-
tures” perspective had come to dominate US management programs and the popular
and trade press and media, while the “organizations are collections of subcultures”
view had triumphed among US organizational communication scholars as well as
organizational sociologists and European management departments.
One component of organizational culture research involved organizational iden-
tification. Based on the work of Kenneth Burke, scholarship about organizational
identification examined the processes through which organizational members develop
identities that are at least in part linked to their membership in work organiza-
tions. Identity formation and identification had important effects on workers and
their senses of self-efficacy and autonomy, but they also fostered an unobtrusive
form of control over employees. Based on the work of Edwards (1980), systems of
unobtrusive control were less expensive to implement than more traditional forms,
and were less likely to engender worker resistance. As a result, they provided a more
stable and more effective authority system.
Another perspective on organizational cultures (and organizations’ place and func-
tion in cultures) involved organizational communication scholars’ applications of Gid-
dens’s theory of structuration. Although the theory was not fully developed until the
mid-1980s, an early version seemed to deal effectively with two of the primary com-
plaints made against structural-functional and related perspectives: they treated orga-
nizations as “containers” with minimal analysis of their relationship to broader social,
political, and economic structures and processes; and they depicted members more as
inert objects being moved by forces outside their direct control rather than as thinking,
feeling actors who had a range of choice available in even the most constraining organi-
zational situations. Structuration rejected both of these assumptions, and also seemed to
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systematize the concepts of “social construction of reality” and “dramaturgy” that were
central to the interpretive turn without arbitrarily rejecting the strengths of functional
models and quantitative methods.
Although complex, and changing throughout the era, the theory of structuration was
based on a number of straightforward concepts. “Systems” are composed of recurring
patterns of activity (“practices”) that organize human activities. They allow creativity
and improvisation, and accept that new modes of thinking and acting can be formalized
and/or routinized; thus “systems” change and do so through human action. “Structures”
are composed of rules (principles or routines) and resources (tools, money, knowledge,
skill, etc.) that guide members’ actions and choices. The key concept in structuration is
the “duality of structure” – the notion that actors use rules and resources to act, and in
the process keep the system going (called “reproduction”). Sometimes actions lead the
system to move in a new or different direction (“transformation”), but they also allow
it to continue. Human beings are knowledgeable agents; they know a great deal about
the systems within which they act, and are capable both of anticipating the potential
effects of choosing among available courses of action (of “reflexively monitoring” the
impact of their choices) and of incorporating that learning into their knowledge. Power,
meaning, and norms are interrelated dimensions of all choice making situations.
Structuration was immediately employed to manage heretofore complex communi-
cation related issues. At an individual level of analysis, it was used to deepen and enrich
scholars’ understanding of the formation and transformation of individual and organi-
zational identity, and systems of identifying with those structures. Structuration allowed
researchers to view these processes as both stable and changing, avoiding the essential-
ist positions (which assert that every object or entity in the universe is defined by a finite
set of innate characteristics that never change) that had been dominant in functional-
ist perspectives. At a level of organizational groups, early applications of structuration
helped to clarify the myriad ways in which groups arrive at decisions, and, through
adaptive structuration theory (AST), to grasp how groups understand and implement
communication technology, in the process producing different temporal orientations
and decision–action structures. It was also used to explain how argumentation and
negotiation work in organizational settings. At the organizational level, it was used to
reconceptualize organizational structures, and to explain some of the most perplexing
research findings on formal (“chain of command”) and informal communication net-
works and flows. Instead of viewing chains of communication as linear strings running
from the bottom of an organizational chart to the top, this research found that they
are composed of three interlocked structures (executive, management, and lower) that
had relatively little cross-level communication but had highly developed, consensual
networks and meaning systems within each level. Applications of structuration theory
also helped clarify an exceptionally muddy concept, organizational “climate.” At the
interorganization level, structurational processes also seemed to be present, but were
enacted through complicated time–space relationships.
The third major development of the 1980s was the publication of two handbooks
of organizational communication. They reflected both the rapid growth and diver-
sification of organizational communication research that had taken place, and the
continuing influence of traditional research perspectives. In 1987 Sage published a
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handbook edited by Jablin, Putnam, Roberts, and Porter (two noted organizational
communication scholars and two prominent management scholars). It was designed
to provide an interdisciplinary perspective of the area. Each of the four sections of the
handbook contained essays written by scholars with backgrounds in multiple disci-
plines. This diversity of backgrounds added legitimacy to the burgeoning discipline
of organizational communication and to the interpretive turn, yet it also reflected a
discipline that was still searching for its identity. About a year later, Ablex published
another handbook, edited by Goldhaber and Barnett (1988). It comprised three
sections, and the topics and the theoretical and methodological orientations of the
essays overlapped very little with the Sage handbook. Juxtaposing the two handbooks
makes it clear that organizational communication was contested terrain. However, that
terrain was about to become even more varied.

Critical turns
Perhaps the most important development during the 1980s was organizational commu-
nication scholars’ discovery of the concept of power. The concept had long been central
to organizational sociology and to some management perspectives, but it had recently
been de-emphasized by scholars in those fields, largely because of a narrow reading
of Max Weber’s work. Sociologists such as C. Wright Mills and E. E. Schattschnei-
der had critically analyzed the disproportionate power that formal organizations and
their owners and managers wielded over Western democracies, and the so-called com-
munity power debate in political science had raised important issues about the nature
and distribution of power in society, especially the extent to which it is conscious and
observable. These critiques eventually led to the development of multilevel models of
power such as Steven Lukes’s “three faces of power.” In management, conceptions of
power were also changing: first, Andrew Pettigrew, James Thompson, and others politi-
cized James G. March’s and Herbert A. Simon’s concept of “bounded rationality”; and
second, broader and more processual views of power were posited by both strategic con-
tingency theory (SCT: which argues that organizations which have the attributes that
best equip them to manage the pressures they face will survive and prosper and those
that lack those attributes will fail) and resource dependency theory (RDT: which asserts
that organizations are dependent on resources in their environments, and those that
most effectively obtain and exploit needed resources will become more powerful than
their competitors). Still, links between communication and power were rarely the focus
of management research, although Jeffrey Pfeffer and others were starting to examine
the power–symbolism nexus.
The interpretive turn in organizational communication scholarship elevated power
and its relationship to communication and meaning creation to a central position.
Individual identity and organizational commitment were viewed as constraints on
action that emerged through struggles over meaning. Everyday discourse was laden
with power, and thus tied to differential sensemaking processes. Critical theories
did focus on power as the central concept, and key works by Benson (1977) and
Frost (1980), among others, effectively argued that scholars had inadequately dealt
with the serious workplace issues of alienation and injustice, which are related to
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power and powerlessness. To remedy this gap, they proposed that scholars conduct
research and construct theory that supported progressive social action. Frost argued
that praxis involved understanding, critique, and education for action. Understanding
involves describing the social realities experienced by organizational members and the
organizational forces that can distort that reality. Critique comprises scrutinizing both
the forces that contribute to organizational consensus and decision making and the
process through which decisions are made. Education included informing organiza-
tional members of the processes underlying their marginalization and helping them
develop the capacity to reform their organizations.
Although these arguments resonated with many organizational communication
scholars, it was a decade before critical perspectives were afforded a place in orga-
nizational communication scholarship that was comparable to that of structural
functionalism or interpretivist perspectives. It was a decade and a half before enough
critical theory related research had been published for a corresponding chapter to be
included in a handbook designed to survey the discipline. But interest grew rapidly
during the 1990s, as the impact of neoliberal economic ideology, the attacks on worker
power and social safety nets embedded in Reaganism and Thatcherism, income
stagnation for middle-income workers, and increasing wealth inequality became
progressively more obvious. Soon terms such as “managerialism” (the ideology that
the only thing that really counts in organizations is managers, especially upper-level
managers, and their distinctive expertise, values, actions, and ways of thinking and
communicating), “corporate colonization” (reflecting the idea that today people have
become dependent on formal organizations not only for income and benefits, but
also for childcare and other services once fulfilled by friends, family, or religious
organizations), and “technical–practical reason” (which differentiates reasoning about
“practical,” value-laden questions about the kind of society people want to create and
live within from “technical” questions about how to best pursue those goals) became
part of the organizational communication lexicon. By the turn of the century critical
theories played an important role in organizational communication research and
theory, both in themselves and as the basis for evaluating interpretive research.
In critical theories of organizational communication, power is inextricably related to
three key concepts: (1) ideology, which had both ideational and material dimensions,
and which is implicated in processes of subjection and qualification, and functions
to obscure the nature and impact of power and power inequalities; (2) hegemony,
which posits a dialectical relationship among class forces that encompass political,
cultural, and economic processes; and (3) reification, the symbolic processes through
which existing hierarchical power relationships are normalized and naturalized.
Power is not treated as being determined by economic and social structures, but
is a mode of influence that emerges, is reproduced, and potentially is transformed
through discourse. Socioeconomic structures and communicative action are viewed
as dialectically related to one another. Domination is exercised through consent and
identity politics; communication involves privileging some voices and marginalizing
others, foreclosing some forms of resistance and enabling others. “Struggle” takes
place over both meanings and resources. Organizations, bureaucratic or otherwise,
are (arbitrary) sociohistorical creations made to seem natural and normal through
12 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

discourse; are the products of political actions that privilege some interests and sacrifice
others; are a key resource for perpetuating sociopolitical power inequalities; and are
replete with tensions and contradictions that create a potential for transformation,
democratization, and emancipation. Like critical researchers in other disciplines,
organizational communication scholars sought to develop perspectives that avoided
both the structural determinism of traditional Marxism and the excesses of the
“dominant ideology thesis.”
Finally, the 1990s included the origins of feminist organizational communication
research and theory. The perspective can be traced to research by organizational
sociologists and management scholars during the 1970s and 1980s. Kanter (1977) and
Ferguson (1985) outlined the complicated ways in which organizational structures and
gender related attitudes and practices disadvantaged women. By the mid-1990s schol-
ars in management and communication had started to examine feminist organizations
and the tensions they experienced among feminist ideology, the normative power of
bureaucratic structures, and the economic need to interact with traditional masculinist
organizations. In addition, scholars in many fields were calling for systematic research
on the interaction between gender and race/ethnicity, celebrating the distinctive “lead-
ership styles” of women and minority managers, critiquing the binary oppositions and
masculinist definitions of “success” implicit in much of that research, and grappling
with backlash against the feminist movement. In spite of these exciting research direc-
tions, research related to gender still occupied a small place in organizational research
(and research examining race/ethnicity, gender, and class was even less common),
and much of the research that did exist treated gender as “just another variable.”
Organizational research would be enriched by paying systematic attention to the ways
in which members of organizations who have been subordinated as “others” interpret
and articulate their lived experience, by exploring gendered interactions in ordinary
organizational discourse, and by examining the ways in which communication
reproduces hierarchies that marginalize organizational members and alternative views.
As the 1990s drew to a close, the organizational communication discipline had grown
significantly from earlier decades in both its scope and its acceptance of varying theories
and methods for studying organizations. Scholars of organizational communication
had taken an interpretive turn, seen the publication of two major handbooks of organi-
zational communication along with several other anthologies about the underpinnings
of the discipline, and witnessed an expansion of theory and research about the effect of
organizations on employees’ work and personal lives. Although the emergence of these
three trends signaled that the discipline was moving forward, differences among them
did influence the paradigm wars that would develop at the turn of the century.

Transformation 2: The discursive turn, 2000–present

The new century saw an acceleration of the social and economic trends that started
during the 1980s: globalization; a changed relationship between organizations and
governments in which the latter became increasingly allied with multinational organi-
zations and supportive of their interests; increased profits for investors and incomes
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 13

for managers in organizations that were able to capitalize on the changes that were
occurring; and massive increases in inequities in the distribution of organizational
rewards. The demise of the traditional “contract” between workers and employers was
old history, and the era of the contingent, disposable workforce was well established.
In addition, events at the beginning of the new century – revelations of malfeasance
and/or illegality, some of which led to the bankruptcies of large, powerful organizations
(e.g., Enron, Arthur Andersen) – and upheavals in the financial sector at the end of its
first decade brought issues of ethics and corporate social responsibility to the forefront
of popular discourse and organizational studies.
In addition, the rapid growth of interpretive and critical organizational communi-
cation research after 1980 combined with continued functionalist research to create a
much more varied and complex landscape. With changed theoretical and methodolog-
ical perspectives came new scholarly networks. Links to organizational psychologists
and scholars in traditional organizational behavior and organizational theory declined
in importance, while scholars working from interpretive and/or critical perspectives
forged new links to like-minded scholars in sociology and departments of manage-
ment, especially in universities in Europe and the countries of the British Common-
wealth. As the dominance of traditional structural-functional perspectives declined,
organizational communication became a richer field, and a more fragmented one. With
diversity comes intellectual competition, and pressure to establish hierarchy among
perspectives.

Incommensurability, common ground, and comfortable eclecticism


Debates over appropriate, much less optimal, approaches to understanding in
the human sciences had occupied Western philosophy of science through-
out the second half of the 20th century. Although organizational theorists had
never adopted classical positivism, and rarely had advocated or tried to implement the
principles of logical positivism as developed by the Vienna Circle, research conducted
during the 1960s and 1970s was strongly influenced by the related functionalist
perspective advocated by scholars such as Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, and Philip
Selznick, who attempted to combine positivism and open systems theory. Philosophical
critiques of the positivist or functionalist perspective, available at least since Heideg-
ger’s Being and Time (1927), had winnowed away support for the perspective among
philosophers of science. When key critiques became available in English (Gadamer,
1960/1975; Habermas & Shapiro, 1972; Popper, 1959), support for the perspective
declined rapidly, and accelerated even more after the key works of Foucault and Bakhtin
became available during the 1980s. Still, a great deal of traditional functionalist research
(often under the label post-positivism) was being conducted by organizational and
organizational communication researchers throughout the 20th century.
Consequently, the new century began with three theoretical and methodological per-
spectives vying for the attention of organizational communication scholars. The pri-
mary issue in this debate involved the incommensurability of the alternatives: that is, are
the underlying assumptions, values, and research perspectives inherently contradictory
and incapable of being synthesized or integrated by reference to a transcendent system?
14 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

A secondary issue involved the tone of these debates, which some observers felt had
become progressively more strident and more personal as critique and countercritique
turned into conceptual disputes that were intractable because they involved the key
beliefs, core values, personal histories, and individual identities of the participants. Of
course, no one defended strident rhetoric, name-calling, or the creation of “straw per-
son” characterizations of alternative perspectives in order to score argumentative points
or create artificial binary oppositions among them. Many observers argued that these
tendencies actually were quite rare, in comparison both to the totality of discourse in
the organizational communication community, and to other social sciences. Responses
to the primary issue, however, were more varied.
Some scholars affirmed that the perspectives actually were incommensurate and
celebrated the potential advantages: (1) it allows advocates of each perspective
to engage in highly productive “normal science,” that is, programs of empirical
research that extend and refine each perspective, unencumbered by epistemological or
methodological debates; and (2) it creates conceptual space in which new perspectives
could develop without having to first be shown to be congruent with a dominant
paradigm. In addition, the existence of competing paradigms would allow adherents
of one perspective to draw upon other paradigms to reflexively analyze their own
work. Interpretive scholars could look to critical theory to assess the broader social,
political, and economic implications of their research, or dust off functionalist scholars’
arguments that, while interpretivist research may not be “objective,” interpretive
scholars do need to take steps to ensure that their research is sufficiently rigorous to
guard against biased or deterministic readings of texts. Critical theorists could look
to interpretive models to remind themselves that microlevel interactions do matter,
and that, while organizational actors’ choices may be guided and constrained by
“structures,” they are not determined by them; and so on. However, these advantages
would occur only if all parties are intellectually honest, that is, if adherents are reflexive
about the strengths and weaknesses of their own perspectives and engage in open,
fair, overlapping dialogue about philosophical issues and methodological choices – a
“fusion of horizons” in Gadamer’s terms.
Other scholars argued that the perspectives are not incommensurable, but instead
provide differing insights into the complexities of communication, organizations, and
the processes through which they influence and/or constitute one another. The shared
goal of understanding should be to establish a “common ground” – a transcendent
perspective necessary to reconcile differences or at least allow researchers to simul-
taneously consider varying perspectives. However, the “common ground” alternative
may be problematic. Eclecticism can become a subtle form of extortion, as Theodor
Adorno argued, in which dissenter critics can be silenced for their heresy. “Common
ground” also allows each perspective to be developed to its logical extreme, purify-
ing its assumptions and, ironically, exaggerating differences among them, thereby per-
petuating their incommensurability. They become what Kenneth Burke called “tragic
frames” – inescapable perspectives whose differences can only be managed through
power, not dialogue.
In the end, the “common ground” debate – captured in part in Corman and Poole’s
(2000) edited volume of essays about finding common ground in the field – did lead to
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 15

a form of comfortable eclecticism, one in which adherents of each perspective at least


pretended to accept the existence and legitimacy of the others. All parties accepted the
centrality of communicative acts and action in their research efforts and the primacy
of meaning creation in the development of organizational communication theory. But,
“eclecticism” was enacted in at least three different ways. One approach legitimized all
three perspectives and advocated moving smoothly among them, choosing the most
appropriate view (or views) for particular research projects or individual phases of
long-term programs of research. For example, scholars interested in communication
and leadership embraced eclecticism by affirming the legitimacy of post-positivist,
social constructionist, and critical and reflexive perspectives. Choice of perspective was
related to the goals of specific research projects. Not only did researchers opt for dif-
ferent perspectives for different projects, but individual scholars developed distinctive
integrations of the three frameworks as their programs of research developed, and often
did so by appropriating (“poaching”) concepts from other perspectives. Post-positivist
research on leader effectiveness broadened to encompass issues of global leader effec-
tiveness, incorporating concepts of culture and strategic alliances through networking
processes. Social constructionist research foregrounded issues of power–resistance
relationships and cast leadership as the co-creation of meaning through sensemaking,
framing, and identity work. Leadership depended on influential acts of organizing,
thereby focusing on the tension between action and structure. Critical leadership
studies viewed “leadership” as a site of power, influence, resistance, and struggle
within specific sociohistorical cultural and structural conditions. As such, it inherently
involves issues of ethics and reflexivity. Leadership communication had finally escaped
the psychological perspective that defined “leadership” as what leaders do in their
efforts to shape the world using available tools such as “communication,” and affirmed
communication centered views that focused on creating and negotiating meaning,
dialectical relationships among organizational actors, and attributional processes.
Thus, eclecticism provided a means of affirming a uniquely communicative perspective.
A different approach to “eclecticism” was taken by researchers interested in “or-
ganizational culture.” It both affirmed the legitimacy of multiple theoretical and
methodological perspectives and assumed that cultures could best be understood
by using one approach to “interrogate” the others. Organizations and organizational
communication were such complex, multidimensional constructs that multiple per-
spectives were necessary to fully understand them. Analyses based on one perspective
would unavoidably be partial and incomplete, artificially elevating some aspects of
their subject while obscuring others. But, placing multiple perspectives in dialogue
with one another could provide a more complete understanding, as illustrated in
management scholar Joanne Martin’s model viewing cultures from integration,
differentiation, and fragmentation frames. Some critics did complain that all three of
these analytical frameworks, even if taken together, were (1) insufficiently constitutive,
treating communication as too much an effect of culture rather than a source of it,
(2) excessively narrow, and (3) insufficiently processual. Research on organizational
cultures became less common as the new century progressed, although critical theorists
such as Alvesson (2012) continued to develop and use the concept.
16 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

A third form of eclecticism might be described as “peaceful coexistence,” which char-


acterized work on the experiences of newcomers entering organizations, a topic that
had been central to concerns about the content and tone of the incommensurability
debate. One view focused on organizational “socialization,” the largely cognitive pro-
cesses that newcomers to organizations (or organizational units or subcultures) use
to develop behavioral and role expectations, learn and adapt to extant communica-
tive situations, and develop necessary communicative skills, in terms of both obtaining
task, relational, organizational, and political information, and constructing and pre-
senting strategically appropriate messages. Research typically used traditional social
scientific methods in order to delineate relationships among communicative action,
cognitive processing, and organizational structures and practices. A contrasting view
extended earlier discussions of organizational “identification,” and defined individu-
als’ encounters with organizations in much more macroscopic terms. “Identity” itself
was a social and communicative construct, having emerged as an issue for individ-
uals only with the advent of modernity. The traditional management theory view of
“identity” as an essence grounded in psychological needs was replaced by a construc-
tionist perspective that defined identity formation and identification as language cen-
tered processes that are fluid, multiple, and involving an ongoing interplay between self,
organization, and society. Although there were points at which the “socialization” and
“identification” perspectives coincided (e.g., the possibility of multiple identities and
identifications), the two developed as separate and independent lines of research and
theory.
Perhaps as a result of these multiple ways of managing conceptual and methodologi-
cal tensions, the first 15 years of the new century were an exceptionally productive time
for organizational communication scholars. Some frameworks that were only begin-
ning to emerge at the turn of the century became central parts of the discipline, and
some of the most important research topics of previous years declined in importance;
some enacted eclecticism by drawing upon multiple perspectives to investigate various
aspects of their subject matter, and some scholars in each perspective eventually sought
to reconnect with other perspectives as a way of enriching and further expanding their
own work.
However, in addition to providing responses to the incommensurability debate, the
new century also generated new perspectives. Most had their origins in the 1990s, but
rapidly matured after 2000. One group of new perspectives constituted a “discursive
turn” in organizational communication scholarship. The discursive turn resulted in
part from the development and acceptance of language and meaning centered perspec-
tives by organizational communication scholars during the 1980s and 1990s and in part
from new network ties, which linked North American organizational communication
scholars to Anglo-European developments in postmodernism and sociolinguistics. Dis-
course perspectives had a direct impact by generating a great deal of related research,
and an indirect impact by leading to modifications of established frameworks, includ-
ing structuration, critical theory, and feminist organizational communication. A second
group of new perspectives were stimulated by the socioeconomic and political changes
that had started after the fall of the Soviet Union, including an expanded analysis of
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 17

globalization and its discontents and the related topic of postcolonial organizational
communication.

The discursive turn: Postmodernism and the communicative constitution


of organizations
As one would expect, the early years of the discursive turn involved working out def-
initional issues, with US scholars focusing on the study of words and signifiers and
their structure and use in organizational contexts, and European scholars adopting a
Foucauldian view of discourse as rooted in sociohistorical systems that simultaneously
discipline members of organizations while providing them with the linguistic resources
necessary for resistance. Although there still are multiple discourse perspectives being
developed and used by organizational communication scholars, they all share a com-
mitment to understanding the constitutive functions and effects of language produc-
tion, distribution, and interpretation, whether spoken or embodied in physical texts. In
short, unlike interpretive perspectives that ask what symbolic acts represent, discourse
studies ask what discourse does in particular social, political, and economic situations,
how it constitutes organizations and organizational life, how it interacts with material
realities to privilege some realities, actors, and interests over others, and how discourse
and material realities mutually constitute themselves through recurring organizational
practices. The primary differentia among these perspectives is the relationship between
“communication” and “discourse,” and which of the two should be the “figure” and the
“ground” in organizational analysis.
Today, the most visible discourse perspectives toward organizational communication
are associated with the postmodernism of Michel Foucault as well as the communica-
tive constitution of organizations (CCO) perspective of the so-called Montreal School.
Postmodernist research and theory focus on the emergence and enactment of com-
plex systems of meaning within particular social and historical processes and practices.
Discourse is a knowledge system that creates its own truths and truth effects through
culturally based ways of thinking and perceiving. Discursive practices construct and
reinforce various subject positions and self-definitions that perpetuate existing (and
unequal) power relationships. Discursive formations – multilayered, recurring discourse
patterns – are reproduced through discourse, and include tensions, paradoxes, and con-
tradictions that provide opportunities for resistance and thus transformation. Discourse
analysis focuses on the processes through which symbolic action both organizes and
disorganizes social collectives and through which members of organizations embrace,
enact, and resist this dialectic, in the process preserving space for difference.
Although there are many different versions of postmodernist thought, organi-
zational communication scholars focused on three concepts that appear in each
version: deconstruction, subjectification, and the dialectic of identity regulation and
resistance. Drawing on the work of Derrida and others, researchers attempt to reveal
the contradictions that are implicit in organizational discourse, including dominant
organizational theories. In the process, texts are deconstructed, and the outcome and
process create conceptual space within which alternative perspectives, theory, and
research become possible. For example, theories of organizational decision making,
18 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

both strict rational actor models and more recent treatments of “bounded rationality,”
are shown to marginalize the emotional aspect of organization life. Subjectification
involves the discursive processes through which individual members of organizations
are persuaded to view themselves in a way that subjects them to the disciplinary
systems of their organizations and societies. Power is not a function of centralized,
coercive institutions, but is dispersed among social and organizational actors, so that
subjects engage in self-surveillance and reflection, disciplining themselves to become
the persons they have come to wish themselves to be. Thus, identity is a contested
terrain; “identity work” is an active interpretive process through which organizational
discourse designed to regulate member identities confronts employee efforts to develop
coherent and emancipating identity narratives.
In some ways the “discursive turn” seems to be a predictable outcome of changes
in scholarly networks that brought organizational communication theorists and Euro-
pean social and symbolic theorists together during the critical and interpretive turns
of the early 1980s. But, those connections also underlie the most persistent critique of
discourse perspective(s). By the end of the 1990s, European literary theorists, who were
among the first to accept postmodern social and symbolic theories, were announcing
the death of discourse studies. Some argued that, in their efforts to shed the determin-
ism of positivism, discoursists had merely substituted an equally deterministic discour-
sism, in which social and organizational actors were as trapped in an illusion of choice
as they had been in vulgar Marxism. In the process, the key concepts of critical the-
ory – system and struggle, political, legal, and economic force, natural and material
reality, oppression and revolt – had been collapsed into an idealized reading of dis-
course and its impact. Especially in its most extreme “hard constructionist” versions,
discourse perspectives make it impossible to either identify or analyze larger connec-
tions among everyday sensemaking practices, social and economic structures, and the
strategic enactment of power. However, by the end of the era, discourse theorists were
dealing with the critique in two ways. First, they were systematically examining the
relationship between discourse and rhetoric, the ways in which social and organiza-
tional actors consciously and strategically draw upon existing sociolinguistic structures
to produce, reproduce, and legitimize systems of privilege and domination. Second,
they were adopting a perspective that focused on the mutual constitution of action and
structure in which neither the discursive nor the material is given priority, but instead
both are cast in a dialectical relationship in which their meaning is a function of their
relation to one another.
A second highly visible version of discourse studies is the Montreal School’s version
of CCO. It explains that “organization” occurs through four “translations” (or “trans-
formations”). Organization is a network of practices and conversations which contain
mutual obligations that link two or more human agents, allowing them to “coorient”
themselves toward “doing the work” of the organization. Individual agents are involved
in different networks, so they develop distinctive “worldviews” – composites of attitudes
and communication patterns that they must learn in order to engage organizational
practices. An organization is a set of transactional relationships that are mediated by
communicative actions (e.g., making requests of or promises to one another, evaluating
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 19

one another, and so on) that are based upon, enact, and revise commitments to one
another.
These situated domains of practice are translated into a single collective (that is, orga-
nizational) actor through two steps. First, local experiences are articulated in ways that
form a composite image of the organization as a whole. Then, that image is articulated
in a narrative that expresses the “worldview” of the organization through metacommu-
nication (communication about communication). A collective identity begins to take
shape, which allows interactants to reframe their communication and relationships as
“organizational.” Image is translated into organizational texts, which are perceived as
being authored by the collective rather than by any individual. These texts are abstracted
from the realities of individual interactions and become a template for interpretation
and communication practices, both for members of the organization and for others.
Once authored, the organization can be constituted as an actor that represents the col-
lectivity and can enter into conversations with other actants. However, because collec-
tives cannot speak, they must rely on individual members who have been authorized by
the organization to speak for them. Authorized actants may be living beings or inani-
mate symbols of the collective. Finally, individual members of the collective draw upon
“corporate” templates to legitimize their presence and their positions during conver-
sational practices; they ventriloquize the organization, and at the same time are being
ventriloquized by it.
The CCO perspective has been critiqued on two grounds. Some theorists argue that,
while it takes seriously the notion of communication as an interaction among equiva-
lent actants, it is based on such a dizzying array of concepts drawn from such a wide
range of theories, some of which have contradictory assumptions, that it cannot pro-
vide a coherent depiction of organizations or organizational communication. Other
critics argue, somewhat ironically, that it is too narrow in focus, ignoring complexi-
ties of time and space, which are treated more effectively in structuration theory, and
de-emphasizing the broader social, economic, and political power relationships that
are examined in critical theory. The latter critique is ironic because the initial formula-
tions of the perspective sought to integrate action and structure by casting discourse as
the legitimizing, justifying property of language and language use. In that originating
statement, not only did language create and sustain unequal social and organizational
power relationships, but language use could not be fully understood outside an analysis
of these material relationships. However, critics argue, the origins of CCO are beside
the point. The final three transformations included in CCO theory could link discourse
processes to broader issues of power (by examining the ways in which power holders
strategically use texts to create and sustain unequal power relationships, or use symbols
as instruments of political, legal, and economic force). But the model has developed in a
different direction, one that focuses on the first two transformations. This focus isolates
language use from broader processes and structures. In addition, recent moves to incor-
porate Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory into CCO actually move the perspective
even farther away from material “reality.”
20 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

Structuration and institutional theory


The discursive turn generated these two highly productive lines of research, and
also led to important modifications of existing perspectives. One of these is struc-
turation theory. Since 2000, structuration theory has focused on the “four flows” of
organizational discourse: (1) negotiating organizational membership, (2) reflexive self-
structuring of organizations, (3) contextualizing, defining, and coordinating member
actions and activities, and (4) positioning the organization in larger social systems.
Membership negotiation casts concepts that traditionally have been viewed as stable
or static – identity and role – as ongoing symbolic processes through which subject
positions emerge and are articulated. Giddens views organizations as power containers
in which information is gathered through various forms of surveillance and used,
along with other resources, to steer organizational systems. The impact of this reflexive
self-structuring is to allow the creation of strategic discourses and routines that differ
across time and space, with organizational hierarchies as one form of space. Structuring
therefore is “local,” and thus can serve both to construct compliant identities and
action patterns, and to construct resistant ones. Organizational formalisms, policies,
patterns of technology use, communication genres, and organizational knowledge are
all constructed through these processes of reflexive self-structuring. The third “flow”
is activity coordination – creating and maintaining mutual knowledge and common
ground, especially regarding decision making and task coordination. The coordination
schemes that are developed vary in terms of stability versus chaos, and in the dialectic
of control that develops, including opportunities for voice and degree of discursive
closure or openness. Finally, interactions with outside actors position individuals and
the organization in broader institutions – a process labeled institutional positioning.
Internal self-structuring influences the links that are developed with external institu-
tions, as well as organizational and professional reputation – key resources in achieving
external legitimacy.
An alternative reading of the four flows model of structuration is that it is only acci-
dentally related to the discursive turn. Instead, it is a logical extension or expansion of
the perspective first articulated during the mid-1980s. Structuration was designed to
avoid both the deterministic extremes of social theories that focused on structures and
the excessive voluntarism of discoursism. As a result it invited criticisms from schol-
ars who felt that it slighted structural constraints and from others who believed that it
did not sufficiently privilege human choice and creativity. Since Giddens’s initial model
was based on a linguistic analog rather than a communicative one, most of the criti-
cism from organizational communication scholars was of the second type, focusing on
the extent to which it captured the depth and complexity of processes of meaning cre-
ation and communicative interaction. Very recent moves to integrate structuration and
institutional theory may provide a response to these concerns.
Both structurational theorists in communication and some institutional theorists in
management departments posit a close connection between the two frameworks, pri-
marily via the fourth flow of structuration. “Institutions,” as sets of relationships and
practices that persist over time and space in spite of internal tensions and conflicts,
and become infused with value far in excess of their task related value, are the larger
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 21

umbrella systems under which organizations can span boundaries and align themselves
with one another. Thus, incorporating institutional theory would enhance structuration
by focusing attention on how pressures outside immediate organizational situations
enable and constrain various voices.
Institutional theory originated during the late 1970s when a group of organizational
sociologists asked what seemed to be a rather simple question: why are organizations in
a given field (e.g., public schools or cardboard box manufacturing) so much alike? The
obvious answer is that organizational decision makers employ strict, rational decision
making processes and choose the strategies, structures, modes of operation, and so on
that are most effective and efficient given the organization’s mission and the internal
and external pressures they face. However, when examined closely, the available
evidence often failed to support this obvious answer; the attributes that had been
institutionalized among organizations in a particular field were selected, legitimized,
and justified at least as much on the basis of common rituals and shared myths as
by strictly rational decision making. This means not that institutions are arbitrary
and capricious, but that they are “rational” in a socially constructed, normalized, and
naturalized way. Organizations must legitimize their claims on societal resources. They
do so by linking their structures and practices to accepted societal assumptions, which
is challenging in part because those assumptions are contradictory, ever changing,
and abstract, and in part because different stakeholders ascribe to some assumptions
more tenaciously than to others. However, once legitimized, these structures and
practices become habitual or routine, and efforts to resist or change them must
overcome the self-reinforcing power of appeals to history and tradition.
Like structuration, critics have argued that institutional theory more effectively
explains organizational stability than organizational change. In response, the most
recent versions of the perspective have included stage models which trace the develop-
ment of institutions from preinstitutionalization (when a range of justificatory systems
is used by organizations within a field and a coherent, collectively validated system has
not yet emerged), to institutionalization, to deinstitutionalization (when events under-
mine the moral and/or pragmatic legitimacy of an institutional system or new fads and
fashions emerge and are diffused throughout the field), and to reinstitutionalization
(during which a new or revised justificatory system is legitimized). The movement
from stage to stage depends on the actions of institutional entrepreneurs and their
skilled use of rhetoric. Somewhat ironically, the primary rhetorical skill is the ability
to draw upon the tensions and contradictions of existing institutions to legitimize
changing them. Indeed, both effective leadership and organizational membership
involve “institutional work,” that is, using rhetoric to draw upon legitimized rules,
values, and perceived self-interests of potential allies to leverage the resources needed
to sustain or transform organizations. Thus, understanding how organizations function
depends on careful analysis of rhetoric directed toward both internal and external
audiences.
Other critics have questioned the potential value of communication centered institu-
tional theory, given its similarity to more established perspectives such as structuration.
However, juxtaposing or integrating the two could be valuable. A dialogue with institu-
tional theory and its focus on history and rhetoric could help ensure that structuration,
22 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

which has recently moved in a discursive direction, does not slide into discoursism;
while the four flows version of structuration could push institutional theorists to grapple
with the complex processes of textual production and interpretation in organizational
contexts.

Critical theory and/or postmodernism


The 1980s and 1990s witnessed a reinvigoration of critical organizational commu-
nication studies (COCS). With the dual goals of uncovering and theorizing the
contradictions, inequities, and injustices that exist in modern organizations and devel-
oping strategies through which workers could minimize or escape these constraints,
COCS research assumed that (1) socioeconomic systems and the organizations that
exist within them are communicative creations and thus can be transformed through
communication, (2) existing systems are sustained and reproduced by privileging
some actors’ interests over others and obscuring contradictions among the interests of
various organizational stakeholders, and (3) critical analysis – deconstructing existing
texts and educating actors about their meaning and impact – created possibilities
for transformation and emancipation. For example, the functionalist orientation of
early organizational communication research established organizational efficiency and
effectiveness as taken-for-granted goals of research and theory without exploring the
origins of those concepts or the differential impact that pursuing them has on the
absolute and relative economic, social, and political standing of various organizational
actors. In structural functionalism, organizational communication is “effective” if
it contributes to what Habermas called technical and instrumental rationality. It
contributes to “efficiency” if it persuades (that is, motivates and controls) workers to
maximize their contribution to “organizational” success regardless of how it is related
to their practical interests. Because power is deeply embedded in the learned attitudes,
values, and identities of workers, all knowledge claims, including those generated
through COCS, should be deconstructed in an effort to understand their political
functions: the normalization or naturalization of the social world, the universalization
of elite (capital and managerial) interests, and the orchestrating of consent (hegemony).
Postmodernist discourse perspectives now occupy an important place in critical the-
ories of organizational communication, in part because they seem especially appropri-
ate to the analysis of today’s economic and political trends. The loss of the “contract”
between workers and their employers and between citizens and their governments has
placed workers in fragmented, unstable, and precarious positions. Political and organi-
zational control depends on continual surveillance of workers and the symbolic man-
agement of their identities and senses of self-worth; worker resistance depends on the
continual creation and revision of counternarratives that position them in relationships
that transcend their immediate organizations. Control and resistance are simultane-
ously contradictory and implicated in one another. Power and powerlessness are perfor-
mative, not essentialist. Organizations are viewed as sites in which disciplinary power
is exercised in multiple modes and thus are replete with tensions and contradictions,
including those related to gender, class, nationality, and other binary constructs. Orga-
nizational actors are viewed as being subjected to multiple discourses which function to
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 23

create “conditions of possibility,” guiding and constraining what can be said, by whom,
when, and in what form, and what kinds of persons members of organizations can be
and can become.
Within COCS, conceptions of power and its relationship to social and organi-
zational structures and meaning creation also changed to become congruent with
postmodernist theory. The role of power in the constitution of organizations was
increasingly accepted, as was Foucault’s conception of power and resistance as dialec-
tically related. Power came to be examined in terms of lived experience, including
emotionality and sexuality. Power is viewed as simultaneously constraining and
enabling, productive and repressive, enacted and institutionalized, allowing or inviting
both conformity or compliance and resistance. Because power is dialectical, power and
powerlessness emerge and change over time as some actors move from subordinate
to dominant positions, and resistance moves from the margins of organizational life
to more central positions in recurring but changing cycles. As a result, defining key
terms becomes more complex and more tenuous: creative responses to bureaucratic
constraints may function to sustain managerial dominance, cynicism and humor may
facilitate change or sustain patterns of domination, and communicative processes that
seem to involve compliance may be designed to undermine domination but function
as “light” or “decaf ” resistance. In addition, “power” must be conceptualized in a way
that encompasses both individual and collective resistance and compliance.

Feminist organizational communication


The new century has witnessed a significant growth in feminist research and the
establishment of feminist theories as an important intellectual force in the field.
This development coincided with the discursive turn and the two perspectives
were mutually influential. Feminist organizational communication research was
diverse, with five distinct perspectives having significant influence: liberal feminism,
cultural feminism, standpoint feminism, radical poststructuralist feminism, and
postmodern feminism, the last two of which were significantly influenced by the dis-
cursive turn. Liberal feminism focused on achieving equal opportunities for women;
cultural feminism argued that gender equality would emerge through recognizing
and valuing difference rather than ignoring it; standpoint feminism examines the
processes through which gender differences arise from social location and advocates
creating situations in which multiple voices and perspectives can be heard as a first
step in correcting gender based injustices; and radical poststructuralist feminism is
characterized by the belief that gender is the primary means for examining differences
in patriarchal societies and that by instilling society and organizations with feminist
values, they can become more fair and just. Over time, feminist research broadened its
examination – from how gender is enacted in organizations, to how organizations are
gendered, to even wider issues of the cultural organization of gender.
By the end of the era, postmodern feminism had become the dominant perspec-
tive in feminist organizational communication studies. Although there are multiple
versions, postmodern feminisms share the assumptions that gender is a social and com-
municative construction and thus is unstable and constantly being reproduced through
24 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

discourses. This makes the following the key issues for research theory: (1) how people
appear to be different, and how apparent differences are normalized and naturalized,
rather than how people are different; (2) how the discourse–knowledge–power triad
that creates and sustains gendered subjects can be productively deconstructed; and
(3) how gendered texts interact with other subjectification processes (racial, ethnic,
organizational, community, and so on) to create intertextual systems of meaning and
practice. The mixture of perspectives has increased the depth and impact of feminist
organizational communication theory, but its complexity has combined with an out-
pouring of research to create a number of dilemmas for feminist scholars. One dilemma
involves the need to continually interrogate binary conceptions of gender while explor-
ing connections between gender and the research and theory about other, related forms
of exclusion and marginalization (queer theory; postcolonial, neocolonial, and transna-
tional feminism; and ability and disability). Another dilemma is shared with all organi-
zational communication research: how to account for materiality, especially space and
time, without collapsing it into discursive effects, thereby engaging in yet another form
of discoursism. Finally, feminist scholars must find ways both to value multiple versions
of feminist (and other, related theoretical frameworks) and to recognize and deal with
the tensions and contradictions among them.
Like the interpretive and critical turns of the 1980s, the discursive turn had a sig-
nificant effect on organizational communication research and theory. Not only has it
produced at least two highly productive strains of research, but it has had an indirect
effect on other perspectives. Some have incorporated key concepts drawn from dis-
course perspectives; others have appropriated those constructs, examined their impact,
and then stepped back from them. During the same era, the social, economic, and
political environments that started to develop during the 1990s have accelerated, sub-
stantively changing the context within which organizations operate and organizational
communication scholars do their work. One effect of these changes is growing inter-
est in globalization and postcolonialism; another is a rediscovery of phronesis, that is,
practical theory.

Globalization, postcolonialism, and their discontents

Globalization is an ancient process, stimulated by economic, religious, and political


incentives and enabled by the development of new communication and transporta-
tion technologies. Extensive trade networks from the Persian Gulf to North Africa
flourished thousands of years before the Christian era (BCE); even larger systems
between Asia, Africa, and Europe existed at the time of Alexander the Great (around
300 BCE) and were expanded further during the Roman Empire. Extensive systems
developed in Mesoamerica soon after. The mercantile system of the 15th through the
19th centuries established a worldwide economic system dominated by Europe. The
trade in African slaves was globalized by the 1440s, and silver mined in the Spanish
colony of Manila during the 1570s went to China to pay for products that in turn were
shipped to Europe. In fact, the key characteristics of today’s globalization – declining
transportation costs, increased economic inequality in the developed countries and
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 25

declining inequality in developing countries, volatile and destabilizing flows of capital


across national boundaries, and cross-border migration – all were greater between
1840 and 1914 than they are today.
Although the term “globalization” started to appear in social science and human-
ities journals during the 1970s, it was not until the late 1990s that it was being dis-
cussed by organizational communication scholars. It did not become a major research
focus until after the turn of the century. Since then, globalization research has moved
through three phases. The primary emotion underlying the first phase of globalization
research was one of concern, as evidenced by the titles of Giddens’s Runaway World
(1999) and Greider’s One World, Ready or Not (1997). Globalization provided both
threats and opportunities, but the significance of each, the segments of the world pop-
ulation who would experience each, and the speed with which these effects would be
felt, all were open questions. It did, however, seem clear that the ontological insecu-
rity that Giddens (1991) argued was the defining characteristic of “high modernity”
was becoming more pronounced. The key attributes of this initial version of globaliza-
tion – a compression of time and space, an increased awareness (and often wariness) of
various “others” and of one’s self and one’s place in a global network, and an ability to
experience world events without being involved in the social, economic, and cultural
context that make them sensible – became the focus of communication scholarship.
Because many organizations were rapidly changing in order to meet the challenges of
globalization – adopting flexible work arrangements (including increased use of contin-
gent employment), and instituting simultaneous empowerment and disempowerment
which increased freedom for some employees and increased domination and discrimi-
nation for others – organizational communication became even more important. Still,
the key communicative challenges facing globalized organizations – managing interde-
pendence, control, coordination, collaboration, and conflict – were very familiar. The
essential features of capitalism had not changed; indeed, the critiques offered by Marx
and others, from alienation to commodity fetishism to the greater power and flexibil-
ity of capital relative to labor, seemed prescient. Organizations, governments, and other
institutions did seem to be adapting in similar ways, coerced by hypercompetition and
encouraged to create parallel identities in order to legitimize their existence, just as insti-
tutional theorists had predicted.
Globalization during this first phase was also paradoxical. At a global level, insti-
tutions were converging, but at the local level, societies were diverging. In some
cases modernization encouraged reversion into nostalgia, tradition, and in-group
identifications. Forced similarities and visible inequities generated increased alienation
and, in some cases, conflict. Communication was used for negotiation of new global
identities and identifications and for accenting “otherness.” At an organizational
level, globalization required a distinctive form of organizing, one with exceptional
flexibility, rapid knowledge production, and tightly connected communication sys-
tems – attributes that earlier research had shown were most likely in nonhierarchical,
network organizations. However, these attributes created distinctive contradictions,
challenges, and opportunities: connectedness can reduce autonomy at both individual
and organizational levels; inclusion of some “outsiders” can produce exclusion of
others; and empowerment of some entails the disempowerment of others. Change is
26 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

constant, rendering “process” a fact of everyday life rather than a theoretical construct.
During this initial phase of globalization, the key debate among scholars was about
the effectiveness of different interorganizational (and intraorganizational) structures
and relationships, and the differential effects that those strategies had on various
stakeholder groups. Negotiated relationships between multinational organizations
and governments moved to the forefront of research on power relationships, as did
the potential for resistance and/or political action by networks of individuals or
organizations (NGOs, IGOs, and so on). As a result, the boundaries between private
and public, economic and social or cultural, government and nongovernment, local
and distant, are blurred. Essentialist, cosmopolitan conceptions of ethics and ethical
behavior are juxtaposed against communitarian views of ethics and values as locally
constructed.
The key term of the first phase of globalization research was “culture”; the key terms
for the second were “connection” and “colonization.” The concept of networks and net-
working had long been a key part of organizational communication research and theory.
But, globalization elevated the importance of the concept and redefined it to include
macrolevel effects on interdependence and boundary spanning, both spatial and tem-
poral. Initially, network research focused on identifying the antecedents and effects of
communication networks within organizations. During the 1990s, the focus shifted
to the processes through which networks emerge, stabilize, and change. But global-
ization required a more robust conceptualization, one that was (1) multidimensional,
encompassing a wide variety of different kinds of actors, including individuals, groups,
organizations, artifacts, and technologies, (2) multiplex, including multiple types of
relationships, and (3) inclusive of communication processes that are more complex than
message creation, interpretation, and exchange.
In addition to facilitating new modes and forms of connection, the technologies that
allowed the most recent phase of globalization to take place had multiple impacts of
their own. They changed the ways in which interpersonal interactions are embedded in
time and space, compressing them both practically and phenomenologically. Workers
have been replaced by technology in an increasing number of industries and profes-
sions. Work processes have been accelerated and the increased pace has spilled over
into “nonwork” life, as has the sheer scope of work “spaces,” both terrestrial and vir-
tual. People can now spend their lives in illusory, nonmaterial, informational societies,
as predicted by Jacques Ellul and others. Multicephalous forms of organizing are now
possible, in settings as diverse as creative ventures and social movements. Surveillance
has become possible over unlimited space and time, increasing the corporate colo-
nization of the lifeworld such that individuals cannot take on societal roles that are
not also organizational ones. However, as postcolonial organizational communication
scholars argue, each of these concepts is usually defined from the perspective of West-
ern developed societies. Colonization has historically been about domination of space
and resources, with each new phase enabled by the development of new technologies.
Because power is inherent in knowledge, communication networks and processes have
important consequences for mobility, access to resources, inclusion, and exclusion (see,
e.g., the work of Amit Prasad and Edward Said). Communication theories that focus
on representing non-Western “others” rather than collaborating with them exacerbate
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 27

these processes. For example, the linguistic and discursive turn, although a significant
improvement over management focused functionalism, has been predominantly pro-
duced in the United States, albeit influenced by European theorists. Although Euro-
American scholars have produced excellent work in the related areas of gender, race, and
globalization from below, it has remained at the margins and has rarely challenged the
dominant cultural, structural, and ideological context. This “discursive confinement”
has marginalized the voices and rationalities of other contexts while maintaining what
Said has labeled the “positional superiority” of the West.
Postcolonial organizational communication research and theory seek to (1) disrupt
and reimagine organizing processes and spaces, (2) resist colonialist discourse and
rethink organizing practices from non-Western perspectives, and (3) decolonize and
reconfigure dominant forms of knowledge. Globalization has created an opportunity
for organizational communication scholars to grapple with confinement, but their
ability to do so will depend on their taking alternative perspectives seriously, and
on taking their own efforts to deconstruct views of scholarship as objective, value
free, and apolitical. Resisting colonialist discourse begins by incorporating global
politics and tensions into organizational studies, by showing how seemingly neutral
organizing processes and practices normalize and naturalize Euro-American values,
practices, and conceptions of “organization” and “organizing” as well as “nation-states”
and “government.” For example, hegemonic, Western conceptions of “justice” and
“civility” have traditionally been infused by value-laden conceptions of “proper”
dissent, and have had an individualistic focus (employer–employee exchanges). But
postcolonial theory redefines both in terms of a wide range of connections among
very different peoples, varying communicative styles and practices, and non-Western
connections between organizations and the natural world. Decolonizing starts with
focusing attention on the global tradition of working people resisting imperialism in
its multiple forms and processes, and on a conception of communities rather than
individuals as the loci of societies. The discourse of First Nations provides exemplars
of decolonization, but it also depends on the development of alternative organizational
communication theories, ones that offer models, prototypes, and measures of social
progress that problematize established conceptions of organizations and organizing.
The third and most recent phase of globalization research and theory assumes that
the concept of globalization has become so commonplace that researchers treat it as a
taken-for-granted aspect of societies and organizational life. Globally connected indi-
viduals can easily and inexpensively move from relationship to relationship without
expending the energy necessary to establish trust and commitment. Actors may choose
to associate with formal organizations as a means of achieving their goals, but they can
also do so through other connections. “Collective action” has been replaced with “con-
nective action.” Organizational “membership” is a momentary condition, identities are
constantly shifting, legitimacy and voice are both fleeting and ever present. The cen-
tral challenge for individuals and organizations is to achieve and manage an adequate
degree of coherence as they work through and within multiple discourses.
At the same time, multinational corporations are becoming ever more powerful,
both in themselves and relative to increasingly fragmented “communities” and polities.
Empowered elites encourage organizations to further consolidate power and privilege;
28 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

concentrating power encourages and empowers some people and disadvantages others.
Questions of corporate social responsibility increasingly become questions of human
rights. Resistance organizations, including terrorist cells and other clandestine groups,
develop, legitimize activism, and give activists coherent if fleeting identities. Even
capital, through “nonmarket” mechanisms such as crowdsourcing, becomes more
tenuous and more flexible.

Future directions

Although it would be foolish to try to predict the future development of an area that
encompasses so many research topics, conceptual orientations, tensions, and contra-
dictions, two recent developments are especially striking. The first involves the broader
social, economic, and political context within which organizational communication
research and theory are conducted. The world is very different than it was 50 years
ago, and those differences seem to be accelerating in scope and intensity. The environ-
ments surrounding organizations are becoming increasingly turbulent, complex, and
paradoxical, in part because of organizational leaders’ choices of strategies for dealing
with turbulence and complexity. Not only are simple panaceas such as “technological
innovation” or “market discipline” overly simplistic, but their implementation often cre-
ates serious unintended and unanticipated consequences. As a result, reflexivity and
adaptability are becoming ever more important, and both organizational actors (man-
agers and others) and organizational communication research and theory must respond
appropriately. These changes are not just abstractions; they have tangible consequences
for peoples throughout the world.
Organizational communication scholars have been actively involved in trying
to understand the impact of change on issues of ethics, community, and corporate
social responsibility. But, many of those efforts also include direct, active intervention.
Many scholars have become involved in existing organizations which have goals of
dealing with homelessness, hunger, sexual trafficking, worker exploitation, and a host
of other conditions that have been exacerbated by globalization and the increasing
concentration of wealth, income, and power. Other scholars are using their expertise
and energy to create and/or sustain alternative forms of organizing: worker owned and
governed cooperatives; consumer protection organizations dealing with issues regard-
ing housing, financial equity and fairness, health care, and other important aspects of
lived experience; and community organizing designed to increase the political voice of
marginalized peoples and support local businesses, farms, and ranches, to name a few.
Still others have sought to combine their interests in research and activism under
the aegis of “engaged scholarship.” Based on the notion that researchers and practition-
ers can work together to understand socioeconomic issue and devise actions plans for
dealing with them, engaged scholarship entered the organizational communication lit-
erature in 2002. Since then, engaged scholarship has been the subject of an annual con-
ference, an edited book collection, a special issue of Journal of Applied Communication
Research, and a standalone entry in the Sage Handbook of Organizational Communica-
tion. In 2006 it was formally introduced into management literature.
HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N 29

As the engaged scholarship movement has gained momentum, many organizational


communication scholars have embraced it as a means of creating socially meaningful
scholarship that addresses practical concerns. It views organizations as sites for the
co-construction of knowledge and insight with practitioners and key stakeholders
about various communication phenomena. In the process, engaged scholars address
the decades-old debate in the academy about the relationship between academic
inquiry and organizational practice. Although the roots of engaged scholarship can
be traced to the emergence of the organizational communication discipline, four
academic traditions in organizational communication support the engaged organi-
zational communication scholarship movement: applied communication research,
collaborative learning, activism and social justice, and practical theory. Applied
communication research emphasizes the creation of knowledge for the purpose of
disseminating it to practitioners. Although applied communication research was once
devalued by some communication scholars, the goal of producing practical knowledge
(phronesis) and translating it into praxis has also long been a concern for organizational
communication scholars. Collaborative learning research emphasizes the expertise
of scholars and practitioners to create actionable knowledge. Activism and social
justice research reflects scholarship designed to foster social change for the benefit of
organizational members or social groups who have historically been marginalized.
Practical theory research emphasizes creating conceptual maps of communication,
reflecting about communication practices, and the use of theory as an interven-
tion tool that scholars use to assist practitioners in altering their communication
practices.
As engaged scholarship has blossomed into an important line of inquiry in the disci-
pline, scholars have recognized the tension inherent in producing scholarship that con-
tributes both to the discipline and to the organizations with which they work. Engaged
scholars experience distinctive risks and vulnerabilities. In the process they have to
grapple with a number of tensions: openness versus secrecy; managing the privileges
(and distortions) involved in being an “expert” (in the standard, Western, academic
sense of the term) working in tandem with partners whose expertise is more local, more
practical, and more grounded in lived experience, and the related tendency to offer
advice from that privileged position before adequately listening to “others”; managing
trade-offs between maintaining appropriate critical “distance” (the “scholarship” side of
“engaged scholarship”) and being fully engaged with other participants; and knowing
that eventually “scholars” can “go home” in ways that other participants cannot. Still,
increased interest in integrating research and intervention may signal another transfor-
mation for the discipline.
A second potential development involves the issue of “common ground” that occu-
pied scholars at the turn of the century. Recently some veterans of the paradigm wars of
the late 1990s have once again become concerned about fragmentation of organizational
communication research and theory. Some have responded by developing metatheoret-
ical models such as politically attentive relational constructionism, or PARC (see Deetz,
2009), which are designed to simultaneously retain the rich diversity of the field and
highlight connections among perspectives. Scholars in areas long dominated by dis-
cursive perspectives – feminism, power, and globalization, for example – are calling for
30 HI S T O R Y OF OR G A N I Z AT I O N A L CO M M U N I C AT I O N

an increased focus on material conditions and structural guidelines and constraints,


a reconnection of action and structure. In one sense, this shift should not come as a
surprise. In 1945, Kenneth Burke, in A Grammar of Motives, argued that the drama
of human relations is defined by an ongoing dialectic between merger and division, a
tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces. There is no evidence that he had aca-
demic disciplines in mind when he developed his analysis, but the concept does seem
apt. Integration (“common ground”) is never easy, especially since some of the issues
that separate organizational communication scholars are inherent in the nature of the
human sciences. Moreover, areas of common ground are difficult to construct and often
quick to disappear. But, given the importance of the issues that we are addressing, it may
well be worth the effort.

SEE ALSO: Contradictions, Tensions, Paradoxes, and Dialectics; Critical Approaches;


Culture, Organizational; Discourse Analysis/Methods; Engaged Scholarship; Feminist
Approaches; Genealogy of the Field; Globalization/Internationalization; Institutional
Theory/Approaches; Leadership in Organizations; Postcolonial Approaches; Postmod-
ern/Poststructural Approaches; Post-Positivist/Functionalist Approach; Power; Struc-
turation Theory

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York, NY: Oxford University Press.
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Charles Conrad (PhD, Kansas University) is professor of organizational communica-


tion and organizational rhetoric and strategic communication in the Department of
Communication at Texas A&M University–College Station, and a past editor of Man-
agement Communication Quarterly. His research focuses on the interface among orga-
nizational discourse, power, and politics and has appeared in the Quarterly Journal
of Speech, Journal of Applied Communication Research, Communication Monographs,
The Journal of Manufacturing Systems, and Management Communication Quarterly. His
most recent books are Global Engineering (2009), Organizational Rhetoric (2011) and
Strategic Organizational Communication (7th ed., 2012).

Michael Sollitto (PhD, West Virginia University) is assistant professor at Texas A&M
University–Corpus Christi. His research focuses on coworker relationships and organi-
zational assimilation. His research has appeared in the International Journal of Business
Communication, Communication Education, Southern Journal of Communication, Com-
munication Research Reports, and Communication Reports.