Theorizing the Practice(s) of CCO: Discourse, Narrative, and Dialogue at Work

Ann Starbæk Bager, John McClellan

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    Abstract

    Over the past decade, the Communicative Constitution of Organization (CCO) has emerged as a leading moniker guiding many theorists and researchers exploring the complexities of communication and organization (see Ashcraft, Kuhn, & Cooren, 2009, Putnam & Nicotera, 2008). With a focus on communication as the locus of interest when studying the complexities of organizing, CCO perspectives offer unique theoretical insights for scholars to better understand the ways organizations are created, changed, and maintained in communication (e.g., Ashcraft et al., 2009; Cooren et al, 2011; Kuhn et al., 2017; Schoeneborn et al., 2019). Nevertheless, this collection of diverse CCO theories offers little pragmatic guidance for organizational scholars as well as organizational leaders and change practitioners. In this paper, we argue that additional theorizing is needed to make CCO more palpable, applicable, and readily available to organizational leaders and practitioners interested in communicative strategies to improve their organizations. By attending to theories of discourse (e.g. Alvesson & Kärremann, 2011; Grant & Iedema, 2005), narratives (e.g. Boje, 2001; Bager & Lundholt, 2020; Bager, Lueg & Lundholt, 2020), and dialogue (Bakhtin 2010, Gadamer, 2004, Barge & Little, 2002) we extend CCO theorizing into management practices and everyday organizational processes. Grounded in the linguistic turn in philosophy (Schoeneborn, et al., 2019), the variety of CCO theories direct attention to several central tenets. First, CCO theorizing focuses research on the everyday, tangible, in situ practices of communication (Cooren, et al., 2011). Second, CCO theorizing undermines often taken for granted subject/object, structure/agency, symbolic/material, and macro/micro dualities (Kuhn, 2012, Schoeneborn et al., 2019). Third, CCO theorizing recognizes organizations as sites of struggle for meaning and attends to organizational meanings as always tension-filled, partial, and incomplete where irony, contradiction, and the messiness of organizational life are embraced as important aspects of organizations rather than dismissed as disruptions or anomalies (Putnam et al., 2016). Finally, CCO theorizing unites the symbolic with the material, attending to the material qualities of communication as active “participants” in the communicative processes of organizing (e.g., Cooren, 2012) and to communication as an “embodied” practice (Ashcraft et al., 2009). As such, CCO theorizing complicates the relationship between language and organizational reality(ies) and subjectivity(ies) in ways that offer useful approaches for researchers exploring the “inherently processual, indeterminate, and conflict-laden” practices of organizations as communication (Schoeneborn et al., 2019, p. 478). However, to help make CCO theorizing aligned with pragmatic approaches to communication in practice, we look to theories of discourse, narrative, and dialogue and devleop a unique dissensus-based, dialogic orientation to communicative practice. First, inspired by organizational discourse studies (Alvesson & Kärreman, 2000, 2011; Iedema, 2011, 2015) and Grant and Iedema’s (2005) contribution in particular, we connect with recent moves toward “organizational discourse activism” (ODAc). ODAc theorizes how participatory research strategies in combination with discourse analytical lenses (see Bager & Mølholm, 2020) can invite change through active participation with organizational practitioners. Second, we draw from narrative studies and the recent focus on narrative processuality, multimodality, and the dynamics between dominant organizational narrative structures and resistance as well as complicit narrative enactments in local practices (Bager & Lundholt, 2020, De Fina & Georgakopoulou, 2019; Rantakari & Vaara, 2017). This narrative approach refocuses attention on narrative power dynamics (Bager, Lueg & Lundholt, 2020; Keller, 2020) to promote new stories and (counter)narratives in organizational practice (Bager & Lundholt, 2020; Boje, Larsen & Bruun, 2017). Finally, inspired by Bahktin (2010) and Gadamer’s (2004) theories of dialogue and those promoting dialogue as a way of being at work (e.g. Barge & Little, 2002, Deetz & Simpson, 2004; Jabri et al., 2008; Shotter, 2008; Taylor & Van Every, 1999). By drawing inspiration from those promoting responsive forms of interaction at work while attending to the inherent tensions in conversation, we theorize the need for to-and-fro interactions that inspire new forms of organizing that are mutually supportive and responsive to the diverse subjectivies of organizaitonal participants (see McClellan, 2020). Inspired by these theories of communication in practice, we develop a theortical framework that can promote tools, practices, and methods for practicing communication that align with and support CCO theorizing. In particular, we highlight the following seven qualities of organizational communication that if benchmarked, analyzed, and put into practice from a dialogic orientation can extend CCO theorizing to support scholars, leaders, and change practitioners interested in communicative strategies to improve organizational practice. – Information flow: transfer of relevant information among employees – Understanding: conversations allowing employees opportunities to co-create understanding – Involvement: engaged participation from relevant employees in organizational development processes – Responsiveness: meaningful feedback and active responses to the ideas and concerns of others – Openness: opportunities to speak and share one’s voice embraced by curiosity from others – Meaning-making processes: sustainable and responsive processes for the co-construction of meaning – Communication competence: ability to participate in decision-making and collaborative processes while being vulnerable to alternative ideas Theorizing the practice of communication is often framed within narrow conceptions of organizational communication and is typically aligned with outdated assumptions and tools for practice. By developing our dialogic framework, grounded in these seven qualities of communication, we update theorizing on “strategies” for implemting organizational communciation in alignment with CCO theorizing by redirecting attention to active participation among organizational participants, processual and multimodal forms of communication, and reciprocal forms of interaction within the everyday practices of organizing. Furhtermore, our theorietical framework fulfills the responsibility and ethical demand among CCO scholars to promote the co-constition of mutually supportive, open and sustainable communication environments and organizaitonal cultures. This type of theorizing extends the development of CCO inspired models for organizational practice, that unlike normative models, offer dialogic, adaptable frameworks that are enacted in their very practice. 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    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2020
    Publication statusPublished - 2020
    EventEGOS: 1st Organization Theory Winter Workshop - Online
    Duration: 13. Nov 202014. Nov 2020
    https://osofficer.wixsite.com/otworkshop

    Workshop

    WorkshopEGOS
    LocationOnline
    Period13/11/202014/11/2020
    Internet address

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