Identifying the Common and Separate Domains of Business-Management-Organizational Communication

Article excerpt

In recent years there have been several indications that Business-Management-Organizational Communication (BMOC) is developing as a mature field (for example, the number of top schools requiring BMOC, the total number of schools requiring BMOC, membership in professional organizations, attendance at professional meetings, the number, quality, and focus of the journals). Ho's (1988) analysis of citation patterns in core communication journals showed indications of gradual development. Beringer (1990) argued that communication has at last come of age as an academic field. In the specific areas, recent research by Nelson, Luse, and DuFrene (1992), Pace, Michal-Johnson, and Mills (1990), and Munter (1989) showed significant consistency within (but not among) business communication, organizational communication, and management communication. Since self-reflection is one characteristic of academic maturity, we chose to examine the intellectual foundations of the field for clues to its future directions.

BMOC as a field of study has three primary roots. The oldest root is from English to Business Writing to Business Communication. According to Galle and Lundberg (1988), "the traditional domain of business communication involves the structural components of correct letter writing, writing style, grammar, and formal reports" (p.27). Recent research by Nelson, Luse, and DuFrene (1992) confirms that letters, memos, and reports (along with oral presentations) are the core of the introductory course in Business Communication.

The second root is from Speech Communication to Business Speaking to Communication to Organizational Communication. Putnam and Cheney (1985) developed the common view that organizational communication takes a theoretical approach to analyzing a variety of communications phenomena, but within organizational contexts. The research of Pace, Michal-Johnson, and Mills (1990), Pace and Ross (1983), Rogers (1978), and Downs and Larimer (1974) confirms that organizational communication focuses on theory (organizational theory, communication theory, and organizational communication theory) and has applications (to conflict, leadership, climate, culture, change, and decision making).

The third root is from Management to Management Communication. Smeltzer, Glab, and Golen (1983) described this root as the merger of business communication, organizational communication, and management. Research by Munter (1989) showed that management communication focuses on the merger of managerial writing and speaking, formulation of communication strategies, and applications in specific contexts.

A central question for BMOC is whether this is one field of study or three closely related fields. Pearse (1989) argued that BMOC is a single discipline with a multidisciplinary history. Smeltzer, Glab, and Golen (1983) contend that managerial communication, as the product of the merger of business communication, organizational communication, and management, encompassed all three. Johnson and DuFrene (1992) argued that historically this has been a diverse field, but a common body of knowledge is emerging. Reinsch (1991) contends that "business communication, management communication, and organizational communication are not identical" (p.305). He does, however, see overlap in their research interests and methodologies. Smeltzer and Suchan (1991) disagree, arguing instead that business communication as a discipline lacks respect in part because of its failure to develop a recognizable body of knowledge or theoretical framework of its own. At this point in the history of the field, it is not clear whether BMOC is one field with a common body of knowledge or three fields with a fragmented body of knowledge.

Research Question

A major goal of an identifiable discipline is the clear identification of that discipline, its parameters and perspectives. The basic research question motivating this study is whether BMOC is a single field of study with a common body of knowledge or three separate fields. …