(De)centering and (Re)envisioning the Secular Hegemony of Organizational Communication Theory and Research

By Buzzanell, Patrice M.; Harter, Lynn M. | Communication Studies, March 2006 | Go to article overview

(De)centering and (Re)envisioning the Secular Hegemony of Organizational Communication Theory and Research


Buzzanell, Patrice M., Harter, Lynn M., Communication Studies


This special issue provides a forum for organizational communication theory and research that recognizes and seeks to disrupt "secular hegemony." Secular hegemony, or the subjugation of the spiritual, privileges particular worldviews that dominate disciplinary discourses (Rodriguez, 2001). These worldviews privilege managerialist and consumerist ideologies and foster identity constructions that elevate one side of binary thinking to the exclusion of other ways of constructing our worlds and our field (e.g., instrumentality, work, and individual benefits to the neglect of emotionality, family or volunteer pursuits, and community).

Collectively, the authors in our special issue explore often unacknowledged spiritual assumptions that can expand understandings of the creation and maintenance of communal life. As such, they reframe and enlarge constructs and processes that reside at the heart of organizational communication. Originating, as it did, with a roundtable discussion at the 2005 Central States Communication Association annual convention, this special issue expanded to include other scholars through an open call for manuscripts in Communication Studies and over CRTNET. We received more than 20 submissions and gratefully acknowledge the 44 editorial board members who participated in our review process. The five articles selected for this special issue address the salience of spirituality for personal and organizational sense-making and the constructions of multiple, simultaneous, and, in some cases, incompatible realities.

Authors foreground ways in which individuals and organizations enact spirituality through narrative (see Goodier & Eisenberg), reveal how individuals craft meaningful work (see Smith, Arendt, Bezek Lahman, Settle, & Duff), provide accounts of working in faith-based organizations (see Bonewits Feldner, Kirby, McBride, Shuler, Birkholt, Danielson, & Pawlowski), and highlight alternative ways of organizing shared spirituality (see Leeman). Collectively, these authors (re)envision the secular hegemony of communication theory by exploring the (a) symbolic and material contours of spiritual and secular realities, and (b) tensions and contradictions that emerge when spirituality collides with, permeates and is sometimes co-opted by instrumental rationalities and secular interests.

Reading across articles, we were struck by the ways material contexts of participants' lives shape discursive practices and patterns in critical ways. Bonewits Feldner and Kirby et al. identify how the Jesuit value of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, at times remains elusive due to market demands of higher education and expectations that value some goals (e.g., research) over others (e.g., service). Bonewits Feldner co-constructs a story with interview participants about how Catholic colleges rely on rituals, such as mission-building conferences, to maintain faith-based missions amidst the corporatization of higher education. Likewise, Kirby et al., through an auto-ethnographic and multivocal narrative, perceptively reveal the untenable positions in which educators sometimes find themselves when asked to do and be more with limited resources (e.g., time). Leeman's ethnographic portrayal of a housechurch reveals the limits of resistance within mainstream settings. Leeman demonstrates how "public" and "private" remain deeply contested social and material spaces as housechurch members create a subaltern counter private organized around relationships. Smith et al. interview individuals working in the persistently underfunded nonprofit arts sector and offer a vision for framing work and career as meaningful when traditional career models, guided in part by desires for material and economic gain, are no longer viable. Finally, Goodier and Eisenberg portray how a faith-based organization employed consultants to aid their creation of both material and symbolic spaces for the cultivation and expression of members' spirituality. …

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