Threads of Intersection and Distinction: Joining an Ongoing Conversation within Organizational Communication Research

Article excerpt

In any given discipline, there seems to be an ongoing battle of definition, a certain degree of consternation about who we are and where we fit. In this review we argue that the discipline of organizational communication is no different. In fact, journals and handbooks have published several special issues that have attempted to tackle this same challenge. These moments of identity crisis hold significance in both their frequency--in many ways they mark time as it passes--and function--they serve as markers of trends and currents of thinking between and amongst scholars.

It should come as no surprise to note that academic disciplines spend so much time considering their identities. The context of a constantly changing society virtually demands refining a disciplinary identity. With economic crises, an explosion in technological advancement, and increased awareness of our existence within a global community, disciplines like organizational communication must consider how they fit within the larger social structure and systems to remain current, relevant, and significant. Therefore, it is not only salient but also essential to occasionally take a moment to step back and survey the research and publications within a discipline to discern how that discipline's identity evolves along with society.

As a construct of organizational communication, identity is that which makes an organization distinct. Yet at the same time, establishing an organization's identity is not simply about what makes one different, but it is also about what makes one the same as others with whom the organization engages and interacts. In the end, identity makes one the same but different. In this essay, we take up the identity question once again--but in a renewed way--approaching the question as joining an ongoing conversation and seeking to position organizational communication as simultaneously the same and different from other disciplines in communication and the same and different from ongoing conversations on key issues and topics that shape our world. Toward this end, we take up the questions of identity as the field of organizational communication has traditionally addressed it over the past decade, then we look to points of intersection in current research both with traditional disciplines and with current topics, trends, and issues. Finally, we acknowledge where we find the points of distinction that lead the conversation down a slightly different path.

1. Organizing Disciplinary Identity: A Framework

Definitions at their heart are statements of identity (Gioia, 1998). As such, seeking to delineate research trends involves at its essence an act of identity construction. Disciplines construct their identities through the research, publication and commentaries that comprise the field. That said, in reviewing organizational communication literature, by definition we seek to understand the identity of organizational communication as a discipline. To be certain, the task of defining any scholarly field or discipline presents a daunting challenge. However, in many ways, a review of organizational communication research with an eye toward understanding what constitutes "organizational communication" seems particularly well suited for a framework revolving around identity. We situate this review around identity because, as with all fields, organizational communication is evolving and changing as society changes. In addition, identity itself forms a key area of inquiry within organizational communication.

In order to use organizational identity (in this sense) as a guiding framework for this review, we must first ask to what extent we might consider an academic discipline as an "organization" in need of an identity. This move requires adopting a particular understanding of the concept of "organization," one that takes a stance of organization as a verb--or rather as a process. Drawing from Karl Weick's Social Psychology of Organizing (1979), an orientation toward communication as constitutive of organizations marks, in part, organizational communication in the past decade (see Deetz, 2001). …