The Emergent Organization: Communication as Its Site and Surface

The Emergent Organization: Communication as Its Site and Surface

The Emergent Organization: Communication as Its Site and Surface

The Emergent Organization: Communication as Its Site and Surface


Today's organizations face a wide variety of challenges, including such contradictions as maintaining unity of action while becoming increasingly diverse. Even the definition of organization is changing and evolving. In this monograph, the authors apply their academic and professional experience to address the notion of "organization," setting forth communication as the essential modality for the constitution of organization--explaining how an organization can at the same time be both local and global, and how these properties which give organization continuity over time and across geographically dispersed situations also come to be manifested in the day-to-day of human interpersonal exchange.

As a radical rethinking of the traditional discourse approaches in communication theory, this book develops a conceptual framework based on the idea that "organization" emerges in the mix of conversational and textual communicative activities that together construct organizational identity. Applying concepts from the philosophy of language, linguistics, semiotics, system design, sociology and management theory, the authors put forth a convincing argument demonstrating the materiality of language and its constructive role in organization and society.


This book is the culmination of a long quest: to explain organization in the language of an authentically communicational theory. The quest began with what is on the surface an innocuous enough question: What is an organization? But the closer one looks at the literature on organization the less evident the answer to the question becomes. The problem is that, although it is correlated with many material manifestations, organization has in and of itself no materiality. We can only know organization by forming an image of it. Yet as Morgan (1986) has astutely observed, the image we have of an organization is based in metaphor and metaphor hides as much as it reveals. Is organization a machine, an organism, a brain, a culture, a political system, a psychic prison? The answer is always going to be "yes" and "no"; none of these metaphors is so all-encompassing that it provides a definitive answer to our question.

Despite the great diversity of writings on organization there are, we believe, two principal classes of established answers to the puzzle we have posed ourselves, or perhaps a better term would be two attitudes. For the sake of convenience, let us call the two attitudes essentialist and anti-essentialist. The essentialist attitude takes the existence of organization as a given and then goes on to address the issue of how to investigate it scientifically: what theories are appropriate, what methodologies are the most effective in investigating organizational structures and processes. The objective is to arrive at a theory or model of organization that is sufficiently robust to deal with the variety of forms of organization with which we are confronted in daily life. Its ultimate goal is effective management. Movements such as Total Quality or Business Process Reengineering illustrate this attitude. Essentialism forms the basis of traditional management science and some branches of the sociology of organization.

The anti-essentialist view has a different starting point. It assumes organization to be a secondary phenomenon: a kind of battleground where powerful forces contend in a struggle to have their ideology prevail in an ongoing redistribution of the world's resources. Some end up winners, and some losers. From this perspective the essentialist preoccupations of the scientific community are part of a smoke screen that hides the reality of the struggle for power from our view. In this perspective, ideologies, historically grounded in divisions of class, race, gender, among other factors, inform the actions of practitioners, consciously or . . .

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