Trends in Organizational Communication Research: Sustaining the Discipline, Sustaining Ourselves

Article excerpt

Before I begin my remarks today, please join me in thanking Steve Rhodes and the faculty and graduate students of the Department of Communication here at Western Michigan University for their hard work in hosting the 16th annual Organizational Communication mini-conference. We appreciate the leadership you are providing for organizational communication studies.

It doesn't seem all that long ago when I was positioned on the other side of this podium; sitting there, in your shoes, listening to Charles Redding urge us to examine unethical messages in our organizational communication research (see Redding, 1996), and to include "boat-rocking and whistleblowing" in our organizational communication instruction (Redding, 1985). It was a long time ago, though, in the early 80's, actually, when I began studying organizational communication at the University of Texas. At the time, organizational communication was, in some ways, the "new kid on the academic block" and its identity as an academic subdiscipline was still taking shape. This was both inviting and unsettling: inviting, in the sense that, even as graduate students, we might somehow be able to help shape the field's identity, but also unsettling in the sense that even then, we had several paradigmatic alternatives from which to choose in shaping our own identity as organizational communication scholars. As graduate students at UT at that time, we were fortunate to have exposure to positivist approaches to research through our work with Fred Jablin, and what we then called "qualitative approaches" through our work with Larry Browning. Then, one semester while Larry was on sabbatical, Stan Deetz visited our department, and broadened our graduate curriculum even further by introducing us to critical organizational communication studies. Quite honestly, I struggled to get my mind around the language of positivism, interpretivism, and critical theory all at the same time--multivariate analysis of variance--ideological critique; factor analysis--deconstruction. These are not particularly compatible discourses! While the experience was overwhelming at times, even then I think I was beginning to sense that organizations and communication are complex and rich enough to be usefully understood in multiple and diverse ways.

Now, many years later, and having had much more time to read research conducted across those paradigmatic traditions, I am even more appreciative of the array of diverse choices available to us as organizational communication scholars. I also am somewhat amazed that my early path happened to intersect with some of the best minds in the field--each working in his own way, shaping and defining this complex and mysterious subject: "organizational communication." At the time, Fred was providing leadership for research and theorizing in organizational socialization. Larry was involved in the first Alta conference and the early movement toward interpretive studies of organizational communication. And Stan was on his way to becoming one of the founding "fathers" of critical organizational communication theory and research.

As it turns out, I had arrived right in an epicenter of multiple emerging trends in organizational communication research. It was an exciting place to be. Even though I was a fledgling scholar, I was able to co-author several papers with Fred who, at the time, probably was the driving force behind communication research in organizational socialization. Graduate students in the department then, were required to complete an independent research project with a faculty member other than their primary advisor. So, with the guidance of Larry Browning, I completed an interpretive study on balancing power in supervisory relationships. Looking back now on those experiences, I can see how they began my integration in to the discipline. As a result of my experiences as a graduate student, I also felt somehow welcomed into the discipline, an experience that I now try to offer my own doctoral advisees. …

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