Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Interpretive Acts: New Vistas in Qualitative Research in Business Communication. A Guest Editorial

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Interpretive Acts: New Vistas in Qualitative Research in Business Communication. A Guest Editorial

Article excerpt

This special issue of The Journal of Business Communication reflects the influences of several forces that are slowly but surely building momentum within the journal, the Association for Business Communication, and our field. The idea began with a panel entitled "Qualitative Research Methods and Theories: Evolving Practices for Management Communication" at the Association's 65th Annual Convention held in Atlanta, Georgia last year. The panel, which was chaired by Kitty Locker and included Kathryn Rentz, Gail Fann Thomas, JoAnne Yates, and myself, was well attended, suggesting that it spoke to a growing need for dialogue around the topic of qualitative research.

A threshold question for the special issue was one that is addressed in the preface to every volume on qualitative research (e.g., Lindlof, 1996; van Maanen, 1983): What is qualitative research, and more particularly, what is qualitative research in the context of our discipline? Van Mannen (1983) offered this now-famous definition:

The label qualitative methods has no precise meaning in any of the social sciences. It is at best an umbrella term covering an array of interpretive techniques which seek to describe, decode, translate and otherwise come to terms with the meaning, not the frequency, of certain more or less naturally occurring phenomena in the social world.... (p. 9)

Narrowing this broad definition is necessary for any collection that purports to address the subject of qualitative research. Even papers that attempt to overview qualitative research in a particular domain of practice (e.g., Tucker, Powell, & Meyer, 1995) will inevitably highlight some kinds of research activities and topics, while giving less attention to others. Ulijn (2000), for instance, noted that Tucker, Powell and Meyer's survey of then-extant qualitative research in journals of business and management communication did not include discourse analysis, a method common in European research. The focus adopted for this special issue, of course, has also led to exclusions, though its scope has widened to include studies influenced by European theories and methods and is thus in line with trends in research in organizational communication and management studies in Europe and the US.

Our title, "Interpretive Acts," and the details of our call for papers, which asked researchers to draw concepts and techniques from domains of scholarship ranging from rhetorical studies and narrative theory to literary criticism and cultural studies, suggests the focus of this special issue. Like our panel, our call spoke to the background in literary and social theory of many of the members of ABC, noted by Yates (1993) as being one of our strengths. In this respect, the special issue takes into account and parallels the linguistic turn in organizational theory (Mauws & Phillips, 1995; see also Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000, reviewed in this volume). This perspective understands language not simply as an instrument or tool for accomplishing particular managerial objectives, but as the very means for producing identity (Cheney & Christensen, 2001) and organization itself (Putnam & Pacanowsky, 1983; Smircich & Stubbart, 1985).

Consistent with this expanded sense of the role of language and symbolic systems in organization and management, contemporary qualitative methods for addressing the wide range of phenomena of communicative expressions known as "texts" have multiplied, expanding to embrace a variety and diversity almost as rich as these texts themselves. The review process for the special issue has yielded studies that bracket a range of social phenomena of interest to business communication researchers and, at the same time, exemplify different methods, and combinations of methods, for capturing and analyzing data of various sorts. The "interpretive acts" embodied in each of these studies provide new twists on theories already known in our field (e. …

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