Stanley Deetz and Devon Brown
Numerous writers have argued that we have entered an ‘age of participation’, suggesting a distinctively new way of managing and making decisions together. In discussing communication more generally, the various essays in this volume have outlined the many conditions pushing increased participation in workplace decisions, the forms and practices of participation, and the consequences for business and society. Still, workplace participation has been constrained (Heckscher, 1997; Wisman, 1997). And, where it has occurred it has been most often limited to employee participation. Institutional relationships, vested interests, and both overt and subtle power relations, have provided clear barriers to widescale productive participation in business decisions. We, among many others, have tried to address such issues in other places (for example, Deetz, 1992, 1995b; Wagner, 1994; Cheney et al., 1998; Seibold and Shea, 2001). In this chapter, we wish to present a theoretical perspective on the issues involved. Our focus is upon what might appear to be more benign communication conceptions and practices that nonetheless have tremendous impact on the success and viability of participation programmes. The form and practices of participation, not just its existence, matter (Russell, 1997). Communication is an integral part of any form of participation.
Workplace participation of various forms is important for all types of organizations. The core concepts of stakeholder representation, enhanced creativity, and positive communicative practices apply to for-profit businesses, public agencies and not-for-profit groups. The central questions - ‘Whose objectives should count?’ ‘How much should they count?’ and ‘How will they be accounted for?’ - arise in all modern organizations. And, the problem of managerial control directed towards a limited set of objectives is common to most.
Much of this analysis grows out of the social/political/legal/economic conditions in the United States. The US model is significant in the ways that it has spread throughout the world. With so-called free trade agreements and the globalization of business, the world economy increasingly works structurally like