Perspectives on Organizational Communication. Finding Common Ground. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)
Mills, Albert J., Canadian Journal of Sociology
Steven R. Corman and Marshall Scott Poole, eds, Perspectives on Organizational Communication. Finding Common Ground. New York: The Guildford Press, 2000
When I began teaching organization studies in 1978 I found the field extraordinary narrow, gendered and dull for someone trained, like myself, in industrial sociology. One hundred and one ways of making organizations more efficient wasn't my idea of an exciting teaching career. But times were hard and sociologists had to find jobs somewhere, anywhere. Yet, one year later, in 1979 my perspective on organizational analysis was radically changed for the better by the publication of Burrell and Morgan's Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis. The book opened up several doors. To begin with, it added to the growing critique of (what it termed) the functionalist dominance of the field. By challenging the apparent one-dimensional character of the field it helped to legitimate other foci and concerns. Enabling many of us to reconstruct organizational analysis as the study of the impact of organization on people, without abandoning traditional concerns with the impact of people on organizational outcomes. Finally, it provided a much needed heuristic for teaching organizational analysis: the notion of organizational paradigms provided a way of comparing and contrasting theoretical approaches, opening each up to scrutiny as we interrogated the underlying ontology, epistemology, and methodology. The work is so enduring that I still use it to frame my Ph.D. course in Management Thought. That, in a nutshell, explains something of the power and value of the book that has become so popular among organizational scholars over the years.
For some the persuasiveness of Burrell and Morgan's paradigms has also encouraged a strengthening of the barriers between organizational scholars, lending an ideological rationale for standing behind assumed paradigmatic barriers. For Steven R. Corman and Marshall Scott Poole this had engendered a series of paradigmatic wars and paradigmatic "apartheid" that reduces the potential for scholarly endeavour. They argue that "after twenty years of differentiating, it is time ... to devote attention to constructing some common ground" (Introduction, p.4). To that end, they have brought together a number of established and emerging scholars in the field of organizational communication to "persuade readers to give more attention to what different perspectives have in common, and less attention to what divides them" (Ibid.)
The book has wide appeal but whether or not you think it succeeds will depend on how you approach it in the first place. Although written for and by scholars in the field of organizational communication the focus on paradigmatic debates is of interest to anyone concerned with theory construction and the processes of research in the social sciences. For that reason I found this book to be extraordinarily useful and have adopted it for my Ph. …