Tag Archive for 'communication as constitutive'

Building Blocks of Postmodern Organizational Communication

This winter semester, I am giving a graduate seminar on Postmodern Organizational Communication with a clear-cut focus on Communication as Constitutive of Organizations (Ashcraft, Kuhn, & Cooren, 2009; Putnam & Nicotera, 2008), otherwise known as the CCO perspective. This new theoretical approach to organizations is still in the making, despite its roots in the linguistic turn taken more than 25 years ago (Putnam & Pacanowsky, 1983). Unlike other more or less single-handedly developed organization theories (e.g., Luhmann, 2000; Weick, 1995), its terminology is somewhat inconsistent across the body of literature, which makes it harder to grasp. Each and every week, my student have to learn that the hard way by reading the articles that the CCO perspective comprises of.

Today, we asked for the constitutional amendments in materialization of organizations (Ashcraft, Kuhn, & Cooren, 2009). We argued that objects, sites, and bodies are the building blocks of organizations, that which makes organizations accessible to scholars. In addition, we took a closer look at the four flows of communication that constitute and reconstitute organizations (see Figure below). These four flows are likewise building blocks of organizations, as McPhee and Zaug (2000) avidly argue. Obvious to us, these two concepts neatly go together.

Figure 1: Explication of the Model (McPhee & Zaug, 2000).

For example, membership negotiation and self-structuring is closely tied to bodies, not the least because people take on certain roles in an organizations (top management, white and blue collar workers, etc.). Moreover, negotiation entails objects such as written contracts and sites such as conflicts at the water cooler. It also plays into self-structuring with the enactment of each and every such contract or conflict. The translation back and forth between the two concept is not easy, but it yields a more comprehensive approach to organizations, in the end.

The four-flows model, in particular, is certainly worthwhile a concept to be considered in organization studies, though I wonder why its explication (i.e., visualization) is — awkward, if not simply misleading. Some other time, we need to sit down and draw a new figure.


  • Ashcraft, K. L., Kuhn, T. R., and Cooren, F. (2009). Constitutional Amendments: ”Materializing” Organizational Communication. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1):1–64.
  • Luhmann, N. (1995). Social Systems. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
  • McPhee, R. D. and Zaug, P. (2000). The Communicative Constitution of Orga- nizations: A Framework for Explanation. The Electronic Journal of Communication, 10(1/2).
  • Putnam, L. L. and Nicotera, A. M. (2008). Building Theories of Organization: The Constitutive Role of Communication. Routledge, New York.
  • Putnam, L. L. and Pacanowsky, M. E. (1983). Communication and Orga- nizations, an Interpretive Approach, volume 65. Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA.
  • Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations. Foundations for Organizational Science. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.