Sub-theme 24: Organizations as Phenomena of Language Use: Interconnecting Discourse and Communication

Joep P. Cornelissen
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Timothy R. Kuhn
University of Colorado at Boulder, USA
Dennis Schoeneborn
University of Zurich, Switzerland

Call for Papers


Scholars of organization have recently sought to theorize the very existence, operations, and influence of organizations as phenomena of language use. This development has occurred separately within two theoretical traditions. One of them, the organization-as-discourse approach (Boje, Oswick & Ford, 2004; Grant, Keenoy & Oswick, 1998), originates in the field of organization studies, and is mainly interested in the macro-level of discursive practices that transcend single organizations. In contrast, the organization-as-communication approach is rooted in the field of organizational communication, where scholars increasingly consider "communication as constitutive of organizations" (CCO; Ashcraft, Kuhn & Cooren 2009; Putnam & Nicotera, 2008). The guiding idea of the CCO view is to conceptualize organizations as accomplished in ongoing communicative practices, such as in a dynamic interplay of both texts and conversations (Taylor & van Every, 2000). In this way, CCO scholars seek to reconcile the macro-level with the micro-level of local interactions.

Drawing on the emerging CCO perspective, it is the aim of the sub-theme to connect these two related, though partly isolated, traditions of theorizing. A first promising point of connection is that both traditions share the assumption that organizations are constituted in and through language use and that organizing and communicating are inherently intertwined. A second, related point is the desire to see discourse and communication as not merely expressive or representational of internal states, but as processes that mould and produce – as well as destroy – the meanings axial to organizational existence and organizing practice.

We invite papers that advance theory and develop analytical frameworks and methods that will facilitate empirical inquiry from diverse perspectives. Here is a list of indicative, but not exhaustive, topics and questions related to the sub-theme:

  • What are the opportunities for a further integration or at least a stronger mutual reception of research from both traditions, organizational discourse and organizational communication?
  • How does a communication/discourse-centered perspective add to our understanding of managerial and organizational subjects such as leadership, knowledge, innovation, technology, organizational identity, control and resistance, sensemaking, process organizing, change, strategizing, or governance?
  • How does a communication/discourse-centered perspective shape understandings of the organization's embeddedness in social contexts? In what ways do conceptions of the organization-society relationship that foreground communication offer alternative views on the theory of the firm, corporate responsibility, stakeholder relationships, institutionalization processes, or inter-organizational collaborations?
  • What does a constitutive notion of communication imply for the strategic-instrumental management or even "design" of corporate or managerial communication processes? How do organizations cope with the contradicting tendencies between attempts to make organizational communication processes more integrated and consistent on the one hand, and the polyphony of the emergent practices of communication on the other hand?
  • How does communication/discourse constitute organization? What is specific about organizational communication in contrast to other forms of communicative/discursive practices? If organizations are theorized to come into existence by ongoing practices of language use, how do organizations manage to interconnect and perpetuate these practices over time? How does the local occurrence of communication "scale up" to form the larger entity we call organization?
  • What is the role of materiality (e.g., texts, tools, artifacts, bodies, spaces) for the communicative constitution of organizations?
  • What are potentially fruitful links of a communication/discourse-centered perspective on organizations to other related theoretical streams, e.g., social systems theory, theories of social practices, process theories, institutionalism, or theories of social movements?
  • What are appropriate methodologies to study organizations from a communication/discourse-centered perspective? How can we overcome the gap between examining conversations on a local level and the organization on a holistic level?


Ashcraft, K.L., T.R. Kuhn & F. Cooren (2009): "Constitutional Amendments: 'Materializing' Organizational Communication." Academy of Management Annals, 3 (1), 1–64
Boje, D.M., C. Oswick & J.D. Ford (2004): "Introduction to Special Topic Forum: Language and Organization: The Doing of Discourse." Academy of Management Review, 29 (4), 571–577
Grant, D., T. Keenoy & C. Oswick (1998): Discourse and Organization. London: Sage
Putnam, L.L. & A.M. Nicotera (eds.) (2008): Building Theories of Organization: The Constitutive Role of Communication. New York, NY: Routledge
Taylor, J.R. & E.J. van Every (2000): The Emergent Organization: Communication as its Site and Surface. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum


Joep P. Cornelissen Joep Cornelissen is a Professor in Communication and Organization at VU University Amsterdam (Netherlands). Previously he has been Professor in Corporate Communication at the University of Leeds (UK). He received his Ph.D. from the Manchester Metropolitan University (UK). His current research focuses on narratives and processes of framing in the context of entrepreneurship and organizational change.
Timothy R. Kuhn Timothy Kuhn is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder (USA). He received his Ph.D. from Arizona State University (USA), and his research examines how knowledge, identities, and organizations themselves – particularly business firms – are constituted in the communicative processes of organizing.
Dennis Schoeneborn Dennis Schoeneborn is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Organization Theory and Organizational Communication at the University of Zurich (Switzerland). He received his Ph.D. from Bauhaus University Weimar (Germany). His current research concerns the question how communicative practices get reproduced in organizational contexts.