Sub-theme 42: The Communicative Constitution of Organizations: Organizations as Precarious Accomplishments

Dennis Schoeneborn
University of Zurich, Switzerland
François Cooren
Université de Montréal, Canada
Timothy R. Kuhn
University of Colorado at Boulder, USA

Call for Papers

The transdisciplinary field of organizational communication has given rise to a powerful theoretical perspective that suggests defining communication as constitutive of organizations (CCO; Ashcraft et al., 2009; Cooren et al., 2011). More generally, this view draws attention to the communicative constitution of realities as diverse as groups, networks, organizations, or institutions. Accordingly, proponents of the CCO view argue that organizations are subject to continuous processes of meaning negotiation. But for them, organizations exist not only in and through language use, but also in and through various forms of embodiments that get communicated in interaction (official positions, principles, rules, procedures, technologies, websites, etc.; see Cooren, 2004; Kuhn, 2008).

The CCO view helps broaden our understanding of organizational phenomena because it is interested in reconstructing organizations "from the bottom up", that is, by looking at interactions as the building blocks for the emergence of organizations at large (Taylor & van Every, 2000). By turning to communication as the main constitutive element, the CCO view claims that all organizational phenomena (from its most rudimentary to the most developed forms; see Ahrne & Brunsson 2011) need to be seen as inherently contingent and precarious in character (Cooren et al., 2011). Hence, this theoretical shift may also alter our understanding of more "classical" forms of organizations (business firms, bureaucracies, etc.).

In the light of these considerations, it is the aim of our sub-theme to theoretically and empirically assess how the CCO view can contribute to our understanding of organizations as precarious phenomena that are subject to continuous meaning negotiation. On the theoretical level, this will require delving into what it means to take a "constitutive" understanding of communication seriously. On the empirical level, we invite investigations that strive for "revealing" organizations first and foremost as communicative phenomena. We are also open to contributions that address the organization-communication relationship in a more general sense.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of potential questions for the sub-theme:

  • If we switch to a communication-centered view, what social phenomena can be incorporated into this broadened understanding of organizations? And what cannot?
  • How do various organizational phenomena differ in the way they are communicatively constituted?
  • How do organizations manage to overcome their inherently contingent and precarious character?
  • What does a constitutive notion of communication imply for rethinking the following dichotomies and their interrelations: (a) Talk vs. action; (b) Symbolic vs. material realities; (c) Internal vs. external communication; (d) Macro and micro levels of analysis in organizational theorizing
  • How are organizations communicatively co-constituted in interactions with their environment and interorganizational relations?
  • What are potential ethical or normative implications from adopting a communication-centered view on organizations?
  • What are the possibilities and obstacles for theorizing power and control in organizing from a communication-centered perspective?
  • How can a communication-centered perspective contribute to insights into tensions, paradoxes, and contradictions in organizing?
  • In what ways does the move to foregrounding communicative practice alter understandings of traditional fundaments of organization theory, such as routines, resources, contracts, technology, and the like?

The CCO view has been, to this point, primarily put forth by scholars from North America. However, it is deeply embedded in European thinking as advanced by scholars like Giddens, Latour, Luhmann or Ricœur. Consequently, EGOS 2013 in Montréal will represent a unique opportunity to build intercontinental bridges between scholars from North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. The sub-theme will also feature a panel discussion that is planned to involve prominent scholars of the CCO perspective, such as Jim Taylor (University of Montréal) or Linda Putnam (University of California at Santa Barbara; requested).



Ahrne, Göran & Nils Brunsson (2011): 'Organization outside organizations: the significance of partial organization.' Organization, 18 (1), 83–104.
Ashcraft, Karen Lee, Timothy R. Kuhn & François Cooren (2009): 'Constitutional amendments: "materializing" organizational communication.' Academy of Management Annals, 3 (1), 1–64.
Cooren, François (2004): 'Textual agency: how texts do things in organizational settings.' Organization, 11 (3), 373–394.
Cooren, François, Timothy R. Kuhn, Joep P. Cornelissen & Timothy Clark (2011): 'Communication, organizing, and organization.' Organization Studies, 32 (9), 1149–1170.
Kuhn, Timothy R. (2008): 'A communicative theory of the firm: developing an alternative perspective on intra-organizational power and stakeholder relationships.' Organization Studies, 29 (8-9), 1227–1254.
Taylor, James R. & Elizabeth J. van Every (2000): The Emergent Organization: Communication as its Site and Surface. London: Erlbaum.


Dennis Schoeneborn is Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Organization Theory and Organizational Communication at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. His work has been published in the 'Journal of Management Inquiry', 'Management Communication Quarterly', and 'Organization Studies'. His current research concerns the question how communication constitutes rudimentary organizational phenomena.
François Cooren is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at the Université de Montréal, Canada. His work has been published in the 'Academy of Management Annals', 'Human Relations', 'Management Communication Quarterly', 'Organization', and 'Organization Studies'. His research interests lie in the study of organizational communication, language and social interaction, and communication theory.
Timothy R. Kuhn is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. His work has been published in the 'Academy of Management Annals', 'Academy of Management Review', 'Management Communication Quarterly', 'Organization', and 'Organization Studies'. His research examines how knowledge, identities, and organizations themselves – particularly business firms – are constituted in the communicative processes of organizing.