Sub-theme 16: (SWG) Organization as Communication: (Dis)organizing through Texts, Artifacts and Other Materialities

Timothy R. Kuhn
University of Colorado at Boulder, USA
Paul Leonardi
University of California at Santa Barbara, USA
Consuelo Vásquez
Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada

Call for Papers

This sub-theme is concerned with the fundamental, constitutive, and formative role of communication for organizing and organizations (including works that follow the "Communication Constitutes Organization" or "CCO" perspective). One way to reflect on this constitutive role of communication is to focus on the material dimension of communication, as communicative practices become inscribed in texts, artifacts, bodies, and sites (see Ashcraft et al., 2009). Since the linguistic turn, scholars in organization studies who foreground discourse and communication have been accused of ignoring the physically-embodied bases of organizational reality. The issue is not simply to reassert the importance of the non-discursive, but to transcend the long-standing dualism between the symbolic and the material dimension through novel perspectives on communication (ibid.). This means treating communication and discourse as a constellation of both intersubjectivity and interobjectivity (Latour, 1996; Orlikowski, 2007) and to focus on the co-constitutive entanglement between materiality and social action (Barad, 2003; Leonardi et al., 2012).

In line with these considerations, this sub-theme proposes questioning the (socio)material dimension of communication and its implications for organizing and disorganizing: How is communication or discourse materialized and thus contributes to the stabilization, transformation, and dislocation of organizational phenomena? What particular types/forms of materiality (e.g., texts, bodies, objects, or sites) are constitutive of organization, and how do they take part in organizing? What are the implications of (socio)material perspectives on communication for organization and management studies and practices?

While questions regarding the entanglement of the symbolic and the material are not new (see, e.g., Trist & Bamforth, 1951), extant investigations have typically emphasized either the symbolic or the material character of phenomena, thus (re)creating ontological dualisms that limit their explanatory value. A focus on the constitutive role of (socio) material communicative practices promises two benefits to these bodies of work. First, by highlighting both the material and symbolic dimensions of communication and discourse, analysts can trace the 'imbrication' that generates particular organizational forms and processes (Leonardi, 2011). Second, by examining how bodies, texts, artifacts, and sites (among others) contribute to complex and contingent organizing practices – and not merely as drawn upon by human actors – we can gain insight into the accomplishment of both ordering and disordering (Vasquez et al., forthcoming). Taking such a perspective allows us to open the notions of discourse and communication to account for organization as a heterogeneous site of conflicted (socio)material practices (Kuhn, 2012).

We invite papers that question the symbolic-material dualism by drawing on a communicational, narrative, and/or discursive lens on organization and organizing. Papers should seek to explore the (dis)organizing features of (socio)material practices of communication in particular, and/or should aim to address the constitutive relations between communication and organization more generally.

Below is a list of indicative, but not exhaustive, topics and questions related to the sub-theme:

  • How does (socio)materiality participate in processes of organizing and/or disorganizing? How does sociomateriality constitute, maintain or change work routines and communication patterns? How does it disrupt and/or stabilize organization?
  • How can we study bodies, technology, artifacts, texts from communication-centered perspectives? What further categories of 'the material' (e.g., economic) need to be considered from this perspective?
  • What can be gained by switching from a focus on the ordering capacities to the disordering capacities of communication? How can (socio)material approaches help reveal disorder, tensions, contradictions, and paradoxes of communication and the constitutive role of these tensions for the communicative constitution of organizations and organizing?
  • What are the implications of a (socio)material approach to organizational communication and discourse for core topics of organization studies, such as , strategy, leadership, structure, change, or corporate responsibility?




  • Ashcraft, K.L., Kuhn, T.R., & Cooren, F. (2009): "Constitutional Amendments: 'Materializing' Organizational Communication." Academy of Management Annals, 3 (1), 1–64.
  • Barad, K. (2003): "Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter." Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28 (3), 801–831.
  • Kuhn, T. (2012): "Negotiating the Micro–Macro Divide. Thought Leadership from Organizational Communication for Theorizing Organization." Management Communication Quarterly, 26 (4), 543–584.
  • Latour, B. (1996): "On Interobjectivity." Mind, Culture, and Activity, 3 (4), 228–245.
  • Leonardi, P.M. (2011): "When Flexible Routines Meet Flexible Technologies: Affordance, Constraint, and the Imbrication of Human and Material Agencies." MIS Quarterly, 35 (1), 147–167.
  • Leonardi, P.M., Nardi, B.A., & Kallinikos, J. (eds.) (2012): Materiality and Organizing: Social Interaction in a Technological World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Orlikowski, W. (2007): "Sociomaterial Practices: Exploring Technology at Work." Organization Studies, 28 (9), 1435–1448.
  • Trist, E., & Bamforth, K. (1951): "Some Social and Psychological Consequences of the Longwall Method of Coal-Getting." Human Relations, 4 (1), 3–38.
  • Vásquez, C., Schoeneborn, D., & Sergi, V. (forthcoming): "Summoning the spirits: Exploring the (dis)ordering properties of organizational texts." Human Relations.


Timothy R. Kuhn is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, and Visiting Fellow at Lund University, Sweden. His work has been published in the 'Academy of Management Annals', 'Academy of Management Review', 'Management Communication Quarterly', and 'Organization Studies', among others. He serves on the editorial boards of 'Human Relations', 'Communication Monographs', 'Management Communication Quarterly', 'Communication Theory', 'Western Journal of Communication', 'Journal of Applied Communication Research', and the 'Journal of International and Intercultural Communication'. His research examines how knowledge, identities, ethics, and organizations are constituted in communicative practices.
Paul Leonardi is Professor of Technology Management at UC Santa Barbara, USA. He holds appointments in the Technology Management Program (TMP) and the Department of Communication. His work has been published in 'Organization Science', 'Academy of Management Annals', 'Communication Theory', 'Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Information and Organization', 'Human Communication Research', and other international peer-reviewed journals. His research focuses on how companies can design their organizational structures and implement new technologies to more effectively create and share knowledge. He is particularly interested in how data-intensive technologies, such as simulation and social media tools, enable new ways to access, store, and share information.
Consuelo Vásquez is Associate Professor in the Département de Communication Sociale et Publique at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Canada. Her work has been published in 'Communication Theory', 'Communication Measures and Methods', 'Discourse and Communication', 'Human Relations', 'Qualitative Research in Organization and Management', 'Scandinavian Journal of Management', and other international peer-reviewed journals. She has also served as an editorial board member of the 'Revue Internationale de Communication Sociale et Publique' and 'Studies in Communication Sciences'. Her current research looks at the constitutive role of spacing and timing in project and volunteer organizations.