Sub-theme 05: (SWG) The Communicative Constitution of Organizing: Toward and Beyond (Formal) Organization

Dennis Schoeneborn
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Timothy R. Kuhn
University of Colorado at Boulder, USA
James R. Barker
Dalhousie University, Canada

Call for Papers

In recent years, organizational scholarship has increasingly focused on communication, discourse, and narratives for explaining the conduct of organizing. One line of work within this larger stream of research is focused on the “communicative constitution of organization” (CCO) – see also the description of the EGOS Standing Working Group (SWG) no. 5 (formerly no. 16): Organization as Communication. From this viewpoint, practices of organizing and organizational phenomena are instantiated, maintained, and transformed primarily in and through communication (e.g., Ashcraft et al., 2009).
One first outgrowth of a constitutive perspective is that it probes the ontological foundations of organization theory: What is an organization if its existence is communicative in character (see also Nicotera, 2013)? To imagine organization as communication implies that the persistence of (even well-established and formal) organizations is inherently precarious, since the communicative connections that constitute organization can be considered as perpetually open to (re)negotiation. In the same line of thinking, organizations are presumed to depend fundamentally on their embeddedness in communicative relations with external constituents to maintain their status and mutual recognition as organizational entities and actors (Christensen et al., 2013; Kuhn, 2008).
A second focus of a constitutive perspective is to comprehend communication as organization (see also Bennett & Segerberg, 2012). Accordingly, organizing is understood here as something that can occur also beyond the boundaries of formal organizations (see also Ahrne & Brunsson, 2011; Ahrne et al., 2016) and as a segment of a more expansive social practice, that is, communication. In this view, organization and organizing can also emerge instantaneously, ephemerally, and wherever humans (and/or non-humans) interact (see also the notion of the “organizing properties of communication” by Cooren, 2000). Thus, by asking what is it that makes communication organizational (Taylor & Cooren, 1997), a constitutive perspective lends itself in particular to grasping the communicative dynamics underlying alternative, fluid, and peripheral phenomena of organizing, as well (see Dobusch & Schoeneborn, 2015).
However, the majority of existing research drawing on a constitutive perspective can be criticized for studying primarily formal, established exemplars of organizations. Therefore, in this sub-theme, we aim to further advance and widen the spectrum of communication-centered perspectives in organization studies by exploring the role of communication in constituting practices of organizing that occur toward and beyond formal organization (e.g., inter-organizational networks, cross-sector partnerships, industry standards and certifications, social movements, open source communities, crowdfunding, high-frequency trading, etc.). In this widened view, communication becomes the site at which encompassing changes in socio-economic life are located or captured by terms like “communicative capitalism” (Dean, 2009), “communicative institutionalism” (Cornelissen et al., 2015), or “communicative labor” (Arvidsson, 2010; Greene, 2004).
To conclude, in this sub-theme, we invite papers that are either concerned with studying organization and organizing from a communication-centered lens more generally – or that address the more particular focus of the sub-theme, that is, by conceiving of the constitutive relation between communication and organization/organizing in expansive terms. This can be done, for instance, by exploring the communicative constitution of organizing practices that emerge beyond formal organizations – or, in turn, by examining how formal organizations are affected by such practices. As a special feature, the sub-theme is planned to host a panel debate that involves main proponents of both the “organization as communication” view (e.g., François Cooren, Université de Montréal) and the “communication as organization” view (e.g., Lance Bennett, University of Washington).
Below is a list of indicative, but not exhaustive, topics and questions related to the sub-theme:

  • How can previously partly separate academic debates on “organization as communication” (e.g., from a CCO perspective) or “communication as organization” (e.g., Bennett & Segerberg, 2012) be set in closer interconnection?
  • What does the idea of “communication as organization” (i.e. that organization can emerge instantaneously as a “side-effect” of ongoing interactions) imply for ontological considerations on what an organization is?
  • What can be gained by theorizing various social phenomena (e.g., crowds, networks, communities, markets, families, etc.) through an “organization as communication” and/or “communication as organization” lens?
  • How might processes of branding – as a mode of value creation in contemporary capitalism with complex and ambiguous connections to formal organizations – extend and alter conceptions of communicating and organizing (see Mumby, in press)?
  • What is the role of non-human entities (e.g., texts, tools, technologies, or other artifacts) in facilitating and shaping the communicative constitution of organization and organizing?
  • When considering organization to be a segment of communication as a larger social practice, what are the political and ethical implications of this assumption (see also Cooren, 2016), including considerations on how to govern “good” organization and organizing?



  • Ahrne, G., & Brunsson, N. (2011): “Organization outside organizations: The significance of partial organization.” Organization, 18 (1), 83–104.
  • Ahrne, G., Brunsson, N., & Seidl, D. (2016): “Resurrecting organization by going beyond organizations.” European Management Journal, 34 (2), 93–101.
  • Arvidsson, A. (2010): “The ethical economy: New forms of value in the information society?” Organization, 17, 637–644.
  • Ashcraft, K.L., Kuhn, T.R., & Cooren, F. (2009): “Constitutional amendments: ‘Materializing’ organizational communication.” Academy of Management Annals, 3 (1), 1–64.
  • Bennett, W.L., & Segerberg, A. (2012): “The logic of connective action: Digital media and the personalization of contentious politics.” Information, Communication & Society, 15 (5), 739–768.
  • Christensen, L.T., Morsing, M., & Thyssen, O. (2013): “CSR as aspirational talk.” Organization, 20 (3), 372–393.
  • Cooren, F. (2000): The Organizing Property of Communication. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Cooren, F. (2016): “Ethics for dummies: Ventriloquism and responsibility.” Atlantic Journal of Communication, 24 (1), 17–30.
  • Cornelissen, J.P., Durand, R., Fiss, P.C., Lammers, J.C., & Vaara, E. (2015): “Putting communication front and center in institutional theory and analysis.” Academy of Management Review, 40 (1), 10–27.
  • Dean, J. (2009): Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Dobusch, L., & Schoeneborn, D. (2015): “Fluidity, identity, and organizationality: The communicative constitution of Anonymous.” Journal of Management Studies, 52 (8), 1005–1035.
  • Greene, R.W. (2004): “Rhetoric and capitalism: Rhetorical agency as communicative labor.” Philosophy and Rhetoric, 37 (3), 188–206.
  • Kuhn, T. (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.
  • Mumby, D.K. (in press): “Organizing beyond organization: Branding, discourse, and communicative capitalism.” Organization.
  • Nicotera, A.M. (2013): “Organizations as entitative beings: Some ontological implications of communicative constitution.” In: F. Cooren & D. Robichaud (eds.): What is an Organization? Materiality, Agency, and Discourse. New York, NY: Erlbaum, 66–89.
  • Taylor, J.R., & Cooren, F. (1997): “What makes communication ‘organizational’? How the many voices of a collectivity become the one voice of an organization.” Journal of Pragmatics, 27 (4), 409–438.
Dennis Schoeneborn is Professor (MSO) in the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His work has been published in the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, and ‘Organization Studies’, among other locations. He serves on the editorial boards of ‘Business & Society’, ‘Management Communication Quarterly’, and ‘Organization Studies'. His current research concerns the question how communication constitutes new forms of organizing.
Timothy R. Kuhn is 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’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Organization Studies’, among other locations. He is an associate editor of ‘Human Relations' and serves on the editorial boards of the ‘Annals of the International Communication Association’, ‘Communication Monographs’, ‘Communication Theory’, ‘Journal of Applied Communication Research’, and ‘Management Communication Quarterly’. His current research examines how knowledge, identities, ethics, and organizations themselves are constituted in communicative practices.
James R. Barker is Professor and Herbert S. Lamb Chair of Business Education in the Rowe School of Business, Dalhousie University, Canada. His work has been published in the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Human Relations’ and ‘Organization Studies’, among other locations. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of ‘Management Communication Quarterly’. His current research concerns the communicative constitution of safety practices among pharmacists and pharmacy regulators.