Sub-theme 55: Organizing Difference: Communicative Constitution of Organization and Discourse Perspectives

Mie Plotnikof
Aarhus University, Denmark
Timothy R. Kuhn
University of Colorado Boulder, USA
Dennis K. Mumby
University of North Carolina, USA

Call for Papers

In organizational scholarship and practice, the focus on difference, diversity, and alternative ways of organizing is growing, particularly in relation to grand societal challenges (e.g., refugee crises, climate issues, scarcity of resources, demographic changes and identity politics). Whereas organizational concerns with differences (e.g., capability, gender, ethnicity, work routines, organizational forms) may imply culturally produced distinctions and boundaries, ideals of organizing more responsibly or inclusively are manifesting, for example, in Human Resource Management (HRM) or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies and practices. However, while such organizational initiatives often draw upon differences or diversity via an appeal to the ‘business case,’ they may also simultaneously (re-)produce distinction-drawing categories, identity markers, and organizational boundaries (Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004; Plotnikof et al., forthcoming). Hence, emerging organizational responses to such issues may create both inclusion and exclusion; membership and othering; new collaborations and precarious identity work; as well as spanning old boundaries and building new ones.
This sub-theme is inspired by the notion of difference – or différance, as philosophers like Derrida stress: “The activity or productivity connoted by the a of différance refers to the generative movement in the play of differences” (Derrida, 1982: 28). That invites us to explore the play of difference as an ongoing and productive dynamic, rather than a resting or static state. This implies that difference can constitute manifold organizational phenomena – from diversity management and inclusion, to multiple or resisting voices, to deviance or alternative ways of organizing. Nevertheless, what is identified as ‘difference’ (whether that be individuals, groups, organizational forms, or ways of living) is often contrasted to an idea(l) of a more fixed ‘normal’, dominant order of the day.
In challenging this binary way of thinking, a branch of organization studies concerned with discourse and the communicative constitution of organization (CCO) critically explores how multiplicity, difference, or plurivocity engender and co-constitute everyday life in organizations and organizing processes (Cooren et al., 2011; Phillips & Oswick, 2012). In addition to interrogating formal structures, decision making, and strategizing (Hardy & Thomas, 2014; Kuhn, 2012; Vásquez et al., 2018), this research field also emphasizes the messy, paradoxical, gendered, alternative and new aspects of organizing – but often not as a demarcated boundary between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ organization.
Instead, these studies stress the dynamic, co-constitutive relations of, for example, power, resistance, and authority (Frandsen et al., 2016; Mumby & Plotnikof, 2019; Thomas & Hardy, 2011); of alternative, entrepreneurial, or networked forms of organizing (Bencherki & Cooren, 2011; Del Fa & Vasqués, forthcoming; Ybema et al., 2012); of organizational gendering, racializing and othering (Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004; Thomas & Davies, 2005; Trittin & Schoeneborn, 2017); and of contradictory, paradoxical, even disordered disorganization (Putnam et al., 2016; Vásquez & Kuhn, 2019). This research branch, then, questions a priori distinctions and boundary-drawing of organizational difference/sameness, inclusion/exclusion, formality/informality, and order/disorder. Rather, it relocates focus to relationality, imbrications, tensions, and entanglements to theorize and empirically explore their dynamic role in communicatively constituting organizational meanings, materials and practices. It is interested in understanding how difference organizes in and through communication.
Extending this body of thought, this sub-theme calls for papers that conceptualize, investigate, analyze and unpack the discursive and communicative constitution of organizational inclusivity, difference, diversity, or alternatives. We invite papers that either address the more particular focus of the sub-theme or are concerned with studying organization and organizing from a communication-centered lens more generally. Below is a list of indicative, but not exhaustive, topics and questions:

  • How are organizational practices and plays of difference manifesting – and how does a communication and/or discourse perspective contribute to understanding this emergence?

  • How might we conceptualize efforts to induce organizational inclusivity across boundaries (e.g., activist groups shaping corporate policy) from a communicative and/or discursive perspective?

  • Which dynamics or struggles of power, resistance, paradoxes, and dis/ordering tensions are emerging with new economies, alternative ways of organizing and social movements?

  • How can we explore the shadows, dark sides and interstices of existing and new organizational realms – which dynamics or tensions create new forms of dis/organized difference?

  • What new communicative and/or discursive conceptualizations are developing to grapple with the constitutive processes of difference, multiplicity, and relationality in organizational life?


  • Ashcraft, K.L., & Mumby, D. (2004): “Organizing a critical communicology of gender and work.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 166, 19–43.
  • Bencherki, N., & Cooren, F. (2011): “Having to be: The possessive constitution of organization and human relations.” Human Relations, 64 (12), 1579–1607.
  • Cooren, F., Kuhn, T.R., Cornelissen, J.P., & Clark, T. (2011): “Communication, organizing and organization: An overview and introduction to the special issue.” Organization Studies, 32 (9), 1149–1170.
  • Del Fa, S., & Vasqués, C. (forthcoming): “Existing through differences: A constitutive approach to alternative organizing.” M@n@gement.
  • Derrida, J. (1982): Positions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Frandsen, S., Kuhn, T.R., & Lundholt, M.W. (2016): Counter-Narratives and Organization. London: Routledge.
  • Hardy, C., & Thomas, R. (2014): “Strategy, discourse and practice: the intensification of power.” Journal of Management Studies, 51 (2), 320–348.
  • Kuhn, T.R. (2012): “Negotiating the micro-macro divide: Thought leadership from organizational communication for theorizing organization.” Management Communication Quarterly, 26 (4), 543–584.
  • Mumby, D., & Plotnikof, M. (2019): “Organizing power and resistance: From coercion, to consent, to governmentality.” In: J. McDonald & R. Mitra (eds.): Movements in Organizational Communication Research: Current Issues and Future Directions. New York: Routledge.
  • Phillips, N., & Oswick, C. (2012): “Organizational discourse: Domains, debates, and directions.” Academy of Management Annals,  6(1), 435–481.
  • Plotnikof, M., Muhr, S.L., & Holck, L. (forthcoming): “Repoliticizing gendered diversity management? Exploring performative potentials of activism in formal organizing.” In: H. Liu, A. Pullen, P. Lewis, B. Ozkazanz-Pan & E. Kelan (eds.): Routledge Companion to Gender, Work, and Organization. London: Routledge.
  • Putnam, L.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Banghart, S. (2016).” Contradictions, dialectics, and paradoxes in organizations: A constitutive approach.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 65–171.
  • Thomas, R., & Davies, A. (2005): What Have the Feminists Done for Us? Feminist Theory and Organizational Resistance”. Organization, 12 (5), 711–740.
  • Thomas, R., & Hardy, C. (2011): “Reframing resistance to organizational change.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 27 (3), 322–331.
  • Trittin, H., & Schoeneborn, D. (2017): “Diversity as polyphony: Reconceptualizing diversity management from a communication-centered perspective.” Journal of Business Ethics, 14 (2), 305–322.
  • Vásquez, C., Bencherki, N., Cooren, F., & Sergi, V. (2018): “From ‘matters of concern’ to ‘matters of authority’: Studying the performativity of strategy from a communicative constitution of organization (CCO) approach.” Long Range Planning, 51 (3), 417–435.
  • Vásquez, C., & Kuhn, T. (eds.) (2019): Dis/organization as Communication: Exploring the Disordering, Disruptive and Chaotic Properties of Communication. London: Routledge.
  • Ybema, S., Vroemisse, M., & van Marrewijk, A. (2012): “Constructing identity by deconstructing differences: Building partnerships across cultural and hierarchical divides.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 28 (1), 48–59.
Mie Plotnikof is Associate Professor in the Department of Education, Research Program of Policy Futures, Aarhus University, and a guest researcher at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. Her research questions constitutive processes of dominant and emerging organizational discourses and related issues of meaning, subjectivity, temporality and power-resistance – often within public sector contexts. Mie has published, among others, in ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, ‘International Journal of Public Sector Management’, ‘ephemera’, ‘Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies’, and ‘The Innovation Journal’, as well as in several edited international volumes – and in Danish journals and books, too.
Timothy R. Kuhn is Professor in the Department of Communication at University of Colorado Boulder, USA. His research addresses the constitution and disruption of authority and agency in organizational action, with particular attention to how knowledge, identities, and conceptions of value emerge in sociomaterial, power-laden communication practices. Timothy’s research has been published in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Academy of Management Review, ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Management Communication Quarterly’ (among other outlets), as well as in a 2017 book (with K. Ashcraft & F. Cooren), entitled “The Work of Communication: Relational Perspectives on Working and Organizing in Contemporary Capitalism”.
Dennis K. Mumby is the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor in the Department of Communication at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. His research focuses on the communicative dynamics of organizational control and resistance under neoliberalism. Dennis is a Fellow of the International Communication Association and a National Communication Association Distinguished Scholar. He has authored or edited eight books and over 60 articles in the area of critical organization studies, and his work has appeared in journals such as ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Management Communication Quarterly’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Human Relations’.