Going radically interactionist – in a world full of agencies

The theoretical debate on communication and/as organization oscillates between the agency-structure and micro-macro gap, which dominate many theoretical conflicts in organizational studies. How can the CCO approach deal with this problem?

It does not have to, claims Francois Cooren (2006) in his book chapter The organizational world as a plenum of agencies. Influenced by the conversational analysis micro-approach by Garfinkel and the actor-network theory by Latour, Cooren goes interactionist and stresses, that “we live in the terra firma of interations (and only interactions)” (p. 91). This position requires a remodeling of agency: rather simple stated, agency is everything that makes a different and an agent is somebody or something that makes a difference.

How does an organization come into being, when everything from a door sign, a co-worker or a administrative form can be an agent? By teleaction an agent can speak for a principle and crosses space and time (e.g. by a symbol, a memory or a speech act). By representation – the act of making something present – the total of all agents and agencies materialize the organization. Therefore, “all entities (whether they are human, technological or textual) constitute the organization in one way or the other, because the all represent it in one way or another” (p. 92). This aptly conjures the image of the organization as a Leviathan (see the illustration below for an attempt to sketch this relationship).

The chapter impressed me on the one hand because of its radical empirical and interactionist approach. On the other hand, when everything is reduced to the interaction and everybody/-thing can become an actor or have agency, what is the specific use of this approach? How do we deal with intentions or stronger: power and domination in organizations? Surely it widens our perspective to include non-human actors into the constitution of the organization and to “see or study things that we would not have noticed otherwise” (p. 99). This leads to a radical empiricist approach of analyzing the organization by precise description and building theory from the ground up. But by totalizing the actor we often loose the specific vantage point theory has to offer. The only solution is to go radical empirical and build the organization one interaction at a time, because “organizing (..) emerges from human and nonhuman interaction (Cooren 2006, p. 100).

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