Does communication require authorization?

An area that I think remains to be explored in CCO research is the role of constitutive communication and authorization.  All communication has an author, even nonhuman communication must have had at some point a creator or an instigator (not necessarily a human one, though).  Some forms of communication have multiple authors, and in organizational worlds, communication can have corporate authorship.

Sometimes the author disappears and the signifying author is no longer felt to be necessary for the communication to be perceived as legitimate.  Foucault identifies commercial contract documents as communicative texts that no longer have or need a specific author for their communication to be accepted as authoritative.

Does authorization matter?  I think it does.  I think an area of fruitful research could be how authorization claims are made by the originating authors, and how the audience for communicative moves assigns authority.  Further, in research I’m currently working on I’ve found instances when authors deny their authorship.

I think authorization is significant for CCO research because it helps us understand how particular communication becomes accepted as legitimate and verisimilitudinous.  There are blurred boundaries between authorization and power, but though related they are different – in my next post I will discuss how power is exercised through constitutive communication.

We make authorization claims in many ways; as academics, we often attach our qualifications and our institutional affiliations to the communications we create when we think such additions increase the authority of what we say.  Managers too, author their communications and claim authorization through a variety of means; through the specific language used; the medium chosen to communicate; and, the style of communicative acts.  While we may all recognize authority claims in forceful verbal communication, equally possible is that strong words softly spoken can also constitute a claim to authority.

While authority is almost always claimed, it can also be assigned.  This occurs when audiences accept the symbolic authorization claims attached to communication and thereby actively engage in constituting communication as authoritative.  Assigning authorization acknowledges the role of the audience in authorizing.  Claims become accepted and authorization is assigned when audiences are convinced of the legitimacy of authorized communication.

Communication that is accepted as authoritative is more likely to be constitutive than that where authority is rejected.  Foucault’s message that some texts do not need an author is no doubt right, but what he doesn’t acknowledge is that those same texts, commercial contract documents in his example, must still claim and have assigned authorization and do so through their conformance to genre expectations.  A contract must look like a contract for it to be taken seriously.  If a contract text is presented as a blog, for example, it would not be worth the (figurative) paper it is written on.  CCO research needs to take issues around authorship, authority and authorization seriously, as through this we can deepen our understanding over why some communication is constitutive while some isn’t.

Dr. Alex Wright

One Comment on “Does communication require authorization?”

  1. Steffen says:

    Thank you, Alex, for a great post! I don’t know if you’ve read the excerpts of Taylor and Van Every’s latest book on Authority and Authorization in Organizations. If you get your hands on it you’ll see that they’ve already been working hard to answer some of your questions.

    Nonetheless, I’d like you to clarify one thing for me. You say that “some communication is constitutive while some isn’t.” My first question is, constitutive of what? I assume you mean constitutive of organization—not least our blog claims to venture into this topic. But what if some communication isn’t constitutive of organization or anything else for that matter? Isn’t it really nothing then, as in NOTHING?

    If you’re saying that communication that isn’t constitutive doesn’t provide the necessary ends to the next communication around (or, in other words, it’s a dead end), then I’ll absolutely sign off on that. But is it as simply as that?

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