Can CCO and power be separated?

Can CCO be separated from power?  What I mean by this is for communication to be constitutive must it always be power-infused?  Can CCO be accomplished without any power have been exercised?

I suppose it depends on how power is conceptualised.  Broadly speaking, power can be understood in one of two ways.  As ‘power over’ and as ‘power to’.  ‘Power over’ refers to power as commodity, as possession and manifests in descriptions that locate power as ‘belonging’ to certain roles and individuals – CEOs are commonly seen as having power.  ‘Power over’ power is often associated with acts that get people to do what they otherwise would not want to do – so it tends to have negative connotations.  This is by far the most common conceptualization of power, but it is one that has been challenged.

‘Power to,’ by contrast, frames power as generative, as productive, it posits power as relational rather than as a commodity suggesting that power is something that is exercised in unfolding practice.  ‘Power to’ acts can be traced in all  organizing acts, it is claimed, and can be exercised by anyone in an organization.  This framing of power constructs it as something inherent in CCO.  Indeed, it suggests CCO would not be possible without power being exercised.  This implies it would fruitful for CCO researchers to investigate how power is exercised in CCO contexts, and yet, apart from the work of Timothy Kuhn, I’m not aware that CCO scholars have significantly engaged with power.  Why is this, I wonder?  Is it because CCO scholars have a ‘power over’ understanding of power?  Or, simply that it’s not deemed to be important to how CCO emerges?

Your comments and views on this are welcomed.


4 Comments on “Can CCO and power be separated?”

  1. Amanda Porter says:

    I agree that CCO is more amenable to the “power to” approach you have described. Maybe a consequence of the “power to” approach is that power is less visible? After all, from a relational view of agency, power is more diffuse, acting as a constitutive dynamic rather than a source or a commodity. I agree CCO scholars can make visible less overt forms of power.

    One direction is to think more deeply about power as different forms of influence. Tim Kuhn described how texts induce consent, discipline, and direct attention and Taylor & Van Every described how authority is the empowerment to act for (on behalf of) the collective. Influence has many different forms and is pervasive.

    If influence is pervasive, then it becomes interesting to use a CCO approach to explain when different forms of influence emerge as significant (at the expense of others). At what point in time does a form of influence become influential?

  2. Hi Amanda,

    Thank you for taking the time and trouble to post a comment. I think CCO holds great promise for studying how less visible forms of power are exercised: the look and the gesture, as well as the spoken work. There already exists a considerable literature in organization studies that attempts to describe the productive side of power and I think integrating this with CCO conceptions would be most fruitful.

    Thank you again for your views.


  3. Christoph Haug says:

    Thanks, Alex, for opening that discussion. I think that in order to discuss power in relation to CCO (or to communication more generally), it might help to go beyond the ‘power over’/ ‘power to’ distinction that Hannah Pitkin introduced in the 1970s. Some years ago, as a student, I encountered the distinction between ‘transitive power’ and ‘intransitive power’ suggested by the German political scientist Gerhard Göhler and found it very convincing. And I guess I would still find it convincing if I went back and thought a bit more about it today.

    In brief, Göhler criticizes Pitkin’s concept of ‘power to’ for not adequately grasping the type of power that is integrating a group and empowering it to act. Why? Because ‘power to’ is a mere potential or capacity which is waiting to be enacted, but which remains latent. But the integrative power of groupness is not merely potential or latent. It is quite actively achieving something and it is doing so without establishing a ‘power over’ relationship.

    So Göhler goes on to suggest that the concepts of transitive and intransitive power should replace the concepts of ‘power over’ and ‘power to’. Transitive power is pretty much “power to”, and Göhler see’s Weber’s concept of power as the ideal type of this form of power. When it comes to intransitive power, his main reference is Hannah Arendt’s conceptualization of power, but he also points out a number of other authors who have developed intranstive concepts of power: Bourdieu, Foucault, and, yes, the late German sociologist Luhmann, whom the German CCO community (amongst others) is increasingly lifting into the international realm.

    At the time (2003), I found these concepts very useful for my master thesis in which I studied the relationship between public argumentation and power. My basic point was, if I remember correctly, that arguments (as conceptualized in the Toulmin schema) are a device that intrinsically links transitive and intransitive power by relying on (mostly unexpressed) presuppositions that make it convincing. The presuppositions or common sense knowledge on which any argument draws constitute intransitive power that make it possible to exercise transitive power, e.g. make some do something through the “forceless force of the better argument”, to use that Habermasian phrase. This analysis lead me to conclude that there are two types (or two functions) of public argumentation. The conservative function is to merely use existing intransitive power and transform it into transitive power, basically by making “common sense arguments” and thereby reinforce that common sense. The progressive function, on the other hand, aims to introduce new topoi into public debate and eventually establish them as common sense. It will therefore be less successful in enacting transitive power (because these arguments will not be experience as convincing). – A pretty basic insight, I know, but, hey, it was a master thesis! (It is written in German, but for the growing German speaking CCO community: the full text can be found at

    Anyway, although I was not interested in organizational communication back then, I’d say that my theoretical argument can be more or less directly transferred from the public sphere to the sphere of organizational communication and perhaps developed further. I’ll have to think about that more, now that you raised the issue.


    • Hi Christoph,

      Many thanks for taking the trouble to leave a comment on my posting.

      I found your thoughts very interesting and they raised many questions with me. I suppose I used ‘power over’ and ‘power to’ for a number of reasons. Although the constructs are quite simple I feel they can be used as a basis from which deeper theorizing can be done. My understanding is that CCO research has been criticized for not taking power into account, and I saw ‘power over’ and ‘power to’ as perhaps a gentle way of introducting an audience not familiar with more challenging concepts of power to a Foucauldian view of power as generative. The paper I’ll be presenting in the CCO track next month (will you be there, by the way?) argues for a greater understanding of power in constitutive communication. I draw on two illustrations using ethnomethodology and conversation analysis to show how, from a communication perspective, power can be exercised through bodily gesture and verbal utterance. That is why I found the criticism of ‘power to’ as mere potential interesting. I see ‘power to’ as a useful way of explaining how seemingly insignificant, mundane and easily passed-over power infused acts are necessary for communicative organizing to unfold. I am interested in how power is exercised in routine organizing, the notion of ‘power to’ seemed a straight-forward first-level construct that would then enable deeper theorizing once the notion of power as generative of organization had been established.

      Hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to have a chat in Montreal!

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Best wishes,



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