Online First: Organizations as Networks of Communication

Grab it while it’s still hot: Our article Organizations as Networks of Communication Episodes: Turning the Network Perspective Inside Out just hit the online-first shelf over at Organization Studies. Here’s the abstract:

Over the last decades, the idea that communication constitutes organizations (CCO) has been gaining considerable momentum in organization studies. The CCO perspective provides new insights into key organizational issues, such as the relation between stability and change, between micro-level and macro-level phenomena, or between emergence and control. However, despite various theoretical advancements, the CCO perspective’s range of methodologies is still limited to analyzing local communication episodes, rather than studying organizations as broader networks of communication episodes. In this paper, we present a new methodological approach to the study of the relation between organization and communication, based on network analysis. Following a discussion of existing network approaches, we incorporate the fundamental assumptions of the CCO perspective into a methodology that places communication at the center of network analysis by turning the prevalent network perspective inside out, so that the vertices of the network represent communication episodes and the edges represent individuals. We illustrate our methodology with an empirical case study, in which we examine the structures and dynamics of an actual organization as a network of communication episodes.

Blaschke, S., Schoeneborn, D., & Seidl, D. (2012). Organizations as Networks of Communication Episodes: Turning the Network Perspective Inside Out. Organization Studies, 33(8).

The Determinants of a Successful Constitution of Organization: The Case of J.J. Abrams’ Lost

Last summer, I put out a call for a master thesis taking upon the challenge to look into the determinants of a ‘successful’ constitution of organization. I implicitly left open the definition of success, but I was clear on the literature underlying the idea of the master thesis: the communicative constitution of organization (CCO) or, in other words, organization as communication (OaC). Besides a rigorous foundation in the literature, I wanted the master thesis to take the first season of J.J. Abrams’ highly acclaimed television series Lost, because it beautifully depicts the rise and fall of an organization. A unique opportunity for a social scientist to observe this up close and personal, if you will. Here’s my call:

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Organization outside organizations: Forthcoming article by Ahrne & Brunsson

Regarding the question “what is an organization?”, it makes sense to start with specifying criteria that need to jointly come together whenever we speak of organization or organizing (i.e. where does organization as a phenomenon start and where does it end). In a forthcoming article in the journal “Organization” , Ahrne and Brunsson argue that beyond conventional or “complete” forms of organizations, e.g. a multi-national enterprise or a governmental organization, there are a number of rudimentary organizational phenomena that would best be described as “partial organization”. Whereas complete organizations incorporate all the criteria of organization, partial organization is based on only one or a few of these. I think that this paper very well feeds into recent debates on what characterizes organization (as communication) in contrast to other social phenomena, e.g., networks, communities, markets, social movements, etc. (Sillince, 2010).

The forthcoming article by Ahrne and Brunsson was published online ahead of print and is available as of today.


Ahrne, G. & Brunsson, N. (forthcoming): Organization outside organizations: the significance of partial organization. Organization.

Sillince, J. A. A. (2010). Can CCO theory tell us how organizing is distinct from markets, networking, belonging to a community, or supporting a social movement? Management Communication Quarterly, 24(1), 132-138.

Transcending the Transmission Model of Communication

Tracing back the emerging CCO perspective (“communication constitutes organizations”) to some of its origins: In a 1984 AMR article, Axley shows that most publications in management and organization studies at least implicitly draw on an instrumental understanding of communication (what he refers to as the “conduit metaphor” of communication; or what also has come to be called the “transmission model” of communication). Here, communication is simply a tool for transporting packages of meaning from one place to another. The constitutive perspective of communication (as outlined by Craig, 1999), in contrast, conceives communication as the fundamental mode of social reality and, of course, also organizations: “Communication is theorized as a process that  produces and reproduces – and in that way constitutes – social order“ (Craig, 1999: 128). For more info, here you will find the presentation I held at the First Meeting of the OaC Network in Hamburg (partly in German): Presentation Instrumental vs. Constitutive View of Communication.

  • Axley, S. R. (1984). Managerial and Organizational Communication in Terms of the Conduit Metaphor. Academy of Management Review, 9(3), 428-437.
  • Craig, R. T. (1999). Communication Theory as a Field. Communication Theory, 9(2), 119-161.
  • Video of the presentation (in German)

CCO: A Framework for Explanation by McPhee & Zaug

Presenting the core ideas of the four flows framework by McPhee and Zaug (2000) allowed me to get a deeper understanding of the CCO discourse. Given the comparatively broad diffusion of this framework (e.g. Putnam & Nicotera 2009), I was intrigued to see the various theoretical links emerging from this framework to other theoretical approaches, not only structuration theory as set forth by Anthony Giddens, but also neo-institutionalism. With respect to the scope of our interdisciplinary project network, I was wondering if it wouldn’t be better to speak of communicating as constitutive of organizing, not the least because of the diverse referrals to the language game of structuration theory.

What is more, the articles stimulates inquiry into the nature of CCO as a fruitful conception. For me, this stems primarily from the observation that the authors offer first insights into the USPs of a CCO perspective, but – and you have to excuse my ignorance at this point due to being a novice to the CCO field – they are rather silent about the exact criteria or themes that differentiate this theoretical approach from other lenses.

  • McPhee, R. D., & Zaug, P. (2000). The Communicative Constitution of Organizations: A Framework for Explanation. The Electronic Journal of Communication, 10(1/2).
  • Putnam, L. L., & Nicotera, A. M. (Eds.) (2008). Building Theories of Organization: The Constitutive Role of Communication. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Video of the presentation (in German)

Join Us for the Opening Keynote on CCO

The first workshop of our scientific network on the communicative constitution of organization (CCO; for a recent review, see Ashcraft et al., 2009) will be held in Hamburg on 9 and 10 September. While the workshop’s sessions are closed to the public, we cordially invite you to join us for the opening keynote of Alfred Kieser, professor emeritus at the University of Mannheim.

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With the first meeting of the network only a week away, here’s a short list of the introductory literature that we’re gonna review. Neither are all papers in favor of the communicative constitution of organization, nor are they representative of the approach as such. Nonetheless, we figure the make a good reading to begin with.

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The Communicative Constitution of Organization, live and unplugged

Witness the birth of an organization: We’re happy to announce that the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) grants its support to our scientific network on the communicative constitution of organization!

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