Since the 1990s there has been an increasing interest in knowledge, knowledge management, and the knowledge economy due to recognition of its economic value. Processes of globalization and developments in information and communications technologies have triggered transformations in the ways in which knowledge is shared, produced, and used to the extent that the 21st century was forecasted to be the knowledge century. Organizational learning has also been accepted as critical for organizational performance. A key question that has emerged is how knowledge can be “captured” by organizations. This focus on knowledge and learning demands an engagement with what knowledge means, where it comes from, and how it is affected by and used in different contexts. An inclusive definition is to say that knowledge is acquired theoretical, practical, embodied, and intuitive understandings of a situation. Knowledge is also located socially, geographically, organizationally, and it is specialized; so it is important to examine knowledge in less abstract terms. The specific case engaged with in this article is knowledge in hazardous industry and its role in industrial disaster prevention.
In hazardous industries such as oil and gas production, learning and expertise are identified as critical ingredients for disaster prevention. Conversely, a lack of expertise or failure to learn has been implicated in disaster causation. The knowledge needs for major accident risk management are unique. Trial-and-error learning is dangerously inefficient because disasters must be prevented before they occur. The temporal, geographical, and social scale of decisions in complex sociotechnical systems means that this cannot only be a question of an individual’s expertise, but major accident risk management requires that knowledge is shared across a much larger group of people. Put another way, in this context knowledge needs to be collective. Incident reporting systems are a common solution, and organizations and industries as a whole put substantial effort into gathering information about past small failures and their causes in an attempt to learn how to prevent more serious events. However, these systems often fall short of their stated goals. This is because knowledge is not collective by virtue of being collected and stored. Rather, collective knowing is done in the context of social groups and it relies on processes of sensemaking.
Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie Harrison
Broadly speaking, cybervetting can be described as the acquisition and use of online information to evaluate the suitability of an individual or organization for a particular role. When cybervetting, an information seeker gathers information about an information target from online sources in order to evaluate past behavior, to predict future behavior, or to address some combination thereof. Information targets may be individuals, groups, or organizations. Although often considered in terms of new hires or personnel selection, cybervetting may also include acquiring and using online information in order to evaluate a prospective or current client, employee, employer, romantic partner, roommate, tenant, client, or other relational partner, as well as criminal, civil, or intelligence suspects. Cybervetting takes advantage of information made increasingly available and easily accessible by regular and popular uses and affordances of Internet technologies, in particular social media. Communication scholars have long been interested in the information seeking, impression management, surveillance, and other processes implicated in cybervetting; however, the uses and affordances of new online information technologies offer new dimensions for theory and research as well as ethical and practical concerns for individuals, groups, organizations, and society.
Leadership has fascinated people from antiquity and has been studied extensively by academics for many decades. A variety of theoretical perspectives have taken hold—most notably that of transformational leadership—and have sought to explore the processes whereby leaders influence followers, to delineate the factors that put limits on such influence, and to determine the interrelationship between the attributes that leaders bring to their role and the contexts in which they find themselves. There has also been a growing interest in followership and how the behaviors, cognitions, and emotions of followers both contribute to organizational and group outcomes and help to shape leader behavior. The issue of followership, however, remains very much a nascent area of inquiry within the broader field of leadership studies.
Recently, explicitly communication perspectives have been brought more frequently to bear on leadership studies. This has assumed two main forms. First, “discursive leadership” has looked at both the linguistic mechanisms by which leader action and effects take place and how larger frames of leadership discourse can be said to constitute both broader leader–follower dynamics and our understanding of them. Associated with this, some complexity leadership theorists have stressed the “relational” dynamics implicit to leadership processes as a means of countering what they see as an excessive focus on the traits and actions of individual leaders. These approaches emphasize the importance of context and the relational dynamics between leaders and followers embedded in such contexts. Second, some communication scholars influenced by process theories of organization have begun to sketch out the means whereby communication is central to how organizational actors make, refuse, and enact claims to leadership agency, particularly in contexts where such claims may be contested by many. The role of follower dissent and power relations more generally is viewed as a crucial area of inquiry.
Accordingly, communication approaches to leadership have adopted a variety of theoretical perspectives. Many scholars from communication backgrounds have researched communication processes whereby leaders influence others. More recently, critically oriented communication scholars have explored the often conflicted dynamics between leaders and followers, focusing on such issues as power, domination, and control and their implications for leadership theory. Both explicitly and implicitly, these have therefore challenged dominant leadership perspectives, particularly but not exclusively that of transformational leadership.
Graham D. Bodie
Listening is recognized as a multidimensional construct that consists of complex (a) affective processes, such as being motivated to attend to others; (b) behavioral processes, such as responding with verbal and nonverbal feedback; and (c) cognitive processes, such as attending to, understanding, receiving, and interpreting content and relational messages. Research in the communication studies discipline has focused most heavily on the cognitive processes of listening with the least attention afforded to behavioral components. Although several models of listening have been put forward, scholars still struggle with basic notions of how best to define listening for research purposes and how to incorporate listening into mainstream theoretical frameworks. Contemporary scholarship explores intersections between listening and cultural studies research as communication scholars come to participate in larger discussions of the auditory environment. At the start of the 21st century, listening research is just one of the many sites where communication studies is making a contribution to interdisciplinary research across the humanities and social sciences.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Given the scope of various ethical scandals in a wide range of organizations over the last several decades, the research and practice of organizational ethics and corporate social responsibility has grown significantly. Scholars and practitioners have sought to better understand factors related to ethical awareness, judgment, and behavior through descriptive, normative, and analytical approaches. Organizations have established extensive policies and practices to enable employees to address the ethical dilemmas that they experience, drawing upon theories of duty, rights, utility, virtue, and care to facilitate compliance and, ultimately, produce aspirational ethics. In recent years, scholars have argued that organizational ethics is not only an individual-level phenomenon but also one influenced by group dynamics, organizational culture, and societal expectations. As a result, debates regarding the role of businesses in society have also proliferated under the umbrella term of corporate social responsibility, with attention paid to business initiatives such as philanthropy, volunteerism, cause-related marketing, and, most recently, strategic corporate social responsibility. To better understand the opportunities and challenges of corporate social responsibility, advocates and critics have turned to theories of shareholder value, corporate social performance, corporate citizenship, and stakeholder engagement. In doing so, they have reintroduced an age-old question regarding the rights and responsibilities of business in society.
Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie Harrison
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Organizational socialization is the process by which people learn about and adjust to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, expectations, and behaviors needed for a new or changing role within an organization. Thus, organizational socialization focuses on organizational membership. This includes how people move from being organizational outsiders to being organizational members and how people move between organizational roles within and across organizations over time. To date, research has focused on the ways in which organizations encourage individuals to learn and to adjust to existing expectations for particular roles via tactics that encourage assimilation into a particular role. However, organizational socialization is a dynamic process. Individuals can also influence and shape the organization to align with what they want for the organization, via tactics that allow for personalization (or individualization) of the role. Thus, organizational socialization helps an individual assume a new or changing role that meets the organization’s needs as well as his or her own needs.
Most of the research on organizational socialization focuses on how newcomers enter into paid work environments. Much attention has been given to the tactics used by organizations to encourage people to assimilate into the organization. Research also focuses on the early stages of organizational socialization, in particular anticipatory socialization and entry and initial participation. Until very recently, less attention has been given to later stages in socialization, active participation, metamorphosis, and exit; non-work organizations; and transitions between roles within particular organizations. However there is a growing body of research on organizational socialization into volunteer roles; new or changing roles, within the same organization; and later stages of socialization, such as exit and disengagement. Scholars and practitioners increasingly recognize how individual, organizational, and contextual factors, including socioeconomic class, race, gender, new media technologies, globalization, and others, may alter how organizational socialization works; they offer insight into the underlying processes implicated in organizational socialization. Future areas of research related to context, time, boundaries, and communication are highlighted.
Dennis K. Mumby
In the last 30 years or so, the relationship between power and resistance has been theorized as a defining feature of organizations and organizing. While there is little consensus around its definition, a useful starting point for thinking about the organization–power–resistance relationship is to view organizations as political sites of contestation where various stakeholder groups compete for resources—economic, political, and symbolic. Much of the research on power, resistance, and organizations has emerged out of a critical tradition that draws on numerous theoretical and philosophical threads, including Marxism, neo-Marxism, critical theory, poststructuralism, and feminism. Common to these threads are various efforts to link power and resistance to issues of meaning, identity, and discourse processes. In this sense—and particularly in the last 30 years—there have been multiple efforts to theorize power as intimately connected to communication. This connection has become particularly important with the shift from Fordist (bureaucratic, hierarchical, centralized, deskilled) organizational forms to post-Fordist (flexible, flat, dispersed, knowledge-based) organizations that place a premium on decentralized, “consensual” forms of power and control (as opposed to the coercive methods of Fordist regimes). Exploring communicative conceptions of power and resistance shows how these phenomena are closely tied to the regulation of meaning and identities in the contemporary workplace.
Conversation analytic research on “preference organization” investigates recorded episodes of naturally occurring social interaction to elucidate how people systematically design their actions to either promote or undermine social solidarity. This line of work examines public forms of conduct that are highly generalized and institutionalized, not the private desires or preferences of individuals.
For each action a person does in interaction—be it sequence-initiating or sequence-responding—there are alternative ways of doing it. These alternatives are not, however, symmetrical or equally valued. Rather, each alternative has different implications for “face,” “affiliation,” and the relationship of the participants involved.
As an example of a sequence-initiating action, in accomplishing the transfer of something of value (e.g., a loan of money, a ride, information about fellow participants) from one person to another, a participant may do the action of offering, or requesting, that valued item. But the interactants do not treat these offering or requesting alternatives as equivalent. Several studies demonstrate that the social action of offering is “preferred” over the action of requesting. Participants display their orientation to actions as “preferred” by producing them straightforwardly—without delay, qualification, or account. Correlatively, participants treat actions as “dispreferred” by withholding, delaying, qualifying, and/or accounting for them. More specifically, when opening face-to-face encounters, participants treat offers of information as valued and thus “preferred” over requests for that information, because such offers engender solidarity by enabling people to feel included (rather than excluded): Offers of information identifying unfamiliar persons are preferred during introduction sequences; and when a newcomer arrives to an already-in-progress interaction, an already-present speaker’s offer of information about the previous activity/topic of that interaction is preferred.
As an example of a sequence-responding action, after a participant issues a request, the addressed-recipient can grant, or refuse, that request. Again, participants do not treat these alternative response types as equally valued. Whereas participants recurrently do the action of granting in the preferred format—as this response is usually affiliative and supportive of social solidarity, they tend to do the action of refusing in the dispreferred format, as this response is most often disaffiliative and destructive of social solidarity.
Preference organization research illuminates how interaction works in both casual and institutional settings. For an example of the latter, during parent-teacher conferences, there is a marked contrast between how parents and teachers do the actions of praising and criticizing students: Whereas teachers design their student-praising utterances in the preferred format, parents treat their articulation of student praise as dispreferred. Correspondingly, whereas teachers treat their student-criticizing utterances as dispreferred, parents routinely produce their student criticisms as preferred. This regular pattern of parent-teacher interaction constitutes an endogenous method for circumventing conflict. Research on preference organization thus empirically demonstrates that human interaction is organized to promote social affiliation at the expense of conflict.
Patricia S. Parker, Jing Jiang, Courtney L. McCluney, and Verónica Caridad Rabelo
Difference in human experience can be parsed in a variety of ways and it is this parsing that provides the entry point to our discussion of “race,” “gender,” “class,” and “sexuality” as foci of study in the field of organizational communication. Social sorting of difference has material consequences, such as whether individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and nations have equal and equitable access to civil/participative liberties, food, clean water, health, housing, education, and meaningful work. Communication perspectives enable researchers to examine how difference is produced, sustained, and transformed through symbolic means. That is, communication organizes difference. In the field of organizational communication the communicative organizing of race, gender, class, and sexuality is examined in everyday social arrangements, such as corporate and not-for-profit organizations, communities, and other institutional contexts locally and globally. Topics of central concern in organizational communication difference studies are those related to work and the political economy of work, such as labor, conflicts between public and private domains, empowerment, and agency.
Research on race, gender, class, and sexuality as communicatively structured difference has progressed in the field of organizational communication from early top-down functionalist approaches, to bottom-up and emergent interpretive/critical/materialist methods, to poststructuralist approaches that deconstruct the very notion of “categories” of difference. More complex intersectional approaches, including queer theory and postcolonial/decolonial theory, are currently gaining traction in the field of organizational communication. These advances signal that difference studies have matured over the last decades as the field moved toward questioning and deconstructing past approaches to knowledge production while finding commensurability across diverse theoretical and research perspectives. These moves open up more possibilities to respond to societal imperatives for understanding difference.