Communication Yearbook 13

James A. Anderson

Communication Yearbook 13 is organized around three themes: organizational criticism and culture; interpersonal conversations, arguments, embarrassments, and negotiations (which are often organizational); and information, industry, and consumption in mediated communications. The 11 articles and 22 commentaries cover a lot of ground which cannot be adequately dealt with here; however, there are some ongoing thematic concerns which can be outlined for interested readers.

Organizational communications has been characterized in recent years by a movement away from mechanistic or rational metaphors of organizations towards both critical and interpretive approaches. The first section of the Yearbook begins with Deetz & Mumby's meta-theoretical and political analysis of the social construction of reality in organizations. The authors suggest that organizational culture is both interpretive and political, and reflected in and constituted by discursive practices. The two commentaries on this meta-theory dispute Deetz & Mumby's assumption of dominance in multi-national organizations, and while acknowledging the importance of a critical framework, point to the critical theory's lack of empirical validity and its failure to direct organizational reforms.

Writing from within the ethnographic and interpretive traditions, Goodall's article in the same section of the Yearbook argues for an appreciation of organizational contexts such as sets, properties, costumes and scenes in the study of organizational cultures. Sackmann's article on managing organizational cultures suggests three concepts of culture: the material; the ideationalist; and the dynamic construct. The last concept synthesizes the first two, and in some respects parallels the work of Deetz & Mumby. Finally, Brown's article offers an analysis of organizational stories. He suggests criteria for identifying stories and lists the functions that stories play in organizations.

The first section on organizational culture raises the usual questions about the relationship between levels of analysis, that is between macro approaches and more micro ethnographic case studies. Furthermore, the questions of how culture and/or power is represented in discourses and communications is tackled from a number of different perspectives, that of stories, myths, sets, etc. While some notion of culture, as interpretive, political or both, is central to all the texts in section one, there is little agreement about what one should be studying. This is evident, for example, in discussions about the relationship between meta-theories and empirical research practices, and questions concerning the relation between meaning and action. What do stories do? How does one recognize and categorize power and change it?

The Achilles heel of interpretive approaches is that while they promise so much at the meta-theoretical level (practically everyone quotes Clifford Geertz and his idea of webs of significance at some point or other), the applications are riddled with methodological and epistemological difficulties. Added to these problems is of course the ongoing debate about "questions as to where do the critical and the moral shall sit in empirical inquiry" (p. 13).

The second section of the Yearbook examines a micro level of analysis. Here the authors are concerned with interpersonal communications in the form of conversations. Beach provides a defense of treating conversations as a communication phenomena, something which sounds rather like good common-sense rather than something terribly new. Meyers & Siebold write about the need to integrate two perspectives of arguments, the cognitive-informational one and the social-interactional one. In the final analysis they suggest that Gidden's structuration approach is useful for combining the two perspectives.

Cupach & Meets examine remedial processes in embarrassing predicaments. They discuss the nature of these predicaments, the types of repair strategies employed by social actors, observer responses to these social gaffes, and some of the reasons why people use the strategies that they do. The last article in section two by Wilson & Putnam is a discussion of interaction goals in negotiation. Negotiation is treated as a mixed-motive activity. It is assumed that one should frame these goals within a before and after negotiation perspective, and that the interaction goals vary in terms of their type (instrumental, relational, and identity) and their level of abstraction (global, regional, local).

Section two of the Yearbook also focuses on interpersonal communication, which is applicable to organizational analyses. These articles on conversations, arguments, embarrassing situations, and negotiations highlight communication behaviour in organizations. What remains to be done is to connect these empirical instances with larger analytical frameworks such as Deetz & Mumby's such that one can recognize how communicative acts both reflect and constitute organizational culture(s).

In the final section of the Yearbook, there is a mixed emphasis on media content, media organizations and texts. The first article by Ito explores the changing amount of media coverage about Japan over the last 20 years. He looks at international news flows and popular culture in terms on an increased mention of Japanese society. Ito states that his "competitive theory" supersedes both free-flow and media dependency theories of international communication. Turow describes how media organizations create new materials using the example of medical shows on television. He explores how economic influences from different and occasionally competing industrial sectors influence the content, that is the medical discourse, of televised representations of the medical profession. Turow is criticized for writing about economic rather than communication issues (that is, structure rather than process) because he stresses the interorganizational relationships and discourses which lead to and follow from the creation of medical shows on television.

The last principal article, by Alexander, Fry, & Fry, is concerned with "how text becomes meaningful." The authors argue that questions about the location of meaning in either the text, the audience or some interaction between the two is best framed within two interrelated contexts: the consumption context, which is the reader's engagement with the text, and the communicative context, which is the fact that the text can also be an object of talk.

Communication Yearbook 13 continues with its successful thematic format and, in emphasizing organizational, interpersonal, and mediated communication phenomena, stimulates thinking once again about the problematic of what constitutes the object of inquiry in communication studies.



  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO