by Prof. Dr. em. Betteke van Ruler

Next to my membership of EUPRERA, I am a member of the International Communication Association (ICA). And like EUPRERA, ICA organizes a yearly conference. This year in San Diego. Just like at our EUPRERA conferences, scholars present their papers in panel sessions and round table discussions where we discuss our methodologies and findings. Always inspiring and also very helpful to advance our own research. This year there was one round table, organized by the organizational communication division, that really struck me. That was because of the question the round table organizers posed, and I like to quote the session rationale:

Research on the communicative constitution of organization (often abbreviated to “CCO”) has shown how communication flows, communication events, and the dialectic between text and conversation constitute what we have come to know as ‘the organization.’ However, our knowledge is still limited of how CCO theory can be applied to practice and how engaging with practitioner challenges or organizational problems more broadly might shape CCO theory. To advance a critical discussion of CCO theory and its value to organizational practice/problems, this panel will engage several experts on the subject to answer the following questions: 1) How might communicative constitution of organization (CCO) theories and methods of analysis serve as intervention to address practitioner’s organizational challenges/problems? 2) How might practitioner’s challenges/organizational problems shape and inform CCO theory and methods? The presentations and discussion will offer valuable insights into the theoretical and practical consequences of investigating the interplay between CCO theory and practice, which will interest scholars in the field of organizational communication and contribute to the broader conference theme exploring the relevance of ‘intervention’ in academia.”

Basically, we were discussing the fundamental question for whom we are doing what we do: cui bono. Of course we do our research because it is a wonderful means to discover what we did not know before, and of course, we do it so that we can publish our research and get tenured or promoted in our universities. So, it is vital for our professional survival. And of course we use our research and the research of our colleagues to teach our students. But is that all? The questions this panel raised was how our research can be relevant to a certain practice and how can we help practice to cope with their questions. Some of the participants were hesitant as we scholars are not consultants and our research hardly ever delivers direct answers to practical problems. The discussion was very lively and we ended up with the (not completely definitive) answer that science can help practice to reflect on their everyday dilemmas in order to generate options for redefining their questions and from thereon find better answers. Theory is not a medication but an approach to look at phenomena in a specific way. So, theory helps practice most of all to find better questions. Unfortunately, the question in the rationale on how practice can help us to further develop our theories, remained undiscussed, asking for a follow-up next year. All in all, I found this session very inspiring and I like to invite us all to develop such a discussion within EUPRERA, too.